Paraguay Table of Contents
The Legislative Palace, site of meetings of the National
Courtesy Tim Merrill
Stroessner campaign posters, Asunción
Courtesy Tim Merrill
The National Congress is a bicameral legislature, consisting of a popularly elected Senate and Chamber of Deputies. The Constitution stipulates that the Senate have at least thirty members and the Chamber of Deputies sixty, plus alternates. In the 1988 general elections, thirty-six senators and twenty-one alternates were elected as well as seventy-two deputies and fortytwo alternates. The alternates serve in the place of the senators or deputies in the case of death, resignation, or temporary disability. The two houses meet in regular sessions every year from April 1 to December 20. Special sessions may be convened outside this period by the president, who may also extend the regular sessions. Members of both houses must be native-born Paraguayans; whereas deputies need be only twenty-five years of age, senators must be at least forty. Members of the clergy and armed forces officers on active duty may not be elected to the National Congress. Also prohibited are those affiliated with a commercial enterprise that operates a public service or has obtained a concession from the government. Members of both houses are elected for five-year terms coinciding with terms served by the president. There is no restriction concerning reelection.
The functions of the National Congress are stipulated in the twenty-one items of Article 149 and include the following: the enactment, amendment, and repeal of laws; the establishment of political divisions of the country and municipal organizations; the authorization for contracting loans in connection with banking, currency, and exchange matters; the annual enactment of the national budget; the approval or rejection of treaties, conventions, and other international agreements; the granting of amnesty; the formulation of electoral laws; and the approval, modification, or refusal of decree laws. The Senate and Chamber of Deputies have different specific functions. The former deals primarily with the ratification of treaties and national defense, the approval of nominations to other organs, and, on the initiative of the Chamber, the judgment of members of the Supreme Court of Justice for possible removal from office. The Chamber is concerned primarily with fiscal or tax issues and bills concerning electoral and municipal matters.
The Constitution, in articles 168 through 170, provides for a Standing Committee of the National Congress. Before adjourning in December, the National Congress appoints from among its members six senators and twelve deputies to act until the following session as the Standing Committee. This committee elects its own officers and may conduct a valid session with the presence of a simple majority of its members. The Standing Committee has the power to ensure that the Constitution and its laws are observed; to receive the returns on the election of the president, senators, and deputies and pass them on to the National Congress; to convoke sessions to examine election returns on senators and deputies so that the National Congress may meet at the proper time; and to exercise any other powers assigned to it by the Constitution.
All bills submitted to the National Congress by the executive are discussed and acted upon in the same session, unless they have been returned because of lack of time to consider them. If the executive objects to a bill or part of a bill, it is returned to the chamber of origin, which studies the objections and states its judgment. When this action has been taken, the bill is sent to the other chamber for the same purpose. If both chambers uphold the original sanction by an absolute majority vote, the executive branch must promulgate it. If the two chambers disagree on the objections, however, the bill is not reconsidered in that session of the National Congress. Any bill completely rejected by the executive may be considered again at the same session of the National Congress only by an affirmative vote of a two-thirds majority of both chambers. In that case, the bill is reconsidered, and, if an absolute majority is obtained again in the two chambers, it is promulgated by the executive. If a bill that has been approved by one chamber is totally rejected by the other, it returns to the former for reconsideration. If the chamber of origin ratifies it by an absolute majority, it goes again to the chamber that reviews it, and that body can reject it again only by a twothirds absolute majority. If such a majority has not been obtained, the bill is considered sanctioned. If the chamber that reviews a bill approved by the chamber of origin does not act upon it within three months, that chamber is considered to have given the bill a favorable vote, and it is forwarded to the executive to be promulgated.
In practice, the legislature is controlled tightly by the executive. The president sets the legislative agenda and provides most of the bills considered by the National Congress. When the National Congress passes one of the bills submitted by the executive, it does so in general terms as a broad grant of power, leaving it to the executive to "issue rules and instructions" for the law's application. In addition, an executive that encounters a hostile legislative can dissolve it by claiming a constitutional crisis. Although the president must call for new elections within three months, in the interim he can rule by decree. During the congressional recess, the executive also rules by decree, although the National Congress subsequently may review the president's actions. The president also may extend the congressional session or call an extraordinary session. In addition, the president's annual budget takes priority over all other legislation; it must be debated within one month, and it can be rejected only by an absolute majority of both houses.
In addition to constitutionally based limits on the National Congress, the legislature also was constrained by Stroessner's tight control of the ruling Colorado Party. Stroessner supervised personally the selection of the party's legislative candidates. Because the Colorado Party won a majority of votes in each of the five elections between 1968 and 1988, it received a two-thirds majority of congressional seats under the governing electoral law, thus ensuring a compliant legislature for Stroessner. Although opposition parties could use the National Congress as a forum to question and criticize Stroessner's policies, they were unable to affect the outcome of government decisions.
Data as of December 1988
Paraguay Table of Contents