In 1989 the major institutions of the central government were the GNA, the State Council, the office of president of the republic, the Council of Ministers, and the court system. The president was elected by the GNA for the duration of a legislative period and remained in office until a successor was elected during the next legislative period.
Grand National Assembly
The Grand National Assembly was nominally the supreme organ of state power and supervised and controlled the functions of all other state organs. It consisted of 369 deputies elected by universal adult suffrage from an equal number of electoral districts for a five-year term of office. In accordance with a 1974 constitutional amendment, the GNA met in regular session twice a year, and special sessions could be called by the State Council, the Bureau of the GNA, or, in theory, by one-third of the total number of deputies. If circumstances prevented the holding of elections, the GNA was empowered to extend its term of office for as long as necessary.
The GNA had the constitutional authority to elect, supervise, and recall the president of the republic, the State Council, the Council of Ministers, the Supreme Court, and the attorney general. The GNA had ultimate authority for regulating the electoral system, debating and approving the national economic plan and the state budget, and overseeing the organization and functioning of the people's councils.
The GNA was empowered to establish the general line of the country's foreign policy and had ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of public order and national defense. The Constitution gave it the authority to declare war, but only in the event of aggression against Romania or an ally with which Romania had a mutual-defense treaty. A state of war could also be declared by the State Council.
Other GNA powers included adopting and amending the Constitution and controlling its implementation. Empowered to interpret the Constitution and to determine the constitutionality of laws, the GNA was in effect its own constitutional court. To exercise its authority as interpreter of laws, the GNA elected the Constitution and Legal Affairs Commission, which functioned for the duration of a legislative term. The 1965 Constitution specified that up to one-third of the commission members could be persons who were not GNA deputies. The 1974 amended text, however, omitted this provision. The primary duty of the commission was to provide the assembly with reports and opinions on constitutional questions.
The GNA elected a chairman to preside over sessions and direct activities. The chairman and four elected vice chairmen, who formed the Bureau of the GNA, were assisted in their duties by a panel of six executive secretaries. In addition to the Constitution and Legal Affairs Commission, there were eight other GNA standing commissions: the Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Administration Commission; the Credentials Commission; the Defense Problems Commission; the Education, Science, and Culture Commission; the Foreign Policy and International Economic Cooperation Commission; the Health, Labor, Social Welfare, and Environmental Protection Commission; the Industry and Economic and Financial Activity Commission; and the People's Councils and State Administration Commission. Their functions and responsibilities were substantially increased during the 1970s and 1980s. Reports, bills, or other legislative matters were submitted to the standing commissions by the GNA chairman for study and for recommendations on further action.
To conduct business, the GNA required a quorum of one-half of the deputies plus one. Laws and decisions were adopted by simple majority vote with the exception of an amendment to the Constitution, which required a two-thirds majority of the full assembly. Laws were signed by the president of the republic and published within ten days after adoption.
Until the early 1970s, election to the GNA and to the organs of local government was based on the Soviet model, with one candidate for each seat. A 1972 decree stated that thereafter more than one candidate could be nominated for a deputy seat in the GNA or in the people's councils. In 1975, of 349 seats in the GNA, 139 were open to "multiple candidacy," and in 1980 the ratio was even higher--190 of 369. A total of 594 candidates were nominated by the Socialist Democracy and Unity Front for the 369 GNA seats in the 1985 election. But the front emphasized that the introduction of multiple candidacies was never intended to offer the electorate a choice of political platforms.
The State Council
The Constitution stipulated that the State Council was the supreme body of state power in permanent session, and that it assumed certain GNA powers when that body was out of session. As of mid-1989, the State Council consisted of the president of the State Council, four vice presidents, a secretary to the president, and fifteen members. At its first session, the newly elected GNA selected the State Council from its own membership. The council remained in office until another was elected by the succeeding GNA. Although the president of the State Council was simultaneously the president of the republic, the Constitution dictated that the council was to function on the principle of collective leadership. In 1989 all but two members of the State Council were also members of the PCR Central Committee and held other important party posts.
Amendments to the Constitution adopted in 1974 reduced the scope of the power of the State Council power in favor of the power of the president. In this connection, Article 63 listed only five permanent powers for the State Council, as opposed to eleven in the 1965 Constitution. Among the powers that were deleted were appointing and recalling the supreme commander of the armed forces; representing the republic in international relations; granting citizenship, amnesty, and asylum; and appointing and recalling diplomatic representatives.
