THE SENATE OF URUGUAY
I - COMPOSITION
30 senators elected by direct suffrage.
The Vice-President of the Republic is President of the Senate by right.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
One single plurinominal electoral district representing the national territory (30 seats).
Voting takes place on the last Sunday in October.
Full proportional representation list system.
Term of mandate: 5 years.
Last election: 31 October 1999.
Age of eligibility : 30 years (and 7 years of citizenship for naturalized persons).
The senator's mandate is compatible with a ministerial post.
III - RUNNING OF SESSIONS
Simultaneously with the Chamber of Deputies: the sessions of both chambers open and close at the same time (more than half of the members must attend).
A - ORDINARY SESSION
One ordinary annual session from 1 March to 15 December.
When general elections are held, the session ends on 15 September and the new Parliament sits on 15 February of the following year.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSION
The President of the Republic, the General Assembly (joint sitting of both chambers) or one of the chambers may call an extraordinary session on a specific topic of an urgent and serious nature.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE
A Standing Committee of 11 members is set up every year by both chambers. It consists of 4 senators and 7 deputies elected within each chamber under a proportional system. It is chaired by a senator from the majority. The Government may at any time consult it on any pending matter.
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
The legislative power is exercised by the General Assembly which consists of two chambers: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, acting jointly or severally as the case may be.
1) Legislative initiative
The senators can initiate laws in conjunction with the representatives and the executive with the following proviso:
The Government submits the national budget to the General Assembly. It has the right to introduce the bills establishing tax exemptions, the minimum wage, and prices.
2) Right of amendment
Yes, provided that the amendments do not bring about a rise in expenditure.
3) Legislative procedure
Texts may be submitted to either assembly.
a) Ordinary procedure
The draft text passed by the chamber to which it was submitted is then examined by the other chamber which will return it to the first chamber with any amendments. If the two chambers agree, the last chamber having passed the draft refers it to the President of the Republic who promulgates it without delay.
If they disagree, the two chambers meet in a General Assembly which can amend or pass the bill with a 2/3 majority. If no agreement is found, the draft may not be resubmitted during the same annual session.
b) Emergency procedure
The President of the Republic may resort to the emergency procedure to submit a bill or draft amendment to the General Assembly.
The first chamber receiving the draft must examine it within 45 days. If a decision is not reached within 30 days, the chamber must sit in an extraordinary permanent session. At the end of the 45-day period, if the draft has not been expressly rejected, it is deemed carried by the chamber and sent to the other chamber which then has 30 days to reach a decision. If the latter does not expressly reject the draft, it is deemed carried. If an amended text is passed, it is referred back to the first chamber which has 15 days to reach a decision. If it fails to do so, the two chambers then meet in General Assembly to examine the text within a period of 10 days. After that, if the General Assembly has not reached a decision, the draft is deemed carried and returned to Government for promulgation. If either chamber or the General Assembly rejects the draft, it cannot be resubmitted during the same annual session.
The President of the Republic may not submit more than one bill under this procedure which, however, does not apply to budget-related bills.
Both chambers have the power to reject the emergency procedure by a vote of 3/5 of its members. The bill must then follow the ordinary procedure.
c) Budget matters
Government submits the draft budget for the State and the draft budgets for the districts to both chambers in the first six months of the budget year. It also submits to both chambers the Accounts Implementation Bill in the last six months of the budget year.
Parliament may not introduce amendments which would bring about a rise in expenditure. Both chambers have 45 days to reach a decision. After that, if the chambers fail to do so, the draft is deemed rejected. If the draft passed by one chamber is amended by the other, the first chamber has 15 days to examine the amendments introduced by the other. After that, if it fails to reach a decision or rejects the amendments, the two chambers meet in General Assembly and have 15 days to reach a decision. If the General Assembly fails to do so, the draft is then deemed rejected.
d) Presidential veto
If the President of the Republic disagrees with all or part of the text submitted to him by Parliament, he refers it back to the General Assembly after having amended it within 10 days. If he has not expressed his disagreement at the expiry of this deadline, the bill passed by the chambers has the force of law. The General Assembly must reach a decision on the President of the Republic's text by a majority of 3/5. If the President of the Republic's text is not expressly rejected within 30 days after referral to the General Assembly, it is deemed carried. If the General Assembly rejects the text, it cannot be resubmitted during the same annual session.
e) Special provisions
Laws dealing with elections, including internal elections within all political parties, must obtain a qualified majority of 2/3 of the members of each chamber.
