Politics of the Turks and Caicos Islands takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic dependency, whereby as of 9 August 2006, the Premier is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. The islands are an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
The Queen is head of state and appoints the Governor, he in turn appoints the Premier. The Governor and the Chief Minister for the Executive Branch along with the Cabinet. The Legislative Branch is unicameral with 19 seats of which 15 are popularly elected, members serving 4-year terms. Suffrage is universal for those over 18 years of age.
There are two main political parties in the Territory: The People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Progressive National Party (PNP) formed in 1975 and 1980 respectively.
The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Military defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. The territory’s legal system is based on English common law, with a small number of laws adopted from Jamaica and the Bahamas.
The first recorded elections in the Turks and Caicos Islands took place in 1797 when Colonel Alexander Murray, the King’s Agent approved the request of the Bermudian settlers for the election of a brand of representatives to serve for a period of 12 months (1 year) only. The settlers pointed out the difficulty of obtaining decisions from Nassau in New Providence, the capital and seat of Government for the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. This move saw a Board of Assembly come into being with the elections of seven (7) representatives who were authorized to enact and pass Resolutions having effect for one year.
These Elections lasted annually for nine years up until 1805, when they were said to have been suspended, by an Order in Council from and by the Bahamas Legislative dispatch of the 29 April 1804.
For 44 years from 1805 until 1849, the Turks and Caicos Islands were without elected representatives.
Separation from the Bahamas
It was in 1848, Queen Victoria granted a separation from the Bahamas and introduced the Presidency system and in 1849, elections were held under this new system to fill four seats in the new Legislature. Only some 250 settlers were qualified to vote. (Note: There were also 2 – 4 crown nominees.)
Dependency of Jamaica
Again in 1873, 26 years after its reintroduction in 1849, local elections were abolished when the Islands became a dependency of Jamaica. In 1894, the chief colonial official was restyled commissioner. In 1917, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden suggested that the Turks and Caicos join Canada, but this suggestion was rejected by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The islands remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959.
Separation from Jamaica
On 4 July 1959, the islands were again designated as a separate colony, the last commissioner being restyled administrator. The governor of Jamaica also continued as the governor of the islands. When Jamaica was granted independence from Britain in August 1962, the Turks & Caicos Islands became a Crown colony. A new era was born and a new Constitution was introduced. Therefore, in September, fresh elections were held for the first time by secret ballot on a basis of universal adult suffrage and a new Legislature was elected with most unofficial members and a three-year term instead of five years.
In 1965, elections were held and the Constitution was amended making provisions for the Governor of the Bahamas to be the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands by this document also shared the same Court of Appeal with the Bahamas.
Elections were held in 1968 and 1969 under a new Constitution. The Legislature was renamed State Council embodying an Executive (an Advisory Body) and the Legislative Council.
The elections of 1972 saw for the first time a candidate from the first Political Party (The Labour Party) contested and won a seat in the State Council.
When the Bahamas gained independence in 1973, the Turks and Caicos received their own resident governor (the last administrator was restyled).
In 1974, Canadian New Democratic Party MP Max Saltsman tried to use his Private Member’s Bill for legislation to annexe the islands to Canada, but it did not pass in the Canadian House of Commons.
The 30 August 1976 Constitution established the Executive and Legislative Councils after the Westminster Model and. The Executive Council comprised a Chief Minister and three other Ministers, the Governor as President, the Chief Secretary, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary as official members.
The 1976 Constitution was based on the 1974 recommendations put together by the Earl of Oxford and Asquith who had been appointed the Constitutional Commissioner the previous year. However, nine months after he wrote his report, serious civil unrest broke out with the introduction of party politics and Black Radicalism to the islands. Led by J A G S McCartney, a small group of men, disgruntled with a declining economy and the rising number of expatriates, blockaded themselves in a nightclub and shots were fired. The incident provoked an inquiry into Police behaviour and McCartnery went on to form the People's Democratic Movement (PDM). The business community that set up the Progressive National Organisation (PNO, which later became the Progressive National Party, PNP) quickly countered this move.
