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Uruguay - Government

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. The President of the Republic is elected through direct, popular vote every 5 years (there is no mechanism for re-election). With the exception of two short interruptions in the 20th century, the country has developed a democratic tradition since its independence in 1825.

Since achieving independence in 1828, Uruguay had promulgated five constitutions: in 1830, 1917, 1934, 1952, and 1967. The first Constitution of Uruguay was put in operation on July 18, 1830, two years after the independence of the country had been recognized by Brazil and Argentina in the treaty concluded between these countries and signed on August 27, 1828. It was adopted at a convention of representatives of the Uruguayan people that met in Montevideo for that purpose in 1829. The Constitution was approved May 26, 1830 by both the Brazilian and Argentine Governments. A number of amendments were made from time to time but there were no very radical changes in the organic law from 1830 to 1917.

The third constitution was approved by plebiscite on November 25, 1917. The new charter, which did not become effective until 1919, introduced substantial changes in the powers of the presidency. The executive power consisted of the president, who controlled foreign relations, national security, and agriculture, and the National Council of Administration (Consejo Nacional de Administracion), or colegiado, which administered all other executive governmental functions (industrial relations, health, public works, industry and labor, livestock and agriculture, education, and the preparation of the budget). The colegiado, embodying the political mechanism of coparticipation, consisted of nine members: six from the majority party and three from the minority party.

Although the 1917 constitution worked well during the prosperous time after World War I, recurring conflicts between the president and the colegiado members made the executive power ineffective in coping with the economic and social crises wracking the country. These conflicts eventually led to the presidential coup of 1933. The ad hoc government suspended the constitution and appointed a constituent assembly to draw up a new one. The 1934 constitution abolished the colegiado and transferred its power to the president. Nevertheless, presidential powers remained somewhat limited.

As the culmination of an effort to reestablish the colegiado and the plural executive power, a fourth constitution was promulgated on January 25, 1952. It readopted Batlle y Ordonez's original proposal for coparticipation by creating a nine-member colegiado, this time called the National Council of Government (Consejo Nacional de Gobierno), with six majority-party seats and three minority-party seats. The presidency of the council rotated among the six members of the majority party.

By 1966, economic, political, and social difficulties led to constitutional amendments, and a new constitution was adopted in 1967. In 1973, amid increasing economic and political turmoil, the armed forces closed the Congress and established a civilian-military regime, characterized by repression and widespread human rights abuses. A new constitution drafted by the military was rejected in a November 1980 plebiscite. Following the plebiscite, the armed forces announced a plan for return to civilian rule. National elections were held in 1984. Colorado Party leader Julio Maria Sanguinetti won the presidency and served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democracy following the country's years under military rule.

There are basically three paths to amend Uruguay's constitution; all would require a national plebiscite to approve a proposed change. The first option is via a Popular Initiative, which in Uruguay requires petitions containing signatures of ten percent of citizens entitled to vote. Collection of signatures is ongoing. The second option would be for an absolute majority of Uruguay's bicameral General Assembly to call for a national constitutional convention. This would be a long and controversial process with uncertain effects on Uruguay's constitution, and is therefore not considered a likely option. Finally, Uruguay's General Assembly could vote for the constitutional change via approval by two-thirds of each house of the legislature (21 senators and 66 deputies would have to vote in favor), also considered unlikely.

Uruguay's 1967 constitution institutionalizes a strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial checks. The president's term is 5 years. The term is non-consecutive, but former presidents may run again in subsequent elections. Thirteen cabinet ministers, appointed by the president, head executive departments. To win the presidency, a candidate must obtain a simple majority of the votes cast. If no candidate does so in the October elections, the top two vote-getters go head-to-head in another election a month later, on the last Sunday in November. Voting is obligatory for Uruguayans over age eighteen.

The constitution provides for a bicameral General Assembly responsible for enacting laws and regulating the administration of justice. The General Assembly consists of a 30-member Senate, presided over by the vice president of the republic, and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies.

It is not possible to ignore that after the June 27, 1973 coup d'tat in Uruguay, the Parliament was closed between that date and the on February 14, 1985. This were the longest hiatus in the history of their existence and functioning. Obviously, at the end of twelve years of Government de facto with the consequent dismantling of the legal system of constitutional basis and the injury of the fundamental rights of tens of thousands of citizens, it was necessary to undertake an urgent and difficult task of reorganization of the legal system, restoration of the violated rights and repair of the damages suffered by the victims of this abnormal situation.

This task was fulfilled with honor and efficiency by the 42nd legislature, installed on 15 February 1985. It fit the enactment of a set just and wise laws that recomposed the legal order of the Republic and repaired, to the extent possible, such damages. In this sense - and without performing an exhaustive list - remember the Law of recognition (of the decree-laws dictated during the dictatorship), the Amnesty Law (political prisoners), the emergency law for the Teaching, the organic law of the judiciary and the law of dismissed (by the) Government de-facto). All of them were sanctioned during the year 1985, despite the intense legislative activity of that year, which included the discussion of the law on national budget and approval of the complex (Caused by a serious domestic debt refinancing Act economic crisis at the end of 1982).

But the 42nd legislature not exhausted its fruitful work in the initial year of its management. Later adopted very important laws for the economy of the country, such as the law on free zones, no. 15.921, on December 17, 1987, and the forestry law, N' 15.939, of December 28, 1987. And yet it was time to sanction a new code of procedure, called General code law N' 15.982, October 18, 1988, updated with avail the ancient code of Civil procedure, the year 1878, as well as to replace more than 500 items of the old code of Commerce with one modern law of trade companies, N' 16.060, of 4 September of 1989.

The transcendent work of updating of the codified legislation of the country continued at the 43rd legislature, which approved the law 16.603, of 19 October of 1994, update of the Civil Code, which was reordered their extensive articulated, were included in this all amending regulations of their original provisions and are purged him of all the precepts repealed expressly or tacitly. Among these last had special significance the corresponding to the great law of civil rights of woman, 18 September 1946, which had amended the code in various aspects essential, but creating inconvenient doubts as to the validity or not a multiplicity of its articles.

The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, composed of judges elected by the legislature and the courts and tribunals. The highest court is the Supreme Court; below it are appellate and lower courts and justices of the peace. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and is responsible for judging the constitutionality of laws. The same is further compounded by Courts of Appeals, Courts Lawyers and Magistrates' Courts. In addition, there are electoral and administrative ("contentious") courts, an accounts court, and a military judicial system.

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them, to have a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay), to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to access government-held evidence, to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. Defendants may cross-examine witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Juries are not used; trial proceedings usually consist of written arguments to the judge and were not normally made public. Only the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney have access to the written record. Individual judges may elect to hear oral arguments, but most judges chose to rule on a case solely based on an examination of written documents, a major factor slowing down the judicial process.

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