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Chile: The Legislative Branch
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > The State and Government Institutions in Chile > The Legislative Branch


Congress has the exclusive right to approve or reject international treaties presented to it by the president before ratification, following the same procedure used in approving an ordinary law. Although the president, with the consent of Cosena, can institute a state of siege, Congress, within a period of ten days, can approve or reject the state of siege by a majority vote of its members.

In case the office of the president is left vacant and there are fewer than two years left in the presidential term, Congress can select a presidential successor through a majority vote of its members. Should the vacancy occur with more than two years left in the presidential term, a new presidential election would be called. The Chamber of Deputies can also initiate a constitutional accusation by majority vote against the president, ministers, judges, the comptroller general, admirals, generals, intendants of regions, and governors of provinces for violations of the law, constitutional dispositions, or abuse of power. The Senate, in turn, acts as a jury and finds the accused either innocent or guilty as charged. If the president of the republic is accused, the conviction depends on a two-thirds majority in Senate. The Senate is also required to give the president permission to leave the country for a period of more than thirty days or for any amount of time during the last ninety days of the presidential term. Further, the Senate can declare the physical or mental incapacity of the president or president-elect, once the Constitutional Tribunal has pronounced itself on the matter.

The original constitutional provisions of 1980 virtually barred the Senate from exercising oversight of the executive branch or expressing opinions on the conduct of government. These provisions were removed from the constitution in the 1989 amendments. The amendments also eliminate the president's power to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies. The constitution of 1980, however, severely limits the role of Congress in legislative matters relative to earlier legislatures in Chilean history. Article 62 states that "the President of the Republic holds the exclusive initiative for proposals of law related to changes of the political or administrative division of the country, or to the financial or budgetary administration of the State." Article 64 of the constitution also restricts the budgetary prerogatives of the legislative branch.

In several areas, the president is given sole authority to introduce bills. These include measures involving spending, changes in the duties and characteristics of public-sector administrative entities, modifications to the political-administrative configuration of the state, and initiatives related to collective bargaining. The president can also call the legislature into extraordinary session, at which time the legislature can only consider legislative and treaty proposals introduced by the president. The president may grant certain initiatives priority status, requiring that Congress act within three, ten, or thirty days, depending on the degree of urgency specified. In this sense, the president has the exclusive power to set the legislative agenda and, therefore, the political agenda. In a further restraint on legislators, the 1980 constitution permits the Constitutional Tribunal to remove a senator or deputy from office if he or she "permits the voting of a motion that is declared openly contrary to the political constitution of the State by the Constitutional Tribunal" (Article 57).

Finally, Congress is limited in its ability to act as a counterforce against the president's power in matters dealing with the constitutional rights of citizens. Although the president needs the approval of the majority of Congress to establish states of siege, the president may declare a state of assembly, emergency, or catastrophe solely with the approval of Cosena (Article 40).

Important legislative initiatives approved during the Aylwin government have included, in the political sphere, constitutional changes leading to the creation of democratic local governments; laws reforming the administration of justice, including the treatment of political prisoners and terrorism; and the creation, in 1990, of a cabinet-level agency, Sernam, to pay special attention to women's issues. In the sociocultural area, changes included a revision to the National Education Law (Estatuto Docente) to "dignify" the teaching profession and establish a "teaching career"; a reformulation of student loan programs; and measures designed to simplify the reporting of petty crimes and robbery and increase the powers of the police in dealing with such crimes. Congress also approved measures to regulate collective bargaining and recognize labor organizations. In the economic sphere, the most important legislation enacted into law included the Industrial Patents Law, designed to ease Chile's entrance into international markets; the lowering of tariff barriers; and the creation of a price-stabilization fund for petroleum. In the international sphere, Congress approved various treaties of economic cooperation (including one with the European Economic Community) and ratified the findings of the Bryan Commission, a joint commission with the United States that settled the case of the 1977 assassination of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington, which had constituted a long-time source of conflict between Chile and the United States.

During the Aylwin administration, relations between the executive and Congress were conducted through an informal network of bilateral commissions composed of ministers and their top advisers and senators and deputies of the governing coalition working in the same policy area. However, these meetings proved less important than the weekly gatherings presided over by the minister of interior with party leaders of the CPD coalition, leaders of the CPD parties in the legislature, and the secretary generals of the presidency and the government. At these weekly meetings, the legislative agenda was discussed and decided upon. This pattern of decision making signified, in practice, that individual members of Congress and the legislature itself had assumed a secondary and pro forma role, following the instructions of legislative leaders in their close negotiations with government and party leaders. Nor did congressional committees or members of Congress have enough staff and expertise to deal with experts from the executive branch on complex legislative matters. Individual legislators could articulate concerns and provide important feedback, but early in the postauthoritarian period the legislature appeared to be playing a decidedly secondary role.

Data as of March 1994

Last Updated: March 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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