Belize is a parliamentary democracy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor-general who must be Belizean. A prime minister and cabinet make up the executive. The cabinet ministers and ministers of state are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister.
When the governor-general has occasion to appoint a prime minister, he or she appoints a member of the House of Representatives who is the leader of the political party or coalition which commands the support of the majority of the members.
The House of Representatives and the Senate form a bicameral legislature. The House of Representatives comprises 31 members, directly elected at intervals of no longer than five years on the basis of universal adult suffrage. The Senate has 12 members (plus the president of the senate): six are appointed on the advice of the prime minister, three on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and one each by the churches, business community and trade unions.
Elections take place at least every five years on the basis of universal adult suffrage.
The justice system is broadly based on English common law, with the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and magistrates’ courts. The Supreme Court hears serious criminal and civil cases before judges and jury. The Court of Appeal generally sits four times a year.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the governor-general, in accordance with the advice of the prime minister. The other justices of the Supreme Court are also appointed by the governor-general, acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services section of the Public Services Commission and with the concurrence of the prime minister.
Preliminary hearings of less serious civil cases are in the district courts and those of criminal cases are in summary jurisdiction courts. Both district and summary jurisdiction courts are magistrates’ courts.
The Privy Council in the United Kingdom is the final court of appeal, although Belize is expected to replace it with the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The history of Belize has been shaped by the Mayans, the Spanish, the English, and by its interactions with Jamaica, Mexico and – more recently – Guatemala. Belize became a British colony in 1862 and a Crown colony in 1870, taking the name British Honduras. A century later, despite progress towards independence, Belize found its path impeded by the claim to the whole of its territory by neighbouring Guatemala. It was not until 1991 that Guatemala recognised Belizean sovereignty.
Belize’s flag, adopted in 1981, is the only national flag that depicts human beings. The two main colours of the flag, blue and red, are those of the two main political parties of Belize (the PUP and the UDP respectively).
The first general elections in Belize were fought in 1954, and were won by the PUP (People’s United Party). The PUP went on to win all subsequent elections until 1984, when it lost to the UDP (United Democratic Party).
For the first time since independence, the ruling party (the PUP) was returned to power in the 2003 general election. The general elections in 2008 and 2012 were won by the UDP.