Politics of Barbados

Barbados Parliament of Barbados Monarchy of Barbados

Coat of arms of Barbados (2).svg
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The politics of Barbados function within a framework of constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary government with strong democratic traditions; constitutional safeguards for nationals of Barbados include: freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association.

Executive power is vested in the Barbadian monarch, and is exercised by his or her vice-regal representative, on the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who together, form the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Parliament. The political system is dominated by two main parties, the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party. The judiciary of Barbados is independent of the executive and the legislature. Jurisprudence is based on English common law.

Many of the country's legislative practices derive from the unwritten conventions of, and precedents set by, the United Kingdom's Westminster Parliament; however, Barbados has evolved variations.

Summary of governmental organization

Type of government
Parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy.
Administrative divisions
11 parishes: Christ Church, Saint Andrew, Saint George, Saint James, Saint John, Saint Joseph, Saint Lucy, Saint Michael, Saint Peter, Saint Philip, Saint Thomas; and the city of Bridgetown
Westminster system, based on unwritten conventions and written legislation.
Legal system
English common law; accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction, with reservations.
Citizens aged 18 years or older; only two adult citizens in Barbados cannot vote; the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer; the Governor-General is eligible to vote, but abstains due to constitutional convention.
Participation in international organizations
CARICOM, CSME, CCJ, ACS, ICCt, ACP, Commonwealth of Nations, CDB, ECLAC, FAO, G-77, IADB, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, LAES, MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO.
Description of national flag
Three vertical panels - the outer panels of ultramarine and the centre panel of gold. A broken trident in black is the centre of the flag.

Executive power

Sovereign and Head of State
Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados (since 30 November 1966). The present Monarch also reigned over Barbados when it was a territory.
Sandra Mason, Governor-General of Barbados (since 8 January 2018).
Head of government
Prime Minister Mia Mottley (since 25 May 2018).
Ministers chosen by the Prime Minister and appointed by the Governor-General's assent. Cabinet leads various ministries and agencies, generally with regional representation. Traditionally most, if not all, cabinet ministers will be members of the leader's own party who are elected to the lower house or are appointed to the upper house; however this is not legally or constitutionally mandated.
The monarchy is hereditary. The Governor-General is appointed according to tradition by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister for a non-specific term. In following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons is usually designated by the Governor-General to become Prime Minister.

Government of Barbados

Head of state

Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados, is the head of state and gives repository of executive power; as expressed in the constitution: "The executive authority of Barbados is vested in Her Majesty." In practice, the sovereign very rarely exercises this power; since the monarch does not normally reside in Barbados, she appoints a governor-general to represent her and any exercise of powers are largely carried out through this representative. The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the Prime Minister; "advice" in this sense is a choice generally without options since it would be highly unconventional for the Prime Minister's advice to be overlooked, a convention that protects the monarchy. As long as the monarch is following the advice of her ministers, she is not held personally responsible for the decisions of the government. The Governor-General has no term limit, the viceroy is said to serve "at Her Majesty's pleasure".

Similarly, the Governor-General exercises the executive powers of state on the advice of the Crown ministers. The term "the Crown" is usually used to represent the power of the government overall. Government ministers are ministers of the Crown. Criminal prosecutions are made by Crown prosecutors in the name of the monarch.

It has been proposed that Barbados become a republic. The former government led the proposal which supported maintaining membership ties with the Commonwealth of Nations, however the proposal would replace the office of Governor-General and the Monarch with a president.

Head of government

The Prime Minister is the head of government. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General, but to ensure the continuity of a stable government this person will always be the one who has the confidence of the House of Assembly to lead the government. In practice, the position usually goes to the leader of the political party that has the most seats in the lower house. On several occasions in Barbadian history, no party has had a majority in the House of Assembly and thus one party, usually the largest, forms a minority government.

The Prime Minister holds office until he resigns is effectively subject to a winning vote of no confidence[1] or is removed by the Governor-General; therefore, the party that was in government before the election may attempt to continue to govern if they so desire, even if they hold fewer seats than another party. Coalition governments are rare.

