Government and Politics

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

The Governmental System

Grenada has been an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations since 1974 (see Appendix B). This status has been one of the few constants during Grenada's somewhat turbulent history since that date. Although the 1979-83 tenure of the PRG led by Bishop produced marked changes in the governmental system, the PRG chose not to break its formal ties with the Commonwealth.

The PRG did revoke the independence Constitution of 1973, preferring to rule by revolutionary decree (or "people's laws"). This action produced some legal complications, particularly in the case of the judiciary. After the United States-Caribbean military intervention of October 1983 that deposed the short-lived Revolutionary Military Council established by Bernard Coard and General Hudson Austin of the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA), the Constitution of 1973 was brought back into force by Governor General Paul Scoon (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). Some judicial provisions established under the PRG were retained, however, for the sake of continuity and for the facilitation of the transition to a more representative government.

The 1973 Constitution provides for a parliamentary system of government on the Westminster model. The theoretical head of state is the British monarch, whose authority is represented on the island by a governor general. When an elected Parliament is in place, the governor general has little real authority and limited official duties (a role similar to that of the monarch in the British government). The governor general is not altogether a figurehead, however, as demonstrated by the events of the 1983-84 period. Scoon assumed constitutional authority in October 1983; he subsequently appointed the Advisory Council (also known as the Interim Government) led by Nicholas Braithwaite, which guided Grenada until parliamentary elections could be held in December 1984.

Even when an elected Parliament is in place, the governor general retains a degree of latent constitutional authority. For example, it is the governor general who must dismiss members of Parliament (for nonattendance or criminal conviction, among other reasons), even though in practice this action is taken only at the urging of the prime minister or the leader of the opposition. The governor general also has the power to declare a state of emergency, a declaration that has the effect of dissolving Parliament.

Parliament is the major governmental institution in Grenada. It is a bicameral legislature, with a lower house referred to as the House of Representatives and an upper house known as the Senate. Representation in the House of Representatives is apportioned according to population. The leader of the party securing the majority of seats in Parliament is named prime minister by the governor general. The leader of the party winning the next largest bloc of seats is named leader of the opposition.

The position of senator is nonelective. The prime minister has the authority to recommend the appointment of seven senators of his own choosing, plus an additional three senators who are to be selected in consultation with "the organizations or interests which the Prime Minister considers the Senators should be elected to represent." These "organizations and interests," although not enumerated in the Constitution, traditionally encompass agricultural and business groups as well as trade unions. In addition to the ten senators nominated by the prime minister, the leader of the opposition is entitled to three nominations of his own. Thus, total membership of the Senate is thirteen.

According to the 1973 Constitution, Parliament "may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Grenada." Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution by a two-thirds vote of both houses. The Constitution also makes provision for amendment by referendum. The House of Representatives wields the power of the purse; so-called money bills (bills dealing with taxation, public debt, or grants of public funds) may only be introduced in that chamber. Nonmoney bills may be introduced in either chamber. Sessions of Parliament must be held at least once each year, with intervals of no more than six months between the end of the last sitting of one session and the beginning of the next.

The parliamentary system gives a great deal of power to the prime minister, who can control the workings of government through the authority granted the prime minister to call and dissolve sessions of Parliament. One complaint lodged against Prime Minister Blaize in the Grenadian press since 1985 has concerned his failure to call frequent parliamentary sessions. This tactic allows important governmental matters, e.g., the formulation of the budget, to be handled exclusively by the cabinet, thus limiting the input and oversight of Parliament.

The power of the prime minister rests further in the authority to name a cabinet of ministers who assume responsibility for the administration of the government in such areas as the prime minister may designate. The prime minister frequently assumes direct control over key portfolios or over ministries of particular personal or political interest. For example, after his party's electoral victory in December 1984, Prime Minister Blaize took charge of the ministries of home affairs, security, information, Carriacou affairs (Blaize is a native of the island of Carriacou), finance and trade, and industrial development and planning.

The Grenadian judiciary has been the branch of government most affected by the political events of the post-1979 period. Prior to the advent of the PRG, Grenada participated in the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court along with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as provided for by the West Indies Act of 1967. The Bishop government severed this association and set up the Grenada Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. Magistrate's courts were retained by the PRG to administer summary jurisdiction.

