The Bahamas is a constitutional democracy with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, represented by a governor-general who is chosen on the advice of the cabinet.
The cabinet consists of the prime minister and at least nine members who all hold seats in parliament. The cabinet is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. The prime minister is appointed by the governor-general, and is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in the House of Assembly.
The Bahamas has a bicameral legislature. The Senate has 16 members. Nine are appointed on the advice of the prime minister, four by the opposition and three after joint discussions. The House of Assembly has around 40 elected members who are directly elected by district for a term of five years.
There is universal adult suffrage and an electoral commission reviews constituency boundaries every five years.
The constitution allows for three distinct types of legislation: the ‘specially entrenched’ provisions relating to parliament itself and the judicial system require a three-quarters majority in both houses and a popular referendum; ‘entrenched’ provisions require a two-thirds majority in both houses; and other legislation requires a simple majority vote.
The Bahamas Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the magistrates’ court all have civil and criminal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is staffed by a chief justice and eight justices and sits in Nassau on New Providence island and Freeport on Grand Bahama.
The magistrates’ courts are presided over by magistrates in New Providence and Grand Bahama, and by the island administrators in the Family Islands. Since 2006 when the coroners’ court was closed, the magistrates are empowered to hear inquests.
The Privy Council in the UK is the final court of appeal.
The Bahamas is a chain of about 700 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the edge of the so-called Bermuda Triangle.
When in 1492 Christopher Columbus made his first landing in the New World in The Bahamas, the people who met him were Arawaks. Within some 20 years, the Spaniards had enslaved or transported the Arawaks; some 40,000 were transported to Hispaniola.
British settlement of the islands began in the mid-17th-century; the first British settlers were refugees from religious persecution under Charles I. The islands became a British colony in 1783.
In 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was founded to represent black interests in a system till then dominated by whites. After the 1967 election the PLP, with the support of the Labour Party, formed a government. They thus forced the United Bahamian Party (the so-called ‘Bay Street Boys’) into opposition for the first time in the assembly’s history. The PLP went on to win the next two general elections outright, and PLP leader Lynden Pindling led The Bahamas to independence until a new constitution in 1973.
Pindling and the PLP continued in power until 1992, when they were ousted by the Free National Movement (FNM), led by Hubert Ingraham, a former PLP minister.
In 2002, under the leadership of Perry Christie, the PLP won a landslide victory. Three years after stepping down as leader of the FNM, Hubert Ingraham returned to head the party in November 2005, subsequently leading it to victory in the general elections of 2007.