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Bahamas Country Page.
Type: Constitutional parliamentary democracy. Independence: July 10, 1973.
Branches: Executive--British monarch (nominal head of state), governor general (representative of the British monarch), prime minister (head of government), and cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Parliament (40-member elected House of Assembly, 16-member appointed Senate). Judicial--Privy Council in U.K., Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and magistrates' courts.
Political parties: Free National Movement (FNM), Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), Coalition for Democratic Reform (CDR).
Suffrage (2000): Universal over 18; 140,000 registered voters.
The Bahamas Government:
The Bahamas is an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is a parliamentary democracy with regular elections. As a Commonwealth country, its political and legal traditions closely follow those of the United Kingdom. The Bahamas recognizes the British monarch as its formal head of state, while an appointed Governor General serves as the Queen's representative in The Bahamas. A bicameral legislature enacts laws under the 1973 constitution.
The House of Assembly consists of 40 members, elected from individual constituencies for 5-year terms. As under the Westminster system, the government may dissolve the Parliament and call elections at any time. The House of Assembly performs all major legislative functions. The leader of the majority party serves as prime minister and head of government. The Cabinet consists of at least nine members, including the prime minister and ministers of executive departments. They answer politically to the House of Assembly.
The Senate consists of 16 members appointed by the Governor General, including nine on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and three on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.
The Governor General appoints the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on the advice of the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The Governor General appoints the other justices with the advice of a judicial commission. The Privy Council of the United Kingdom serves as the highest appellate court.
For decades, the white-dominated United Bahamian Party (UBP) ruled The Bahamas, then a dependency of the United Kingdom, while a group of influential white merchants, known as the "Bay Street Boys," dominated the local economy. In 1953, Bahamians dissatisfied with UBP rule formed the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Under the leadership of Lynden Pindling, the PLP won control of the government in 1967 and led The Bahamas to full independence in 1973.
A coalition of PLP dissidents and former UBP members formed the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1971. Former PLP cabinet minister and member of Parliament Hubert Ingraham became leader of the FNM in 1990, upon the death of Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. Under the leadership of Ingraham, the FNM won control of the government from the PLP in the August 1992 general elections. The FNM won again in March 1997.
In the general elections held in May 2002 the FNM was turned out of power by the PLP, which won 29 of the 40 seats in the House of Assembly. The FNM now holds seven seats, while independents hold four seats.
The principal focus of the Ingraham administration was economic development and job creation. Many of his government's policies were aimed at improving the image of The Bahamas and making it an attractive place for foreigners to invest. In 2000, in response to multilateral organizations concerns, the government passed stronger measures to prevent money laundering in the country's banking sector. The new PLP government under Prime Minister Christie is expected to continue many of the FNM's policies.
Considerable progress has been made in rebuilding the infrastructure, revitalizing the tourism industry, and attracting new investment to The Bahamas. A good start has been made to mitigate crime and provide for social needs. The Bahamian economy, heavily dependent on U.S. tourism, has been deeply affected by the U.S. economic downturn. Slow growth of the U.S. economy will be a major challenge for the next government.
Other challenges are to privatize The Bahamas' costly, inefficient national corporations, provide job retraining for hundreds of workers who will be affected by the change, and to continue creating jobs for new entries in the employment market. Currently, Bahamians do not pay income or sales taxes. Most government revenue is derived from high tariffs and import fees. A major challenge for Bahamians as the next century approaches will be to prepare for hemispheric free trade. Reduction of trade barriers will probably require some form of taxation to replace revenues when the country becomes a part of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The advantages may be hard for the government to sell since The Bahamas exports so little.