St. Lucia’s first known inhabitants were the Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America in 200-400 A.D. By 800 AD the Arawaks’ culture had been superseded by an early Amerindian group known as the Caribs. The Caribs called the island ‘Iouanalao’ and ‘Hewanorra’, meaning ‘Island of the Iguanas’. Numerous archaeological sites on the island have produced specimens of the Arawaks’ well-developed pottery. Caribs gradually replaced Arawaks during the period from 800-1000 A.D.
The first European settlement was in the 1550s by the buccaneer Francois le Clerc (aka Jambe de Bois, or Wooden Leg). Around 1600 the Dutch arrived, establishing a fortified base at Vieux Fort. However, two attempts by English colonists, in 1605 and 1639, ended in failure as the resident Caribs forced the colonists to flee. By the mid 17th century the French arrived and ‘purchased’ the island for the French West India Company. Anglo-French rivalry for the island continued for more than a century and a half, with the island changing hands a total of 14 times. The island’s first settlements were all French, beginning with Soufrière in 1746. By 1780, 12 settlements and a large number of sugar plantations had been established.
The English, with their headquarters in Barbados, and the French, based in Martinique, found St. Lucia attractive after the sugar industry developed in the 18th century. In 1778, the British launched their first invasion effort at the ‘Battle of Cul de Sac’. Britain eventually triumphed, with France permanently ceding St. Lucia in 1815 under the Treaty of Paris. In 1838, St. Lucia was incorporated into the British Windward Islands administration, headquartered in Barbados. This lasted until 1885, when the capital was moved to Grenada.
Increasing self-governance has marked St. Lucia’s 20th-century history. A 1924 constitution gave the island its first form of representative government, with a minority of elected members in the previously all-nominated legislative council. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1951, and elected members became a majority of the council. Ministerial government was introduced in 1956, and in 1958 St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, a semi-autonomous dependency of the United Kingdom. When the federation collapsed in 1962, following Jamaica’s withdrawal, a smaller federation was briefly attempted. After the second failure, the United Kingdom and the six windward and leeward islands–Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, and St. Lucia–developed a novel form of cooperation called associated statehood.
As an associated state of the United Kingdom from 1967 to 1979, St. Lucia had full responsibility for internal self-government but left its external affairs and defence responsibilities to the United Kingdom. This interim arrangement ended on February 22, 1979, when St. Lucia achieved full independence. St. Lucia continues to recognize Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state and is an active member of the Commonwealth. The island continues to cooperate with its neighbours through the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the East Caribbean Common Market (ECCM), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the Regional Security System (RSS).
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
St. Lucia is a parliamentary democracy modelled on the Westminster system. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor general, appointed by the Queen as her representative. The governor general exercises ceremonial functions, but residual powers, under the constitution, can be used at the governor general’s discretion. The actual power in St. Lucia lies with the prime minister and the cabinet, usually representing the majority party in parliament.
The bicameral parliament consists of a 17-member House of Assembly whose members are elected by universal adult suffrage for 5-year terms and an 11-member senate appointed by the governor general. The parliament may be dissolved by the governor general at any point during its 5-year term, either at the request of the prime minister–in order to take the nation into early elections–or at the governor general’s own discretion, if the house passes a vote of no-confidence in the government.
St. Lucia has an independent judiciary composed of district courts and a high court. Cases may be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. The island is divided into 10 administrative divisions, including the capital, Castries. Popularly elected local governments in most towns and villages perform such tasks as regulation of sanitation and markets and maintenance of cemeteries and secondary roads. St. Lucia has no army but maintains a coast guard and a paramilitary Special Services Unit within its police force.
The United Workers Party (UWP) was once the dominant force in the politics of St. Lucia. Until 1997, the UWP governed the country for all but three years since independence. John Compton was premier of St. Lucia from 1964 until independence in February 1979 and remained prime minister until elections later that year.
The St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) won the first post-independence elections in July 1979, taking 12 of 17 seats in parliament. A period of turbulence ensued, in which squabbling within the party led to several changes of prime minister. Pressure from the private sector and the unions forced the government to resign in 1982. New elections were then called and were won resoundingly by Compton’s UWP, which took 14 of 17 seats.
The UWP was re-elected on April 16, 1987, but with only nine of 17 seats. Seeking to increase his slim margin, Prime Minister Compton suspended parliament and called new elections on April 30. This unprecedented snap election, however, gave Compton the same results as before–the UWP retained nine seats and the SLP eight. In April 1992, Prime Minister Compton’s government again defeated the SLP. In this election, however, the government increased its majority in parliament to 11 seats.
In 1996, Compton announced his resignation as prime minister in favor of his chosen successor Dr. Vaughan Lewis, former director-general of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Dr. Lewis became Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Planning and Development on April 2, 1996. The SLP also had a change of leadership with former CARICOM official Dr. Kenny Anthony succeeding businessman Julian Hunte.
In elections held May 23, 1997, the St. Lucia Labour Party won all but one of the 17 seats in parliament, and Dr. Kenny Anthony became Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Planning and Development on May 24, 1997.
In elections of December 3, 2001, the SLP won 14 of the 17 available seats. The leader of the UWP, Dr. Morella Joseph, failed to win a seat. Marcus Nicholas served as leader of the parliamentary opposition. Former Prime Minister Sir John Compton came out of retirement to become leader of the opposition UWP in 2005.
The United Workers Party won an upset victory in elections held December 11, 2006, taking 11 seats against 6 won by the St. Lucia Labour Party. Sir John Compton once again returned to the position of Prime Minister, as well as Minister of Finance.
In May 2007, Prime Minister Compton became ill and appointed Minister for Health Stephenson King as Acting Prime Minister. King served in this capacity until Compton passed away on September 7, 2007. Two days later, King was sworn in as Prime Minister.
Source: Caribbean Elections