Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy with a Westminster-style government characterised by a ceremonial head of state and a powerful executive composed only of members serving in a bicameral Parliament.
The Queen of Jamaica and head of state is Elizabeth II. The Queen is represented by a governor-general, who is nominated by the prime minister and who serves a largely ceremonial role.
The bicameral Parliament of Jamaica consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The 60 members of Parliament are directly elected by universal adult suffrage, and the leader of the majority party becomes prime minister. The 21 senators are appointed by the governor-general, 13 of them on the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition.
The cabinet (prime minister and at least 11 ministers) has executive responsibility. Elections are held at intervals not exceeding five years.
In February 2006, Portia Simpson-Miller of the People’s National Party became the first female prime minister in Jamaican history.
The judicial system is based on English Common Law, and comprises the Supreme Court (including the Commercial Court, Gun Court and Revenue Court); the Court of Appeal, the magistrates’ courts (including the traffic courts); the family courts and the courts of petty sessions. The Privy Council in the UK is the final court of appeal.
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, and the largest English-speaking one. Discovered by the explorer Christopher Columbus in 1494, it became a Spanish settler colony in the early sixteenth century. England, having taken over Jamaica in 1655, set up a plantation economy on the island. In the course of the twentieth century Jamaica became increasingly independent from the United Kingdom. In 1962 it won full independence, the first Caribbean country to do so.
In 1938, Norman Manley formed the People’s National Party (PNP), which began to campaign for independence. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led by Sir Alexander Bustamante, was founded in 1943.
On independence in 1962 Bustamante was prime minister. The PNP won the elections of 1972 and remained in office until 1980 when the JLP won the elections. The PNP returned to power after the elections of 1989.
Although the JLP narrowly won the election of 2007, the 2011 election was won by the PNP. PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller was sworn in as prime minister for a second time.