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History, Republic Established

PNM victory, political shootings, Patrick Manning, United National Congress, early elections

During 1973 the oil revenues of Trinidad grew rapidly as the country became the third-leading exporter of oil in the Western Hemisphere. But early in 1975 the rate of unemployment reached 17 percent, and the rate of inflation soared to 23 percent. In March and April of that year labor strikes in the oil and sugar industries and sympathy strikes by transport and electrical workers paralyzed the economy, costing the country an estimated $200 million. Prime Minister Williams was widely accused of not providing adequate leadership to the country. Inflation eased somewhat the following year, although unemployment remained high. Williams remained in office after elections in September 1976 under a new constitution that made the country a republic within the commonwealth. A rash of firebombings, arsons, and political shootings occurred in 1980.

Upon Williamsís death in 1981, Agriculture Minister George Chambers was elected prime minister and leader of the PNM. In the 1986 elections, the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) won 33 of 36 seats in the House of Representatives, and Arthur Napoleon Robinson became prime minister. In July 1990 more than 100 Muslim militants blew up police headquarters, seized the parliament building, and held Robinson and other government officials hostage for several days in an abortive coup attempt. After a PNM victory in the December 1991 elections, Patrick Manning became prime minister.

In November 1995 the PNM and the United National Congress (UNC) Party both won 17 seats in elections to the House of Representatives. The UNC then formed a coalition government with the smaller NAR, which had won only 2 seats. UNC leader Basdeo Panday became prime minister, marking the first time that a Trinidadian of East Indian descent had led the Caribbean nation. Race was an important factor in the elections, with the UNC garnering most of its support from rural Trinidadians of East Indian descent and the PNM winning votes mainly from urban residents of African descent. Once in office, Panday worked to allay fears among blacks that his government would try to improve living conditions and employment opportunities for Indo-Trinidadians at the expense of Afro-Trinidadians. In the 2000 elections, the UNC maintained a narrow majority in the House. In 2001 Prime Minister Panday called for early elections because dissent within the UNC threatened its slim majority. In the elections, the UNC and the PNM each won 18 seats. Because the House was evenly split, and the prime minister is usually chosen from the party with the majority, both parties eventually agreed to let the president appoint the new prime minister. The president appointed PNMís Patrick Manning as prime minister.

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