Belize is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy which recognises Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, represented by a Governor-General. The Governor-General, appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, must be of Belizean nationality. The legislature, the National Assembly, is bicameral, composed of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Senate has 12 members (plus the President of the Senate): six are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, three on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and one each by the churches, business community and trade unions.
The House of Representatives comprises 31 members, directly elected at intervals of no longer than five years on the basis of universal adult suffrage (plus the Speaker). The Prime Minister and cabinet have executive power.
There are six administrative districts. With the exception of Belize City, they are administered by a locally elected town board of seven members. The island resort of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye was granted township status in 1984. Belize City is administered by a city council of nine elected members. There are also village councils.
In the general election of August 1998 the opposition People’s United Party (PUP) won 26 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives and Said Musa became Prime Minister. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) took three seats and Esquivel handed over the party leadership to Dean Barrow.
For the first time since independence, the ruling party was returned to power in the March 2003 general election. The PUP took 22 seats to the UDP’s seven, and Musa resumed as Prime Minister.
In January 2005, the government increased tax rates on commodities and property and riots broke out. Civil unrest continued until April with trade unions and government opponents demanding Musa’s resignation. This and allegations of corruption in the PUP government proved decisive in the subsequent elections.
The February 2008 general election resulted in a landslide victory for the opposition UDP, which won 25 seats to the ruling PUP’s six. UDP leader Barrow became the country’s first Prime Minister of African descent.
The general election in March 2012 was again won by Barrow and the UDP with 17 seats, the PUP taking 14.