St. Kitts-Nevis is an independent democratic state within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The formal head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by an appointed governor-general. Since 1996, this largely ceremonial position has been occupied by Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian. Real political power rests with the cabinet and the National Assembly, which consists of 11 elected members (eight for St. Kitts and three for Nevis) and three appointed members. The prime minister is head of the cabinet as well as the leader of the majority party in the assembly. The cabinet and prime minister are responsible to the National Assembly, which can remove them through a vote of no confidence. There are four main political parties in the country. The party currently in power is the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP), which holds a majority of eight seats in the assembly. The Nevisbased Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) holds two while the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) holds one. The conservative People's Action Movement (PAM) currently holds no seats. Should no one party command an outright majority, a coalition between two or more parties may be formed.
The island of Nevis also maintains its own assembly and premier. It has the constitutional right of secession from St. Kitts if a majority of the legislators approve it. In 1990, the premier of Nevis announced that he intended to seek an end to the federation with St. Kitts by the end of 1992, but an election in that same year removed the threat of secession for the time being.
Originally inhabited by the Carib Indians, for whom the Caribbean is named, St. Kitts and Nevis were named by Columbus in 1493. He named the larger island St. Christopher, for the patron saint of travelers, but when English settlers arrived in 1623, they nicknamed it St. Kitts. The French also founded settlements, and for more than a century the two countries disputed the ownership of the islands until Britain was awarded them in a treaty in 1783. In 1967, St. Kitts and Nevis became a state as part of the West Indies Associated States, a free association between several Caribbean islands and Great Britain, in which each member enjoyed internal autonomy while Britain retained responsibility for defense and foreign affairs. On 19 September 1983, St. Kitts-Nevis became fully independent, joining the United Nations but also maintaining its membership in the British Commonwealth.