Politics of Montserrat takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic dependency, whereby the Chief Minister is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Montserrat is an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Government is executed through a Governor appointed by the British monarch, an Executive Council, which has the general control and direction of government, and a legislative council. The Governor retains responsibility for external affairs, defence, and internal security, the public service (as head of the civil service), and offshore finance. The Executive Council is presided over by the Governor and includes the Chief Minister, the Financial Secretary, the Attorney-General, and three other ministers. The Legislative Council has nine directly elected members and two official members. Elections are held at least every five years.
The initial elements of constitutional development in Montserrat started with the letters patent of the 17th century, which were legal instruments conferring the right to set up governing instruments and to rule. Prior to emancipation (1883-1838), there was a legislative assembly comprised of planters and merchants elected from among themselves. The qualification to be an elected member of the Legislative Assembly was based on wealth. In 1866, the franchise was withdrawn and the governor or his deputy, the Lieutenant Governor, ruled with the advice of a totally dominated Council comprised of planters, merchants, and some officials.
Reintroduction of Representative Government
In 1936, representative government was reintroduced in Montserrat; however, elected members were in the minority. In 1943, the first local was elected into the Legislative Assembly. The 1951 Letters Patent brought about more significant changes as a consequence of protests and riots throughout the region. These protests led to the birth of the trade union movement in the Caribbean.
Universal Adult Suffrage
The letters patent of 1951 also saw the introduction of universal adult suffrage, allowing for elections without the requirement for wealth as a qualification. This ushered in the Legislative Council where the majority comprised elected members for the first time. In 1952, William H. Bramble and his Montserrat Labour Party (MLP) were elected into the Legislative Council.
Introduction of Ministerial Government
The Letter Patent was further amended in 1959 to allow for a Ministerial system of government, This gave a greater level of local self government. W.H. Bramble then emerged as the first Chief Minister.
The 1970s and 1980s
In the 1970s and 1980s, Montserratian politics were dominated by Austin Bramble, leader of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), and John Osborne, head of the People's Liberation Movement (PLM). Bramble served as chief minister for eight years beginning in 1970. In November 1978, however, he was replaced by Osborne as the PLM captured all seven elective seats in the Legislative Council. Osborne's control of the chief minister's post was ratified on two subsequent occasions. The PLM won five seats in the February 1983 election and four in the August 1987 election. The latter ballot marked the first electoral effort of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP, which was headed by Bertrand Osborne, won two seats on the Legislative Council.
RECENT POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
In December 1989, Montserrat's Constitution was consolidated into one document through the withdrawal of the letters patent and replace with the first written Montserrat Constitution Order. The new Constitution came into force on 13 February 1990. A new Constitution has recently been greed and is waiting to come into force. The Hon. John A. Osborne was the first Chief Minister to operate under the first constitution order.
1991 General Election
In the 1991 elections, the newly formed National Progressive Party (NPP), led by Reuben Meade, gained the majority.
1996 General Election
The general election of November 1996 led to no overall majority for any party. The Movement for National Reconstruction (MNR) led by Bertrand Osborne formed a coalition government supported by former Chief Minister Meade from the NPP and an independent. In August 1997, Bertrand Osborne resigned when three of his ministers withdrew their support. David Brandt, a lawyer and independent, formed a government.
Volcanic activity has resulted in four and a half of the original seven constituencies in Montserrat being unoccupied. As a result the pre-1995 electoral arrangements became unworkable. In February 1999, the Governor appointed a commission to suggest reforms. The Commission reported in May 1999. Their main recommendations were that:
- the single-member, multi-constituency, first-past-the-post electoral system be replaced by a single-constituency system under a modified first-past-the-post arrangement;
- the nominated membership to the Legislative Council be abolished and the elected membership be increased from seven to nine accordingly.
The main recommendations were accepted by HMG and the new system was used in the 2001 and subsequent elections.
2001 General Election
The general election on 2 April 2001 saw a landslide victory for John Osborne’s National Peoples Liberation Movement (NPLM). A 78% turnout of the 2,953 strong electorate, in a well-organised and orderly election, resulted in the NPLM securing seven of the nine available elected seats in the Legislative Council. The other two seats went to members of the National Progressive Party (NPP). The general election took place after the resignation of two ministers from former Chief Minister David Brandt’s government in February forced an unexpected election (originally due for November 2001
2006 General Election
In the general election of 31 May 2006, the 9 seats were contested by 3 parties – the New People’s Liberation Movement (NPLM) led by outgoing Chief Minister John Osborne, the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP) led by outgoing opposition leader Rosalind Cassell-Sealy and the Montserrat Democratic Party led by Lowell Lewis – and 4 independent candidates. A 77% turnout of the 3,331 strong electorate, in a well-organised and orderly election, resulted in Lowell Lewis receiving the highest number of votes, followed by 4 MCAP candidates. The remaining seats went to 3 NPLM and an independent. The new government, led by Dr Lewis, is a coalition between the MDP, the NPLM and an independent.
2009 General Election
A general election took place in Montserrat on 8 September 2009. The nine seats were contested by three parties – the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP) led by Reuben T Meade, the Montserrat Labour Party led by Idabelle Meade and the Montserrat Reformation Party led by Adelina Tuitt – and 10 independent candidates. A 66% turnout of the 3,516 strong electorate, in a well-organised and orderly election, resulted in Joseph Easton Taylor-Farrell receiving the highest number of votes, with five of his fellow MCAP candidates also receiving seats. The remaining seats went to three independent candidates including the outgoing Chief Minister Lowell Lewis. The Movement for Change and Prosperity hold a majority in the Government, which is led by Mr Reuben Meade. The Leader of the Opposition is Donaldson Romeo.
A new constitution for Montserrat came into force on 27 September 2011. This was the culmination of a long process of consultation and negotiation which started in 2001. The new Constitution gave more power to the Government of Montserrat in the field of international relations and strengthens and expands the fundamental rights and freedoms of those living in Montserrat, reflecting the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Constitution established a number of new Commissions to deal with complaints, integrity, mercy and elections. It established a new National Advisory Council, and retains the existing Public Services Commission. These were all designed to enhance democracy and good government, and to give greater powers to local politicians and senior civil servants.
2014 General Election
The newly formed People's Democratic Movement (PDM) won seven of nine seats in the Legislative Assembly in the 11 September 2014 election. Political leader of the PDM Donaldson Romeo was sworn in as the new premier on Friday, 12 Septemebr 2014. Preliminary results indicated that the PDM secured 50 percent of votes compared with 35 percent obtained by the former ruling Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP). The Elections Commission noted that 71 percent of the 3,866 registered voters participated in the election.