Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: Queen Elizabeth II represented by Governor General Arthur A. Foulkes
Head of Government: Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham
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 Queen Elizabeth II as its 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.
House of Assembly members are elected from individual constituencies for 5-year terms. In 2011, the number of seats was reduced from 41 to 38. 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 the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. The Privy Council of the United Kingdom is the highest Court for The Bahamas. The Court of Appeal is separate from the Supreme Court, comprised of a President, three resident Justices of Appeal and one non-resident Justice of Appeal. The Chief Justice is part of the Court of Appeal by virtue of his title as Head of Judiciary.
Local government districts elect councils for town planning, business licenses, traffic issues and maintaining government buildings. In some large districts, lower level town councils also have minor responsibilities.
Prior to 1967, 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 PLP regained power in 2002 under the leadership of Perry Christie. The FNM, again led by Ingraham, returned to government by capturing 23 of the 41 seats in the House of Assembly during the May 2007 election; the PLP won 18 seats.
In July 2008 Prime Minister Ingraham announced changes to ministerial portfolios and the creation of two additional ministries--the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture and the Ministry of the Environment.
The next general election must be held no later than May 2012. Prime Minister Ingraham has said he will run for his seat in 2012. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Brent Symonette announced in January 2012 that he will retire from politics after the 2012 election.
The Bahamas has strong bilateral relationships with the United States and the United Kingdom, represented by an ambassador in Washington and High Commissioner in London. The Bahamas also associates closely with other nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The Bahamas has an ambassador to Haiti and works closely with the United States and CARICOM on political and migration issues related to Haiti. The Bahamas has diplomatic relations with Cuba, including embassies in each other's capitals. A repatriation agreement was signed with Cuba in 1996, and there are commercial and cultural contacts between the two countries. The Bahamas also enjoys a strengthening relationship with China. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas became a member of the United Nations in 1973 and the Organization of American States in 1982.
The Bahamas holds membership in a number of international organizations: the UN and some specialized and related agencies, including Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the International Labor Organization (ILO); International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); World Bank; World Meteorological Organization (WMO); World Health Organization (WHO); OAS and related agencies, including Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO); the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), excluding its Common Market; the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL); Universal Postal Union (UPU); International Maritime Organization (IMO); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); and obtained observer status in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (January 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( January 2012)