After the events of October 1983, the status of the courts set up by the PRG came into question. The legality of their continued operation was challenged specifically by defense attorneys for Coard, Austin, and other defendants who were to stand trial for the October 19, 1983, murder of Bishop and others in Fort Rupert (the name given to Fort George between 1979 and 1983 in honor of Bishop's father) in St. George's. The Grenada Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal considered several such challenges under its civil jurisdiction, but it rejected them under the doctrine of "state necessity," thus permitting both the court and the trial to continue. Meanwhile, the Blaize government formally applied in July 1986 for readmission to the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court. Upon acceptance into this court system, the Grenada Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will be abolished because cases involving both original jurisdiction and appeal can be submitted to the regional court.

The civil service (or public service, as it is known in Grenada) is professional and generally apolitical, although there have been instances in Grenada's colonial history when an entrenched bureaucracy has acted to frustrate the ambitions of a ruler, e.g., Eric Gairy's conflicts with the bureaucracy during his brief tenure as the island's chief minister in 1961-62. The civil service still owes much to its British colonial origins. Its relative autonomy, once a product of isolation from the mother country, was legally reinforced by the Constitution of 1973. During the period of the Constitution's suspension by the PRG, the civil service was politicized to some degree as the ruling NJM sought to solidify its control over all aspects of Grenadian life. During the time the PRG was in power, the civil service lost a great many experienced employees to emigration. The loss reflected to some extent the traditionally high levels of outmigration; in the case of civil servants, however, the motivation was in many cases more political than economic, expressing the employees' unwillingness to cooperate or collaborate with the workings of the "revo." The basic unit of the electoral system is the constituency. For the elections of 1984, the country was divided into several constituencies (some constituencies are grouped into parishes, a traditional designation deriving from the discontinued local government organization). In the December 1984 elections, fifty-two candidates competed for the fifteen seats in the House of Representatives. The total number of registered voters was 48,152; of these, 41,041 (or 85.2 percent) went to the polls, a reflection of the general enthusiasm for the return of electoral politics.

Political Dynamics

Politics in Grenada traditionally has been more concerned with personalities and class interests than with ideology. Political parties, even those that grow out of labor union movements, are usually dominated by charismatic leaders who can motivate their followers through strong emotional (or, in the case of Gairy, even mystical) appeal. The aspect of class interest has tended to devolve into lower versus middle-class aspirations, there being no political party or parties commonly identified with the interests of the upper class.

In this respect, as in many others, the PRG represented an aberration in Grenadian history. The "vanguard" of the revolution-- the NJM--was a party whose membership was drawn from the urban middle class (mainly young professionals who saw their opportunities limited under the corrupt Gairy government). When the PRG assumed power in March 1979, it presented the novel impression of a middle-class junta that sought, at least rhetorically, to reach out to the poor (the workers and peasantry). This initial promise never bore fruit, however, as the PRG was unable to make lasting economic gains and eventually fell victim to ideological infighting between Leninists and pragmatists, an internal conflict that paved the way for external intervention.

The New National Party (NNP) scored a resounding electoral victory in December 1984, winning fourteen of the fifteen seats in the House of Representatives. The NNP was neither an established party nor a homogeneous one, but rather an amalgamation of three separate parties that, with some outside encouragement, ultimately joined forces to ward off the potential restoration to power of Gairy.

The senior partner in the NNP was Blaize's Grenada National Party (GNP). Established in 1956, the GNP has traditionally represented the interests of the urban middle class, drawing the majority of its support from St. George's. The GNP led the government in Grenada during the periods 1957-61 and 1962-67. These two periods of GNP government represented the only interruptions in the domination of Grenadian politics by Gairy and GULP between 1951 and 1979. In 1976 the GNP joined an opposition coalition that included Bishop's NJM, but it played no part in the PRG after the 1979 coup.

Another member of the NNP was the National Democratic Party (NDP), established in February 1984 and led by George Brizan. Formerly a member of the NJM, Brizan dissociated himself from the group after it came to be dominated by Bishop, Coard, and others who envisioned it as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. Brizan's political leanings were said to be social democratic.

The third constituent of the NNP was the Grenada Democratic Movement (GDM), founded in Barbados by Francis Alexis. The NNP had originally included the Christian Democratic Labour Party (CDLP) among its ranks, but the CDLP dropped out shortly after the establishment of the NNP over what appeared to be a personal dispute between Blaize and CDLP leader Winston Whyte.

