The Bahamas is a chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Florida and northeast of Cuba. Previously a British colony, the nation became independent in 1973. The Bahamas remains part of the British Commonwealth, and is governed as a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The islands are divided into 31 administrative districts, with the national government located in the capital of Nassau.
God Save the Queen
As a member of the British Commonwealth, the British monarch is the recognized head of the Bahamas. A governor general is appointed by the British monarchy to act as its representative in the day-to-day business of the islands. The governor general signs bills passed by Parliament and appoints officials with the advice and consent of the prime minister. Constitutionally, the governor general is considered a member of Parliament, but plays no role in daily legislative activities. The governor general acts more as a symbol of the nation, while the prime minister and Cabinet execute laws passed by the two houses of parliament: the Senate and the House of Assembly.
Immediately after legislative elections, the governor general appoints the prime minister -- typically the leader of the party that has won the majority of votes, or of a coalition of parties. The prime minister chooses the ministers who will make up Cabinet. Ministers are always members of one of the two houses of Parliament, although the constitution specifies only three may be senators. The number of Cabinet ministers may vary, but there can never be fewer than nine ministers including the prime minister and attorney general. The prime minister and the minister of finance must be chosen from members of the House of Assembly.
The House of Assembly
The Bahamian Constitution charges Parliament with making all laws to govern the nation. Bills may be introduced in either the House of Assembly or the Senate, and must be approved by both. Finance bills are an exception and may only be introduced in the House of Assembly. The 39 members of the House of Assembly are elected by direct popular vote. Members of Parliament in the Bahamas serve five-year terms, although the constitution allows the government, or the governor general, to dissolve Parliament and call an election at any time. When Parliament is dissolved, all members officially vacate their seats and any matters before the body are terminated.
Limits on the Senate
Senators are not popularly elected, but appointed by the governor general after consultation with government leaders. Following legislative elections, the governor general seeks nominations and advice from the prime minister and the leader of the opposition party. Eight of the 16 senators are selected from the majority party; at least four of the others are chosen from the opposition party. Since they are appointed rather than popularly elected, the constitution places restrictions on senatorial power. For example, if a bill passes the House of Assembly twice but the Senate rejects it both times, the House can bypass the Senate and send the bill straight to the governor general to be signed into law. If the Senate makes any amendments to a bill previously approved by the House, the House must also approve those amendments before the bill becomes law.
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images