VENEZUELA : THE SENATE
N.B. : This assembly was abolished by the Constitution of the 5th Republic, adopted by the referendum dated December 15th 1999.
I - COMPOSITION
57 members :
- 54 elected by direct universal suffrage, representing the states and the federal district: 2 per state and the federal district ;
- 3 life senators (former Presidents of the Republic).
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
- 24 constituencies corresponding to the states and the federal district
- Polling method: proportional ballots with fixed lists.
1) Each of the 23 states and the capital elect 2 senators.
2) Additional members, of variable number (currently 6) to represent minorities.
The Supreme Electoral Council calculates a national quotient for each chamber, dividing the total of votes throughout the country by the number of senators already elected by direct suffrage. It then divides the number of votes in each party by these two quotients and a number of additional seats are then attributed (two at most in the case of the Senate), corresponding to the difference between the result of this division and the total number of seats already obtained.
The additional senators are assigned to the constituencies in which the party concerned did not win any seats or is the most under-represented, on the basis of number of votes obtained.
Term of office : 5 years
Eligibility : 30 years of age.
Members of the Senate may hold ministerial positions.
III - SESSIONS
A - ORDINARY SESSIONS
There are two ordinary sessions :
- the first from March 2nd (or the next possible day) until July 6th ;
- the second from October 1st (or the next possible day) until November 30th.
During the first year of the legislature, the ordinary session opens on January 23rd. In the last year of the legislature, the session is from March 2nd to August 15th.
In all cases, the assemblies - in joint session - may extend these periods by an absolute majority vote of their members where this is made necessary for the completion of pending business.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
The President of the Republic or a Congressional delegation may call extraordinary sessions for a determined agenda, which may be extended to related matters or matters declared urgent by one or other of the Chambers.
The sessions of both chambers are opened and closed simultaneously.
IV - RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
A - LEGISLATIVE
1) Power to introduce legislation
This is vested in Senators comprising a minimum group of three (concurrently with a minimum group of three deputies), the Congressional Committee, the Standing Committee of each Chamber, the Executive, the Supreme Court of Justice for bills on judicial organisation and procedures, or a minimum of 20,000 electors.
2) Power to introduce amendments
3) Legislative procedure
Bills may be introduced in one or other of the Chambers.
- a) Shuttle procedure
They must be examined during at least two readings in each Chamber, in plenary sessions, on different days.
Once adopted by one Chamber, the bill is sent to the other. If the latter adopts the bill with no amendments, it becomes law: if it is amended, the bill returns to the first Chamber in which it was introduced. If this Chamber accepts the amendments, the bill becomes a law. Failing this, the two assemblies must take a majority vote in joint session on the articles giving rise to divergences and on those related thereto. They may adopt a bill different from that passed by the two Chambers separately.
A bill passed by one Chamber may be passed by the other in a single reading if declared a matter of urgency by two thirds of its members.
Rejected bills may not be re-examined during the sessions of the same year, unless they are introduced by an absolute majority in one of the two Chambers.
Discussion of bills pending at the end of a session may be continued during the following session if the Chamber discussing it so decides.
During discussion of bills relating to judicial organisation and procedures, ministers are entitled to give their opinion, as are members of the Supreme Court designated for that purpose by that Supreme Court.
The Senate, like the Chamber of Deputies, may not authorise expenditure exceeding the estimated amount of revenues when voting the budget.
- b) Special provisions relating to budget matters
The Chambers meeting in joint session, called especially with at least 24 hours' notice, may authorise the Legislative Committee (composed of 23 members elected by the Chambers in proportion to the political composition of the Congress) to examine specific bills. Its decisions must be passed by a 2/3 majority of those present.
- c) Procedures before the Legislative Committee
Once the bill has been approved, the Committee sends it to the President of the Congress who then orders its distribution, and calls the two Chambers to a joint meeting after a period of 15 days following its transmission. The Chambers may reject or pass the bill with or without amendment.
The President of the Republic must promulgate laws not later than 10 days following his reception thereof. Before the ten days are up, he may, with the agreement of the Council of Ministers, ask the Congress to re-examine the bill and amend or remove certain provisions.
- d) Promulgation and Presidential Veto
The two chambers in joint session will examine the points raised by the President and may adopt new provisions and related provisions.
Where the decision has been passed by a two-thirds majority of those present, the President of the Republic must promulgate the law within five days or receiving it and he may make no more comments.
Where the decision has been passed by a simple majority, the President may choose either to promulgate the law or send it back to Congress within five days for another final examination. The decision of the Chambers in joint session is then final, even if it is made only by a simple majority, and the law must be promulgated not later than five days after its reception.
In all cases, if the objection is based on non-constitutionality, the President of the Republic may refer the bill to the Supreme Court within the promulgation period of ten days. The Court must make a decision not later than ten days after receiving the bill; if it rejects the grounds of non-constitutionality, or does not come to a decision within the stipulated period, the President must promulgate the law not later than five days after the Court's decision or the expiry of the deadline.
If the President of the Republic does not promulgate the law within the required period, the President and the Vice-President of the Congress must promulgate it, without prejudice to the liability of the President of the Republic.
The deadline for promulgating a law approving or ratifying an international agreement or treaty is left to the discretion of the Executive, in conformity with international usage and to the advantage of the Republic.
B - POWER OF CONTROL
1) Power to create Commissions of Enquiry
The Assemblies and their Commissions may undertake investigations within the framework laid down by law and without causing prejudice to the judiciary. The heads of government departments and autonomous institutions must obey summonses and provide all the information and documentation needed for such investigations, on pain of sanction.
This is also compulsory for private individuals within the limits set forth by law and the guarantees afforded by the Constitution.
