Freedom in the World
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In 2009, the Bahamas faced increasing challenges to its traditional record of good governance due to economic instability, rising crime, and increased tensions over migration issues.
In January 2009, an ambulance driver and a member of Parliament were arrested on charges of attempting to extort money from American actor John Travolta following his son’s death in the Bahamas. A mistrial was later declared when another lawmaker prematurely announced an acquittal.
The Bahamas is an electoral democracy. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament, the 41-member House of Assembly, is directly elected for five-year terms. The 16 members of the upper house, the Senate, are appointed for five-year terms by the governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. Nine of the senators are appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister, four on the recommendation of the opposition leader, and three on the recommendation of the prime minister after consulting with the opposition leader. The head of the majority party or coalition in Parliament typically serves as prime minister.
The government is strongly opposed to homosexuality. However, the Bahamas spends more than US$1 million annually on antiretroviral drugs for HIV-infected patients. Gender equality has not been achieved, and only 12.2% of the seats in the Bahamian parliament are held by women. There is, however, better representation for women in the Senate than in the House of Assembly. Domestic violence remains a problem. In the fall of 2009, the government sought to amend the Sexual Offenses Act to outlaw marital rape, a move that generated significant controversy and was deferred until the 2010 legislative session.