Paraguay Table of Contents

Constitutional Development

The Republic of Paraguay is governed under the Constitution of 1967, which is the fifth constitution since independence from Spain in 1811. The Constitutional Governmental Regulations approved by Congress in October 1813 contained seventeen articles providing for government by two consuls, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia and Fulgencio Yegros. The framers also provided for a legislature of 1,000 representatives. Recognizing the importance of the military in the embattled country, the framers gave each consul the rank of brigadier general and divided the armed forces and arsenals equally between them. Within ten years, however, both Yegros and the legislature had been eliminated and Francia ruled until his death in 1840.

In 1841 Francia's successor, Carlos Antonio López, asked the legislature to revise the constitution. Three years later, a new constitution granted powers to López that were as broad as those under which Francia had governed. Congress could make and interpret the laws, but only the president could order that they be promulgated and enforced. The constitution placed no restrictions on the powers of the president beyond limiting his term of office to ten years. Despite this limitation, Congress subsequently named López dictator for life. He died in 1862 after twenty-one years of unchallenged rule.

At the end of the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865- 70), a Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution in November 1870, which, with amendments, remained in force for seventy years. The constitution was based on principles of popular sovereignty, separation of powers, and a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. Although its tenor was more democratic than the two previous constitutions, extensive controls over the government and the society in general remained in the hands of the president.

In 1939 President José Felix Estigarribia responded to a political stalemate by dissolving Congress and declared himself absolute dictator. To dramatize his government's desire for change, he scrapped the constitution and promulgated a new one in July 1940. This constitution reflected Estigarribia's concern for stability and power and thus provided for an extremely powerful state and president. The president, who was chosen in direct elections for a term of five years with reelection permitted for one additional term, could intervene in the economy, control the press, suppress private groups, suspend individual liberties, and take exceptional actions for the good of the state. The Senate was abolished and the Chamber of Representatives limited in power. A new advisory Council of State was created, modeled on the experience of corporatist Italy and Portugal, to represent group interests including business, farmers, bankers, the military, and the Roman Catholic Church. The military was responsible for safeguarding the constitution.

After taking power in 1954, President Stroessner governed for the next thirteen years under the constitution of 1940. A constituent assembly convoked by Stroessner in 1967 maintained the overall framework of the constitution of 1940 and left intact the broad scope of executive power. Nevertheless, it reinstated the Senate and renamed the lower house the Chamber of Deputies. In addition, the assembly allowed the president to be reelected for another two terms beginning in 1968.

The Constitution of 1967 contains a preamble, 11 chapters with 231 articles, and a final chapter of transitory provisions. The first chapter contains eleven "fundamental statements" defining a wide variety of topics, including the political system (a unitary republic with a representative democratic government), the official languages (Spanish and Guaraní), and the official religion (Roman Catholicism). The next two chapters deal with territory, civil divisions, nationality, and citizenship. Chapter four contains a number of "general provisions," such as statements prohibiting the use of dictatorial powers, requiring public officials to act in accordance with the Constitution, and entrusting national defense and public order to the armed forces and police, respectively.

Chapter five, with seventy-nine articles, is by far the longest section of the Constitution and deals in considerable detail with the rights of the population. This chapter purportedly guarantees the population extensive liberty and freedom, without discrimination, before the law. In addition to the comprehensive individual rights, spelled out in thirty-three articles, there are sections covering social, economic, labor, and political rights. For example, Article 111 stipulates that "The suffrage is the right, duty, and public function of the voter. . . . Its exercise will be obligatory within the limits to be established by law, and nobody can advocate or recommend electoral abstention." The formation of political parties is also guaranteed, although parties advocating the destruction of the republican regime or the multiparty representative democratic system are not permitted. This chapter also specifies five obligations of citizens, including obedience to the Constitution and laws, defense of the country, and employment in legal activities.

Chapter six identifies agrarian reform as one of the fundamental factors for the achievement of rural well-being. It also calls for the adoption of equitable systems of land distribution and ownership. Colonization is projected as an official program involving not only citizens but also foreigners.

Chapters seven through ten concern the composition, selection, and functions of the legislature, executive, judiciary, and attorney general, respectively. Chapter eleven discusses provisions for amending or rewriting the Constitution. The final chapter contains transitory articles, the most important of which states that for purposes of eligibility and reeligibility of the president, account will be taken of only those terms that will be completed since the presidential term due to expire on August 15, 1968. The only constitutional amendment, that of March 25, 1977, modifies this article to allow the president to succeed himself without limit.

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.

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.

The Legislature

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.

The Judiciary

Article 193 of the Constitution provides for a Supreme Court of Justice of no fewer than five members and for other tribunals and justices to be established by law. The Supreme Court supervises all other components of the judicial branch, which include appellate courts with three members each in the areas of criminal, civil, administrative, and commercial jurisdiction; courts of first instance in these same four areas; justices of the peace dealing with more minor issues; and military courts. The Supreme Court hears disputes concerning jurisdiction and competence before it and has the power to declare unconstitutional any law or presidential act. As of 1988, however, the court had never declared invalid any of Stroessner's acts.

Supreme Court justices serve five-year terms of office concurrent with the president and the National Congress and may be reappointed. They must be native-born Paraguayans, at least thirtyfive years of age, possess a university degree of Doctor of Laws, have recognized experience in legal matters, and have an excellent reputation for integrity.

Local Government

Paraguay is a centralized republic with nineteen departments, fourteen of which are east of the Río Paraguay and the remainder in the Chaco region. The capital, Asunción, is located in the Central Department. The central government exerts complete control over local administration. The departments are headed by government delegates (delegados de gobierno) who are appointed by the president and report to the minister of interior. Their duties are concerned primarily with public order and internal security. The departments are divided into municipalities--the local government unit--of which there were 200 in 1988.

A municipality consisted of a town or village and the surrounding rural area. In order to qualify as a municipality, an area had to have a minimum population of 10,000 in 1988, a central town or village with a defined geographical area, and sufficient financial resources to pay for its municipal needs.

There is no separate town or city government apart from the municipality. The municipality is limited in jurisdiction; it has no control over education, police, and social welfare matters or over public health except for urban sanitation. Each municipality has a presidentially appointed mayor (intendente) who acts as executive agent of the municipality. In addition, each municipality has a board (junta municipal) elected by local residents for a five-year term of office. A rural municipality is supervised by a local company police sergeant (sargento de companía) who reports both to the government delegate and the minister of interior.

The Electoral System

Regulations pertaining to the electoral system, voting, and political parties were found in the Electoral Statute, Law No. 886 of December 11, 1981. The statute's 21 chapters and 204 articles provided minute detail on virtually all aspects concerning elections. Article 1 stipulated that "the suffrage is the right, duty, and public function of the elector. Its exercise is elaborated according to this Law." Article 8 specified that the political party obtaining a majority of votes would receive twothirds of the seats in the Congress, with the remaining one-third divided proportionately among the minority parties. According to Article 20, a party must obtain 10,000 signatures of citizens to be registered. Article 25 proscribed parties of communist ideology or those that sought to overthrow the regime and its principles. Article 26 prohibited subordination to or alliance of parties with parties in other countries, whereas Article 27 banned parties and other political organizations from receiving external financial support. Article 49 made voting obligatory. Articles 158 and 159 defined the functions and composition, respectively, of the Central Electoral Board, the body responsible for implementing and interpreting the provisions of the Electoral Statute. As with the composition of the National Congress, the majority party held twothirds of the seats of the Central Electoral Board.

More about the Government of Paraguay.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress