Constitutional and Parliamentary Developments
On 23 April 2002, the "Legislative procedure, Committees Structure and working" Proclamation was adopted, as a result of which, the number of Committees in the House of People's Representatives was increased from 9 to 12. A Coordinating Committee of the Parliament has been established comprising the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as well as the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of each parliamentary committee. The role of this body is to coordinate the function and duties of the House and to provide guidance for the smooth functioning of the parliamentary system.
On 14 February 2003, Parliament amended Law No. 07/96 of 12 March 1996 setting out provisions common to all political elections in Gabon. On practical and financial grounds, the National Election Commission and its legal components were considerably downsized and the number of representatives of political parties in polling booths was reduced from 442 electoral commissioners to 168.
The two houses further ratified two degrees amending legislation regulating the election of senators and of deputies to the National Assembly. In order to avoid concurrent mandates, the new provisions of these texts henceforth stipulate that a senator or a deputy who is appointed to a non-remunerated post or who is elected mayor, deputy mayor, president or vice-president of a departmental council shall automatically be replaced by his or her substitute.
On 29 July 2003, the National Assembly and the Senate, in a joint meeting as the Congress, adopted a constitutional amendment introducing single-round voting for presidential elections and authorising the Head of State to serve more than two terms. Adopted by 183 votes to 5, the change will enable President Omar Bongo, who has been in power since 1967, to stand for election once again, if he so desires, in the 2012 presidential elections. Article 9 of the Constitution henceforth stipulates that: "the President of the Republic shall be elected for a seven-year term by direct universal suffrage and by secret vote in a single round of voting. He shall be eligible for re-election"; whereas the previous wording specified that the President could serve two terms only. Several other amendments were also adopted: an amendment to Articles 73a, 75b and 77, aimed "at enhancing the independence of the judiciary and ensuring that the major courts function more smoothly" and Article 110 to enable the President to appoint the President and Vice-Presidents of the Economic and Social Council by presidential decree.
The Law to Amend the Act on New Regulations Concerning the Protection of Federal Constitutional Bodies came into force on 26 June 2003. When the Bundestag and the Bundersrat moved to Berlin in 1999, legislators decide to reframe the rules governing meetings and assemblies in the area around the main buildings of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat and the Federal Constitutional Court. With this aim in mind, the Act on Exclusion Zones around Federal Constitutional Bodies was adopted. Up to that point, the Act on the Exclusion Area around Parliament had generally prohibited meetings within the exclusion area, with exemptions granted at the discretion of the authorities. A particular problem arising in this context was the absence of any criteria governing the exercise of discretion when granting exemptions. The new regulations of 1999 define the extent of the exclusion zones around the constitutional bodies specified and grant applicants the right to held meetings or assemblies in the exclusion zone provided that specific criteria are fulfilled. With the amending law which came into force in June 2003, the time limits on the rules on exclusion zones, which had been defined in 1999 as 30 June 2003, were abolished and a periodic duty to report on experiences with the Act on Exclusion Zones for Federal Constitutional bodies was established for the Federal Government.
On 14 September 2003, President Kumba Yala was deposed in a coup by a military junta headed by the Army Chief of Staff, General Verissimo Correia Seabra. The military chief pledged to form a broad-based government including all the main political parties. President Kumba Yala had dissolved parliament in November 2002 after it had passed a vote of no confidence against him. He then delayed four times the election of a new legislature. The last straw came on 12 September 2003, when the National Electoral Commission announced that it would not be able to complete voter registration in time for the latest proposed election date of 12 October 2003.
In June 2003, the Eighty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution was enacted which provided for readjustment of territorial constituencies, including those reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, based on the population census for the year 2001, without affecting the number of seats allocated to States in the legislative bodies.
In January 2003, the Representation of the People Act, 1951 was amended to provide that a person convicted of an offence punishable with reference to section 8 of the Act would be disqualified from contesting an election for a period of six years from the date of conviction where the punishment is only fine and for the period of imprisonment and a further period of six years from the date of his release where the punishment is imprisonment.
The Elections Laws (Amendment) Act, 2003 amended the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in March 2001, with a view to making available the option of voting by proxy to the members of the Armed Forces of the Union and members of the forces to which the provisions of the Army Act, 195 extend.
On 14 July 2003, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003 was adopted by the Parliament. This Act establishes a body to be known as Coimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais or, in the English language, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, and provides for the funding, functions and composition of this body. It further provides for the position to be known as Secretary General of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, as well as for connected matters. This Act enters into force on 1 January 2004
On 15 May 2003, the Parliament in final reading approved amendments to the Constitution and to the Law "On referendum and initiation of laws", thereby securing the legal basis for a referendum on Latvia's admission to the European Union. The amendments provide that Latvia's membership of the EU shall be adjudicated in a referendum initiated by Parliament and that the decision shall be deemed adopted if the number of voters is at least one half of the number who took part in the latest parliamentary elections and if the majority of these voters effectively voted in favour of EU membership of.
On 7 August 2003, the Electoral (Vacancies) Amendment Act came into force. It provides that the seats of members elected to the current Parliament are not vacated by operation of section 55 (1)(b) and (C) of the Electoral Act 1993. These provisions provide that a member's seat is vacated if the member swears allegiance to, or obtains citizenship of, any foreign power. At the same time, the new Act provides that the seat of a member becomes vacant if he or she ceases to be a New Zealand citizen. This Act is retrospective to 14 August 2002 (the date of the return of the writ of members elected to the current Parliament) but expires with the close of polling day for the next general election of MPs. The legislation is intended to be a temporary measure pending a full review of the mentioned sections of the Electoral Act 1993 by the Justice and Electoral Committee of the House.
1On 19 March 2003, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Amendment Act, 2003 was promulgated. The main purpose of this Act is to enable a member of the National Assembly or a provincial legislature to become a member of another party whilst retaining membership of the National Assembly or that provincial legislature; to enable an existing party to merge with another party, or to subdivide into more than one party, or to subdivide and to permit any of the subdivisions to merge with another party, whilst allowing a member of a legislature affected by such changes to retain membership of that legislature; and to provide for matters connected therewith.
On 11 April 2003, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Second Amendment Act, 2003 came into force. Several amendments to the Constitution were made in the Act. The effect of those amendments is as follows: (1) To avoid the splitting of a bill dealing with financial matters into two bills, namely, one bill which deals with matters that affect provinces and another one which does not deal with matters that affect provinces, where some of the provisions of such a bill affect the financial interests of provinces and others not. The effect of the proposed amendment is that all bills which deal with financial matters that contain even a single provision affecting the financial interests of the provincial sphere of government, will in future have to be dealt with in accordance with the procedure similar to the one being followed on a bill which deals with provincial matters. (2) To give effect to the request by the Northern Province to change the name of that province to Limpopo. (3) To empower a provincial executive to dissolve a municipal council where a municipality fails to fulfil an executive obligation in terms of the Constitution or where a municipality is in serious material breach to provide basic services or to meet its financial obligations.
On 31 May 2003, after a delay of seven years, King Mswati III presented the draft of a new Constitution for the country which he finally approved on 14 November 2003. While this new Constitution ensures that governing power remains firmly in the hands of the monarchy, it is an attempt to balance the concerns of the royal establishment (sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy) and local and international demands for political reform and the acknowledgement and respect of human rights. However, what it fails to address is the status of political opposition parties, banned since 12 April 1973 when King Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza II, suspended the constitution. In fact, while a new provision in the Bill of Rights guarantees "freedom of assembly and association", there is no specific mention of political parties. The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations, which comprises banned political parties, business and legal organisations, labour unions and human rights groups, while welcoming socially enlightened aspects of the document, such as empowerment of women, announced mass action in reaction against a document which they believe does not fundamentally change the current absolutist status quo.