Universal adult suffrage on the islands dates from 1951, and ministerial government from 1956. The bicameral legislature gained its present form in 1967, and the United Kingdom granted formal independence to Antigua and Barbuda in November 1981. Under the constitution, the British monarch, as head of state, is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a local governor-general who is appointed on the advice of the prime minister. The bicameral legislature consists of a 17-member House of Representatives, elected from single-member constituencies for up to five years by universal adult suffrage at age 18; and a 17-member Senate, appointed by the governor-general, of whom 11 (including at least one inhabitant of Barbuda) are named on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of the leader of the Opposition, one at the governor-general's discretion, and one on the advice of the Barbuda council. The governor-general appoints the prime minister, who must have the support of a majority of the House, and the cabinet.
The prime minister as of 2003 was Lester Bird, with the next elections scheduled for March 2004. His party, the ALP, held 12 of the 17 elected seats in the House of Representatives after the 1999 election. Bird, in addition to his role as prime minister, hold a number of other governmental posts, including minister of defense; minister of external affairs; minister of legislature, privatization, printing, and electoral affairs; minister of telecommunications and gambling; minister of public works, sewage, and energy; and minister of urban development and renewal.