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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Bermuda is the oldest self-governing overseas territory in the British Commonwealth. Its 1968 constitution provides the island with formal responsibility for internal self-government, while the British Government retains responsibility for external affairs, defense, and security. The Bermudian Government is consulted on any international negotiations affecting the territory. Bermuda participates, through British delegations, in the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies.
Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in Bermuda by a governor, whom she appoints. Internally, Bermuda has a parliamentary system of government.
The premier is head of government and leader of the majority party in the House of Assembly. The cabinet is composed of ministers selected by the premier from among members of the House of Assembly and the Senate.
The 36-member House is elected from 36 electoral districts (one representative from each district) for a term not to exceed 5 years. The Senate, or reviewing house, serves concurrently with the House and has 11 members--five appointed by the governor in consultation with the premier, three by the opposition leader, and three at the governor's discretion.
The judiciary is composed of a chief justice and associate judges appointed by the governor. For administrative purposes, Bermuda is divided into nine parishes, with Hamilton and St. George considered autonomous corporations.
Bermuda's first political party, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), was formed in May 1963 with predominantly black adherents. In 1965, the two-party system was launched with the formation of the United Bermuda Party (UBP), which had the support of the majority of white voters and of some black voters. A third party, the Bermuda Democratic Party (BDP), was formed in the summer of 1967 with a splinter group from the PLP as a nucleus; it disbanded in 1970. It was later replaced by the National Liberal Party (NLP), which currently holds no parliamentary seats.
Bermuda's first election held on the basis of universal adult suffrage and equal voting took place on May 22, 1968; previously, the franchise had been limited to property owners. In the 1968 election, the UBP won 30 House of Assembly seats, while the PLP won 10 seats and the BDP lost the 3 seats it had previously held. The UBP continued to maintain control of the government, although by decreasing margins in the Assembly, until 1998 when the PLP won the general election for the first time.
Unsatisfied aspirations, particularly among young blacks, led to a brief civil disturbance in December 1977, following the execution of two men found guilty of the 1972-73 assassinations of Governor Sir Richard Sharples and four others. In the 1980s, the increasing prosperity of Bermudians, combined with limited land area, caused a housing shortage. Despite a general strike in 1981 and economic downturn in the early 1980s, Bermuda's social, political, and economic institutions remained stable.
Both political parties have discussed the possibility of complete independence. An independence referendum called by a sharply divided UBP in the summer of 1995 was resoundingly defeated and resulted in the resignation of the premier and UBP leader, Sir John Swan. Just over 58% of the electorate voted in the independence referendum, which had to be postponed one day due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Felix. Of those voting, over 73% voted against independence, while only 25% voted in favor. Vote results may have been distorted by the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) call to boycott the referendum.
Independence has been a plank in the platform of the PLP since the party's inception in 1963. In February 2004 then-Premier (and PLP party leader) Alex Scott announced his decision to commence an open and objective debate on the subject of independence from the United Kingdom (U.K.). Since that time, the government-appointed Bermuda Independence Commission has held hearings and published its findings, the government is holding public meetings on the issue island-wide, and it will present green and then white papers detailing its policy proposals for independence. There is considerable focus in public forums on the mechanics of deciding independence, whether through an independence referendum, a general election, or some combination of the two. The international and local business communities appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Currently citizens of Britain's overseas territories, including Bermuda, are entitled to British citizenship. The British Overseas Territories Bill, passed in February 2002, provides automatic acquisition of British citizenship, including automatic transmission of citizenship to their children; the right of abode, including the right to live and work in the U.K. and the European Union (EU); the right not to exercise or to formally renounce British citizenship; and the right to use the fast track European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) channel at the airport, free of U.K. immigration controls. The U.K. Governor of Bermuda has said that citizens of an independent Bermuda would no longer be automatically entitled to British citizenship and the EU benefits that accrue to it.
There are no conditions attached to the grant of British citizenship to the overseas territories, a fact of particular importance to Bermuda where the issue of independence is being debated. A 1999 U.K. government White Paper states: 'The new grant of British citizenship will not be a barrier, therefore, to those Overseas Territories choosing to become independent of Britain. Our Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British. Britain has willingly granted independence where it has been requested; and we will continue to do so where this is an option.'
Bermuda's most recent general election was held in July 2003, when the PLP was re-elected to its second term.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II
Governor--His Excellency, Sir John Vereker, KCB
Premier--The Honorable Ewart Brown
Bermuda's interests in the U.S. are represented by the United Kingdom, whose embassy is at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-588-6500; fax: 202-588-7870.
The Bermudian Government's Department of Tourism has offices in New York and Toronto.