Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Convening Congress: the details

So, we think it is worth reviewing the entire Constitutional section dealing with what it takes to convene Congress.

On the one hand, it seems pretty clear that Micheletti was counting on further delay due to having already dismissed Congress (a fact noted by Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle in one of his editorials, translated by Adrienne Pine, but otherwise missing from the commentary we have seen). So we have seen the leadership in Congress saying nothing can happen, including picking up the mail (!) until Tuesday and then maybe there cannot be a meeting because everyone is out campaigning.

On the other hand, the proposal made by a Liberal Diputado from Yoro, Javier Francisco Hall (reported by TITO in a comment on a previous blog post) to convene an extraordinary session represents a direct challenge to the power to block forward progress. And it appears to be quite legal, indeed, Constitutional, under provisions carried over into the guidelines of the Congress itself.

So here is the relevant Constitutional language, in translation with commentary, followed by the original Spanish. These are the first articles in Titulo V, Capitulo I, which establishes the nature of the Congress:
Article 189: The Legislative Power is exercised by a Congress of Diputados, that will be elected by direct suffrage. It will meet in ordinary sessions in the capital of the Republic the 25th of January of each year, without necessity of being convened, and will close its sessions the 31 of October of the same year.

Sessions can be adjourned for the time that should be necessary by resolution of Congress, at the initiative of one or more of its members, or at the request of the Executive Power.

Article 190: The National Congress will meet in extraordinary sessions:

1. When the Executive Power requests it

2. When it shall be convened by its Permanent Commission; and
3. When half plus one of its members agree.

In those cases, it will only treat the business that motivated the respective Decree of convening.

Article 191
: A number of five diputados can extraordinarily convene the National Congress to meet in any place in the Republic, when the Executive, another authority, force majeure or fortuitous event, shall impede its installation or the celebration of its sessions.

Article 192
: For the installation of the National Congress and the celebration of its sessions half plus one of its members will be sufficient.

Article 193
: Neither Congress itself, nor any other authority of State or private party, shall impede the installation of the Congress, the celebration of its sessions or decree its dissolution.

The contravention of this precept constitutes a crime against the Powers of State.

(There is an additional Article (197) that says diputados are obligated to attend all sessions, but it is not clear if that includes extraordinary sessions)
So, what does all the foregoing mean?

(1) Congress should have still been in session Friday, October 30. It was dismissed by the de facto regime in advance of its scheduled end date. This is allowed, but it is curious that it happened and set up the present situation.

(2) If just half (plus one) of the members of Congress agree, there can be a special session. Notice that the head of Congress need not be the person calling this session. Nor does it seem there needs to be a delay while the mail is slowly walked over to his office.

(3) Five deputies can convene Congress, anywhere in the country, if its convocation is impeded, no matter who or what is responsible for that impediment. So the promise (or threat, depending on your point of view) of the delegates in favor of a rapid resolution has teeth; and they do not even have to have access to the house of Congress to meet. And even Congress itself cannot impede the convening of the body; to do so is a crime.

(4) However, while as few as ten diputados can convene Congress, it still takes half (plus one) to hold a session.

That bar, while higher than the one set for issuing a call for an extraordinary session, is still relatively low; and most important, the "leadership" of Congress is irrelevant; this is a surprisingly grass-roots set of provisions in the much-maligned Honduran Constitution.

ARTICULO 189.- El Poder Legislativo se ejerce por un Congreso de Diputados, que serán elegidos por sufragio directo. Se reunirá en sesiones ordinarias en la capital de la República el veinticinco de enero de cada año, sin necesidad de convocatoria, y clausurará sus sesiones el treinta y uno de octubre del mismo año.

Las sesiones podrán prorrogarse por el tiempo que fuere necesario por resolución del Congreso, a iniciativa de uno o más de sus miembros, o a solicitud del Poder Ejecutivo.

Los recesos serán establecidos en el Reglamento Interior.

ARTICULO 190.- El Congreso Nacional se reunirá en sesiones extraordinarias:

1. Cuando lo solicite el Poder Ejecutivo;

2. Cuando sea convocado por su Comisión Permanente; y

3. Cuando así lo acuerde la mitad más uno de sus miembros.

En estos casos sólo tratará los asuntos que motivaron el respectivo Decreto de convocatoria.

ARTICULO 191.- Un número de cinco diputados podrá convocar extraordinariamente al Congreso Nacional para sesionar en cualquier lugar de la República, cuando el Ejecutivo, otra autoridad, fuerza mayor o caso fortuito, impidan su instalación o la celebración de sus sesiones.

ARTICULO 192.- Para la instalación del Congreso Nacional y la celebración de sus sesiones será suficiente la mitad más uno de sus miembros.

ARTICULO 193.- Ni el mismo Congreso, ni otra autoridad del Estado o particulares, podrá impedir la instalación del Congreso, la celebración de las sesiones o decretar su disolución.

La contravención de este precepto constituye delito contra los Poderes del Estado.

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