Other permanent powers of the State Council were establishing election dates; ratifying or rejecting international treaties (except for those whose ratification or rejection was within the purview of the GNA); and establishing decorations and honorary titles. The provision in the 1965 text of the Constitution giving the State Council the right to appoint and recall the heads of central bodies of state administration (excluding the Council of Ministers) was replaced with the nebulous stipulation that the State Council "organizes the ministries and other central state bodies," another limitation of its prerogatives.
GNA powers that devolved to the State Council between assembly sessions or when exceptional circumstances prevented the GNA from acting included the authority to appoint and recall members of the Council of Ministers and members of the Supreme Court. The right to appoint or recall the prosecutor general was omitted in the 1974 amended Constitution. The State Council could also assume powers to establish legal norms, to control the application of laws and decisions passed by the GNA, and to supervise the Council of Ministers, the ministries and the other central bodies of state administration as well as the activities of the people's councils. In the event of a national emergency, the State Council could also exercise the GNA's power to declare a state of war.
In December 1967, the GNA elected PCR General Secretary Ceausescu president of the State Council, thereby making him head of state. The rationale for concentrating party and government power in Ceausescu's hands was to provide unitary leadership and thereby improve efficiency and ensure full party control at the highest level of government. The decision to unite the two posts, as well as to combine a number of party and government positions on lower administrative levels, had been taken at a national party conference. Outside observers saw the move as one of a series of steps designed to ensure the continued subordination of both the party and the state apparatus to Ceausescu's personal power.
President of the Republic
The 1974 amended Constitution created the office of president of the republic. Although listed below the GNA and the State Council, the president was the most powerful figure and had the authority to act on behalf of both the GNA and the State Council. Creation of the office was a watershed event in Ceausescu's methodical consolidation of power. Although he had held the position of head of state after 1967, it was only after 1974 that he emerged as an international figure, launching an energetic career of foreign travel and diplomacy.
The official motivation for the PCR decision to establish the office of president was to improve the functioning of the organs of state power--both domestic and international. It was also stressed that the president would be able to exercise those functions of the State Council not requiring plenary meetings. In fact, after 1974 rule by presidential decree became common practice.
On the recommendation of the Central Committee of the PCR and the Socialist Democracy and Unity Front, the president was elected by a two-thirds majority of GNA deputies. He represented the state in internal and international relations. And as chairman of the Defense Council, he was also the supreme commander of the armed forces. He was empowered to proclaim a local or national state of emergency.
Ceausescu greatly broadened the powers of the presidency in domestic political life. He appointed and recalled the ministers and the chairmen of other central bodies of state administration. When the GNA was not in session--that is, for most of the year--he appointed and recalled the president of the Supreme Court and the prosecutor general without even consulting the State Council. He frequently presided over the meetings of the Council of Ministers, and he usurped the State Council's power to grant pardons, citizenship, and asylum.
The president's prerogatives in international relations included establishing the ranks of diplomatic missions, accrediting and recalling diplomatic representatives; receiving the credentials and letters of recall of diplomatic representatives of other states; and concluding international agreements on behalf of Romania.
Council of Ministers
Defined in the Constitution as the supreme body of state administration, the Council of Ministers exercised control over the activities of all state agencies on both the national and local levels. Although the size and composition of the Council of Ministers fluctuated, its basic elements were the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the ministers, and the heads of certain other important government agencies. Unlike the 1952 constitution, which listed twenty-six specific ministries, the 1965 version fixed neither the number of ministries nor their particular areas of competence.
In 1989 the Council of Ministers had sixty-one members including the prime minister, three first deputy prime ministers, six deputy prime ministers, twenty-eight ministers, and twenty-four committee chiefs or state secretaries with ministerial rank. Elena Ceausescu held two positions in the council--first deputy prime minister and chairman of the National Council for Science and Technology. All but one of the members of the council were also members or candidate members of the PCR Central Committee, and the nine first deputies or deputies were members or candidate members of the PCR Political Executive Committee, usually known as Polexco.
The Constitution gave the Council of Ministers responsibility for the general implementation of the nation's domestic and foreign polices, the enforcement of laws, and the maintenance of public order. As the supreme governmental body, the council coordinated and controlled the activities of the ministries and other state organs at all levels. The council directed economic matters by drafting the Unitary National Socioeconomic Plan and state budget and providing for their implementation. In addition it directed the establishment of economic enterprises and other industrial and commercial organizations.
The council's responsibilities also included the general administration of relations with other states and the conclusion of international agreements. Its prerogatives in the area of defense, however, were diminished by the 1974 constitutional amendments. The council's right to act for the general organization of the armed forces was replaced by the provision that it could take measures in that area only "according to the decision of the Defense Council."