The evolution of the NNP was neither easy nor smooth. The first step in the process was the April 1984 formation of the Team for National Togetherness (TNT). This initial umbrella group was to have brought the GNP, NDP, and GDM under one political banner; however, its establishment was announced publicly before the private process of negotiating party organization could get fully underway. These talks eventually bogged down over the issue of how many candidates from each of the constituent parties would be allowed to contest the parliamentary elections. Frustrated with the haggling, Brizan withdrew the NDP from the TNT in August. The GNP/GDM grouping was then renamed the Team for National Unity.

In addition to the specific dispute over candidacies, the TNT leaders also differed over broader issues of ideology and political protocol, according to some sources. These divergences seem to have pitted Blaize, the conservative elder statesman, against Brizan, the young progressive. Blaize is reported to have felt that the GNP deserved primacy within the coalition by virtue of its longer history as an established party; he is said to have demanded veto power over all proposed candidates. There may also have been disputes over specific issues, such as the presence of United States and Caribbean military forces on Grenada and the continuation of certain social programs begun under the PRG.

The seeming inability of the moderate Grenadian parties to unite was viewed with concern by the leaders of neighboring countries. Having supported military action to rid the country of a seemingly unstable Marxist-Leninist regime, these leaders did not wish to see Grenada returned to the control of Gairy, whom they viewed as the most likely beneficiary of a divided electorate. If nothing else, Gairy's return to power would have represented a public relations embarrassment of the first order. Therefore, acting in a tradition of regional consultation stretching back at least as far as the West Indies Federation of 1958-62, prime ministers Tom Adams of Barbados, James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and John G.M. Compton of St. Lucia volunteered their services as mediators in the negotiating process. Most reports concur that the session that finally produced the NNP was held in August 1984 on Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The neighboring prime ministers were present at the August 26 public ceremony in Grenada at which the formation of the new coalition was announced.

Reports of friction among the NNP membership began to circulate soon after the December 1984 elections. Factionalism within the party stemmed from the nature of its founding, the uneasiness that prevailed among the leaders of the constituent parties, and the autocratic control exercised by Blaize over party affairs. Early reports hinted at rivalry between Alexis and Brizan for the right to succeed Blaize as party leader. This notion was reinforced by the competition between the two for the post of deputy political leader, a position to which Alexis was elected at the party convention of December 1985. Subsequent events tended to draw Alexis and Brizan closer together, however. At the 1986 party convention, Blaize's associate Ben Jones replaced Alexis as deputy political leader, cementing further the dominance of Blaize's GNP faction within the NNP.

The first public demonstrations of the NNP's internal tensions were provided by the defections of two members of Parliament--Kenny Lalsingh and Phinsley St. Louis--each of whom left the party in August 1986 and formed separate political organizations. In February 1987, observers reported that Brizan, Alexis, and Tillman Thomas, the junior minister for legal affairs, had refused to sign a declaration of party unity. In April this simmering dispute boiled over when the three resigned from the government, citing their disagreement with Blaize over what had come to be known as the "retrenchment," the proposed release of 1,500-1,800 civil servants. Although they did not announce their withdrawal from the NNP at that time, Alexis and Brizan technically became part of the parliamentary opposition, reducing Blaize's majority, once fourteen to one, to nine to six.

In October 1987, the opposition coalesced under the banner of yet another political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Brizan was elected as leader of the NDC, which also included Alexis, Lalsingh, Thomas, and St. Louis among its ranks. Although its level of popular support was difficult to gauge, the NDC appeared to generate some enthusiasm among those Grenadians looking for an alternative to the established political organizations headed by Blaize and Gairy.

Aside from the NNP, the only major political party in Grenada in the mid-1980s was GULP, which dated back to 1951 and was led by Gairy. Once the dominant political force on the island, Gairy and his party gradually lost the confidence of most Grenadians through corruption and repression. This erosion of public support was demonstrated by the generally positive reaction to the 1979 seizure of power by Maurice Bishop and the NJM. In the post-Bishop period, GULP clearly suffered from Gairy's enforced exile, his diminished personal popularity, and the low level of party institutionalization. GULP's disarray could be read in the party's reaction to the December 1984 elections. Immediately after the balloting, GULP appeared to represent the official parliamentary opposition to the NNP. Its one victorious member, Marcel Peters, defected after a dispute with party leader Gairy over political tactics, however. Gairy had decried the elections as fraudulent and ordered Peters to refuse his seat in the House. Peters refused, withdrew from GULP, declared his own political organization (apparently standard procedure for Grenadian politicians), and assumed the post of leader of the opposition, a position he eventually yielded to NNP defector St. Louis.

