Freedom in the World
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In 2008, Prime Minister Stephenson King endured a year of political turmoil as the main opposition party, the Saint Lucia Labour Party, repeatedly called for his resignation on the grounds of ineffective and incompetent leadership.
Saint Lucia, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Britain in 1979. In May 1997, Kenny Anthony led the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) to victory in legislative elections. On taking office as prime minister, he began to address the concerns of an electorate that was weary of economic distress and reports of official corruption. In 2000, Anthony and the SLP gave their approval for regulated casino gambling in an apparent effort to revitalize the country’s tourism trade, brushing aside objections from religious groups and the opposition United Workers Party (UWP).
The SLP again swept to victory in the December 2001 general elections, winning 14 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly. Despite popular dissatisfaction with his efforts to keep the island’s ailing banana industry afloat, Anthony was the only party leader to survive the elections, which were called six months ahead of schedule. The leaders of the UWP and the National Alliance both lost their seats. In March 2006, the SLP lost a by-election held in the Central Castries district following persistent allegations of corruption in the National Conservation Authority.
John Compton, Saint Lucia’s first prime minister after independence, came out of retirement to lead the UWP to an unexpected victory in the December 2006 elections; he was sworn in again as prime minister at the age of 81. Though his party won 11 seats in the House of Assembly, he pledged to “govern in a spirit of cooperation” with the SLP. Compton was soon sidelined by illness and died in September 2007. He was replaced by Stephenson King, a cabinet member from the UWP who had served as acting prime minister for several months before Compton’s death. King promptly reshuffled the cabinet, and several new ministers were sworn into office.
King and the UWP were caught in a maze of controversy during 2008 that hampered their efforts to govern. The opposition called for the resignation of Economic Affairs and National Development Minister Ausbert D’Auvergne, and the Police Welfare Association demanded the ouster of the acting police commissioner. Other contentious topics included the planned privatization of the Water and Sewerage Authority and higher salary scales for public servants. The SLP repeatedly threatened to mount public demonstrations and called for King’s resignation, and d'Auvergne resigned in May, ending a dispute over ministry leadership that threatened to unseat the standing UWP government. The opposition also disagreed with the government over its signing of the International Criminal Court agreementinSeptember, its initial reluctantstance on the Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe, and its failure to enter a drug interdiction agreement with Britain in August.
Saint Lucia is an electoral democracy. A governor-general represents the British monarch as head of state. Under the 1979 constitution, the bicameral Parliament consists of the 17-member House of Assembly, elected for five years, and an 11-member Senate. The prime minister is chosen by the majority party in the House of Assembly. Six members of the Senate are chosen 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 11 regions, each with its own elected council and administrative services. Political parties are free to organize, but two parties—the UWP, in power since 2006, and the SLP, the official opposition—dominate politics. The December 2006 elections were deemed free and fair, marking the first time that observers from the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States were invited to observe.
Government officials have been accused of corrupt activities, but the country scores well in international surveys. Saint Lucia was ranked 21 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, the best performance in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, which is respected in practice. Libel offenses were removed from the criminal code in 2006. The media carry a wide spectrum of views and are largely independent of the government. There are five privately owned newspapers, four privately held radio stations, one government-funded radio station, and four privately owned television stations. Internet access is not restricted.
The constitution guarantees free exercise of religion, and that right is respected. Academic freedom is generally honored.
Constitutional guarantees regarding the right to organize civic groups and labor unions and to assemble freely are largely upheld. Civic groups are well organized and politically active, as are labor unions, which represent the majority of wage earners. Public service unions accepted a 14.5 percent wage increase in October after a period of intense negotiations with the government.
The judicial system is independent and includes a high court under the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (based in Saint Lucia). In recent years, the record of Saint Lucia’s police and judicial system has been blemished by a series of high-profile incidents, including severe beatings of inmates by police and cases of police assault.
Although citizens traditionally have enjoyed a high degree of personal security, rising crime—including drug-related offenses, violent clashes during banana farmers’ strikes, and increased violence in schools—has created concern. There were 39 murders in Saint Lucia in 2008, up from 26 in 2007. Saint Lucia is third in the Caribbean after Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in terms of the interdiction of drug mules headed for Britain each year.A $17 million prison facility with a capacity to hold 500 inmates was completed in 2002. Still, prison overcrowding has reemerged as a concern in recent years, with major backlogs in the judicial system leading to prolonged pretrial detentions.
Women are underrepresented in politics and other professions. Female enrollment in primary and secondary education is slightly higher than male enrollment. Domestic violence is a serious concern, especially among women from low-income groups. Homosexuals are occasionally targeted in hate crimes.