Belize, a member of the British Commonwealth, has a Westminster-style parliamentary system. A British colony until 1981, known until 1973 as British Honduras, Belize became independent in 1981. Queen Elizabeth II is the formal head of state, represented in Belize by an appointed governor-general (since November 1993, Sir Colville Young, Sr.) who plays a ceremonial role. The legislature consists of a National Assembly comprising an twelve-member appointed Senate and a House of Representatives, members of which are elected in 29 constituencies to five-year terms. The head of government is the prime minister, who in the parliamentary system commands a majority in the legislature. The prime minister and his cabinet are usually the leader and members of the majority party in the House of Representatives.
Party politics began in Belize in 1950 when the People's United Party (PUP) was formed. It won the first election contested after universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1954. Belize achieved internal self-government in 1964 and complete independence on 21 September 1981. The PUP, led by George Price, dominated politics for 30 years, until the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was formed by a coalition of small opposition parties in 1973, won the 1984 election under the leadership of Manuel Esquivel. Although frequently divided by tensions among its constituent parties, the UDP has remained viable in opposition as well as in government, returning to power for one term following the elections of 1993.
In August 1998, the PUP was returned to power with 60% of the popular vote, winning 26 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, with UDP controlling the remainder. Voter turnout was estimated at over 90%, the highest in the country's history. Said Musa, the party leader, became the nation's third prime minister. The next National Assembly elections were scheduled for August 2003.