THE PARAGUAYAN SENATE
I - COMPOSITION
45 members elected by direct ballot.
Former Presidents of the Republic are senators for life, by they are not entitled to vote.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Voting method: proportional ballot according to fixed lists in one plurinominal national constituency with the remaining seats distributed to the party with the highest average.
Length of office : 5 years.
Last renewed: 20 April 2008.
Age at which a citizen is allowed to stand for election : 35.
III - SESSION SYSTEM
A - ORDINARY SESSION
Annual session from July 1st to June 30th with a break from December 31st to March 1st.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
The two chambers -the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies-can meet for an extraordinary session or prolong their ordinary session following a decision approved by a quarter of the members of each chamber, by two thirds of the Permanent Congress Committee or by decree of the President of the Republic.
The President of the Congress (i.e. the President of the Senate), or the President of its Permanent Commission during the intersession, must convene the Parliament within 48 hours.
The extraordinary sessions -which may affect one of the chambers only- are convened according to a predetermined agenda and are closed when all the items have been covered.
IV - RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
Both chambers have equal powers.
1) Legislative initiative
Yes (as do the deputies, the President of the Republic, the people, and, in certain cases, the Supreme Court of Justice).
2) Right to amendment
3) Legislative procedure
Drafts initially examined by commissions made up of the groups that compose the Senate in the same proportions.
a) Ordinary procedure
Bills are successively examined by both chambers.
§ If the draft has been approved by one chamber and is then completely dismissed by the other, it returns to the initial chamber to be re-examined. If the chamber maintains the draft with an absolute majority, the bill is sent back to the second chamber, which can then dismiss it with a two-thirds majority only. If this is not the case, the bill is considered to be passed.
§ If the draft approved by one chamber is partially modified by the other, it is sent back to the initial chamber to which only the modified articles are referred :
1/ If this chamber approves the modifications, the bill is adopted.
2/ If the modifications are dismissed with an absolute majority, the bill is sent back to the second chamber to which the bill was referred. If this chamber maintains its modifications with the same majority, the bill is approved. Otherwise, the version adopted by the first chamber is approved.
3/ If some of the modifications are accepted, the bill is sent back to the second chamber, which debates the modifications that were dismissed only. If the chamber maintains or withdraws the modifications with an absolute majority, the bill is approved.
The President of the Republic can withdraw or abandon bills that he has submitted to Congress except when the bill has already been approved by the chamber to which it was submitted.
b) Emergency procedure
The President of the Republic can request immediate discussion of a bill he submits to Congress.
In this case, each chamber has 30 days in which to examine the draft. If it has not been dismissed in this time, the bill is considered to have been adopted.
The emergency procedure can be requested at any time during legislative proceedings.
Each chamber can, at any time, with a two-thirds majority, cancel the emergency procedure and order that the ordinary procedure be followed.
The President of the Republic can request emergency declaration from Congress of a maximum of three bills per session, unless the chamber to which the draft was first referred accepts additional emergency procedures with a two-thirds majority.
c) Automatic approval
If, during a session, a draft is approved by the first chamber to which it was referred, it is transmitted to the other chamber which must examine the bill within three months. Once this period has expired, and after the President of the first chamber has notified their opposite number in the other chamber, the second chamber is assumed to have approved the bill.
This time limit is suspended from December 21st to March 1st.
d) President of the Republic's Veto
1/ Partial veto
A bill subject to a partial veto by the President of the Republic is sent back to the first chamber to which it was referred which examines the objections within 60 days.
If the chamber overrides the veto by an absolute majority, the bill is sent to the other chamber for the same examination in the same length of time. If the second chamber reaches the same decision, the draft is approved and the President has to promulgate it within five days.
If the two chambers cannot remove the veto, the bill cannot be re-examined during the session.
The objections raised by the President of the Republic may be totally or partially dismissed by both chambers. If they are totally or partially accepted, the two chambers must decide to adopt the part of the bill that was not disputed by absolute majority. The law must then be promulgated.