In all cases, the subject of the summons must be notified to the interested party at least 48 hours prior to the date thereof.
Judges are bound to produce the evidence on which the referral from the assemblies is based.
2) Each minister must present a report on his ministerial action over the previous year, together with the accounts for the funds he managed and his plans for the following year, to the chambers in joint session, within ten days of the start of the ordinary session.
3) In public finance matters, the Congress is assisted by the General Auditor of the Republic, who is bound to provide the reports requested.
V - SPECIAL PROVISIONS
A - CONSTITUENT POWER
1) Amendments to the Constitution
¼ of the senators or ¼ of the deputies or ¼ of the local assemblies may, in the course of an ordinary session, introduce an amendment which must be voted by the absolute majority of the members of each assembly in the course of at least two readings.
The bill is examined first by the chamber in which it was introduced, or by the Senate if it comes from the local assemblies.
The procedure followed is that for ordinary laws.
If the amendment is passed by the Congress, its President transmits it to the local assemblies which must vote it by the absolute majority of their members in the course of at least two readings. The amendment must be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the assemblies.
2) Constitutional Reform
This must be introduced by 1/3 of the members of Congress or by an absolute majority of the local assemblies, in the course of decisions voted by the absolute majority of the members of each assembly in the course of two readings at least.
The bill is transmitted for review of its legality to the president of the Congress, who must call a joint session of the chambers at least 3 days before the date. The legality of bills for constitutional reform is passed by a 2/3 majority of those present.
If the bill is deemed legal, discussion begins before the chamber designated by the Congress and follows the ordinary legislative procedure.
If a bill is adopted it is then subject to a referendum held on a date fixed by the chambers in joint session. The bill will then be voted by a majority vote.
3) In both cases - amendment or reform - bills that are refused may not be re-introduced during the same legislature.
4) The President must promulgate the amendment or reform within 10 days of its being voted.
B - POWERS EXCLUSIVE TO THE SENATE
- Ratification of international treaties and agreements first discussed in the Senate.
- Prior Senate approval required for acceptance by public figures or civil servants of honours or functions bestowed by foreign governments.
- Authorisation for military missions abroad or foreign missions on national territory, and any sale or disposal of national property.
C - FEDERAL ORGANISATION
- Senate agreement required for alteration of State boundaries.
- The two chambers in joint session vote the law fixing the election and terminating the duties of the governors, by a 2/3 majority vote. This law cannot be vetoed by the President of the Republic.
- Specifically national matters attributed by the Congress to states or municipalities to promote administrative de-centralisation, voted by 2/3 majority.
D - STATE OF EMERGENCY AND SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
1) State of Emergency and suspension of public guarantees
Cessation of the state of emergency is ordered by the President of the Republic with the permission of the chambers meeting in joint session (or a delegation of the Congress).
- a) Decrees handed down by the President of the Republic, declaring a state of emergency or ordering restricted or suspended public guarantees are subject to examination by the chambers meeting in joint session (or a delegation of the Congress) within 10 days of their publication.
b) Any decree restricting or suspending public guarantees may be cancelled by the chambers in joint session (or by the President of the Republic) as soon as the circumstances giving rise to such decree have ceased.
2) In the event of imminent threat to law and order, the President of the Republic may take the measures necessary to avoid it (limited to detention of suspects), which must be submitted to the Congress (or a delegation thereof) not later than 10 days following their adoption.
If the Congress declares the measures unnecessary, they cease to be applied immediately. If not, they may be maintained for no more than 90 days.
E -POWERS WITH REGARD TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
1) No President
If there is a vacancy after the President has taken up his office, the chambers elect a new President within thirty days, by secret ballot in joint session, for the remainder of the term of office of the former President.
- a) Where there is no President and a new President has not yet taken up his office, the chambers in joint session fix a date for holding new elections.
In all cases, until the new President takes up his office, it is filled by the President of the Congress (the President of the Senate), and, failing that, by the Vice President of the Congress, then by the President of the Supreme Court.
2) Temporary absence
- b) If the absence of the President of the Republic goes beyond 90 consecutive days, the chambers decide in joint session if the post has been vacated permanently.
The President of the Republic may not leave the national territory without the permission of the Senate (or Congressional delegation). This also applies for the six months following his departure from office.
F - JUDICIAL POWERS
1) Senate authorisation required for the judgement of the President of the Republic by the Supreme Court.
2) Power to confiscate all or part of the property of persons convicted of violating the Constitution, by absolute majority vote of the Congress members.
G - POWER TO NOMINATE OFFICERS
1) Senate approval for nomination of the Attorney General by the President of the Republic.
2) Election of the judges of the Supreme Court, the Public Prosecutor and the Public Auditor by the two chambers in joint session.
3) Senate approval required for military promotions as of the grade of Colonel or Captain, and for nominations of permanent heads of diplomatic missions.
H - CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION
Between sessions, a committee composed of the President (the President of the Senate) the Vice President (the President of the Chamber of Deputies) and 21 members of Congress who, together with their replacements, are elected so as to reflect the political make up of the Congress as faithfully as possible, is used.
2) Main powers
- to safeguard the Constitution and the guarantees afforded to the citizens, and to take necessary measures ;
- to carry out the investigations in the assemblies ;
- to nominate the special commissions of Congress members ;
- to call the Congress to extraordinary sessions ;
- to authorise the executive to create, modify or abolish public services in the event of a public emergency, by a two-thirds majority vote of its members ;
- to authorise the executive to use credits not in the budget (normally the joint responsibility of the two chambers in joint session during sessions) ;
- to authorise the President of the Republic to leave the national territory temporarily (normally the role of the Senate during sessions).