The 1966 Constitution confers all legislative powers on the Congress of the Republic, which consists of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The election of senators and deputies is by direct vote every four years. Congressional terms, therefore, are coterminous with presidential terms, which greatly increases the possibility that the president's party will enjoy a majority in the legislature.
One senator is elected from each of the country's provinces and from the National District (Santo Domingo). In 1989 the Dominican Senate had thirty members. Deputies also represent provinces, but their seats are apportioned on the basis of population; thus, the more populous provinces and the National District have larger delegations. In 1989 there were 120 representatives in the Chamber of Deputies.
Deputies and senators must be Dominican citizens, at least twenty-five years old, with full civil and political rights. They must have been natives, or residents for at least five years, of the province they wish to represent. Naturalized citizens are eligible to run for Congress if they have been Dominican citizens for ten years. Congressmen are not allowed to hold another public office concurrently.
The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies may meet together as the National Assembly on certain specific occasions cited by the Constitution--for example, when both the president and the vice president are unable to complete their terms of office and a successor must be designated. By a three-fourths vote, the Chamber of Deputies may bring accusations--against public officials--before the Senate, but it has no other exclusive powers. In contrast, the Senate has several exclusive powers: selecting members of the Supreme Court and other lower courts, choosing the president and the members of the Central Electoral Board, approving diplomatic appointments made by the president, and hearing cases of public misconduct brought before it by the Chamber of Deputies.
The Congress has broad powers to levy taxes, to change the country's political subdivisions, to declare a state of emergency, to regulate immigration, to approve or to reject extraordinary expenditures requested by the executive, to legislate on all matters concerning the public debt, to examine annually all the acts of the executive, to interrogate cabinet ministers (a bow to parliamentary government), and to legislate on all matters not within the constitutional mandate of other branches of government or contrary to the Constitution.
For more than a century, the Congress remained a submissive, even somnolent, branch. For many years, under one or another of the country's many dictators, it did not meet at all. Beginning in the 1960s, however, the Congress began to assert itself. President Bosch sometimes had trouble with members of his own party in the Congress; and, although Balaguer ruled as a strong leader from 1966 to 1978, his Congress did not always function as a rubber stamp either.
The real breakthrough came with the restoration of full democracy in 1978. Even though, under presidents Guzmán and Jorge, the majority in Congress belonged to the president's party, that did not stop the Congress from dissenting on various bills, frustrating presidential initiatives in certain particulars, and serving as an increasingly important check on the executive. Although not yet coequal with the executive as a branch of government, the Congress had grown as an independent body, and its ability to check presidential power could no longer be easily dismissed.
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