Country Listing

Belize Table of Contents


Chapter 9. Belize: Government and Politics


Mayan sun god

BELIZE'S CONSTITUTIONAL and political institutions have roots in the country's origins as a settlement of British subjects, who carried with them the rights and immunities they had enjoyed in the mother country. British common law included the tradition of recognizing the executive power of the crown in settlements overseas, but the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras (renamed British Honduras in 1862 and Belize in 1973) enjoyed its own legislative competence. In 1871, however, it surrendered its legacy of self-governance and abolished its elected legislature in order to obtain greater economic and political security as a crown colony (see Glossary).

The colony soon regretted the loss of self-rule and thus began a long campaign to regain an elected legislature that led to internal self-rule in 1964 and culminated in the colony's independence in 1981. From 1950 on, the People's United Party (PUP) spearheaded this campaign under the leadership of George Cadle Price. Price and the PUP have largely defined the nationalist agenda in Belize, and the PUP has won all but one national election in Belize since 1954. Although internal self-rule was achieved in 1964, full independence was delayed because of territorial claims against Belize by Guatemala. These claims were still unresolved in 1991, but British defense guarantees paved the way for Belizean independence on September 21, 1981.

According to its constitution, Belize is a constitutional monarchy, whose titular sovereign, the British monarch, is represented in Belize by a governor general. Actual political power, however, resides in elected representatives in the National Assembly and the cabinet headed by the prime minister. Belize has a political system dominated by two parties, the PUP and the United Democratic Party (UDP). The constitution establishes an independent judiciary and guarantees fundamental human, civil, and political rights.

Data as of January 1992