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Argentina - Government

Argentina's constitution of 1853, as revised in 1994, mandates a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the national and provincial level. Each province also has its own constitution, roughly mirroring the structure of the national constitution.

The president and vice president are directly elected to 4-year terms. Both are limited to two consecutive terms; they are allowed to stand for a third term or more after an interval of at least one term. The president appoints cabinet ministers, and the constitution grants the office considerable power, including authority to enact laws by presidential decree under conditions of "urgency and necessity" and the line-item veto. On 12 June 2006, President Nestor Kirchner signed into law a decree setting up a joint Chiefs of Staff system. Argentina is moving towards a defence model used by most Western countries.

A president must be native-born or the child of native-born parents. Both the president and the vice president must profess the Roman Catholic faith and be at least 30 years old. The vice president is elected at the same time as the president and may succeed "in case of his illness, absence from the capital, death, resignation, or removal from office." If the vice president is also incapacitated, the line of succession goes to the president pro tempore of the Senate, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, and the president of the Supreme Court. If the presidency is filled by anyone other than the vice president, however, the 1853 Constitution requires that a new election be held within 30 days.

The powers granted to the president are so extensive that the office is the center of the political system; it is the prize for which all political actors compete. Once in office, the president is not legally required to seek wide backing for his policies. The limits on presidential power are political, not legal, and consequently presidents rarely share power with political parties, whether they be their own or other parties.

The bicameral Congress consists of a 72-member Senate and a 257-member Chamber of Deputies. Since 2001, senators have been directly elected, with each province and the Federal Capital represented by three senators. Senators serve 6-year terms. One-third of the Senate stands for re-election every 2 years. Members of the Chamber of Deputies are directly elected to 4-year terms. Voters elect half the members of the lower house every 2 years. Both houses are elected via a system of proportional representation.

The National Electoral Code dictates the election process, entitling the President to convene elections. All Argentines between the ages of 18 and 70 are required to vote; exceptions include condemned prisoners, the mentally ill, and people who are more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) from their voting station on Election Day. The Electoral Code stipulates a fine for not voting. In the 2005 legislative elections, 72.9 percent of registered voters voted, and 76.4 percent voted in the 2007 presidential election.

The Chamber of Deputies apportionment was based on population. Deputies represented the entire province. The seats for each province and the Federal District were divided among the political parties based on a proportional representation system that included all parties receiving at least 4 percent of the vote. Members of Congress enjoyed immunity from arrest, which could only be removed by a two-thirds majority vote of the member's chamber. The Chamber of Deputies had the exclusive right to impeach the president, vice president, ministers, and members of the Supreme Court; the Senate would thereafter sit in judgment of those charges.

By decree, one-third of the candidates for both houses of Congress must be women. As a result, Argentina's female representation in Congress ranks among the world's highest, with representation comparable to European Union (EU) countries such as Austria and Germany.

The constitution establishes the judiciary as an independent government entity. The president appoints members of the Supreme Court with the consent of the Senate after a public vetting process. The president, on the recommendation of a magistrates' council, appoints other federal judges. The Supreme Court has the power to declare legislative acts unconstitutional.

The 1853 Constitution provides for a federal system of representative government. The provinces have the right to establish their own governments, and all powers not specifically accorded to the national government are reserved for the provinces. Provincial autonomy is limited, however, by a provision allowing the national government to intervene in the provinces whenever it deems such action necessary.

Argentina is shaped by a weak and unbalanced federal system: most of the provinces depend economically on the national government and, at the same time, the national government depends on the provinces to obtain political support. As federalism provided each territory with its own constitution and authorities, Argentine subnational politics had always been important. In addition, it was expected that the neoliberal oriented decentralization process undertaken by the military regime in the 70s and continued by democratic governments in the 1990s, would increase the weight of subnational politics. However, this did not happen due the unfunded form of the process. The process certainly helped to accelerate the federalization and fragmentation of the Argentine party system. Thus, the traditional power of the provincial bosses (caudillos) and the autonomy of municipal leaders were strengthened.

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