Paraguay - Government
Paraguay is a constitutional democracy whose Constitution was ratified on 22 June 1992. Article 1 establishes that Paraguay is an independent and free Republic and its government system a representative democracy. The Constitution recognizes the three pillars of the Paraguayan state: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. It also establishes a set of civic, political and social rights, including citizen’s guarantees.
Paraguay's highly centralized government was fundamentally changed by the 1992 constitution, which provides for a division of powers. The president, popularly elected for a 5-year term, appoints a cabinet. The bicameral Congress consists of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies and a 45-member Senate, elected concurrently with the president through a proportional representation system. Deputies are elected by department and senators are elected nationwide. Paraguay's highest judicial body is the Supreme Court. A popularly elected governor heads each of Paraguay's 17 departments.
The president is the chief of state and the head of government. The president and vice president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for a single, 5-year term. The president nominates the Council of Ministers (Cabinet).
The legislative branch is represented by a bicameral Congreso (Congress) consisting of the Senate — 45 members elected by popular vote to serve a 5-year term — and the Chamber of Deputies — 80 members elected through a departmental vote to serve 5-year terms. Legislative elections coincide with the presidential election. Seats in both the Senate and the Chambers of Deputies are allocated according to the percentage of the vote received by each party.
Paraguay has an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court of Justice serves as the country’s highest court. The nine supreme court justices are appointed by the Senate and executive. They are appointed for a 5-years term. Below the Supreme Court, there are five appellate courts: civil and commercial, criminal, labor, administrative, and juvenile.
Despite widespread criticism and demands for reform, the standard for selection, designation, and promotion of judges, district attorneys, and prosecutors remains highly politicized as opposed to being merit-based. There is, in fact, a standardized public system, including a guidance manual, for selection. The standards are, however, politicized and not used to their fullest. Judges and prosecutors, under Paraguayan law, are assigned for five-year terms, and if they want to continue in their post, they have to compete for it again. And, if a prosecutor wants to become a judge, they have to compete for that position. But, in reality, the system is weak and ineffectual because the Judiciary continues to be subject to high levels of party political interference, which undermines the integrity of the system of checks and balances and judicial independence. Since the Governability Pact of 1994, appointments to the main judicial bodies38 have been negotiated between the major parties in accordance with a quota system, although, in practice, the main beneficiary has undoubtedly been the Colorado Party.
The whole judicial system from the Supreme Court of Justice to judges, is subject to politicized appointments and promotions on the basis of agreements between political parties, and heavily distorted in favor of Colorado Party appointees. Hence, appointments are made on the basis of political service, allegiance, and loyalty rather than merit and expertise, experience, or qualifications. Despite internationally funded reform projects, the judiciary is widely seen as inefficient, corrupt, insufficiently funded, and unable either to combat corruption and impunity, or to protect citizens’ (especially poor citizens’) rights.
Paraguay is divided into 17 departments, 14 in the east and 3 in the Chaco. Each department is divided into districts, which, in turn, comprise municipalities (the minimum requirement for a municipality is 3,000 persons) and rural districts. A governor runs each department, and is elected by popular vote. Municipal government is exercised through a municipal board, chosen by direct election, and an executive department. In the principal cities and capitals, the executive department is headed by a mayor appointed by the minister of the interior; in other localities, the mayor is appointed by the presidents of the municipal boards. Police chiefs are appointed by the central government.
The constitution guarantees the right of privacy and the protection of private property. However, the National Police have been accused of violating these rights at times. Additionally, the police have been accused of using torture to solicit information from suspects. Demonstrations of protest are permitted but are restricted to certain places and times in Asunción. Paraguayan workers have the right to unionize, protest, and strike. Nevertheless, the International Labour Organization has criticized Paraguay’s workers’ rights for various deficiencies, including required registration of unions, the 300-worker minimum to form a union, and the lack of measures to prevent anti-union discrimination. Union members in Paraguay have complained of their leaders being fired or suffering discrimination.
Violations of women’s rights have occurred most frequently in situations of sexual and domestic abuse. Spousal abuse is common and underreported, but it is a crime in Paraguay only if deemed habitual. Abuse and sexual abuse of children also are problems. The passage of the Child and Adolescent Law in 2001 required that departmental agencies be created to monitor and protect children’s rights, but so far the effect has been minimal. Trafficking in women and children from Paraguay remains a serious problem.
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