THE COLOMBIAN SENATE
I - COMPOSITION
100 senators elected by direct ballot,
2 Senators representing the indigenous communities.
Total: 102 members.
The President of the Senate is also President of the Congress, which includes both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Two plurinominal national constituencies:
- one constituency of 100 seats;
- one special national constituency consisting of two seats (for the Indian communities).
Method of voting
1) Closed-list ballot
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION ACCORDING TO THE HIGHEST REMAINDER.
2) The special national constituency operates under an electoral quotient system.
Indigenous Representatives must have held a position of traditional authority in their communities, or run an indigenous organisation.
Term of office: 4 years.
Most recent election: 10 March 2002.
CRITERIA FOR ELIGIBILITY: 30 YEARS OF AGE.
III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS
A - ORDINARY SESSIONS
Two ordinary sessions per year:
- the first from 20 July to 16 December;
- the second from 16 March to 20 June.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
Extraordinary sessions are convened by the President of the Republic, who himself fixes the duration and agenda.
C - SPECIAL SESSIONS
These full sessions are convened by the Congress for reasons of urgency.
D - PERMANENT SESSIONS
These sessions are declared half an hour before the end of the session in order to complete the agenda.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER HOUSE AND THE EXECUTIVE
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
1) The right to propose legislation
Senators, like members of the House of Representatives and the Government, have the right to propose legislation.
In addition, the Constitutional Court, the Upper Council of the Magistrature, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Council of State, the National Electoral Council, the General Prosecutor of the Nation, the National Controller of Accounts, the General Fiscal of the Nation (equivalent to the Attorney General) and the `Defender of the People' (an independent administrative authority responsible for human rights issues) also have this right in areas that concern them.
There is also a limited right for citizens to initiate legislation.
2) Right of amendment
3) Legislative procedure
a) Common law procedure
A draft law has to be published in the Congress Gazette before it reaches the Commission stage.
It has to be adopted in identical terms at its first reading by the relevant Commissions of each House.
The bill is then presented to one of the Houses for its second reading after a minimum of eight days.
It must be adopted during the second reading by both Houses in identical terms. A minimum period of 15 days must elapse between the bill's adoption by one House and its presentation to the other.
In the event of disagreement between the two Houses over a draft law, a joint commission is set up with the task of producing a form of words that is accepted by all.
The draft law is finally promulgated by the President of the Republic or, should he refuse, by the President of the Congress.
b) Special measures
Draft laws covering international relations must be presented to the Senate in the first instance; draft legislation dealing with financial matters are initially presented to the Chamber of Deputies.
c) President of the Republic's veto
The President of the Republic may refuse to promulgate a law for reasons linked to unconstitutionality or inadvisability and it is then returned to the house where it originated. In the case of unconstitutionality, the law voted on again without any changes, and it is referred to the Constitutional Court which has six days to reach a decision; if it accords with the Constitution, the President of the Republic must then promulgate it. In the case of inadvisability, the law must be passed by an absolute majority by both Houses for the President of the Republic to be obliged to promulgate it.
If the President of the Republic does not carry out his duty of promulgation, this task falls to the President of the Congress.
B - SUPERVISORY POWERS
1) Information for the Senate
The Senate may summon ministers and senior civil servants to provide explanations and reports.
The following must present annual reports during the fifteen days that follow the opening of the legislature:
- the General Prosecutor of the Nation;
- the Defender of the People;
- the National Controller of Accounts;
- Ministers and Heads of Departments;
- the Banco de la República (Central Bank).
2) Written questions
Senators and deputies may send the Government written requests for information.
3) Motions of censure
Failure to comply with obligations to provide information or to respond to a summons from the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies may result in a motion of censure against one or more Cabinet Ministers. This leads to removal from office.
V - SPECIAL MEASURES
A - CONSTITUENT POWER
The Constitution may be amended by Congress on the proposal of ten members, the Government, at least 5% of voters, 20% of Municipal Councillors, and 20% of General Councillors.
The proposal is debated and voted on by Congress in a double ballot in the course of two consecutive sessions: in the first instance, it must obtain a majority in each house; in the second, it needs an absolute majority.
B - CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE THE PRESIDENCY OF THE REPUBLIC FALLS VACANT
The Senate passes judgement on the removal from office of the President and Vice-President of the Republic. It decrees that they be stripped temporarily of their rights, and it makes formal announcement of the fact that the post of President or Vice-President is vacant. The Senate may also declare that they are suffering from permanent physical incapacity.
C - PASSING JUDGEMENT ON CERTAIN OFFICIALS
The Senate has competence to pass judgement on accusations brought by the Chamber of Deputies against the President of the Republic or his deputy, Magistrates of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Council of State, members of the Upper Council of the Magistrature, and the General Fiscal of the Nation.
D - THE INTERNATIONAL ARENA
The Senate has exclusive competence to:
1) authorise the declaration of war;
2) permit foreign troops to pass through Colombian territory;
3) authorise former Presidents of the Republic to leave the country during the year after they complete their term of office.
E - APPOINTMENT TO CERTAIN POSTS
The Senate has exclusive competence to appoint:
1) the General Prosecutor of the Nation;
2) Magistrates in the Constitutional Court.