By the time the islands were discovered by Europeans around 1502, they were already inhabited by Arawak and Carib peoples. The first known European settlement was by 67 Englishmen in 1624. The French established a colony in 1651. For more than a century, the French and British fought for possession of the island, with the British finally winning in 1803. St. Lucia remained under British rule for the next 165 years. Representative government was introduced in 1924. In 1967, St. Lucia became one of the West Indies Associated States, gaining full autonomy in internal affairs, with the British retaining responsibility for defense and foreign relations only.
Today St. Lucia is a constitutional monarchy. Executive power is vested in the British sovereign, the titular head of state, represented by the governor-general. The governor-general is appointed on the advice of the prime minister, who is the head of government and leader of the cabinet. The prime minister must have the majority support of the House, to which he and his cabinet are responsible.
The bicameral legislature consists of an 11-member Senate composed of six members appointed on the advice of the prime minister, three appointed on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and two on the advice of the governor-general. The House of Assembly, by contrast, is a 17-member body composed of representatives elected by universal adult suffrage for up to a five-year term. The highest judicial body is the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, with a legal system based on English common law and the "Code of Napoleon."
Historically, St. Lucian political life has been dominated by two parties: the United Workers' Party (UWP), which was founded in 1964, and the incumbent St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP), founded in 1946. St. Lucia became an independent country in 1979 under the leadership of the UWP. Nevertheless, the historic links with Britain continue to be maintained at pre-independence levels.