2/ Full veto
If the President of the Republic completely dismisses the bill, it is referred back to the first chamber which re-examines it. If the first chamber maintains its draft by an absolute majority, the draft is transmitted to the other chamber. If the other chamber adopts the same position, the law must be promulgated within five working days.
If the Congress cannot remove the veto, the bill cannot be re-examined during the session.
All bills adopted by Congress that have not been subject to veto or referred back to the first chamber by the President of the Republic within six working days if the draft includes less than ten articles, or within 12 days if the draft includes between 11 and 20 articles, or 20 days if there are over 20 articles, is considered as having been approved. In all cases the law is to be considered as automatically promulgated and it must be sent for publication.
If the President of the Republic does not respect the promulgation procedures, the President of Congress or the President of the Chamber of Deputies promulgates the law and orders its publication.
f) Legislation by committee
The Senate (like the Chamber of Deputies) can, with an absolute majority, delegate the examination of bills, resolutions and declarations to committees.
With a simple majority, the chamber can withdraw this delegation at any time before the committee reaches its final decision.
The following cannot be delegated to committees - discussion of the budget, codes, international treaties, tax measures, defence issues, drafts concerning the organisation of the government, bills proposed by the people.
g) Budgetary procedure
Every year, the President of the Republic has to submit the budget to Congress by September 1st at the latest. This is examined as an emergency procedure.
A committee is created that is common to both chambers. Its role is to examine the budget and to submit a report to each chamber within 60 days maximum.
The Chamber of Deputies then examines the bill in a public session and must take its decision within 15 days. The Senate has the same amount of time to examine the budget that may have been modified by the Chamber of Deputies. If it is voted in the Senate, the budget is adopted. If not, the draft is sent back to the Chamber of Deputies with the Senate's modifications. The Chamber of Deputies has ten days to make a decision on the disputed points. These points are then referred back to the Senate which has ten days to pronounce itself - if the modifications are maintained or withdrawn with an absolute majority, the bill is adopted.
All the deadlines above are mandatory and if they are not respected, approval is deemed to have been given.
The budget can be entirely dismissed by a two-thirds majority in both chambers only.
If the submission deadline is not respected, the previous budget remains in application.
B - CONTROLLING POWER
The two chambers have equal powers.
1) Information request
The Senate can request reports on matters of public interest, except those concerning court activities, from the Government and from its administrations and offices.
The reports have to be provided within the deadline set, which cannot be less than 15 days.
With an absolute majority, the Senate can call on and question ministers and directors of central, decentralised and autonomous authorities individually. It can also call on directors of organisations that manage public assets or those where the State is the main shareholder.
Questions must be sent at least five days before the interview date.
Those summoned must defer to the summons, unless unable to do so for legal reasons, answer questions, and supply the requested information.
The participation of minority and opposition groups in preparing the questions is determined by law.
These arrangements cannot be applied to the President of the Republic, the Vice President, and to magistrates.
If the person summoned does not respect the summons or if the chamber considers that their appearance was not satisfactory, both chambers, with a two-thirds majority, can pass a vote of no confidence and recommend to the President of the Republic or their hierarchical superior that the person be relieved of their functions.
If the no confidence motion is not adopted, no other vote of no confidence can be proposed during that session on the same subject and affecting the same minister or office-holder.
3) Select committees
Both chambers of Congress can create mixed select committees to deal with matters of public interest.
The persons included in the above -not including ministers-and private individuals must appear before both chambers to transmit all information and documents requested. If they fail to do so, legal measures may be taken against them.
The President of the Republic, the Vice President, the members of the cabinet and judges cannot be questioned on matters within their jurisdiction.
The select committees' activities cannot affect the action of the judiciary or constitutional rights and guarantees.
Their conclusions are not binding in the courts and do not affect judicial rulings. The results of their investigations can, however, be transmitted to the courts.
Judges may, within the bounds of the law, order actions and investigations necessary in view of the committees' findings.
V - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS
A - CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
1) Reform of the Constitution
Reform of the Constitution can be requested, ten years after its promulgation, by 25% of senators (in conjunction with 25% of deputies, the President of the Republic, or a petition signed by 30,000 electors).
