APRIL 2003
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The World of Parliaments
 Parliamentary Developments


On 23 May 2002, a law was passed reforming the Electoral Code and including a requirement for candidate selection through open nationwide primaries held on the same day for all political parties fielding more than one presidential candidate. The primary elections were initially scheduled for 15 December 2002. Nevertheless, before that date, on 28 November 2002, a new law was promulgated establishing that primary elections would not be held for the presidential elections scheduled for April 2003.


The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives were amended on 22 August 2002, with effect from 16 September 2002. The amendment related to proceedings in the Main Committee and were moved as a response to the House Committee on Procedure's report entitled The Second Chamber: Enhancing the Main Committee. Among the innovations introduced is a provision for interventions (brief interruptions of a Member's speech by a question from another Member) during debate in the Main Committee with a view to encouraging interactivity and spontaneity in debate. It is also foreseen that if disorder arises in the main Committee the Chair may now adjourn the Committee as an alternative to suspending it as the Standing Orders previously provided. This change is to avoid the Main Committee having to reassemble after a suspension solely for the purpose of formally adjourning.
The Senate's Standing Orders were amended on 19 November 2002 when recommendations made by the Senate Procedure Committee in its second report of 2002 were accepted. The changes relate to chairs and quorums in committees. On the first subject, the amendments establish that either the chair or the deputy chair, when presiding at a meeting of a committee, may appoint another member of the committee to act as chair during the temporary absence of the chair or deputy chair for that meeting only. On the second, the requirement for the chair to suspend a meeting of a committee whenever there is not a quorum present has been removed from the Standing Orders; committees are now placed on the same basis as the Senate, namely, that a quorum is called only if a senator draws attention to the absence of a quorum.
On 1 July, the salaries and office holders' allowances for senators and members of the House of Deputies were increased. The base salary passed from $A90,000 gross per annum to $A98,000 per annum.


On 17 December 2002, two amendments were made to Article 157 of the Constitution. The first was to phase out military courts in peacetime, which can however be reinstated in time of war. Offences committed by servicemen will be tried by ordinary criminal courts. The common law of penal procedure will be adapted to the specificities of military life whenever necessary. The second amendment is to set up courts for the application of sentences. The latter are designed to replace the parole boards and will be entrusted with other tasks. Their method of functioning, composition and powers will be determined by law.
Between 17 June and 18 July 2002, three laws were adopted in the electoral field. These instruments are aimed at ensuring equal representation of men and women on electoral lists for the various elected assemblies in Belgium (European Parliament, Federal Legislative Chambers, Council of the German-speaking Community, Walloon Regional Council and Council of the Region of Brussels-Capital). These three laws stipulate that the gap between the number of candidates of each sex cannot exceed one and that the first two candidates must be of different sexes. On a temporary basis, however, they provide that for the next legislative elections, due to be held by June 2003 at the latest, the first three candidates on each list may not be of the same sex.
Moreover, on 13 December 2002, Parliament adopted several amendments to the Electoral Code. Candidates in legislative elections will henceforth be able, in certain conditions, to stand simultaneously for election to the Chamber and the Senate; the category of substitute candidates has been reinstated; the electoral districts for elections to the Chamber have been redrawn to match the limits of the provinces; finally, an eligibility threshold of 5 per cent has been introduced.


In October and November 2002 respectively, the Senate and the House of Commons each created a new Standing Committee on Official Languages. The existing Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages ceased to function. On 7 November 2002, the Senate adopted a report from its Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to permit committees to meet on any weekday the Senate stands adjourned during a Senate sitting week. On 28 November 2002, the House of Commons established a special committee to consider and make recommendations on the modernization and improvement of the procedures of the House of Commons.


Parliament has introduced an amendment to its Standing Orders to include two more Committees. The first one is the Judiciary Committee, which will be empowered to consider all matters relating to the judiciary that come before Parliament. The other newly created Committee is the Special Budget Committee, which will prepare, examine and consider the budget of Parliament as well as examine and adopt the budget of the judiciary and the budgets of all other constitutionally independent bodies, namely, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Electoral Commission and the National Commission for Civic Education.


On 26 July 2002, a bill was passed to amend the Constitution. The new instrument makes the protection of animals an official government policy, although there are no specific provisions for government action.
With regard to electoral law, two bills were passed. On 27 April 2002, a bill was adopted to facilitate voting for disabled voters. On 31 July 2002, a bill was adopted amending the Federal Elections Law to redraw the boundaries of electoral districts. As of 1 January 2003, federal election laws will require Federal Government authorities to reimburse associations for the blind for costs incurred in connection with producing and distributing ballot templates in Braille. The Federal Government has also agreed to establish polling places that can be accessed by persons in wheelchairs.


On 17 December 2002, Parliament unanimously voted to amend the Constitution to permit the country to join the European Union in 2004. The government agreed to drop from the final draft three provisions to which the opposition FIDESZ party had objected. These provisions concern ministerial decrees, refugees, and the transfer of powers to international organisations. The amended Constitution will stipulate that the EU and Hungary may jointly exercise some constitutional powers and that certain EU institutions may exercise particular authority independently. It also specifies that a binding referendum on EU admission is to be held on 12 April 2003.


The 86th amendment to the Constitution adopted in December 2002 provides that the State shall endeavour to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14, thus making the right to education a fundamental right. It also provides that the State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education to all children until they complete the age of six years. Finally, it stipulates that it shall be the obligation of the parents to provide opportunities for education to their children between the age of six and fourteen years.


