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Paraguay Table of Contents


The Executive

The Constitution of 1967 states that government is exercised by the three branches in a system of division of powers, balance, and interdependence. Nonetheless, in the late 1980s the executive completely overshadowed the other two, as had historically been the case in Paraguay. The president's extensive powers are defined in Article 180. He is commander in chief of the armed forces and officially commissions officers up to and including the rank of lieutenant colonel or its equivalent and, with the approval of the Senate, the higher ranks. The president appoints, also with the Senate's consent, ambassadors and other officials posted abroad and members of the Supreme Court. Judges at other levels also are named by the president following the Supreme Court's approval. The president selects the attorney general after consulting the Council of State and with the approval of the Senate. The president also appoints lower level public officials, including the rector of the National University, the heads of the Central Bank and the National Development Bank, and the members of the Rural Welfare Institute (Instituto de Bienestar Rural--IBR) and the National Economic Council. The Constitution has no provision for impeachment by the National Congress of either the president or his ministers.

Only the president can appoint and remove cabinet ministers and define functions of the ministries that they head. The Constitution does not limit the maximum number of ministries but stipulates that there must be at least five. In 1988 there were ten ministries. These were--ranked according to total expenditures for 1987-- national defense; education and worship; interior; public health and social welfare; public works and communications; agriculture and livestock; finance; foreign relations; justice and labor; and industry and commerce.

The president also names the members of the Council of State, the nature of which is defined under Articles 188 through 192 of the Constitution. The Council of State is composed of the cabinet ministers, the archbishop of Asunción, the rector of the National University, the president of the Central Bank, one senior retired officer from each of the three services of the armed forces, two members representing agricultural activities, and one member each from industry, commerce, and labor. The last five members are selected from within their respective organizations and their names submitted to the president for consideration. All are appointed and removed by the president. The Council meets periodically during the three months that the National Congress is in recess and can meet at other times should the president so request. Its function is to render opinions on topics submitted by the president, including proposed decree laws, matters of international politics or of an economic or financial nature, and the merits of candidates proposed for the position of attorney general. Nonetheless, the Council is generally not consulted on important policy decisions.

In addition to the powers already stipulated, the president has the right to declare a state of siege as defined in Articles 79 and 181. The state of siege provision, which was also part of the constitution of 1940, empowers the president to abrogate constitutional rights and guarantees, including habeas corpus, in times of internal or external crises. Within five days of a state of siege, the president must inform the National Congress of the reasons for it, the rights that are being restricted, and its territorial scope, which may include the whole country or only a part. Article 79 stipulates that the state of siege can be only for a limited period. Nonetheless, when Stroessner came into power in 1954, he declared a state of siege and had it renewed every three months for the interior of the country until 1970 and for Asunción until 1987.

The National Congress also granted Stroessner complete discretion over internal order and the political process through supplemental legislation, including the Law for the Defense of Democracy of October 17, 1955, and Law 209, "In Defense of Public Peace and Liberty of Person," of September 18, 1970. The latter, formulated in response to perceived guerrilla threats, significantly strengthens the executive's hand in dealing with political challenges (see Security and Political Offenses , ch. 5).

In addition to the powers derived from the Constitution, the president also has the right of ecclesiastical patronage. Under the terms of a concordat with the Vatican, the state is expected to maintain the property of the Roman Catholic Church and support the clergy, in return for which the president nominates candidates for all clerical offices, including parish priests. Although the president's nominations are not strictly binding on the Holy See, historically there has been little tendency to ignore his preferences.

In order to be eligible for the presidency, an individual must be a native Paraguayan, at least forty years of age, Roman Catholic, and characterized by moral and intellectual features qualifying him for the position. The president is chosen for a five-year term in direct general elections that must be held at least six months before the expiration date of the incumbent's term. The term of office begins on August 15, with the first term having begun in 1968. There is no provision for a vice president. In the event of the president's death, resignation, or disability, Article 179 provides for convocation of the National Congress and Council of State within twenty-four hours to designate a provisional president. If at least two years of the term have elapsed, the provisional president serves out the full term of five years. If fewer than two years have elapsed, elections are to be held within three months, and the successful candidate is to complete the five-year term of office.

Data as of December 1988

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Paraguay Table of Contents