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THE CHILEAN SENATE     

 

I - COMPOSITION

38 members  elected by direct vote in all of the 13 regions of the country.

The constitutional reforms in August 2005 abolished 2 categories of seats which had been established by the 1980 Constitution:

- 9 appointed (2 former members of the Supreme Court, 1 former Auditor General of the Republic, 1 former Chief of Staff of each of the three armed forces ‑land, air and sea‑ 1 former University rector and 1 former minister).

- the life Senator's post occupied by the former Presidents of the Republic for life provided that they occupied their position for 6 uninterrupted years.

 

II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM

 

19 plurinominal divisions ; 13 of these correspond to regions, whereas 6 regions are each split into 2 divisions. Of these 19 divisions : 

- 7 have 2 seats ;

- 6 regions have 4 seats (i.e., are sub-divided into 2 districts each having 2 seats). 

Method of voting 

Majority vote, block list system with seats allocated by the binominal system. In each division two candidates on the same «ticket» (nomina) are elected if they obtain a total of votes at least twice as much as the score of the «ticket» in second position.  If this is not the case, the senator who has received the largest number of votes is designated in each of the two «tickets». 

Eligibility requirements: minimum age of 35 years, citizenship in Chile, completion of secondary education or its equivalent, and minimum of 3 years residency in region concerned.

Incompatibilities: Contractor for the government, holding of office of Minister of State, holding of certain public or state posts

Term of office : 8 years (for elected senators as well as designated senators), half of them subject to re-election (the seats are elective) every 4 years, depending on whether the number of seats of the region is odd or even (apart from the metropolitan region). 

Most recent election : 13 December 2009. 

 

III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS 

A - NORMAL SESSION 

One normal session per year, from May 21 to September 18. 

B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS 

The Congress may be convened by the President of the Republic for an extraordinary session, either to prolong a normal session by 10 days or between sessions. 

If it is not convened by the President of the Republic, it may be convened by the President of the Senate in extraordinary session, if the President of the Senate receives a request written and signed by the majority of the members of each chamber. This form of convocation may only occur between sessions. 

 

IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE 

 

A - LEGISLATIVE POWERS 

1) Powers to initiate legislation 

Such powers are possessed by senators (or a group of at least 5) acting concurrently with deputies (or a group of at least 10) and the President of the Republic, except with regard to public finance, local administration, the armed forces, new public services, and certain provisions of labour rights and of social security.  However, only the Senate has the power to initiate amnesty laws. 

2) Amendment Rights 

Yes, conjointly with the deputies, but the amendments must have a direct link with the subject of the text to which they apply. 

Bills having the effect of creating or modifying the armed services, employment and the financial advantages, which are within the remit of the President of the Republic, may not be amended.  They may only be accepted or rejected in all or in part. 

3) Legislative Procedure 

Texts may be tabled in one or other assembly. 

Preliminary examination of the text in committee. 

a) Normal procedure 

A bill is in the first place submitted for a general consideration by the committee concerned, followed by a general debate in the assembly.  The bill is then subjected to rigorous examination by the committee before being debated in a more detailed way by the assembly. 

Once the text has been approved by one chamber, it is immediately forwarded to the other.  If the bill is rejected by the original chamber, it may not be presented again within one year. 

1. A text which is completely rejected by the second chamber is submitted to a mixed committee, consisting of an equal number of deputies and of senators, who make suggestions to resolve the conflict.  The text of the mixed parity committee is then submitted to the first chamber and, to be approved, must receive the majority vote of those present in each assembly.  

If the mixed parity committee fails to reach an agreement or if the original chamber rejects its text, the President of the Republic may request the latter whether it maintains its position - rejection of the text - by a majority of 2/3 of those present. In this case, the text passes to the second chamber for a second reading, and it may only be rejected by a majority of 2/3 of those present 

2. A bill modified by the second chamber returns to the first chamber : the modifications must be approved by it, by a majority of those present.   

If they are rejected, a mixed parity committee meets.  In the case of a defeat or rejection of the agreement established by the mixed parity committee, the President of the Republic may request the first assembly to reexamine the text approved during a second reading by the second assembly.  Modifications are deemed to be passed if 2/3 of those present do not reject them.   

