The organization of political parties began in 1936 and by 1948 there were four parties on Curaçao and others on Aruba and the other islands, most of whom endorsed autonomy.
In 1948, the Dutch constitution was revised to allow for the transition to complete autonomy of the islands. In 1954 they were granted full autonomy in domestic affairs and became an integral part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Crown continued to appoint the Governor, although since the 1960s this has gone to a native-born Antillian. Nevertheless, a strong separatist movement developed on Aruba and the island finally withdrew from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, becoming an autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the same status as the whole of the Netherlands Antilles.
The Netherlands Antilles now form two autonomous parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The main part, comprising all the islands except Aruba, is a parliamentary federal democracy, the seat of which is in Willemstad, Curaçao, and each island has its own Legislative and Executive Council. Parliament (Staten) is elected in principle every four years, with 14 members from Curaçao, three from Bonaire, three from Sint Maarten and one each from Saba and St Eustatius.
A new Government of the five-island federation was sworn in in June 1998. Suzanne Römer, of the Partido Nashonal di Pueblo (PNP) is the Prime Minister, at the head of a six-party coalition cabinet, with 13 of the 22 seats, Within the coalition, the PNP has three seats, the Partido Laboral Krusado Populat (Curaçao) three seats, the Frente Obrero de Liberashon (Curaçao) two seats, the Democratic Party (Sint Maarten) two seats, the Partido Democratico Bonairiano (Bonaire) two seats, and the Windward Islands People’s Movement (Saba) one seat.
In Aruba the last general election was held on 29 July 1994. The Arubaanse Volkspartij (AVP) won 10 of the 21 seats and formed a new government led by Prime Minister Heny Eman. The People’s Electoral Movement (MEP) won nine seats. The Organisashon pa Liberashon de Aruba (OLA) won two seats and joined in a coalition with the AVP.
Separate status for some or all of the islands has been a political issue with a breakaway movement in Curaçao and St Maarten. The Netherlands Government’s previous policy of encouraging independence has been reversed. The Hague has been trying to draw up a new constitution governing relations between the Netherlands, the Antilles Federation and Aruba. A round-table conference was held in 1993 to establish the basis for future relations including financial support but ended without any decision on Aruba’s desire to cancel proposals for independence in 1996, Curaçao’s demand for status aparte and future relations of the islands with the Netherlands if the Federation collapses.
In November 1993 a referendum was held in Curaçao on its future status within the Federation. The Government was soundly defeated when the electorate unexpectedly voted to continue the island’s present status as a member of the Antillean federation (73.6 percent), rejecting the other options of separate status (11.9 percent), incorporation in the Netherlands (8.0 percent) and independence (0.5 percent).
Referenda were also held on the other islands, Saba, Statia, St Maarten and Bonaire with the aim of restructuring the Antilles. The vote in October 1994 was overwhelmingly in favour of the status quo, with 90.6 percent support in Statia, 86.3 percent in Saba, 88.0 percent in Bonaire and 59.8 percent in Sint Maarten.