Trinidad and Tobago
Country in the West Indies, off the coast of Venezuela.
Trinidad and Tobago is an independent republic within the Commonwealth. It is a liberal democracy with a multiparty political system and prime ministerial political executive. The 1976 constitution provides for a president as head of state and a two-chamber parliament, consisting of a senate of 31 members and a house of representatives of 41. The president is chosen by an electoral college drawn from both chambers and appoints as prime minister the person who commands most support in the house of representatives. The president also appoints the senators, 16 on the advice of the prime minister, 6 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and 9 after wider consultation to represent broader parts of society. The 41 members of the house of representatives are elected by universal adult suffrage using a first-past-the-post system in individual constituencies. Parliament has a life of five years. Tobago was given its own house of assembly in 1980. It has 16 members - 12 popularly elected, 3 chosen by the majority party, and 1 by the opposition party. Politics in Trinidad and Tobago has normally been dominated by two competing major parties: the People's National Movement (PNM), supported mainly by Afro-Trinidadians; and the United National Congress (UNC), supported by most Indo-Trinidadians.
The islands of Trinidad and Tobago were visited by Columbus in 1498. Trinidad was colonized by Spain from 1532 and ceded to Britain in 1802, having been captured in 1797. Tobago was settled by the Netherlands in the 1630s and subsequently occupied by various countries before being ceded to Britain by France in 1814. Trinidad and Tobago were amalgamated in 1888 as a British colony.
Trinidad and Tobago's first political party, the People's National Movement (PNM), was formed in 1956 by Dr Eric Williams, a renowned historian who had been a professor at Harvard University. It won the country's first elections, in 1956, and was to remain the dominant party for 30 years. When the colony achieved internal self-government in 1959, Williams became the first chief minister. In the late 1960s, the government faced the challenge of the militant Black Power political movement and a weakening economy, but from 1973 a surge in world oil prices rescued the economy, as the country is a significant oil exporter.
In 1976, Trinidad and Tobago adopted a new constitution and became a republic, with the British monarch no longer head of state. The former governor general, Ellis Clarke, became the first president and Williams continued as prime minister. Williams died in March 1981 without having nominated a successor, and the president appointed George Chambers; the PNM formally adopted him as leader in May 1981.
Opposition landslide victory
In 1986 Ray Robinson formed a centre-left multi-ethnic alliance, the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), bringing together Indo-Trinidadian and Afro-Trinidadian parties. It won a landslide victory in the 1986 general election. This brought to an end 30 years of rule by the PNM. Robinson became prime minister and in 1987 Noor Hassanali became president.
In 1988, the NAR alliance began to fracture, when Basdeo Panday, leader of the old United Labour Front (ULF) element, broke away to form a new Indo-Trinidadian-oriented opposition party, the United National Congress (UNC).
In July 1990 the Jamaat al Muslimeen, a Black Muslim extremist group led by Yasin Abu Bakr, which had land-claim grievances, attempted to overthrow the government. The group held Prime Minister Robinson and members of parliament hostage for 5 days amid rioting in the capital, Port of Spain. After a stand-off with the police and army, the rebels surrendered, having been offered an amnesty by the government, and an injured Robinson was released But Abu Bakr and 113 other Jamaat members were subsequently jailed for two years while the courts debated the amnesty's validity.
PNM return to power
The December 1991 general election brought crushing defeat for the NAR, which won only two seats, both in Tobago. The UNC finished in second place but the clear winner was the PNM, led by Patrick Manning, who became prime minister.
First Indo-Trinidadian prime minister
The PNM and opposition United National Congress (UNC) tied in the November 1995 general election and the NAR held the balance of power. It agreed to form a coalition government with the UNC, with Basdeo Panday of the UNC as prime minister. In 1997 former prime minister Ray Robinson was elected president. The UNC won an absolute majority in the December 2000 general election. But in October 2001 the government was brought down by the resignation and defections of three of its ministers, after Panday had sacked the attorney general.
Manning back in power
A new general election, held in December 2001, produced a tie between the UNC and PNM. Despite, the UNC having won a higher share of the popular vote, President Robinson asked Patrick Manning, the PNM leader, to try and form a government. He tried but failed to secure a majority in parliament, so another general election was held, in October 2002. This brought a victory for the PNM. The Manning government pursued free-market economic policies, encouraging inward foreign investment, and cooperating with the USA in the fight against drug trafficking. Buoyed by an economy boosted by rising oil prices, Manning and the PNM government were re-elected for a further term in the November 2007 general election, winning 26 of the 41 seats.
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