Colombia is a unitary republic, organized democratically under the constitution of August 1886, substantially amended in 1910, 1936, 1945, 1957, 1959, 1968, and 1979, and superseded by the constitution of 1991, which included provisions guaranteeing health care, social security, and human rights protection.
The Congress consists of a 161-member Chamber of Representatives and a 102-member Senate. Members of both houses are elected directly for four-year terms. Colombian congressional representation is determined by the size of the population. Some seats are reserved for blacks, Indians, and other minorities. The chief executive is granted the initiative in fiscal policies and the power to declare a state of emergency during times of economic and social stress. Under such a declaration, the president may rule by decree for a period of not longer than 90 days in any one year.
The president is elected directly for a four-year term and may not run for immediate reelection. For many years, Colombia used an officer called the designado ("designate"), elected by Congress every two years, who served as a sort of vice president, exercising the executive function in the president's absence. The 1991 constitution introduced a formal vice presidency. The cabinet has 15 members. The Council of State is a consultative body with jurisdiction over administrative conflicts. A comptroller general is elected by the Chamber of Representatives. There is universal suffrage for those 18 years of age and over. Women have had the right to vote since 1954.