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Antigua & Barbuda - Government

As head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a governor general who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. Antigua and Barbuda has a bicameral legislature: a 17-member Senate appointed by the governor general--mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition--and a 17-member popularly elected House of Representatives.

The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House and conducts affairs of state with the cabinet. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament. Elections must be held at least every 5 years but may be called by the prime minister at any time.

The Antigua Trades and Labour Union became the political vehicle for Vere Cornwall Bird, who was elected as the Labour Union's president in 1943. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP), formed by Bird and other trade unionists, first ran candidates in the 1946 elections and became the majority party in 1951, beginning a long history of electoral victories.

Bird and the ALP were voted out of office in the 1971 general elections that swept the progressive labor movement into power, but returned to office in 1976, winning renewed mandates in every subsequent election under Vere Bird's leadership until 1994 and also under the leadership of his son, Lester Bird, until 2004.

The ALP remained in power during the 1980s, its position enhanced by divisions within the opposition. However, by the late 1980s divisions also appeared in the ALP, precipitated by allegations of financial misdealing in 1986, and of armaments sales in 1990, both involving senior government ministers. These matters led to ongoing parliamentary controversy.

In April 1992 three opposition parties merged to form the United Progressive Party (UPP). In September 1993, on the retirement of Vere Bird, his son Lester Bird became Prime Minister. In March 1994 the ALP won its fifth consecutive election victory, securing 11 of the 17 seats in the House; the UPP led by Baldwin Spencer took five and the Barbuda People’s Movement one.

The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) led by Lester Bird won its sixth consecutive general election in March 1999 (in the presence of a Commonwealth observer group), gaining 12 of the 17 seats with 53 per cent of the votes cast. The United Progressive Party (UPP) took four seats, with 44 percent of the votes, and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) one seat.

At the request of the Prime Minister, a two-person Commonwealth expert group visited the country in July 2000, to consult the people and review the ‘operations of the arrangements’ between Antigua and Barbuda as established at a constitutional conference at Lancaster House, London, in 1980. In November 2000, at St John’s, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon presented the group’s report and recommendations to the government, saying that implementation of these recommendations would bring an end to long-standing discord between the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.

In March 2004 the ALP lost power in national elections that gave the United Progressive Party (UPP) 13 of the 17 seats in Parliament. After 28 years in power, the Antigua Labor Party has been defeated in general elections in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Results show the opposition United Progressive Party winning at least 12 of the 17 seats in parliament. The election marks the end of one of the world's longest-lasting political dynasties.

Longtime Prime Minister Lester Bird conceded defeat early Wednesday bringing to an end the 50-year political dynasty begun by his father, Vere Bird Sr. who led Antigua and Barbuda to independence from Great Britain in 1981. Lester Bird succeeded his father in 1984, and his Antigua Labor Party has dominated political life in the Caribbean nation until now.

In recent years, many Antiguans had seen their once-enviable standard of living decline. The country's public sector debt and current accounts deficit had ballooned in recent years, leading to a slowdown in direct foreign investment. Many Antiguans had also become weary of bad governance issues associated with the Bird family, and felt it was time for a change.

Antigua's new Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, has promised to improve unemployment benefits as well as improve the country's educational system by offering school uniforms and meals to needy students. Baldwin Spencer's United Progressive Party (UPP) won a narrow victory to secure a second term in office in Antigua and Barbuda's general election on 12 March 2009. The UPP won nine of the 17 seats with Lester Bird's Antigua Labour Party (ALP) winning seven and the UPP-aligned Barbuda People's Movement (BPM) securing the Barbuda seat.

The opposition successfully challenged the election results in three constituencies and had the results nullified by the Antigua High Court. The ruling UPP subsequently appealed that decision and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s ruling in October 2010, returning three ministers to their parliamentary seats.

Since assuming power the UPP government embarked on a program of good governance passing legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, Prevention of Corruption Act and Integrity in Public Life Act. The government’s major challenge was economic reform and tackling the high debt accumulated by the previous administration.

The country's economy contracted over the five years from 2009. In 2010, the UPP government sought a Stand-By Arrangement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize the country's debt. Unemployment rate increased from 5 to 25 per cent in 10 years. The ABLP promised to abolish personal income tax, create more jobs and revive more local and foreign investment. The UPP, which was seeking an unprecedented third five-year term, promised to develop the economy by constructing a new port and a modern performing arts centre and exploring space technology.

In the 12 June 2014 elections, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) regained power after 10 years in opposition, taking 14 of the 17 directly elected seats in the House of Representatives. Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer's United Progressive Party (UPP) took the remaining three seats, down from nine.

The ABLP (formerly named the Antigua Labour Party) had dominated the country's politics since independence from United Kingdom in 1981 until the elections in 2004, under the leadership of Mr. Vere Cornwall Bird and his son, Lester. The former's grandson-in-law, Mr. Gaston Browne, led the ABLP in the 2014 elections. ABLP won 14 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and took over the government. The then incumbent United Progressive Party won three seats. The Organization of American States observer group reported the elections were generally free and fair.

On 13 June 2014, 47-year-old Mr. Browne (ABLP) was sworn in, thereby becoming the country's youngest ever Prime Minister.

Early general elections were set for 21 March 2018. Prime minister and leader of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) Gaston Browne called elections a year ahead of schedule, saying he wanted to protect major investment projects in the country. The investments include new housing projects, port redevelopment, and new hotels and infrastructure development “representing billions of dollars of new investment in Antigua and Barbuda”, according to the online Caribbean News Now newspaper, which is privately aligned to Browne.

But UPP Leader Harold Lovell told the country in his broadcast that Browne had called the elections earlier than normal because “things are not normal”, saying, however, that it offered Antiguans a chance “to pull us back from the brink or hurl us over the precipice”. Lovell said the elections were called because Browne was rapidly losing voter support because he had failed to deliver on numerous promises made in 2014, deeply disappointing even his most die-hard ABLP supporters and victimising faithful UPP supporters.

Browne's Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) took 15 of the 17 available parliamentary seats in the 21 March 2018 snap elections, putting him back in power for the next five years. Local media said that voter turn-out among the 51,258 eligible voters was lower than in previous election cycles. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne named his new cabinet after winning a second term on 22 March 2018, including his wife Maria Browne who is now minister of state in legal affairs, immigration and labour. The first lady is now also in charge of housing lands and urban renewal within the Ministry of Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation.

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