(Oct. 5, 2011) On October 9, 2011, for the first time in more than 22 years of democracy, Paraguay will hold a referendum on an amendment to article 120 of the National Constitution (Constitución Política (CP), art. 120, International Constitutional Law Project website (unofficial site)) to allow Paraguayan nationals residing overseas to vote in national elections. This is the first referendum ever to be held on amending the CP. The results of the referendum will be binding. (Paraguay encara primer referéndum en su proceso democrático, LA PRENSA (Apr. 15, 2011).)
The current article 120 of the CP provides that only Paraguayan citizens who are at least 18 years old and are residing in Paraguay are eligible to vote. Constitutional Amendment No. 1, approved by both houses of Congress on April 14, 2011, requires a vote on a “yes” or “no” response to the question: “Do you agree with the amendment to article 120 of the CP so that Paraguayans who reside abroad may vote?” (Resolución TSJE No. 55/2011 (Aug. 5, 2011) (official site)). The text of the new article 120 of the CP, approved as Constitutional Amendment No. 1, is as follows:
- Paraguayan citizens without differentiation, who are eighteen years or older, may vote.
- Paraguayans residing abroad may vote.
- Citizens are voters and eligible to vote without any other restrictions than the ones established under the Constitution and the Law.
- Foreigners with permanent residence have the same rights in municipal elections. (Id.)
The call for the referendum by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Superior de Justicia Electoral) was made under Resolution No. 33/2011 of June 8, 2011 [in Spanish], according to the procedure set by the Electoral Code (Ley No. 834/96, art. 262, JUSTIA PARAGUAY (last visited Oct. 4, 2011)).
Under the CP, suffrage in Paraguay is obligatory (CP, art. 118). Therefore, the participation of the citizenry in this referendum, which has a legal status equal to a national election, is also mandatory. (Votar en el referéndum es obligatorio, afirma TSJE, DIGITAL ABC (Sept. 17, 2011).) If the referendum is approved, the Electoral Code will have to be amended to include the conditions, requirements and implementation of the vote of non-residents.