In 1976, the PDM won the elections and planned to negotiate independence if they won the elections again in 1980. However, McCartney was killed in a plane accident, there was widespread corruption in the party and little education amongst its members and they lost the election to the PNP.
Elections of the 1980s
The issue of Independence was highlighted in the 1980 elections. That year the PNP formed the Government. The PNP were re- elected in the 1984 General Elections.
On 4 July 1986, the report of the Commission of Enquiry investigating evidence of arson, corruption and mal administration in the Turks and Caicos Islands was submitted. Prior to this in March 1985, the Chief Minister, the Minister of Development and Commerce and a Parliamentary Secretary were arrested and convicted in Miami on narcotics charges. An interim Constitution Order came into effect 24 July 1986 for a period of two years unless continued or revoked earlier. A Constitutional Commission was appointed on 15 September 1986 to review the Turks and Caicos 1976 Constitution and make recommendations taking into consideration the various events that took place over the past few years.
The constitution was suspended in 1986, but restored and revised 5 March 1988. In the interim two Advisory Councils took over with members from the Progressive National Party (PNP), People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which was a splinter group from the PNP.
Elections took place on 3 March 1988 with the PDM winning 11 of the 13 seats in the enlarged Legislative Council from a multi member Constituency as recommended by the Constitutional Commission.
Elections of the 1990s
Elections were held in 1991 with the PNP becoming the Government.
Between 1991 and 1995, the TCI Constitution was amended allowing a Minister of Government to assume the portfolio responsibility of Finance.
The elections of 1995 and 1999 were won by the PDM.
The 2003 Election
The 2003 election was also won by the Derk Taylor led PDM; however, by a Court Order in 2003, two constituencies (South Caicos North and Five Cays Providenciales) were ordered in bi elections. The PNP won the by elections and became the Government in August 2003.
A new constitution came into force on 7 August 2006 with the name of the Chief Minister being changed to Premier. Other new provisions were made for a Deputy Governor, four appointed members, House name change from Legislative Council to House of Assembly and Executive Council to Cabinet and appointed members being qualified to hold Ministerial post except for the Minister of Finance and fifteen elected members. It must be noted that the Turks and Caicos does not enjoy full internal self-government despite its name changes i.e. Chief Minister to Premier, Legislative Council to House of Assembly and Executive Council to Cabinet, which are like that model type government. The Governor remains President of the Cabinet instead of the Premier. The unicameral House of Assembly consisted of 21 seats, of which 15 were popularly elected; members serve four-year terms.
The 2007 Election
In 2007, elections were held and the Progressive National Party, led by Galmo Williams, held 13 seats, and the People’s Democratic Movement, led by Floyd Seymour, held two seats. For the first time an appointed member was given the portfolio of Minister of Education.
On 14 August 2009, the British Government partially suspended parts of the Constitution. The suspension resulted from the findings of a Commission of Inquiry that there was a "high probability of systemic corruption and/or other serious dishonesty involving past and present elected Members of the House of Assembly and others in recent years." Because of the partial suspension, the Governor has now taken control of the government of the Turks & Caicos Islands including all the former responsibilities of TCI government ministers. The House of Assembly was also immediately dissolved. An Advisory Council was appointed and made up of The Governor, Deputy Governor, Chief Executive, the Attorney General and the Permanent Secretary, Finance and seven other "nominated members" who are all belongers (broadly, TCI citizens) chosen by the Governor.
The 2012 Constitution and Election
The territorial government was restored under a new Constitution (October 2012) after a general election in November 2012, however, there continues to be a Governor, who is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, and is the Supreme Executive Representative-Authority of Her Majesty. There is a Deputy Governor, who must be a Belonger and appointed by the Governor; the Cabinet and the House of Assembly.
Under the new constitution that came into effect in October 2012, legislative power is held by a unicameral House of Assembly consisting of 19 seats, 15 elected and 4 appointed by the governor; of elected members, five are elected at large and 10 from single member districts for four-year terms. After the 2012 elections, Rufus Ewing of the Progressive National Party won a narrow majority of the elected seats and was appointed premier.