So you’re curious about the Political System in Bermuda? You probably know it’s a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean. You might even think of it as a paradise, which would be correct. However, it is also an independent country under the UK Commonwealth and like any country, it has an intricate political system.
Bermuda is an island of just over 65,000 people, many of whom are temporary residents or expats. Not many people think about the way governments operate in paradise but you, you're different. You're the curious sort and you are wondering about the kind of government that heads Bermuda, which also happens to be the most populated British Overseas Territory.
What do you want to know? Is Bermuda a democracy? Who is the leader of Bermuda? How is their government structured? Is the political system stable? What political parties does Bermuda have?
We’ll cover everything you need to know about the political system in Bermuda.
What kind of political system does Bermuda have?
Bermuda is the oldest self-governing British Overseas Territory in the world with a parliament that was first established in 1620. That’s an impressive record but, fun fact, it's not the oldest continuous parliament in the world - that record is held by Iceland (est. 930) and the Isle of Man (est.1000).
Bermuda’s UK heritage does have an influence on how the government is formed in the country. The political system is based on the Westminster model, just like those in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Bermuda’s constitution was formally established in 1968. Their constitution provides the island with formal responsibility for internal self-government, while the British Government retains responsibility for external affairs, defense, and security.
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and appoints a governor to represent her in Bermuda. The Bermudian Government is always consulted on any international negotiations affecting the territory.
Bermuda participates in the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, through British delegations. The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes Bermuda on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
What is the government structure in Bermuda?
As we’ve said, Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state in Bermuda. The rest of the government is formed as follows:
- The Governor, who is appointed by the Queen
- This office is the Commander in Chief of the Royal Bermuda Regiment.
- The Governor is also responsible for Foreign Affairs, defense and the police.
- The Deputy Governor, who is appointed by the Governor
- This office acts as the Governor of Bermuda in the actual Governor's absence.
- The Premier, who is the majority leader in the House of Assembly
- This office is the head of the Bermuda Government.
- The Cabinet, who are appointed by the Premier
- The Legislature, made up of:
- The House of Assembly
- Comprised of 36 elected members from around Bermuda;
- The Senate
- comprised of 11 members appointed by the Governor
- Five from the governing party at the recommendation of the Premier
- Three from the official opposition at the recommendation of the leader of the opposition
- Three as independents, chosen by the Governor
- comprised of 11 members appointed by the Governor
- The House of Assembly
As a democratic country, Bermuda operates on a two-party political system. It has 36 constituencies, which each send one member to represent them in the House of Assembly.
Elections are held every five years. The party that wins the most seats across the constituencies forms the government. The Opposition is made up of the party that wins the largest minority.
Administrative divisions in Bermuda
When Bermuda was first colonized, the territory was divided between eight primary landowners (the shareholders of the Bermuda Company) in equal allotments and public land (St. George's).
These divisions then called "tribes", came to be known as "parishes". Until the late 20th century, the parishes maintained their own community councils, which took responsibility for administrative functions such as birth records.
Now, Bermuda has two municipal subnational entities: the city of Hamilton and the town of St. George. There are also nine traditional parishes, but these no longer have any administrative or legal role.
What are the major political parties in Bermuda?
Until 1963 there were no political parties in Bermuda, as the government was represented by independent land-holding members.
Following the establishment of the constitution in 1968, two major political parties rose to prominence. Since then, Bermuda has been characterized by a single party having dominance over the political affairs and governance of the country.
The two key parties until 2011 were:
UBP won the first seven elections (held every five years) from 1968, followed by PLP winning three in a row from 1998.
However, in June 2011 the UBP was disbanded. Some of its members defected to form another party in a merger with the Bermuda Democratic Alliance, after a poll showed that the PLP would easily win a fourth straight term. This new party was the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), which came into power in December 2012. The OBA is a center-right party led by former premier Michael Dunkley. The OBA recently lost the election, held on 18 July 2017, and is now the official opposition.
As of 19 July 2017, the Progressive Labor Party is in government in Bermuda, led by incumbent premier E. David Burt.
What is the history of Bermuda’s right to vote?
When Bermuda was first colonized, only male landowners were able to vote. As more and more people began to acquire property, a minimum value was established for the properties - this was used to limit vote holders and provide a yardstick of voting rights. As late as 1960, the property value was set at £60. A landowner could vote in every parish where he had property, which gave many rich white men as many as nine votes each.
Women didn’t have the right to vote, even if they owned property. The suffrage movement began in 1914, when Miss Gladys Misick, an Honors graduate of the University of London and a practiced suffragette, led a public meeting to demand the same voting rights for female landowners. After 30 years of picketing and petitions, women were conferred the right to vote in 1944. Henrietta Tucker was the first white woman to vote, and Edna Williams was the first black woman to vote in a by-election.
For years, government representatives were mainly white landowners. Voting was restricted to property owners, effectively disempowering the majority of the black population. In 1963 the general election extended voting rights to all Bermudians over 25, although whites still had an unfair advantage as property owners could cast two votes.
Now, all Bermudians can vote at the age of 18 if their primary residence is in Bermuda.
Is Bermuda’s political system stable?
While no democracy is perfect, Bermuda benefits from its long-established history and its political and economic stability. As a center for trade, stability has been in Bermuda’s best interests and it’s served the country well.
In February 2002, the British Overseas Territories Bill granted Bermuda citizens automatic British citizenship, including automatic transmission of citizenship to their children; the right of abode, including the right to live and work in the UK and the EU; the right not to exercise or to formally renounce British citizenship; and the right to use the fast track EU/EEA channel at the airport, free of UK immigration controls.
This strong supporting framework from the UK means there is little desire for the country to secede and become a republic. From time to time, there is a debate in the government about whether Bermuda should seek full independence from Great Britain, but it’s usually rejected. Polling results show that young people across the country are even less in love with the idea than older citizens.
With four hundred years of stable self-government behind it, Bermuda is in an excellent position to continue into its fifth successful century.