Although a bicameral organization of Congress had been predominant in Ecuador's republican history, the 1979 Constitution establishes a unicameral legislative body, the Congress. Two classes of deputies--the nationals and the provincials--are elected. The twelve national deputies are elected through a national vote, are at least thirty years of age at the time of election, and serve four years; they may be reelected after sitting out a legislative period. Provincial deputies serve two years and may be reelected after waiting out one legislative term. They are elected in the twenty-one provinces under a system of proportional representation. The provincial deputies must be at least twenty- five years of age at the time of their election and be either natives of the province they are to represent or residents of that province for at least three years prior to the election. National and provincial deputies must be Ecuadorian by birth, in full possession of the rights of citizenship, and affiliated with one of the political parties legally recognized by the TSE.
Those prohibited from serving as members of Congress or even from participating in the electoral process include virtually all members of the executive and judicial branches, public employees, officials of banks and other credit institutions, holders of active state contracts, military personnel on active duty, ministers of any denomination and members of religious communities, and representatives of foreign companies. In addition, no candidate may be economically dependent on the state or have had any connection with it at least six months prior to the election. Ninety days prior to an election, a legally recognized political party must register its candidates for Congress with the TSE.
Once elected, a deputy may not hold any other public post, with the sole exception of a university teaching position. Likewise, deputies are prohibited from exercising their profession while Congress and its commissions are in session. While performing their legislative duties or even carrying out acts outside of these functions, deputies are protected by parliamentary immunity from prosecution for common law penal infractions. They may be prosecuted only if Congress votes to lift their immunity.
Congress usually meets once a year for a period of seventy working days beginning on August 10 and ending on October 8. When Congress convenes in an ordinary period of sessions, it elects from among its members a president and vice president to serve one-year terms. In addition, two secretaries are elected who are not members of the legislature. The holders of these one-year appointments may be reelected.
Congress also must name, from among its national deputies, seven legislators and seven substitutes (suplentes) to each of the four Legislative Commissions. These commissions cover civil and penal issues; labor and social issues; tax, fiscal, banking, and budgetary issues; and economic, agrarian, industrial, and commercial issues. Congress may also designate or form other commissions to deal with specific issues, such as constitutional reform. When Congress recesses, the four established commissions continue operating with certain powers, and in some matters certain state organs may substitute for Congress. To discuss and approve laws or other legislation, the four commissions meet under the direction of the president of Congress and form the PCL. The PCL may approve or reject proposals of law; codify the laws; prosecute the judges of the CSJ, the Fiscal Tribunal, and the TCA for infractions of the law; reject treaties or international agreements; and, when Congress is in recess, make the final decision on the legality of laws, decrees, regulations, orders, or resolutions suspended by the TGC for reasons of unconstitutionality.
The Constitution gives Congress important powers in legislation and in political and judicial control. Only Congress, or in its recess the PCL, may enact legislation or interpret the Constitution. The executive may only work out regulations for the application of the laws, without interpreting or altering them. Specific congressional powers include reforming the Constitution and interpreting ambiguous provisions; expediting, modifying, reforming, repealing, and interpreting the laws; establishing or replacing taxes, rates, or other public revenues; and approving or rejecting public treaties and other international conventions entered into by the executive. High officials of the state-- including the president, the presidents of the CSJ, TSE, TGC, and Fiscal Tribunal, as well as the comptroller general and the attorney general--must also present their annual reports to Congress.
The legislature may also prosecute the president and vice president; the ministers of state; the ministers of the CSJ, TCA, and Fiscal Court; the members of the TGC and TSE; the comptroller general; the attorney general; the fiscal general minister; and the superintendents of banks and companies for infractions committed during the exercise of their duties or up to one year after leaving office. The president may be prosecuted only for serious charges, such as betrayal of the nation, bribery, or other infractions severely affecting the national honor. Utilizing the interpellation procedure, one or more legislators draw up a list of questions to an official or judge who is to be prosecuted by Congress. The secretary of Congress must deliver the list to the person at least five days prior to the date of interpelación (interpellation procedure), when the individual must appear before Congress to answer the questions. If during the proceeding the person is determined to be guilty by an absolute majority, Congress may censor the subject and dismiss him or her from the post; the case then passes on to the appropriate judges.
Congress also appoints a number of high-level government officials, including the comptroller general, the attorney general, the fiscal minister, and superintendents of banks and companies. These appointments are made from lists submitted by the president, each containing three proposed names. Only Congress may remove these individuals from their four-year posts. Congress also appoints the ministers or judges of the CSJ, the Fiscal Tribunal, and the TCA. Should any of these posts become vacant when Congress is in recess, it remains unoccupied until the next session.
The political nature of judicial appointments became a matter of considerable controversy in the 1980s. For example, in October 1984 a dispute broke out between the legislative and executive branches following Congress's appointment of sixteen CSJ judges opposed by Febres Cordero. He used military and security forces to prevent the newly elected judges from entering the Supreme Court of Justice building. The controversy was resolved that December, however, when Congress agreed to waive its prerogative to select all of the judges and allow Febres Cordero to appoint eight of them.
Congress also designates the seven members who make up the TSE, as well as their substitutes. It elects three TSE members on its own accord and elects the remaining four from two sets of names: two members from one set provided by the president and two members from another list sent by the CSJ. In addition, Congress selects three of the eleven members of the TGC and their substitutes and nominates the remaining members and their alternates from lists of candidates submitted by the president, the CSJ, the Electoral College, the Electoral College of Provincial Prefects, the National Federations of Workers, and the Commercial Associations.
Congress also has a role in budgetary matters. One of its Legislative Commissions reviews the budget submitted by the executive branch through the Ministry of Finance and Credit. Only in the case of budgetary discrepancies does Congress intervene. Once Congress resolves any discrepancies, its approval is final, and the executive may not object. If Congress wishes to repeal or modify laws that increase public expenditures, it must seek other sources of financing, create new substitute revenues, or increase the existing ones.
Other congressional powers include installing the president and vice president once the TSE proclaims them to be elected, and electing the vice president, if that post becomes vacant. Congress also handles resignations of the president, the vice president, and certain other officials. Congress grants or denies permission to the president and vice president to be absent from the country, grants them general amnesty for political crimes, and imposes fines on them for common crimes.
Congress may dismiss cabinet ministers by majority vote. During the Febres Cordero presidency, the opposition majority in Congress dismissed the finance and credit minister in late 1986 for alleged abuse of tariff, exchange, and public spending laws; forced the resignation of the energy and mines minister in August 1987 for allegedly violating Ecuador's sovereignty in negotiating an oil trade agreement; and impeached the government and justice minister that October for alleged complicity in arbitrary arrests, torture, and disappearances.
To deal with important matters that cannot wait until the next ordinary session, the legislature may convene in extraordinary session. This session may be called by two-thirds of the legislators, the president of Congress, or the president. It may consider only the specific matters for which it was called. If another important issue arises or is introduced by the president, it cannot be considered until the assembly ends and another is called.
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