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Prime Minister Kenny Anthony's St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) swept to victory in the December 3 general elections, winning 14 of 17 seats in parliament, just short of the 16--1 majority it achieved in 1997. However, in an election called six months ahead of schedule, constituencies dominated by banana farmers registered their discontent with Anthony's party, reflecting a measure of popular discontent with his efforts to keep the island's ailing banana industry afloat. Anthony was the only party leader to survive the election. Although her United Workers Party (UWP) won the other 3 seats, Morella Joseph--the first woman to lead a party into a general election--lost her seat, and National Alliance leader George Odlum and former UWP Prime Minister Vaughan Lewis failed in their efforts to be elected. After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Odlum came under heavy criticism for his close ties to the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. The SLP and the UWP have dominated elections in St. Lucia since adult suffrage was introduced in the late 1950s.
St. Lucia, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence in 1979. The British monarchy is represented by a governor-general. Under the 1979 constitution, a bicameral parliament consists of a 17-member house of assembly, elected for five years, and an 11-member senate. Six members of the upper body are appointed by the prime minister, three by the leader of the parliamentary opposition, and two in consultation with civic and religious organizations. The island is divided into eight regions, each with its own elected council and administrative services.
The UWP government was long-headed by John Compton, whose decision to retire in March 1996 was apparently linked to a number of scandals that included an alleged affair with a teenager. He had also been accused of knowing about the misappropriation of United Nations funds. Soon after his retirement announcement, his deputy, both as prime minister and party leader, 72-year-old George Mallet, announced his decision to retire, clearing the way for Compton's handpicked successor, Vaughan Lewis, a former director-general of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. Lewis had won Mallet's vacated seat in the February 1996 by-elections. Now holding a seat, Lewis was qualified to assume the party leadership. In April, since his party won the most seats, he automatically became the prime minister.
In June 1996, upon the retirement of Governor-General Sir Stanislaus James, Mallet was sworn in as the country's fourth governor-general over protests that the post be reserved for those outside the sphere of party politics.
Opposition leader Julian Hunte also stepped down after taking third place in the February 1996 by-elections. Anthony, a former education minister, replaced him as leader of the SLP. By the end of 1996, the SLP had merged with smaller opposition parties, and Anthony led the coalition to victory in the May 23, 1997, elections. In the biggest electoral landslide in the country's history, the SLP, out of power since 1982, won 16 of 17 seats in parliament and unseated Prime Minister Lewis with a twenty-sixyear- old political newcomer.
In 1998, Compton, prime minister for 29 years and a member of parliament for 40 years, returned to lead the UWP. Unemployment, estimated at 20 percent, remained a potential source of instability. Upon taking office, Anthony began to address concerns of an electorate weary of economic distress and reports of official corruption. In 1999, his government faced a series of issues concerning the hotel and airline industries, both vital for the tourism industry. In 2000, Anthony and the SLP gave their approval for regulated casino gambling, brushing aside objections from religious groups and the UWP, to seemingly focus even more of their energies on revitalizing the country's tourism trade. In June 2001, Anthony announced a two-month crackdown on crime, including increased police patrols and heavy penalties for gun crimes that he said were necessary to combat a wave of murders and armed robberies that he blamed, in part, on a U.S. policy of deporting hardened criminals to the island.
In the 2001 election, Anthony and the SLP ran on a record they claimed had seen the country through difficult times, creating thousands of short-term jobs, shoring up the credit-starved banana industry, building more schools, extending electrification and water services, and beefing up the fight against crime. The UWP charged that the ruling party had mismanaged the economy during a period of growing unemployment and rising crime.
Citizens are able to change their government through democratic elections. The 2001 elections were considered to be free and fair, although fewer than 50 percent of those eligible actually voted, a drop from the 60 percent registered in the 1997 contest. Constitutional guarantees regarding the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic groups are generally respected, as is the free exercise of religion. A deadly December 2000 attack on parishioners at a Catholic church, believed to be an isolated act by deranged men, nonetheless raised concerns about religious tolerance.
The competition among political parties and allied civic organizations is heated, particularly during election campaigns when one side invariably accuses the other of violence or harassment.
The judicial system is independent and includes a high court under the West Indies Supreme Court (based in St. Lucia), with ultimate appeal under certain circumstances to the Privy Council in London. The constitution requires public trials before an independent and impartial court. Traditionally, citizens have enjoyed a high degree of personal security, although there are episodic reports of police misuse of force. In recent years, an escalating crime wave, much of it drug-related, violent clashes during banana farmers' strikes, and increased violence in schools sparked concern among citizens. The island's nineteenth-century prison, built to house a maximum of 101 inmates, houses more than 350. In 2000 the government sought to finish construction of a new $17 million prison facility on the eastern part of the island.
The media carry a wide spectrum of views and are largely independent of the government. There are five privately owned newspapers, two privately held radio stations, and one partially government-funded radio station, as well as two privately owned television stations.
Civic groups are well organized and politically active, as are labor unions, which represent the majority of wage earners. Legislation passed in 1995 restricts the right to strike. The measure provides for a fine of about U.S.$2,000 or two years in prison for inciting any person to cease performing any lawful activity on his property or on the property of another person. The government said the measure was aimed at curtailing strikes in the banana industry, which employs more than 30 percent of the workforce. Nonetheless, in October 1996, a 14-day strike took place in which banana industry workers demanded a greater role in management decisions. The strike resulted in violence, and the police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, seriously injuring several people.
Though there are no official barriers to the participation of women in politics and the professions, they are underrepresented. A growing awareness of the seriousness of violence against women has led the government and advocacy groups to take steps to offer better protection for victims of domestic violence.