The history of GULP is the history of its leader, Eric Gairy. Gairy began his political life as a labor leader, establishing the Grenada Mental and Manual Workers Union (GMMWU) in 1950. The GMMWU was a rural workers' union that concentrated its organizing efforts within the Grenadian sugar industry. Like many young Grenadians, Gairy left the island in search of work. After a short stint as a construction worker in Trinidad and Tobago, Gairy moved on to the oil refineries of Aruba. It was there that he began his labor organizing activities, somewhat to the consternation of Dutch authorities, who reportedly deported him in 1949. After asserting his credentials as a populist leader through the vehicle of the GMMWU, Gairy successfully entered the electoral arena in 1951 under the banner of the newly formed GULP, which took 64 percent of that year's ballots (the first held under the Universal Suffrage Law of 1950). Gairy and GULP lost only two of the six general elections held from 1951 until 1979, when the party was overthrown by the NJM. The party drew heavily on the organization and resources of the GMMWU, and the membership of the two groups remained fluid throughout Gairy's years in power.

Gairy returned to Grenada in January 1984 after another involuntary exile, this one lasting almost five years. Although Gairy appeared to have retained some support among the rural population, most Grenadians seemed to have rejected him as a result of his past history of strongman rule, corruption, and harassment of political opponents.

After the electoral defeat of 1984, Gairy seemed to be making plans to broaden the appeal of GULP. In April 1985, he claimed that the party's leadership would be purged, that attempts would be made to expand its low level of support among Grenadian youth, and that all future GULP candidates for office would be drawn directly from the ranks of the party and not recruited for only one campaign. This last promise suggested an effort to institutionalize what had long been a highly personalistic political organization. GULP support appeared to be dwindling by 1987, however, as new party leaders failed to emerge, other political leaders continued to attract support among Gairy's former rural constituency, and the party restricted its activities as a result of lack of funds.

Although GULP appeared largely ineffective as a political vehicle, Gairy continued to enjoy some measure of influence on the labor front. His longtime union organization, the GMMWU, was renamed the Grenada Manual Maritime and Intellectual Workers Union (GMMIWU). Its membership base still lay among rural agricultural workers. The economic disarray left in the wake of the PRG and the void in agricultural labor organization after the demise of the Bishop regime left the GMMIWU in a good position to recruit new members and exert influence on both the government and private producers, although it, like GULP, suffered from underfunding and possible defection of its members to other organizations.

The left, consisting of the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement (MBPM) and the persistent remnants of the NJM, was an insignificant political force in the late 1980s. The MBPM was founded in 1984 by Kendrick Radix, an original NJM member and PRG cabinet minister who played no part in the short-lived Revolutionary Military Council. The MBPM began as the Maurice Bishop and the 19th October Martyrs Foundation, a group dedicated to raising funds for scholarships for Grenadian students (presumably for study in "progressive" or socialist countries) and to erecting a monument to Bishop and other fallen comrades. Although successful in its monument campaign, the MBPM failed to have the Point Salines International Airport named after Bishop. The transformation of the MBPM from foundation to political party occurred in August 1984; Radix claimed that only his movement could prevent Gairy's return to power. During the election campaign, he promised that an MBPM government would confiscate supposedly idle farmland that had been previously held by the PRG but had since reverted to its previous owners because of a lack of proper compensation. The movement failed to attract a popular following in the 1984 elections, however, capturing only 5 percent of the vote and no seats in Parliament.

The group still laying claim to the title of NJM represented the hard core of the organization, the remaining "Coardites" who supported the establishment of an orthodox Marxist-Leninist state but who had not involved themselves directly in the putsch of October 19, 1983. The NJM declined to participate in the elections of 1984, probably knowing that it would have drawn even less support than Radix's MBPM (with which it continued to feud rhetorically). The continued existence of this organization despite a good deal of public antipathy was one measure of the openness of the Grenadian system.

Other small political parties continued to function in Grenada in the mid-1980s. Whyte's CDLP contested the elections but attracted only 0.26 percent of the total vote. The Grenada Federated Labour Party, an organization that first contested elections in 1957 but that subsequently lay dormant, drew only 0.02 percent of the 1984 vote.

For more recent information about the government, see Facts about Grenada.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress