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After expressing strong opposition to a new law allowing abortions in certain cases, a measure supported by much of St. Lucia's younger population, the country's Gender Relations Minister was dismissed in early 2004.
St. Lucia, a member of the British Commonwealth, achieved independence in 1979. In May 1997, Kenny Anthony led the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) to victory in legislative elections. 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 United Workers Party, 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. He maintained that these measures 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.
The SLP swept to victory in the December 3, 2001 general elections, winning 14 of 17 seats in parliament, just short of the 16-1 majority it had 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 dissatisfaction with his efforts to keep the island's ailing banana industry afloat. The farmers were unhappy that the Anthony administration had not made efforts to reduce high production costs that made St. Lucian exports uncompetitive. Nevertheless, 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.
In November 2003, the government and opposition announced the establishment of a Constitution Review Commission to examine St Lucia's constitution as it relates to issues of law and order. The level of violence had increased noticeably, with police blaming much of the violence on drug-related gangs. The United States named St. Lucia as a principal transit point in the eastern Caribbean for South American cocaine. Local authorities are also troubled over the increasing number of travelers coming through the island with fraudulent passports.
A revised version of the Criminal Code's Clause 166, passed by parliament in February 2004, allows for abortion in a number of restricted cases, including rape or incest. The country is 90 percent Roman Catholic, and there has been some backlash against this provision at home and abroad. In January 2004, Gender Relations Minister Sarah Flood-Beaubrun was dismissed after expressing vocal opposition to the measure. Groups abroad have called for the censure of major St. Lucia government leaders by the Vatican and the recanting of honors bestowed on them, as well as the excommunication of the governor-general of the country, Calliopa Pearlette Louisy. Nonetheless, there is wide support for the measure among St. Lucia's younger population.
Citizens are able to change their government democratically. The 2001 legislative elections were considered free and fair, although fewer than 50 percent of those eligible actually voted; 60 percent of registered voters had turned out in 1997. A governor-general represents the British monarchy. Under the 1979 constitution, a bicameral parliament consists of the 17-member House of Assembly, elected for five years, and an 11-member Senate. Six members of the Senate 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.
Two parties, the SLP, in power since 1997, and the UWP, the official opposition dominate politics, parties are free to organize.
There have been allegations of corrupt activities on the part of government officials. Concerns over accountability in government were underscored in 2004 when allegations surfaced over a suspicious transfer of government property in New York. St. Lucia was not surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
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. There is free access to the Internet.
Constitutional guarantees of the free exercise of religion are respected. Academic freedom is generally honored. In August, the government proposed a credit facility to provide resources for students wishing to pursue higher education at home and abroad.
Constitutional guarantees regarding the right to organize political parties, civic groups, and labor unions and to assembly freely are generally respected. Civic groups are well organized and politically active, as are labor unions, which represent the majority of wage earners.
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. In July 2003, a treaty replacing the Privy Council with a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), to be based in Trinidad and Tobago, was approved by St. Lucia. In November of that year, parliament passed the Caribbean Court of Justice 2003 agreement, with St Lucia pledging to contribute $2.5 million towards the establishment of the regional court. The CCJ is to have an appellate function and will also interpret the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Treaty.
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 - including drug-related offenses, violent clashes during banana farmers' strikes, and increased violence in schools - has created concern among citizens. Over the last 5 years the murder rate has more than doubled from 14 in 1998 to 33 each for 2002 and 2003; there were 37 homicides in 2004. The island's nineteenth century prison, built to house a maximum of 80 inmates, houses close to 500. In late 2002, the government finished construction of a new, $17 million prison facility on the eastern part of the island.
Though there are no official barriers to their participation, women are underrepresented in politics and the professions. 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.