The Bahamas is an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Bahamian Constitution established a parliamentary system, very similar to the British model. The head of state is the British sovereign who is represented by the governor general. The duties of the governor general include appointing the prime minister and deputy prime minister, cabinet (on the prime minister's recommendation), and the leader of the opposition. Political power and responsibility for running the government reside with the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party in the Parliament. The cabinet, which the prime minister also heads, is made up of a minimum of eight ministers. The opposition leader is usually the head of the majority opposition party in Parliament.
The bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate and House of Assembly. The Senate is comprised of sixteen members appointed by the governor general, nine of whom are appointed after consultation with the prime minister, four on the advice of the opposition and three after consultation with others at his/her discretion. The House of Assembly consists of 40 elected members. Members of the House are directly elected every five years. Suffrage is universal over the age of 18.
There are four political parties in the Bahamas. The two major ones are the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the ruling Free National Movement (FNM), which is the product of a merger between the United Bahamian Party (UBP) and the Free Progressive Liberal Party (FPLP). The two smaller parties are the Bahamian Democratic Movement (BDM) and the Coalition of Democratic Reform (DCR), founded in 2000. Although there are no fundamental ideological differences between the FNM and the PLP, politicians distinguish themselves on the basis of their leadership style, the efficiency of the government, or their professed integrity.
All of the islands, except for New Providence, are administered by district commissioners whose legal authority is limited to local concerns. District commissioners are responsible for law and order administered through local courts.