Gonsalves was first elected to Parliament in 1994 as a member of the Unity Labor Party, a left-of-center party similar to European social democratic parties. Gonsalves and the ULP that year submitted a vote of no confidence in the then-ruling NDP and its prime minister James Mitchell, who had ruled the island nation almost without interruption since independence. Gonsalves spoke publicly and forcefully against the leadership and its failure to address a deepening economic decline brought about by a crisis in banana production, deteriorating healthcare, and the growth of the illegal drugs trade. In 1998, Gonsalves became leader of ULP as the country headed for national elections. The ULP fought a tough campaign, with Gonsalves as their main spokesman, but they failed by one seat to win a parliamentary majority, even though they won a majority of the popular vote. In 2000, St. Vincent and the Grenadines saw a rise in popular demonstrations against the government, led by the Organization for Democracy and Development, a cross-party coalition of activists. The protests were caused by decrees passed by the NDP-dominated Parliament granting themselves larger pensions and other financial rewards. The demonstrations caused great civil unrest, such that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) intervened and negotiated a settlement. Under the settlement terms, the NDP agreed to new national elections to be held in March 2001, two years ahead of schedule. Gonsalves' ULP won by a large majority, taking 12 of 15 seats. Gonsalves took power in April 2001.