Before the arrival of Columbus in 1493, the Amerindians settled Antigua and Barbuda. The name "Antigua" was given to the area in honor of Santa Maria la Antigua of Seville. English planters from the island of St. Kitts first colonized the country in 1623. After a brief period of French occupation, in 1667 it became a British possession through the Treaty of Breda. The country remained subject to British rule until 1981, when it became independent.
Although these two islands are 48 km (30 mi) apart, they have one government and form one independent state. Antigua and Barbuda is a constitutional monarchy in which the Queen of England is the titular head of state and is represented through a governor general appointed through advisement by the prime minister. The legislature is comprised of a bicameral Parliament with the council of ministers as the executive branch, headed by the prime minister. The bicameral legislature is made up of two chambers: an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. The Senate (the upper house) has 17 members named by the governor general, 11 of whom are appointed on the advice of the prime minister. Of the remainder, four are named after consultation with the opposition; one is recommended by the Barbuda Council, which is also vested with the authority to raise local revenue; and one is named at the governor general's discretion.
The House of Representatives (lower house) has 19 members: 17 members who are elected every five years or at the dissolution of Parliament, one ex officio member, and one speaker. The opposition leader is normally chosen from the leading minority in Parliament.
There are five political parties in the country. The ruling party, the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), led by Lester Bird, has dominated Antiguan politics since the 1960s. Other parties include the Barbuda People's Movement (BPM), led by Thomas H. Frank, and the United Progressive Party (UPP), a coalition led by Baldwin Spencer and made up of three small opposition political parties—the United National Democratic Party (UNDP), the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM), and the Progressive Labor Movement (PLM).