Formally elected by the GNA at the beginning of each new assembly session, the council's term of office continued until the election of a new council by the succeeding assembly. Both collectively and individually, the council members were responsible to the GNA or--between sessions--to the State Council. The Constitution asserted that the Council of Ministers was to operate on the principle of collective leadership to ensure the unity of its political and administrative actions.
After the promulgation of the 1965 Constitution and especially after Ceausescu was elected president of the republic in 1974, the Council of Ministers underwent numerous reorganizations. The number of ministries almost doubled. Several of them, for example, the Ministry of Mines, Petroleum, and Geology, were repeatedly split and merged. Some of the departments in separate ministries were combined to form new ministries or central organizations. In 1989 Romania had the largest number of ministries and central organizations of any East European state.
Agency reshuffling and the reassignment or dismissal of large numbers of officials plagued the ministries. Between March 1985 and the beginning of 1988, there were over twenty government reorganizations affecting such key functions as defense, finance, foreign trade, and foreign affairs. In 1984, at least twelve ministers were removed. The following year, the ministers of foreign affairs and national defense were replaced, and in 1986 the ministers of foreign affairs, foreign trade, and finance lost their positions following criticism from high-level PCR officials for trade shortfalls. In 1987, in the largest government reshuffle to date, eighteen ministers were dismissed over a four-week period, and some were expelled from the party.
The general organization and functioning of the judiciary was established by the Constitution and by the 1968 Law on the Organization of the Court System. Overall responsibility for the functioning of the courts was vested in the Ministry of Justice, and the prosecutor general was charged with the general application of the law and the conduct of criminal proceedings.
To fulfill its responsibility for the functioning of the courts and the supervision of state marshals, state notaries, and the national bar organization, the Ministry of Justice was divided into six directorates: civil courts, military courts, studies and legislation, personnel, administration, and planning and accounting. In addition, the ministry included a corps of inspectors, an office of legal affairs, and the State Notary Office.
The court system included the Supreme Court, judet courts, lower courts, military courts, and local judicial commissions. The Constitution placed the judiciary under the authority of the GNA, and between assembly sessions, under the authority of the State Council. The Supreme Court, seated in Bucharest, exercised general control over the judiciary activity of all lower courts.
Members of the Supreme Court were professional judges appointed by the GNA to four-year terms of office. The Supreme Court functioned as an appeals court for sentences passed in lower tribunals and, in certain matters specified by law, could act as a court of first instance. It could also issue guidance, in the form of directives, on legal and constitutional questions for the judicial actions of lower courts and the administrative functions of government agencies. The Supreme Court was divided into three sections--civil, criminal, and military. A panel of three judges presided over each section. The minister of justice presided over plenary sessions of the entire court held at least once every three months for the purpose of issuing guidance directives.
In 1989 there were forty judet courts and the municipal court of Bucharest, which had judet court status. Each court on this level was presided over by a panel of two judges and three lay jurors, known as people's assessors, and decisions were made by majority vote. People's assessors were first introduced in December 1947 and were given additional legal status in 1952 by the Law on the Organization of Justice. Most of the people's assessors were appointed by the PCR or by one of the district bodies of the mass organizations.
Subordinate to the judet courts were various lower courts. In the city of Bucharest, these lower courts consisted of four sectional courts, which functioned under the supervision of the municipal court. The number of lower courts and their territorial jurisdiction were established for the rest of the country by the Ministry of Justice. Panels consisting of a judge and two people's assessors presided over courts on this level, and verdicts were based on majority vote.
Military courts were established on a territorial basis, subdivisions being determined by the Council of Ministers. The lower military tribunals had original jurisdiction over contraventions of the law committed by members of the armed forces; the territorial military tribunals exercised appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the lower units. In certain situations specified by law, cases involving civilians could be assigned to military courts. At each level, the military courts, when acting in the first instance, consisted of two judges and three people's assessors. In appeals cases on the territorial level, the courts consisted of three judges only. As in the civil courts, decisions were reached by majority vote.
In 1968 the GNA enacted a law establishing a system of judicial commissions to function as courts of special jurisdiction in the state economic enterprises and in localities. These commissions were designed as "an expression of socialist democracy" to provide for the increased participation of working people in the settlement of problems involving minor local disputes and local economic issues.
The Office of the Prosecutor General ( Procuratura) exercised general supervision over the application of the law and the initiation of criminal proceedings. Elected by the GNA for a five-year term, the prosecutor general exercised supervisory powers that extended to all levels of society, from government ministers down to ordinary citizens. Procuratura subunits were hierarchically organized and included offices in each judicial district plus the prosecutor's military bureau.
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