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Brief Political History and Dynamics of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines comprises a cluster of islands between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, north of Trinidad and Tobago.  The total land area of the islands is 389 square kilometres and the population of the islands is approximately 106,000 persons.  The economy of the islands is dependent on tourism (particularly to the Grenadines), agriculture (particularly banana production), and construction.  There is also a small offshore banking industry and the economy is further supported by remittances from Vincentians living abroad.  The islands are vulnerable to tropical Storms, which wiped out substantial portions of crops in 1994, 1995, 2002, and 2007.  Due to the global recession, economic growth slowed in 2008, following a 10-year high of nearly 7 percent in 2006.  The islands have a relatively high public debt to GDP ratio of about 70 percent and unemployment (around 22 percent) and under-employment prompt many to seek work abroad, whether temporarily or permanently.  Recent infrastructure projects include an international airport, which is being built under the current administration and is due for completion in 2011.

St. Vincent was originally settled around 5,000 BC by the Ciboney people, then by the Arawaks and subsequently by the Caribs.  The Caribs of St. Vincent, living in the densely forested mountainous interior, were able to resist European settlement for longer than the indigenous inhabitants of any other island in the Caribbean were.  Granted by Charles I to the Earl of Carlisle in 1627, the islands were disputed between Britain and France but were finally ceded to Britain in 1783.  The islands had a plantation economy based on slave labour, producing sugar, cotton, coffee, and cocoa.  As in the rest of the British Caribbean, slavery was abolished in 1834.  The islands have been subject to natural disasters caused by hurricanes and volcanic eruptions.  The eruption of the volcano La Soufriere in 1902 devastated the north of St. Vincent killing 2,000 people. 

Political Dynamics

Between 1958 and 1962, St. Vincent and the Grenadines was a separate administrative unit of the Federation of the West Indies.  Internal self-government was granted in 1969 and St. Vincent and the Grenadines attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1979.

When St. Vincent and the Grenadines became an independent State in October 1979, Milton Cato of the centre-left St. Vincent Labour Party became Prime Minister.  In December 1979, there was a revolt on Union Island by a group wanting more power in the country’s new government.  This was followed in 1981 by a general Strike of workers protesting new industrial legislation against the background of an economic recession.  In 1984, James Mitchell became Prime Minister after a victory by the centre-right New Democratic Party (NDP).  Mitchell was returned to office in 1989 after his party won all of the country’s 15 seats, and returned once more in 1994, though with a slimmer majority.  In 1998, the NDP won eight of the 15 seats in parliament, but obtained a minority of the popular vote.  The ULP had taken 54.6% of the votes.  In 2000, following a proposal to increase pensions for parliamentarians, civil unrest, and protests led to the Grande Anse Accord (brokered by the Caribbean Community), which called for an end to the civil disturbances and for early elections, two years before these were constitutionally due.  Mitchell resigned as Prime Minister on 27 October 2000 and was succeeded by his Finance Minister, Arnhim Eustace.

In the 2001 elections, the social-democratic Unity Labour Party (ULP) captured 12 of the 15 contested legislative seats, and Ralph Gonsalves became prime minister.  The incumbent, conservative New Democratic Party (NDP) was reduced to three seats.  International observers monitored the elections.

In December 2005, Gonsalves led the ULP to re-election, again taking 12 of the 15 contested seats, while the opposition NDP won the remaining three.

In 2009, the politics of St. Vincent and the Grenadines became increasingly polarized over a November referendum to replace the country’s 1979 constitution with one produced by a government-appointed Constitution Review Commission.  Following six years of deliberations, the proposed constitution featured several important changes, such as opening national elections to members of the clergy and dual citizens and the inclusion of strong provisions against forced labour.  It also ruled that marriage could only exist between a biological man and a biological woman.  The opposition strongly opposed the new constitution for falling short of fully reforming the government.  On November 25, the constitutional reform failed to pass a national referendum, receiving support from only 43 percent of voters with 56 percent opposed.

In the 15 November 2010 elections, the ULP won a third consecutive term, but with a much reduced majority; winning only 8 of 15 seats.

On 7 November 2015, PM Gonsalves announced that he had advised the Governor-General to dissolve the Ninth Parliament, with elections being called for 9 December 2015.

DRP= Democratic Republican Party; NDP = New Democratic Party; SVGP = St. Vincent and the Grenadines Green Party; ULP = Unity Labour Party; IND = Independent; * Incumbent; ** Political Leader


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