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World of Parliaments
Parliamentary developments

On 10 and 15 September 2009 respectively, the National Assembly and the Senate adopted a new electoral law. It introduced a financial deposit for political parties and groups of independent candidates: 400,000 Burundian francs (US$ 330) per list for the Senate and 500,000 francs (US$ 410) for the National Assembly. In both cases, the deposit will be reimbursed in full if the party or the group obtains at least 2 per cent of the votes nationwide. The law stipulates that any senators and deputies elected as party candidates who voluntarily leave their political party will lose their parliamentary mandate. Parliamentarians who are dismissed from a party after exhausting all judicial recourses will also lose their mandate. Several parliamentarians left their parties before the law - which is not retroactive - was promulgated by President Pierre Nkurunziza on 18 September.

On 15 and 16 September 2009 respectively, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill modifying the electoral law and the law on elections standards. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed the bill into law on 29 September. Among other things, the law seeks to increase women’s political representation. Political parties will be required to allocate at least 30 per cent of their candidatures for parliament to women candidates. They must also use at least 10 per cent of their advertising and 5 per cent of their public campaign funds to promote the participation of women in politics.

On 21 August and 2 September 2009 respectively, the Senate and the House of Representatives approved a bill on the referendum that requires citizens to vote on whether the President should be able to run for two consecutive re-elections. In 2005, the Congress had amended the Constitution to allow President Alvaro Uribe to seek one immediate re-election. Upon his re-election in 2006, he became the first President in more than a century to serve a second four-year term. The Congress started to examine the 2009 referendum bill after a petition to allow a third term for the President had collected over 5 million signatures.

On 8 September, President Uribe signed the bill into law and sent it to the Constitutional Court for review, which began on 17 September. The Court has a total of 24 weeks to rule on the law but is expected to shorten the process because of the upcoming presidential elections due by May 2010.

In April 2009, the Supreme People’s Assembly approved the revised Constitution. The new Constitution states that the Chairman of the National Defense Commission is the “supreme leader” of the country. Mr. Kim Jongil has been Chairman of the National Defense Commission since he inherited power from his father, Kim Il-sung, in 1994. The revised Constitution has thus legally confirmed Mr. Kim Jongil, who also serves as General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, as the country’s head.

The previous constitution referred only to the “Juche” idea (sprit of self-reliance) advocated by Mr. Kim Ilsung. The revised Constitution added Mr. Kim Jong-il’s “Songun” idea (military first) as the country’s second guiding pillar. “Songun” reflects the belief that the strength of a nation resides in its military, in particular its power to defend itself. The revised Constitution gives several new mandates to the Chairman of the National Defense Commission. The Chairman may direct State projects, ratify or annul major treaties that the government signs with other countries and grant pardons. The revised Constitution also provides that the country shall respect and protect the human rights of its citizens.

The Parliament of Georgia.On 24 September 2009, the parliament approved two amendments to the Constitution. Following the May 2008 elections, 12 opposition members had refused to take up their seats in protest at alleged fraud during the poll. In June 2008, parliament adopted a resolution to strip them of their parliamentary mandate. The seats of two members elected under the majority system were filled through elections held in November 2008. The 2009 constitutional amendment restores the mandate of the remaining 10 members elected under the proportional representation system. They have until 1 January 2010 to reclaim their seats, after which the amendment becomes null and void. The opposition members announced that they would not re-enter parliament.

The second amendment provides for a partial relocation of the parliament from the capital Tbilisi to Kutaisi, the country’s second largest city situated 200 km west of the capital. After the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2012, all plenary sessions will be held in Kutaisi while committee meetings and other legislative activity will remain in Tbilisi.

In view of future amendments to the Charter (Constitution), the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a Public Referendum Bill on 23 and 28 September 2009 respectively. The Bill stipulates that a public referendum must be held within 90 to 120 days from the day it is published in the Royal Gazette. A minimum of 50 per cent of the eligible voters must turn out for a referendum to be validated.

On 25 September, the government and the parliament agreed to task the parliamentary Committee for Reconciliation, Political Reform and Constitutional Amendment with preparing amendments to the Charter. They will cover the following six points: (1) dissolution of political parties and the banning of their executives from politics; (2) the procedure for becoming a member of the House of Representatives; (3) the procedure for becoming a senator; (4) treaties that require parliamentary approval; (5) the appointment of parliamentarians to serve in other political positions; and (6) members’ and senators’ authority to help solve citizens’ problems. In October, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that a referendum would suffice to enact each of the six amendments.

On 31 July 2009, the National Assembly passed a new electoral law. The new law provides for a “twin” voting system (morochas) whereby two different parties may nominate the same candidate: once for a party list and once as a constituency (majority) candidate. When a “twin” candidate appears to be the winner in both cases, he/she shall be considered to be elected in the list where he/she obtains the higher number of votes. The new law also relaxes voter requirements by allowing non-citizens over the age of 18 who have lived in Venezuela for over 10 years to register to vote. The previous electoral law required Venezuelan nationality by birth to be eligible to vote. The law was gazetted on 12 August.