The President of the Republic may, for the whole of the procedure or for one reading, declare an emergency : the chamber concerned must then give a pronouncement within a maximum period of 30 days. 

Any text passed in the same terms by the two assemblies is forwarded to the President of the Republic who, if he approves the contents, promulgates it as law.  

b) Budgetary procedure 

Financial bills must be submitted to the Congress by the President of the Republic at least three months prior to the date of their entry into force.  They must first be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. 

If it is not considered by the Congress within a period of 60 days following its tabling, the bill tabled by the President of the Republic enters into force. 

Congress may not increase or reduce estimates of receipts. However, it has the power to reduce the expenditures entailed in the bill except for those established by a permanent law. 

Forecasts of the receipts inherent in a draft financial law or another bill are within the exclusive competence of the President, following submission to him of a report by the competent technical agencies.   

Congress may not pass supplementary expenditures without indicating, within the national budget, the necessary receipts.  If these prove to be insufficient, thee President of the Republic, before the promulgation of the law, subject to a favourable report from the body that is to be the source of the new receipts, counter-signed by the General Auditor of the Republic, may reduce the expenditures proportionally without consideration of their nature. 

c) Special provisions 

Draft bills relating to any form of taxation in the budget and in the recruitment of the civil service, must first be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. Bills relating to amnesties and pardon must first be submitted to the Senate. 

To pass, modify or abrogate any organic laws requires a 3/5 majority. 

d) Presidential Veto 

If the President of the Republic disapproves of a law he returns it to the chamber from which it came, together with a reasoned argument, within a period of 30 days from the date of its transmission. 

If the two chambers approve the grounds for the decision, the modified law is sent back to the President for promulgation.   

The same applies if the two chambers reject the veto in all or part and maintain their text by a majority of 2/3 of those present ; the text is then forwarded to the President for promulgation. 

The period during which the President may apply his veto is suspended during the interval between the sessions. 

4) Enabling legislation 

The President of the Republic may request from Congress authorization to pass into law provisions having the force of law for a maximum period of one year, subject to certain exceptions (nationality, citizenship, electoral rights, referendums, constitutional guarantees, organic laws, judicial system, etc). 

The Federal Audit (La Contraloria General de la Republica) -i.e., the body which audits the public administration) must sign approval of an executive order ; it is obliged to refuse to do so when a law would exceed the limits indicated by the law on enabling legislation. 

With respect to their publication, their validity and their effects, statutory orders are subject to the same rules as other laws. 

B - REVIEW POWERS 

There is no review powers of acts passed by the Government or state organs. 

C - ADVISORY POWERS 

The Senate gives its advice to the President of the Republic whenever requested to do so. 

 

V - SPECIAL PROVISIONS 

 

A - CONSTITUENT  POWERS 

1) The right to initiate a modification of the Constitution resides with senators (or a group of at least 5) as well as to deputies (or a group of at least 10) and to the President of the Republic. 

2) Adoption procedure 

a) The modification must be passed for each of the two chambers by a majority of 3/5 of the full membership.  An emergency procedure may be ordered. 

b) The two chambers meeting in Congress with a quorum of the majority of all the members composing it, must vote - without debate - on the text passed by each of the chambers within a period of 60 days after this adoption. 

The text passed by the majority of the Congress is submitted to the President of the Republic. 

c) Presidential Veto 

The President of the Republic may completely oppose a modification of the Constitution. 

If Congress maintains its position by a 2/3 majority of the members of each chamber, the President must promulgate the text unless he submits it to a referendum. 

If the President issues a partial veto and if his objections are passed by a majority of 2/3 or of 3/5 of the members of each chamber which approved it on the first reading, the modified text is sent to the President of the Republic for promulgation. 

If the chambers reject all or part of the objections issued by the President, they may maintain their text which then must be supported by a 2/3 majority of the members comprising each of the two chambers. In this case, the amendment is sent back to the President for promulgation unless the latter organises a referendum on the matters in dispute (the Senate, as well as the Chamber of Deputies, may appeal to the Constitutional Court with respect to the constitutionality of the referendum). 

d) A modification of the procedure described above must be supported by the approval of the President of the Republic and of 2/3 of the members of each of the chambers : a referendum may not then be organised. 

e) A modification of the provisions relating to the bases of the institutional system, the Constitutional Court, the armed forces, the police and the National Security Council, once passed may not be submitted again to the chambers once these have held an election.  If they pass the proposal by a 2/3 majority of the members of each assembly, the text is forwarded to the President of the Republic.  If the latter does not accept this, he may organise a referendum. 

B - WITH RESPECT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC 

1) Authorisation to leave the national territory 

The President of the Republic may not leave the national territory for more than thirty days or during the ninety final days of his term of office without the agreement of the Senate. 

2) Incapacity and dismissal of the President 

The Senate has competence to :

- declare the incapacity of the President for physical or medical reasons (physical or mental difficulties) ;

- consider the reasons for the dismissal of the President and, in consequence to accept or reject him. 

In all cases, the Constitutional Court must be heard. 

3) Vacancy of the President of the Republic 

a) In the case of incapacity of the President, the President of the Senate takes his functions for the interim (failing this, the President of the Supreme Court, and then the President of the Chamber of Deputies). 

If the incapacity becomes absolute or continues indefinitely, the interim President, within a period of ten days following the decision of the Senate, shall make the necessary arrangements for the organization of a new election to be held within 60 days. 

b) In the case of temporary incapacity (for reasons of health, absence from the territory or any other substantial reason), the President's posts are taken over by ministers according to the order of protocol and then, failing this, the President of the Senate (followed by the President of the Supreme Court and the President of the Chamber of Deputies). 

In the case of vacancy, the person taking over the President's posts must be appointed by the Senate by an absolute majority of its members within ten days of the vacancy ; the person shall occupy the position. 

The President thus designated may not be a candidate in the next presidential election. 

During the ten day interval for the designation of the successor, the post be assumed by the minister holding the title of Vice-president, in accordance with the legal order of precedence.  

C - POWERS WITH RESPECT TO PENAL MATTERS 

1) Declaration of culpability 

The Senate must give a ruling on the culpability of persons under accusation by the Chamber of Deputies :

- the President of the Republic for undermining the honour and security of the Nation and violation of the Constitution (a declaration of the Constitutional Court with respect to the undermining of the institutional order of the Republic must receive the approval of the Senate by a majority of its members) ; 

- the ministers, for the same causes and also those of treachery, extortion, misuse of funds and corruption ;  

- the judges of the High Court and the Audit General of the Republic for abandonment of post ; 

- generals and admirals for having severely undermined the honour and security of the Nation ; 

- Intendants and governors for violation of the Constitution and for crimes of treachery, sedition, misuse of funds and extortion. 

The Senate takes its decision as a jury and is limited to declaring whether or not the accused is culpable of the crime, infraction or excess of power. 

The declaration of culpability must be made by a 2/3 majority of senators in cases involving the President or by a simple majority in the other cases. 

A declaration of culpability leads to the dismissal of the accused and a prohibition on exercising any public function for five years. 

Only Congress has competence over the giving of amnesty to persons declared to be culpable. 

2) The Senate decides whether to admit judicial actions directed against a minister for damages caused by him in the exercise of his functions. 

3) The Senate has competence over the re‑establishment of Chilean citizenship for an individual sentenced for a high crime.

 

D - POWERS WITH RESPECT TO NOMINATIONS 

1) Constitutional Court 

The Senate, by a majority of its members, elects one of the seven members of the Constitutional Court. 

2) The approval of the Senate is required for the nomination made by the President of the Republic of the person to be the Auditor General of the Republic

E - SPECIAL ATTRIBUTIONS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE 

1) The President of the Senate is a member of the National Security Council. 

2) He presides over joint sittings of the two assemblies. 

F - EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES 

1) ) Congress has competence over the authorizing of a state of siege by the President of the Republic within one or several areas of the national territory. 

Congress is deemed to be convened when notified of the declaration of the state of siege. 

Congress, at any time, by an absolute majority of the members of each of the two assemblies, may abrogate the effects of a state of siege which it has approved. 

2) The President of the Republic must inform Congress of measures taken in virtue of a state of emergency or of a catastrophe. 

G - THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC DECLARES WAR AFTER HAVING RECEIVED AUTHORIZATION UNDER A LAW.