The Prime Minister is elected from the results of a general election which takes place every five years.
The President is required to appoint the leader of the party who in his opinion has the most support of the members of the House of Representatives to this post; this has generally been the leader of the party which won the most seats in the previous election (except in the case of the 2001 General Elections).
Tobago also has its own elections, separate from the general elections. In these elections, members are elected and serve in the Tobago House of Assembly.
Parliament consists of the Senate (31 seats) and the House of Representatives (41 seats).The members of the Senate are appointed by the president. Sixteen Government Senators are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, six Opposition Senators are appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and nine Independent Senators are appointed by the President to represent other sectors of civil society.
The 41 members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people for a maximum term of five years in a "first past the post" system.
From 24 December 2001 to 24 May 2010, the governing party has been the People's National Movement (PNM) led by Patrick Manning; the Opposition party was the United National Congress (UNC) led by Basdeo Panday. Another recent party was the Congress of the People, or COP, led by Winston Dookeran.
Support for these parties appears to fall along ethnic lines with the PNM consistently obtaining a majority of Afro-Trinidadian vote, and the UNC gaining a majority of Indo-Trinidadian support. COP gained 23% of the votes in the 2007 general elections but failed to win a seat. Prior to 24 May 2010, the PNM held 26 seats in the House of Representatives and the UNC Alliance (UNC-A) held 15 seats, following elections held on 5 November 2007.
After just two and a half years, Prime Minister Patrick Manning dissolved Parliament in April 2010, and called a general election on 24 May 2010. After these general elections, the new governing coalition is the People's Partnership led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Persad-Bissessar and "the People's Partnership" wrested power from the Patrick Manning-led PNM, taking home 29 seats to the PNM's 12 seats, based on preliminary results.
There are 14 municipal corporations (two cities, three boroughs, and nine regions), which have a limited level of autonomy. The various councils are made up of a mixture of elected and appointed members. Elections are due to be held every three years, but have not been held since 2003, four extensions having been sought by the government.
Trinidad and Tobago is a leading member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), of which only the Caribbean Single Market (CSM) is in force. It is also the seat of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which was inaugurated on 16 April 2005.
The CCJ is intended to replace the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final Appellate Court for the member states of the CARICOM. Since its inauguration, only two states, Barbados and Guyana, have acceded to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ. The CCJ also serves as an original jurisdiction in the interpretation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, to which all members of CARICOM have acceded.