Freedom in the World 2011 - Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Capital: Kingstown
Population: 110,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Ratings Change

Vincent and the Grenadines' political rights rating improved from 2 to 1 due to the opposition's ability to challenge the ruling party and gain a significant number of seats in the December 2010 parliamentary elections.


Ralph Gonsalves won his third consecutive term as prime minister in the December 2010 elections. His Unity Labour Party (ULP) won only 8 of 15 seats, while the New Democratic Party (NDP) more than doubled their representation, capturing 7 seats. In October, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was hit hard by Hurricane Tomas and the damage to agriculture was expected to severely impact the country's economy.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines achieved independence from Britain in 1979, with jurisdiction over the northern Grenadine islands of Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, Mustique, Prune Island, Petit Saint Vincent, and Union Island.

In the 2001 elections, the social-democratic Unity Labour Party (ULP) captured 12 of the 15 contested legislative seats, and Ralph Gonsalves became prime minister. The incumbent, conservative New Democratic Party (NDP) was reduced to three seats. The elections were preceded by the first serious political unrest in the country's history.

In the 2005 polls, Gonsalves led the ULP to reelection, again taking 12 seats. The NDP, which captured the remaining 3 seats, vowed to take legal action over alleged electoral irregularities, but the party's effort stalled after the Organization of American States (OAS) gave the elections its stamp of approval.

In 2009, the country's politics were polarized over the November national referendum to replace the country's 1979 constitution with one produced by a government-appointed Constitution Review Commission. Among other changes, the proposed constitution would make the country a republic, open national elections to members of the clergy and dual citizens, and permit marriage only between a biological man and a biological woman. The opposition strongly opposed the new constitution for falling short of fully reforming the government. The constitutional reform failed to pass, receiving support from only 43 percent of voters. The apparent unpopularity of the constitutional reform, which would have required approval from a two-thirds majority, placed the ruling ULP in a tough position ahead of 2010 elections.

Hurricane Tomas, which struck the island in late October 2010, led to the temporary displacement of around 1,200 people and resulted in approximately $25 million in damages to the agriculture sector.

In the December 2010 general elections, the ULP won a slim majority of 8 seats, and Gonsalves was returned to the premiership. Meanwhile, the NDP more than doubled its representation, taking 7 seats. NDP leader Arnhim Eustace challenged the elections results, alleging vote rigging and other irregularities. However, the elections were deemed free and fair by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and OAS observers. In the lead-up to elections, Gonsalves accused the leader of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) – who was involved in monitoring the election – of being biased. Legal disputes over this accusation ensued, though the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism (NMCM)stated that the voting had taken place freely.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an electoral democracy. The constitution provides for the election of 15 representatives to the unicameral House of Assembly. Six senators are also appointed to the chamber, four chosen by the government and two by the opposition; all serve five-year terms. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party. A governor-general represents the British monarch as head of state.

In recent years, there have been allegations of money laundering through Saint Vincent banks and drug-related corruption within the government and the police force.

The press is independent. There are two privately owned, independent weeklies and several smaller, partisan papers. The only television station is privately owned and free from government interference. Satellite dishes and cable television are available. The main news radio station is government owned, and call-in programs are prohibited. Equal access to radio is mandated during electoral campaigns, but there have been allegations that the ruling party has taken advantage of state control over programming. Some journalists also allege that government advertising is used as a political tool. Internet access is not restricted, and new network capabilities introduced in 2010 brought the promise of increased access.

Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and respected in practice, and academic freedom is generally honored. Access to higher education is limited but improving as the University of the West Indies initiates degree programs with community colleges in Saint Vincent and throughout the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

There are constitutional protections for freedoms of assembly and association, and nongovernmental organizations are free from government interference. Labor unions are active and permitted to strike.

The judicial system is independent. The highest court is the Saint Lucia-based Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which includes a court of appeals and a high court. Under certain circumstances, litigants have a right of ultimate appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice. The independent SVGHRA has criticized long judicial delays and a large backlog of cases caused by personnel shortages in the local judiciary. It has also charged that the executive branch at times exerts inordinate influence over the courts.

Although the country remains one of the safest in the Caribbean, violent crime does occasionally occur. Prison conditions remain poor. The Belle Isle Correctional Facility opened in October 2009, easing the pressure on other long-overcrowded facilities. Murder convictions carry a mandatory death sentence, though executions have not taken place in over 15 years.

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a major problem. The Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act, which provides for protective orders, offers some tools that benefit victims. Women hold approximately 18 percent of seats in the elected House of Assembly and the appointed Senate. Homosexuality remains a criminal offense.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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