Island in the eastern Caribbean, between Guadeloupe and Martinique, the largest of the Windward Islands, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west.
Dominica is an independent republic within the Commonwealth and is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The constitution dates from independence (1978) and provides for a single-chamber, 31-member house of assembly. Twenty-one are representatives elected by universal suffrage in single-seat regional constituencies, and nine are appointed senators, five on the advice of the prime minister and four on the advice of the leader of the opposition. There is also one ex-officio member, the clerk of the house. The assembly serves a five-year term, as does the president, who is elected by it and acts as constitutional head of state, appointing the prime minister on the basis of assembly support. The prime minister chooses the cabinet, and all are responsible to the assembly.
The island was inhabited by the Amerindian Caribs at the time Christopher Columbus visited it in 1493 (since Columbus arrived at the island on a Sunday, he named it Dominica). English and French efforts to capture the islands were resisted by the Caribs in the 17th century. It became a British possession in 1763 and a colony in 1805. In 1834 African slaves were emancipated across the British Empire and in 1838 Dominica was the first British Caribbean colony to have a black-controlled legislature. From 1871, it was part of the Leeward Islands federation (until 1939) and became a crown colony in 1896. In 1940 it was transferred to the Windward Islands and remained attached to that group until 1958, when it joined the West Indies Federation, which lasted until 1962.
Full independence achieved
In 1961 the leader of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), Edward le Blanc, became chief minister; after 13 years in office he retired and was succeeded as prime minister by Patrick John. The DLP held office until full independence was achieved in November 1978, at which time its leader, John, became the first prime minister under the new constitution. Opposition to John's increasingly authoritarian style of government soon developed, and in the 1980 elections the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) won a convincing victory on a free-enterprise programme. Its leader, Eugenia Charles, who was the Caribbean's first woman prime minister, embarked on a free-enterprise programme. The economy, which had been devastated by hurricanes in 1979 and 1980, grew strongly in the 1980s.
In 1981 John was thought to be implicated in a plot against the government, and a state of emergency was imposed. The next year he was tried and acquitted. He was retried in 1985, found guilty, and given a 12-year prison sentence. Left-of-centre parties regrouped, making the new Labour Party of Dominica (LPD) the main opposition to the DFP.
Eugenia Charles was re-elected in 1985, and, with a reduced majority, in 1990. She resigned as leader of the DFP in August 1993, but continued as prime minister. Under her leadership, Dominica developed links with France and the USA, and in 1983 sent a small force to participate in the US-backed invasion of Grenada. In 1991 representatives of Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada proposed federal integration of the Windward Islands and a draft constitution was produced but not implemented.
The 1995 general election was won by the centre-left United Workers' Party and its leader, Edison James, was appointed prime minister. Brian Alleyne became the new DFP leader. In February 2000, a DLP-DFP coalition was elected into government, with Rosie Douglas of the DLP as the prime minister. Douglas died in October that year, and was succeeded by Pierre Charles. In January 2004, Charles also died in office, of a heart attack, and was succeeded as prime minister by Roosevelt Skerritt, of the DLP.
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