Browse the listing below to find government information for Bermuda, including flags, leaders,
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Bermuda Country Page.
Type: British Overseas Territory with significant autonomy.
Constitution: June 8, 1968; amended 1989 and 2003.
Branches: Executive--British monarch (head of state, represented by a governor). Legislative--Senate (upper house), House of Assembly (lower house). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Subdivisions: Nine parishes.
Political parties: United Bermuda Party (UBP), Progressive Labor Party (PLP), National Liberal Party (NLP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Bermuda is the oldest self-governing overseas territory in the British Commonwealth and has a great degree of internal autonomy. Its 1968 constitution provided the island with formal responsibility for internal self-government, while the British Government retained responsibility for external affairs, defense, and security. The Bermudian Government is consulted on any international negotiations affecting the territory. Bermuda participates, through British delegations, in the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies.
Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in Bermuda by a governor, whom she appoints. Internally, Bermuda has a parliamentary system of government.
The premier is head of government and leader of the majority party in the House of Assembly. The cabinet is composed of 12 members selected by the premier from among members of the House of Assembly and the Senate.
The 36-member House is elected from 36 electoral districts (one representative from each district) for a term not to exceed 5 years. The Senate, or reviewing house, serves concurrently with the House and has 11 members--five appointed by the governor in consultation with the premier, three by the opposition leader, and three at the governor's discretion.
The judiciary is composed of a chief justice and associate judges appointed by the governor. For administrative purposes, Bermuda is divided into nine parishes, with Hamilton and St. George considered autonomous corporations.
Bermuda's first political party, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), was formed in May 1963 with predominantly black adherents. In 1965, the two-party system was launched with the formation of the United Bermuda Party (UBP), which had the support of the majority of white voters and of some black voters. A third party, the Bermuda Democratic Party (BDP), was formed in the summer of 1967 with a splinter group from the PLP as a nucleus; it disbanded in 1970. It was later replaced by the National Liberal Party (NLP), which currently holds no parliamentary seats.
Bermuda's first election held on the basis of universal adult suffrage and equal voting took place on May 22, 1968; previously, the franchise had been limited to property owners. In the 1968 election, the UBP won 30 House of Assembly seats, while the PLP won 10 seats and the BDP lost the 3 seats it had previously held. The UBP continued to maintain control of the government, although by decreasing margins in the Assembly, until 1998 when the PLP won the general election for the first time.
Unsatisfied aspirations, particularly among young blacks, led to a brief civil disturbance in December 1977, following the execution of two men found guilty of the 1972-73 assassinations of Governor Sir Richard Sharples and four others. In the 1980s, the increasing prosperity of Bermudians, combined with limited land area, caused severe pressure in housing. Despite a general strike in 1981 and poor economic conditions worldwide during 1981-83, Bermuda's social, political, and economic institutions showed resilience and stability.
Bermuda's positive experience with internal self-government has led to discussions of possible complete independence by both parties. However, an independence referendum called by a sharply divided UBP in the summer of 1995 was resoundingly defeated and resulted in the resignation of the premier and UBP leader, Sir John Swan. Just over 58% of the electorate voted in the independence referendum, which had to be postponed one day due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Felix. Of those voting, over 73% voted against independence, while only 25% voted in favor. The vote may not have been a true test of support for independence, however, as the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) urged its membership to boycott the referendum.
That the PLP would boycott the independence referendum was out of character. Independence has been a plank in the platform of the PLP since the party's inception in 1963. Their 1968 platform promised, in fact, that, "No government can be either responsible or democratic while under the rule of another country. Colonialism is a cancer . . . therefore we shall return to London to examine with the British Government what arrangements can be made for our independence." Successive PLP election platforms reflected a continuing commitment to review Bermuda’s constitutional framework preparatory to Bermuda’s “inevitable independence.”
It was ironic, therefore, that independence was absent from the PLP's 1998 general election platform, when the PLP first triumphed at the polls. In fact, then-Premier Jennifer Smith stated that while she would not pursue independence during her first term, she would systematically address the issues that are fundamental prerequisites for independence. The government very quickly enacted legislation providing for voter registration every 5 years instead of annually. Then in 2001, the government began taking steps to amend Bermuda's constitution in order to abolish the island's system of parish-based, dual-seat constituencies that favored voters in parishes of small, predominantly white populations. The constitution was amended in 2003, redrawing constituency boundary lines and providing for 36 single-seat constituencies.
The possibility of independence has relevance to U.K. legislation entitling citizens of Britain's overseas territories, including Bermuda, to British citizenship. The British Overseas Territories Bill, passed in February 2002, provides automatic acquisition of British citizenship, including automatic transmission of citizenship to their children; the right of abode, including the right to live and work in the U.K. and the EU; the right not to exercise or to formally renounce British citizenship; and the right to use the fast track EU/EEA channel at the airport, free of U.K. immigration controls.
A March 2002 poll conducted by the Bermuda Sun, a local semiweekly newspaper, showed support for British citizenship. Of the 356 persons surveyed, 66.9% were interested in accepting British citizenship and only 18% said that they would refuse it. There are no conditions attached to the grant of British citizenship to the overseas territories, a fact of particular importance to Bermuda where the issue of independence lies dormant. "The new grant of British citizenship will not be a barrier, therefore, to those Overseas Territories choosing to become independent of Britain. Our Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British. Britain has willingly granted independence where it has been requested; and we will continue to do so where this is an option."
Bermuda's most recent general election was held in July 2003, when the PLP was re-elected to its second term. Jennifer Smith, however, did not survive a leadership challenge and was replaced as premier and party leader by the more moderate Alex Scott.