With a majority of two-thirds of their members, the two chambers can declare a constitutional reform necessary. In this case, the higher electoral court must organise general elections which must not be within 180 days of any other elections.
The number of members of the Constituent Assembly must not exceed the total number of members of Congress.
2) Modification of the Constitution
The Constitution can be modified three years after its promulgation on the initiative of a 25% of senators (in conjunction with 25% of deputies, the President of the Republic, or a petition signed by 30,000 electors).
The amendment must be adopted by an absolute majority in both chambers. If this majority is not attained, the amendment is considered as having been dismissed and cannot be proposed again within one year.
If the amendment is adopted by both chambers it is submitted to the higher electoral court which, within 180 days, organises a referendum. If the referendum results approve the amendment, it becomes law.
If the amendment repeals an element of the Constitution, no other modifications can be submitted on the same subject within three years.
B - EXCLUSIVE POWERS OF THE SENATE
Its principal powers are :
§ initiate the examination of bills concerning the approval of international treaties or agreements ;
§ authorize the President of the Republic to leave the national territory for a period of longer than five days ;
§ confirm nominations from the grade of Colonel upwards and the grade of Principal Commissioner upwards in the army and the police force respectively ;
§ confirm the nomination of ambassadors and plenipotentiary ministers, magistrates and other offices as specified by the Constitution ;
§ authorize the sending of permanent military forces overseas and the entry of foreign armed forces onto national territory ;
§ confirm the nomination of directors of the Central Bank (who, in a national emergency, can borrow to finance non-budgeted expenses following a decision taken by the President of the Republic and ratified by the Senate).
C - PARLIAMENTARY CONGRESS
1) Joint meeting of both chambers of Congress
a) Joint sessions of both chambers are presided by the President of the Senate.
b) Principle powers of both chambers united in Congress :
§ receive the oaths of the President of the Republic, the Vice President and the Supreme Court of Justice ;
§ accept or refuse the resignation of the President of the Republic or the Vice President ;
§ authorize the entry of foreign armed forces onto national territory and sending of permanent military forces overseas except for courtesy visits ;
§ partially or completely approve or reject the budget execution report after hearing the comptroller general of the Republic.
2) Permanent Congress committee
15 days before the end of the session, 6 members and 3 alternates from the Senate and 12 members and 6 alternates from the Chamber of Deputies are designated as members of the permanent Congress committee which will fulfil its duties during the intersession period.
The powers of this committee include, in particular, that of guaranteeing the Constitution and the law, ensuring that the next session opens on the planned date, organising extraordinary sessions, and giving authorization for the President of the Republic to leave the national territory for more than five days.
D - STATE OF EMERGENCY
In the case of an international armed conflict or domestic disorder which threaten the Constitution or the regular operation of the country's institutions, the Congress or the President of the Republic can declare a state of emergency across all or a part of the national territory for a maximum of 60 days. If the President makes the declaration, it has to be approved or rejected by the Congress within 48 hours. The 60-day period can be renewed by successive periods of 30 days on agreement by the absolute majority in both chambers.
During the intersession period, the President of the Republic can declare a state of emergency once only for a maximum of 30 days and the decision must be submitted within eight days to Congress convened for an extraordinary session.
E - In the case of incapacity or absence of the President of the Republic, if the Vice President is also unavailable, the President of the Senate is the acting president.
F - LEGAL MATTERS
1) If magistrates are tried for crimes and misdemeanours committed while in office, two deputies and two senators take part in a "magistrate's indictment jury".
2) Members of the Council of Magistrates are senators (and deputies) designated by their chambers.
3) The lists of candidates to the be Supreme Court judges are established by the Council of Magistrates and submitted to the Senate which nominates the judges with ratification by the President of the Republic.
4) The attorney general is nominated by the President of the Republic -with ratification by the Senate- from a list of three candidates proposed by the Council of Magistrates. He takes his oath before the Senate.
G - The following are nominated by the Chamber of Deputies from a list of three candidates presented by the Senate :
§ public Ombudsman ;
§ comptroller General of the Republic.