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Definition: Trinidad and Tobago from Collins English Dictionary

n

1 an independent republic in the Caribbean, occupying the two southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles: became a British colony in 1888 and gained independence in 1962; became a republic in 1976; a member of the Commonwealth. Official language: English. Religion: Christian majority, with a large Hindu minority. Currency: Trinidad and Tobago dollar. Capital: Port of Spain. Pop: 1 225 225 (2013 est). Area: 5128 sq km (1980 sq miles)


Summary Article: Trinidad and Tobago
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Country in the West Indies, off the coast of Venezuela.

Government Trinidad and Tobago is an independent republic within the Commonwealth. It is a liberal democracy with a multiparty political system and prime ministerial political executive. The 1976 constitution provides for a president as head of state and a two-chamber parliament, consisting of a senate of 31 members and a house of representatives of 41. The president is chosen by an electoral college drawn from both chambers and appoints as prime minister the person who commands most support in the house of representatives. The president also appoints the senators, 16 on the advice of the prime minister, 6 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and 9 after wider consultation to represent broader parts of society. The 41 members of the house of representatives are elected by universal adult suffrage using a first-past-the-post system in individual constituencies and comprise 39 members from Trinidad and two from Tobago. The parliament has a life of five years.

Tobago was given its own house of assembly in 1980. It has 16 members – 12 popularly elected, 3 chosen by the majority party, and 1 by the opposition party.

Politics in Trinidad and Tobago has normally been dominated by two competing major parties: the People's National Movement (PNM), supported mainly by Afro-Trinidadians; and the United National Congress (UNC), supported by most Indo-Trinidadians.

History The islands of Trinidad and Tobago were visited by Columbus in 1498. Trinidad was colonized by Spain from 1532 and ceded to Britain in 1802, having been captured in 1797. Tobago was settled by the Netherlands in the 1630s and subsequently occupied by various countries before being ceded to Britain by France in 1814. Trinidad and Tobago were amalgamated in 1888 as a British colony.

Independence Trinidad and Tobago's first political party, the People's National Movement (PNM), was formed in 1956 by Dr Eric Williams, a renowned historian who had been a professor at Harvard University. It won the country's first elections, in 1956, and was to remain the dominant party for 30 years. When the colony achieved internal self-government in 1959, Williams became the first chief minister. In the late 1960s, the government faced the challenge of the militant Black Power political movement and a weakening economy, but from 1973 a surge in world oil prices rescued the economy, as the country is a significant oil exporter.

Republic In 1976, Trinidad and Tobago adopted a new constitution and became a republic, with the British monarch no longer head of state. The former governor general, Ellis Clarke, became the first president and Williams continued as prime minister. Williams died in March 1981 without having nominated a successor, and the president appointed George Chambers; the PNM formally adopted him as leader in May 1981.

Opposition landslide victory In 1986 Ray Robinson formed a centre-left multi-ethnic alliance, the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), bringing together Indo-Trinidadian and Afro-Trinidadian parties. It won a landslide victory in the 1986 general election. This brought to an end 30 years of rule by the PNM. Robinson became prime minister and in 1987 Noor Hassanali became president.

In 1988, the NAR alliance began to fracture, when Basdeo Panday, leader of the old United Labour Front (ULF) element, broke away to form a new Indo-Trinidadian-oriented opposition party, the United National Congress (UNC).

In July 1990 the Jamaat al Muslimeen, a Black Muslim extremist group led by Yasin Abu Bakr, which had land-claim grievances, attempted to overthrow the government. The group held Prime Minister Robinson and members of parliament hostage for 5 days amid rioting in the capital, Port of Spain. After a stand-off with the police and army, the rebels surrendered, having been offered an amnesty by the government, and an injured Robinson was released But Abu Bakr and 113 other Jamaat members were subsequently jailed for two years while the courts debated the amnesty's validity.

PNM return to power The December 1991 general election brought crushing defeat for the NAR, which won only two seats, both in Tobago. The UNC finished in second place but the clear winner was the PNM, led by Patrick Manning, who became prime minister.

First Indo-Trinidadian prime minister The PNM and opposition United National Congress (UNC) tied in the November 1995 general election and the NAR held the balance of power. It agreed to form a coalition government with the UNC, with Basdeo Panday of the UNC as prime minister. In 1997 former prime minister Ray Robinson was elected president. The UNC won an absolute majority in the December 2000 general election. But in October 2001 the government was brought down by the resignation and defections of three of its ministers, after Panday had sacked the attorney general.

Manning and the PNM back in power A new general election, held in December 2001, produced a tie between the UNC and PNM. Despite, the UNC having won a higher share of the popular vote, President Robinson asked Patrick Manning, the PNM leader, to try and form a government. He tried but failed to secure a majority in parliament, so another general election was held, in October 2002. This brought a victory for the PNM.

The Manning government pursued free-market economic policies – cutting income and corporation tax, encouraging development of the oil, gas, and tourism sectors, and inward foreign investment – and cooperated with the USA in the fight against drug trafficking. In March 2003, the legislature elected the 71-year-old George Maxwell Richards as president. A non-partisan former chemical engineer, with a mixed-race background, he was chosen as a unifying figure who might defuse the country's ethnic tensions, and he was re-elected in February 2008.

The Manning government failed to overcome the growing problem of violent crime and kidnappings, leading to a series of protest marches on the issue. However, benefiting from high world oil prices, the country's economy grew rapidly, with GDP growth reaching 12% in 2006. This provided the platform for the re-election of Manning at the November 2007 general election, with the PNM winning 26 of the 41 seats.

Manning's third term as prime minister saw an economic slowdown, as the country was affected by the global financial crisis and recession of 2008–09, and a continuing rise in drugs-related violent crime. In 2009, the number of murders exceeded 500, which was five times their level a decade earlier.

UNC win power after 2010 general election An early general election was held in May 2010, but brought defeat for the PNM and victory for the People's Partnership, a five-party coalition led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar of the UNC. The People's Partnership won a landslide victory, with 29 of the 41 seats. The key reasons for the PNM's defeat were public concern at rising crime, corruption in government, and unequal distribution of the country's economic wealth.

Persad-Bissesar, who had replaced Basdeo Panday as UNC leader in January 2010, was a former attorney-general. In May 2010, she became the country's first female prime minister and promised to bring greater transparency to government. Manning, taking responsibility for defeat, resigned as PNM leader.

The government imposed a state of emergency in August 2011, with an overnight curfew in six crime ‘hotspots’, after a sharp rise in violent crime linked to drugs gangs. This was followed, in November 2011, by the uncovering of a plot by criminal gangs to assassinate her.

In March 2013 Anthony Carmona, a former judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, became president, having been nominated by the government.

PNM regains power under Rowley The September 2015 general election saw the PNM return to power, under the leadership of Keith Rowley. The PNM won 52% of the vote and 23 of the 41 seats. Prime minister Rowley faced the challenge of controlling public expenditure at a time of falling oil revenues and prices.

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