Political parties are private organisations that are not mentioned in the constitution. By the convention of responsible government, the Prime Minister and most of the Cabinet are Members of Parliament so they can answer to Parliament for their actions. But, constitutionally, any Barbadian adult is eligible for the job, and Prime Ministers have held office after being elected leader but before taking a seat in the Assembly, or after being defeated in their constituencies. The Prime Minister selects ministers to head the various government departments and form a cabinet. The members of the Cabinet remain in office at the pleasure of the Governor-General.

If the Assembly passes a motion of no confidence in the government, the Prime Minister and the rest of Cabinet are expected either to resign their offices or to ask for Parliament to be dissolved so that a general election can be held. To avoid a non-confidence motion from passing, parties enforce strong party discipline, in which members of a party - especially from the ruling party - are strongly urged to vote the "party line" or face consequences. While a member of a governing party is free to vote their conscience, they are constrained by the fact that voting against the party line (especially in confidence votes) might lead to expulsion from their party. Such an expulsion would lead to loss of election funding and the former party backing an alternate candidate. While the government likes to keep control in these circumstances, in unwritten practice, the only time the government can fall is if a money bill (financial or budget) is defeated. However, if a government finds that it can not pass any legislation it is common (but not required) that a vote of confidence should be held. The exception is if the prime minister or the government declared that they consider a given bill to be a matter of confidence (hence how backbenchers are often held to strict party voting). Members can be elected as independents. Most independent members are elected under a party, but either chose to leave the party or are expelled from it.

When there are enough seats for another party to form a government after the resignation of a government, the Governor-General may ask the other party to try to form the government.

Legislative power

Barbados' Parliament consists of the monarch and a bicameral legislature: an elected House of Assembly and an appointed Senate. In practice, legislative power rests with the party that has the majority of seats in the House of Assembly, which is elected for a period not to exceed five years.

Political parties and elections

e • d  Summary of the 21 May 2003 Barbados House of Assembly election results
Parties Votes % Seats
Barbados Labour Party 65,845 48 14
Democratic Labour Party 72,003 52 16
Independents 137 0.11 -
Total valid votes 124,177 100.00 30
Invalid votes 286
Total votes cast (turnout: 56.7%) 124,463
Registered voters 218,811
Source: IFES ElectionGuide

The parishes of Barbados are usually further divided into one or more constituencies for candidates seeking election to the House of Assembly. As of 1967, there are no longer any Local Government Councils at the parish level, as issues such as schools, public works, government health facilities and other institutions are administered at the national level. However, local representatives to the House of Assembly will usually be responsible for local causes and may take up issues with the respective Ministers of the Crown.

There are two major and long-standing parties in Barbados: the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Recent times have seen the dissolution of a third party: the National Democratic Party (NDP), and the creation of another: the People's Empowerment Party (PEP). Despite initial historical disparity (the BLP was once conservative and the DLP liberal), their modern incarnations are all moderate and largely have no major ideological differences. Electoral contests and political disputes often have personal overtones and voter sway tends to be based on tradition. The major political problems facing Barbados today are in promoting economic growth: creating jobs, encouraging agricultural diversification, attracting small industry, and promoting tourism.

The ruling BLP was decisively returned to power in January, 1999, elections, winning 26 of the then available 28 seats in the Parliament, with the DLP only winning the remaining two. As Prime Minister Owen Arthur also served as Minister of Finance and the then main opposition party, the DLP, was led by David Thompson.

Party eras

Political pressure groups

The main political pressure groups are:


Barbados has an independent judiciary composed of Magistrates' Courts, which are statutorily authorized, and a Supreme Court, which is constitutionally mandated. The Supreme Court consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal,[2] each having four judges. The Chief Justice serves on both the high court and the court of appeal. The court of last resort is the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (which replaced the British-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council). The CCJ's decisions are binding on all parties. Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. Supreme Court of Judicature judges are appointed by the Service Commissions for the Judicial and Legal Service.

See also