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The World of Parliaments
 Parliamentary Developments


On 24 August 2002, a total of 39 changes to 24 articles of the Constitution were overwhelmingly approved in a referendum for which turnout was recorded at 83.6 per cent. Opposition parties had called for a boycott of the referendum claiming that it was designed to allow President Geidar Aliyev to name his son, Ilgam Aliyev, as his successor. In particular, the opposition drew attention to an amendment specifying that the Prime Minister (who is appointed by the President) rather than the Speaker of the Parliament would became officially the second most powerful person in the political hierarchy, exercising executive powers if the President were to become unable to govern. However, the government stated that the constitutional changes had been prompted by the country's membership of the Council of Europe.
On 18 June 2002, Parliament passed a law regulating relations between Parliament and the Cabinet. The law stipulates that the Cabinet must deliver to Parliament, at the fifth sitting of each spring session, a report on its activities for the previous year. The legislature may also request that individual ministers report at more frequent intervals. The law further provides that Parliament shall be empowered to raise the issue of a confidence vote in the Government, provided it does so no less than six months prior to parliamentary or presidential elections.


On 27 November 2002, a bill amending the Standing Orders of the National Assembly was adopted. The new text confirms that the National Assembly is the sole body competent to validate the mandates of its members and their admission once the Constitutional Council has proclaimed the final results of legislative elections. In addition, the new law increases from two to three the number of ordinary sessions lasting 30 days each. Yet another change is an increase in committee membership from six to 30 members per committee to nine to 20 members each. Moreover, speaking time has been cut from 15 to five minutes per speaker, and the President of the National Assembly is empowered to limit speaking time to 30 minutes per parliamentary group. Finally, the Secretary General of the National Assembly will henceforth be an ex officio member of the Bureau of the Chamber.


In May 2001, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of the House of Commons tabled a report that granted the electronic media the right to broadcast public meetings of any committee of the House of Commons, subject to certain guidelines. The report proposed a trial period ending on 31 December 2001. The experiment was subsequently extended to 31 December 2002.
On 5 February 2002, the Senate adopted an amendment to its rules granting official recognition to political parties that are registered as parties under the Canada Election Act at the time when recognition is sought in the Senate and that have at least five members in the Senate. Recognition would be withdrawn only if the party's membership in the Senate falls below five members.
On 4 June 2002, an Act respecting Royal Assent to bills passed by the Houses of Parliament received Royal Assent. The bill provides an alternative to the formal Royal Assent procedure currently used in the Parliament, so that the Royal Assent could be signified by written declaration. It would preserve at least two traditional Royal Assent ceremonies per year. This issue had been discussed for almost 20 years.


In May 2002, more than eight million people put their names to a petition to support an amendment to the Constitution that declares Cuba's socialist system to be untouchable, long after the death of President Castro. The President himself initiated the petition, in response to growing calls for reform of the socialist system he has led for more than 40 years. The document was a resounding 'no' to change. On 26 June 2002, more than 500 members of the National Assembly unanimously adopted the constitutional reform declaring socialism "irrevocable".

Dominican Republic

On 13 July 2002, the National Congress enacted a law amending the Constitution to allow an incumbent President to run for a second consecutive term of office. Under the terms of an accord signed in August 1994 by the major political parties to end the political crisis that had followed the disputed presidential election of that year, re-election of an incumbent President to a second term had been prohibited.


On 10 August 2002, the People's Consultative Assembly adopted 14 amendments to the Constitution. The main change introduced is the institution of direct presidential elections. Before the amendment, it was the legislature that acted as an electoral college to elect the Head of State for a five-year term. The first presidential elections under this new system are due in 2004. Another change to the Constitution is the abolition by 2004 of the 38 appointed parliamentary seats reserved for the military rather than by 2009 as initially stipulated.


On 9 May 2002, Parliament voted to change the Elections Law, scrapping the provision requiring parliamentary candidates to prove they can speak Latvian. A similar provision, concerning politicians running for local government seats, was also abandoned. This Law was seen as one of the biggest obstacles to Latvia's admission to NATO and was sharply criticised as violating the rights of the country's Russian-speaking minority, who account for around one-third of the population.


On 6 May 2002, the Chamber of Representatives unanimously adopted a new Electoral Code, introducing a list system rather than the single-constituency system. The 325 deputies will be elected using a list, to be decided by proportional vote, in a single round. Thirty deputies will be elected at national level and 295 at constituency level. The 30 national seats will in principle be reserved for women. Another change is that voting is no longer compulsory. The next legislative elections are scheduled for September 2002.


On 30 April 2002, a popular referendum granted a five-year term to the President of the country, General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. In August 2002, President Musharraf introduced drastic amendments to the Constitution. The changes were made by Executive decree, thus preventing the new Parliament, elected in October 2002, from overturning them. The main opposition parties sharply criticised the changes, describing them as deeply undemocratic. One of the main amendments is the restoration of the President's right to dismiss an elected parliament - a power withdrawn by the government of the last Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Among his new powers, President Musharraf will now be able to choose the heads of Pakistan's army and navy.

Palestinian National Authority Territory

On 29 May 2002, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Yasser Arafat ratified the "Basic Law", a fundamental constitutional law. This instrument, which stipulates the separation of powers between government bodies, was first presented by the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and is intended to form the "nucleus" of a future Constitution. Established under the 1993 interim peace accords with Israel, the Palestinian Authority has no formal Constitution.

Russian Federation

On 20 November 2002, the State Duma approved in its third and final reading a draft law on the election of members of the State Duma. This new law raises the percentage of the vote necessary for parties to qualify for the 225 seats allocated by the party-list system from five to seven beginning with the December 2007 Duma elections. It also eliminates the requirements for parties represented in the Duma to gather signatures in support of their presidential candidates.


On 27 May 2002, a referendum on a constitutional reform was held and approved by a 99 per cent majority of the votes cast. The constitutional reform, which concerns at least half of the articles of the Constitution, provides for unlimited candidacies to the presidency of the Republic instead of three terms as contained in the previous text, and sets the upper age limit for a President at 75 instead of 70. The current President Ben Ali was due to retire in 2004 after 15 years in office, but the proposed constitutional amendments will allow him to stand for a further two terms.


On 1 August 2002, Parliament adopted a package of European Union harmonisation laws. All political parties except the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), a member of the ruling coalition, expressed support for the package. One of the main issues included in the new legislation is the abolition of the death penalty except in times of war. The amendments also included the lifting of the ban on Kurdish-language education and broadcasting. In addition, Parliament eased restrictions on public demonstrations, lifted penalties for criticising State institutions, articulated new freedoms for the media, made it easier for international organisations to work in the country, and authorised non-Muslim religious organisations to buy property. The package also outlined tougher measures against illegal immigration and redefined the duties of the police.


On 9 May 2002, the Ugandan Parliament passed the Political Organisations Bill, which allows parties to operate at a national level but maintains a ban on activities such as holding meetings or canvassing for support outside the capital. The bill was passed by acclamation despite the absence of some 60 members of Parliament, who walked out in protest saying the new law does not go far enough to promote democracy. President Yoweri Museveni banned party activities when he took power in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war.


Copyright © 2002 Inter-Parliamentary Union