On 7 November 2002, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Act 2002 was adopted. This Act allows the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice amending the Treaty on the European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts signed at Nice on 26 February 2001. The amendment establishes that the State may exercise the options or discretions provided by or under certain Articles of the Treaty, while stipulating that any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of Parliament. It further provides that the State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence where that common defence would include the State.
June 2002 marked the adoption of the Electoral (Amendment) (No.2) Act, which extends from 56 to 90 days the period specified in Section 36 of the Electoral Act of 1997 during which statements can be submitted for expenses incurred in relation to general elections to the Dail Eirean.


On 9 February 2003, King Abdullah II endorsed an amendment to the provisional Parliamentary Elections Law, allocating seats for women for the first time in the country's history. The amendment fixes the total number of seats in the House of Deputies at 110, including those set aside for women. According to the law, deemed "temporary" because as the government passed it while Parliament was suspended, the six women candidates with the highest number of votes after the winners of the 104 seats have been declared, will comprise the women's quota in the House of Deputies. The number of seats allocated to women by this law was criticised by women activists, who had called for a quota of at least 20 per cent of the House membership.


On 17 July 2002, the Chamber of Deputies amended several articles of its Standing Orders, in particular all those referring to the Clerk or Assistant Clerk. Following this change, the title of Clerk has been replaced by that of Secretary General, and the Standing Orders provide for two Deputy Secretaries General in the stead of the Assistant Clerk.

New Zealand

From August to December 2002, some orders modifying the Standing Orders were made by the House of Representatives. These relate particularly to party votes, public organisations, reprinting bills or the implementation of outcomes from the Public Access to Legislation (PAL) project and the printing of parliamentary information. For instance, from 2003 questions for written answers by Members to Ministers will be lodged, and replied to, only electronically and the notice paper will be discontinued but the Parliamentary Bulletin will be endorsed as published under the authority of the House and will include the Journals of the House and contents formerly in the notice paper. Another modification concerns the appointment of Officers of Parliament.. The procedures require the Speaker, through the Officers of House Committees which the Speaker chairs, to consult widely with members of all parties represented in the House and implement an appointment process. The relevant Ministers of the Crown are to be specifically advised of the consultation and to participate in it.
On 18 December 2002, assent was given to the Remuneration Authority (Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill. This instrument provides for the determination of both remuneration and expenses of Members of Parliament by the Remuneration Authority (as the Higher Salaries Commission is renamed). The bill seeks to implement recommendations set out in the report of the Review Group on Improving Current Arrangements for the Determination and Administration of MPs' Salaries, Allowances and Other Entitlements, established by the Parliamentary Service Commission. The bill requires, as soon as practicable after 1 April 2003, the Parliamentary Service Commission to review travel, accommodation, attendance and communications services in respect of Members of Parliament and the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services to review any such additional or alternative services in respect of the Executive. The bill also clarifies the tax treatment of MPs, who will be treated as employees for tax purposes, and will prevent them from claiming tax deductions for expenses as if they were self-employed.

Republic of Congo

By decision dated 7 September 2002, the Supreme Court put an end to the transition period. The decision came after the new Constitution was approved by referendum in January 2002 and the new Parliament was established, following the legislative elections held on 26 May and 23 June 2002 to elect the members of the National Assembly.

Serbia and Montenegro

On 4 February 2003, both houses of the Yugoslav Parliament approved the Constitutional Charter establishing the new State of Serbia and Montenegro. The country will be a single entity called Serbia and Montenegro. The new State will have a joint unicameral Parliament with 135 seats, a joint Defence Ministry and a single seat in the UN, but each republic may conduct its own international relations provided that this does not conflict with the new State's common foreign policy. Free movement of people, goods, capital, and services is guaranteed. Political leaders and the media widely hailed the document as a compromise.


During the second half of 2002, the General Electoral Act was amended via the introduction of a new article stipulating that any member of the National Assembly or a State Assembly or a Local Council who was occupying a public post, may choose between leave without pay or ending his/her services through resignation. Another modification introduced to the Electoral Act establishes that the number of members that should form the State Assemblies shall vary depending on a given state's population: if the state has less than three million inhabitants, it will have 36 members, and if it has more, it will have 48 members.


On 30 December 2002, the Togolese Parliament amended Article 59 of the Constitution relating to the election of the President of the Republic, paving the way for a possible additional term for the current Head of State, Mr. Gnassingbé Eyadéma. According to the new provisions, the President of the Togolese Republic is "elected by direct and secret universal suffrage for a five-year term, and shall be eligible for re-election". The previous Article 59 stipulated that the President was "elected for a five-year term and eligible for re-election once", adding that "in no event could he or she serve more than two terms".
On 7 February 2003, the National Assembly adopted a new version of the Electoral Code, amending some 84 articles out of the 272 contained in the previous text, via the introduction of 27 new provisions. The major innovation is that this new Code henceforth entrusts the Ministry of the Interior with the task of preparing and holding elections, while the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) is only responsible for supervising voting. The new Code also specifies that it is up to the Ministry of the Interior to set up polling booths in the communes and prefectures and that each one of them shall have four members, all appointed by the Ministry, whereas the previous Code provided for members designated on an equitable basis by the government and the opposition.


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