B - MONITORING POWER
Either chamber may request the censure of one, several or all ministers. When a motion of censure is presented before one of the chambers, this chamber must meet within 48 hours and approve the motion by a majority of the members present. The motion passed is then examined by the General Assembly which must meet within 48 hours. To be carried, the motion of censure must poll an absolute majority of the votes of the members of the General Assembly during a special public session. If the motion is carried, the minister or ministers concerned tender their resignation.
If the motion polls less than 2/3 of the votes, the President of the Republic may request a further vote of the General Assembly which must meet within 10 days. If the General Assembly cannot call together more than half of its members, a second sitting is convened no less than 24 hours and no more than 72 hours after the first sitting. If a quorum is not achieved at this second sitting, the motion of censure is deemed rejected.
If the motion of censure polls less than 3/5 of the votes of the members of the General Assembly, the President of the Republic may decide to retain the minister or ministers concerned and dissolve the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The decisions to retain the ministers, dissolve the assemblies and call elections must be mentioned in the same ordinance. The chambers may no longer sit although the parliamentarians retain their status. The President of the Republic may not dissolve Parliament in the final year of his term of office. During this period, the chambers may pass a motion of censure, but only by a majority of more than 2/3 of all members of the General Assembly. Where the motion of censure does not involve all the ministers, the President of the Republic may use his power of dissolution only once during his term of office. In the event of dissolution, if the Government does not call for elections or if the Electoral Tribunal has not proclaimed the results 90 days after such elections, the dissolution is reversed and the former chambers are reinstated.
Once the results are proclaimed, the new General Assembly meets as of right in the three days following the proclamation, without needing to be convened by the President of the Republic. Within a period of 15 days, the new General Assembly will rule on the motion of censure by an absolute majority of its members. If the motion is passed, the minister or ministers must resign. The new chambers will complete their predecessors' mandate.
2) Questions to ministers
Each chamber has the power to summon ministers at the request of at least 1/3 of its members.
Similarly any minister may ask to attend the sessions of the General Assembly or one of its chambers, of the Standing Committee and of any committee set up by both chambers. He may take part in the proceedings but not in the voting.
3) The Senate's right to information
At the beginning of every annual session, the President of the Republic informs the General Assembly of the state of the Nation and outlines his Government's programme. He may ask the General Assembly for a vote of confidence for his Government. Confidence is expressed by an absolute majority of members, without debate, within a period of 72 hours. After that, if the General Assembly has not met or come to a decision, the vote of confidence is deemed carried.
Any parliamentarian may put questions - in writing and via the President of his chamber - to ministers, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Electoral Tribunal, the Administrative Court and the Audit Office.
4) Each chamber may appoint parliamentary commissions of enquiry.
5) Ratification of international treaties and agreements (see section V - I -4 below).
V - SPECIAL PROVISIONS
A - REFORM OF THE CONSTITUTION
1) People's initiative
The reform bill must be presented by 10 % of the electorate. It is referred to the President of the General Assembly (the Vice-President of the Republic) who then puts it to the people's vote at the next election. The two chambers convened in General Assembly may propose an alternative draft which is put to the vote at the same time as the people's initiative.
2) Initiative of the General Assembly
2/5 of the members of the General Assembly may table a reform bill which is then put to the people's vote and must poll an absolute majority of votes and at least 35 % of all registered electors.
3) Initiative of senators, elected representatives and the executive
A constitutional reform initiative can be instigated by a senator, a deputy or the executive. The bill must have the support of an absolute majority of the members of the General Assembly. The Government calls an election to appoint a National Constituent Convention on the basis of two members for every member of the General Assembly.
4) Constitutional law reform
The Constitution may be reformed by a constitutional law which must poll a majority of 2/3 of the members of each chamber during one legislature. The electorate is invited to vote in favour of the constitutional law. If it polls an absolute majority of votes, it is enacted by the President of the General Assembly. Government has no right of veto.
B - THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE
The President chairs the joint sessions of the chambers (General Assembly).
He takes part in both the proceedings and the voting.
C - APPOINTMENTS - DISCHARGES
1) In conjunction with the Chamber of Deputies within the General Assembly, the Senate :
determines the strength of the armed forces ;
decides the creation or the axing of public-sector jobs ;
appoints the members of :
- the Supreme Court of Justice ;
- the Administrative Court ;
- the Electoral Tribunal ;
- the Audit Office.
It gives approval for:
- promotions of senior Army officers from the rank of colonel upward ;
- the appointments of the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court and Public Prosecutors ;
- the appointments of the members of the Courts of Appeal ;
- the appointments of the chief executives and members of the governing bodies of state enterprises (majority of 3/5 in the first vote. If rejected and the Government maintains the candidate, an absolute majority is required).
The appointments of the heads of diplomatic missions by the President of the Republic must be approved by the Senate or, failing that, by the Standing Committee. If no decision is taken by the Senate within 60 days, the President of the Republic effects the appointments.
2) The President of the Republic may discharge diplomatic and consular officers with the approval of the Senate which must reach a decision within 90 days. If the Senate fails to do so, the President of the Republic may effect these discharges without the Senate's approval.
Only the Senate can approve the discharge of civil servants for incompetence or negligence.
D - MONITORING OF ELECTIONS
The Electoral Tribunal is the arbiter of elections.
Its 9 members are appointed by the General Assembly: 5 by a majority of 2/3 of the members of the General Assembly, 4 by a double simultaneous vote under a proportional system.
Either chamber may ask the Electoral Tribunal to take sanctions against magistrates, members of the Audit Office and the Administrative Court, directors of state enterprises and decentralized departments, active military personnel and police officers in breach of the legal obligation to refrain from involvement in political activities.
E - CONSTITUTIONAL SUPERVISION
Both chambers may interpret the Constitution.
The Standing Committee ensures compliance with the Constitution and the laws; it also has the power to issue warnings to the Government in this respect. After two ineffective warnings, the Standing Committee may decide to convene the General Assembly.
The Supreme Court of Justice exercises the judiciary power and assesses the constitutionality of laws. Its 5 members are appointed by the General Assembly by a 2/3 majority.
F - EMERGENCY MEASURES
The President of the Republic may take emergency measures in the event of foreign aggression or domestic unrest. He must inform the two chambers convened in General Assembly within 24 hours and state the grounds for such action. Every emergency measure must be referred to the General Assembly within 24 hours after being issued.
G - ACCOUNTABILITY OF ADMINISTRATORS
Administrators (the heads of the departmental executive and the elected mayors) and members of the Departmental Council may be indicted before the Senate by 1/3 of the members of the Departmental Council for breach of the Constitution or other serious offences. The Senate may dismiss them from office by a 2/3 majority vote.
H - JURISDICTIONAL POWERS
The Senate alone may, at the request of the Chamber of Deputies, try the President of the Republic, the Vice-President, ministers, parliamentarians, members of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Administrative Court, the Electoral Tribunal and the Audit Office for breach of the Constitution or other serious offences in the discharge of their duties. The sentence must be voted by a majority of 2/3 of the senators. In such a case, the President of the Republic is suspended. The responsibility of the President of the Republic may only be called into question during his term of office and within a period of 6 months thereafter.
I - THE INTERNATIONAL AREA
1) The General Assembly may vote a resolution instituting war and authorize the President of the Republic to issue a declaration of war.
2) The General Assembly also authorizes or refuses the passing of foreign troops or the stationing thereof on the national territory and stipulates the duration of their stay.
3) The General Assembly approves or refuses the dispatch of Uruguayan troops abroad and stipulates the duration of their stay.
4) International treaties and agreements signed by the President of the Republic must be ratified by the General Assembly.
J - AUTHORIZED ABSENCE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The Senate has exclusive competence to authorize the President of the Republic to leave the national territory for more than 48 hours. In the event of an indictment of the President of the Republic, permission to leave the national territory is granted by the General Assembly by an absolute majority of its members.