The first settlers of these two idyllic islands in the Caribbean arrived about 3,000 years ago probably from the American mainland. From that point on a succession of peoples arrived and in 1493 the first European, Christopher Columbus identified the islands during his second voyage.
The Spanish controlled the islands for a period until 1624 when Sir Thomas Warner, an English seafarer established a colony on Saint Christopher. A year later Warner took pity on a group of French seamen whose fleet had been destroyed by the Spanish and allowed them to start a colony on the island. Although Warner had also befriended the local Kalinago, it was not to last and the English were able to carry out a pre-emptive attack which later became known as the Kalinago genocide of 1626 (some 2,000 natives were killed). The island was subsequently partitioned between the French and British.
The island became a centre for exploration of the surrounding islands and many, including Nevis, were brought under British control. A Spanish attack in 1629 led to the development of a series of fortifications around the island but the relationship between the French and British did not last long and after several periods of warfare and control by both sides the French took control of the island between 1705 and 1713. Following warfare in Europe the islands were returned to the British under the Treaty of Utrecht.
By the late 1700s sugar production made Saint Kitts one of the richest islands in the Caribbean. Battles still continued with the French from time to time but the two islands, along with Antigua and the British Virgin Islands were administered as one colony from 1816 and then as part of the Leeward Islands Federation in 1871.
Sugar continued to dominate the islands’ economy and inevitably the workers became restless about their living and working conditions. A labour movement was formed leading to riots in 1935/36 and in 1940 the Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) was founded out of the labour movement.
The islands joined the West Indies Federation between 1958 and 1962 and then became an Associated State of the United Kingdom in 1967.
In 1946 the Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party was led by Robert Bradshaw and in 1952 they won the country’s first general election, taking all eight seats in the House of Assembly. The SKNLP went on to win the next five general elections and after 1967 Bradshaw became Prime Minister until his death in 1978.
The main opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM) first contested elections in 1966 but were only able to make the breakthrough as a result of the political turmoil in the SKNLP after Bradshaw’s death. PAM won three of nine seats in the 1980 election and was able to form a government with the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) which won two seats. PAM’s Dr Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds became Prime Minister.
In 1983 the government introduced a new constitution which brought in the National Assembly with eleven elected members and three appointed members. The Governor-General appoints two members on the advice of the Prime Minister and one on the advice of the leader of the opposition.
PAM went on to win the 1984 and 1989 elections with six of eleven seats on both occasions. Although they dropped to four seats in 1993 they were able to join forces with the NRP once more.
In 1995 the SKNLP returned to power with seven of the eleven elected seats and went on to rule for the next twenty years until February 2015. The 1995 election was just two years after the last general election and was brought about because of the political instability on the islands and a series of riots. Dr. Denzil Douglas became the new Prime Minister in 1995 and remained until the party was defeated in 2015.
The 2015 election campaign was notable because three parties joined forces against the Prime Minister and the SKNLP under the banner of ‘Team Unity’; they were the People’s Labour Party (PLP), People’s Action Movement (PAM) and the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM). Between them the three parties took seven of the eleven elected seats in the National Assembly, leaving the SKNLP with three seats and the Nevis Reformation Party with one seat. Dr. Timothy Harris of the People’s Labour Party (PLP) was sworn in as the new Prime Minister.
Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State
The unicameral National Assembly has 14 members of which 3 are appointed and 11 popularly elected from single-member constituencies to serve five-year terms.