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Caribbean Islands

Government and Politics

The Governmental System

Antigua and Barbuda is a constitutional monarchy with a British-style parliamentary system of government. The reigning British monarch is represented in Antigua by an appointed governor general as the head of state. The government has three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

The bicameral Parliament consists of the seventeen-member House of Representatives, responsible for introducing legislation, and the seventeen-member Senate, which reviews and gives assent to proposed legislation. Representatives are elected by popular vote in general elections that are constitutionally mandated every five years but may be called earlier. Senators are appointed by the governor general. The major figures in Parliament and the government come from the House of Representatives. The prime minister is the leader of the party that holds the majority of seats in the House; the opposition leader is the representative, appointed by the governor general, who appears to have the greatest support of those members opposed to the majority government. The prime minister creates an executive government and advises the governor general on the appointments to thirteen of the seventeen seats in the Senate. The leader of the opposition, recognized constitutionally, is responsible for advising the governor general on the appointment of the remaining four senators to represent the opposition in the Senate. The opposition leader also consults with the governor general, in conjunction with the prime minister, on the composition of other appointed bodies and commissions. In this way, the opposition is ensured a voice in government.

The executive branch is derived from the legislative branch. As leader of the majority party of the House of Representatives, the prime minister appoints other members of Parliament to be his cabinet ministers. In late 1987, the cabinet included thirteen ministries: Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries, and Housing; Ministry of Defense; Ministry of Economic Development, Tourism, and Energy; Ministry of Education, Culture, and Youth Affairs; Ministry of External Affairs; Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Home Affairs; Ministry of Information; Ministry of Labour; Ministry of Legal Affairs; Ministry of Public Utilities and Aviation; and Ministry of Public Works and Communications.

The judicial branch is relatively independent of the other two branches, although the magistrates are appointed by the Office of the Attorney General in the executive branch. The judiciary consists of the Magistrate's Court for minor offenses and the High Court for major offenses. To proceed beyond the High Court, a case must pass to the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the OECS. All appointments or dismissals of magistrates of the Supreme Court must meet with the unanimous approval of the heads of government in the OECS system; the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda acts on the recommendation of the attorney general in making decisions concerning this judicial body.

The Constitution of 1981 was promulgated simultaneously with the country's formal independence from Britain. The Constitution provides a basis for possible territorial acquisitions, expands upon fundamental human rights, recognizes and guarantees the rights of opposition parties in government, and provides Barbuda with a large measure of internal self-government.

In defining the territory of Antigua and Barbuda, the Constitution includes not only the territory as recognized upon independence but also other areas that may in the future be declared by an act of Parliament to form part of the territory. This cryptic provision may have been designed to lay the basis for possible extensions of territorial waters.

The Constitution sets forth the rights of citizens, ascribing fundamental rights to each person regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions or affiliations, color, creed, or sex. It further extends these rights to persons born out of wedlock, an important provision in that legitimate and illegitimate persons did not have equal legal status under colonial rule. The Constitution includes provisions to secure life, liberty, and the protection of person, property, and privacy, as well as freedom of speech, association, and worship.

In order to quell secessionist sentiment in Barbuda, the writers of the Constitution included provisions for Barbudan internal self-government, constitutionally protecting the Barbuda Local Government Act of 1976. The elected Council for Barbuda is the organ of self-government. Acting as the local government, the council has the authority to draft resolutions covering community issues or domestic affairs; in the areas of defense and foreign affairs, however, Barbuda remains under the aegis of the national government. The council consists of nine elected members, the elected Barbudan representatives to the national Parliament, and a government-appointed councillor. To maintain a rotation of membership, council elections are held every two years.

Data as of November 1987

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