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International IDEA Releases Annual Report on Constitution Building

–Sumit Bisarya, Senior Project Manager, International IDEA Constitution Building Programme

“Constitution Building – A Global Review (2013)” is the first in an annual series of publications from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). The full report, which was published just last week, is available at no cost here.

The Review looks back at some of the issues and trends which were central to constitution building processes around the world in the 2013, seeking to further our understanding of constitutions and constitution building processes.

Organized by theme, the report tackles the issues of participation and inclusion, national dialogues as a constitution-making body, women, the judiciary, semi-presidential systems, decentralization and federalism, and lastly, the role of the military.  Countries surveyed include Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Nepal and Myanmar.

In terms of representation, Nicole Töpperwien observes increasing expectations for mass participation and broad-based representation in constitution building processes, but concludes that participation of the masses without taking into account elite interests can lead to ‘covert constitution building’ overriding the formal process.  Christina Murray continues the examination of the processes of constitution building, noting how crucial inclusive debate–in the form of two very different national dialogues–was in the Yemen and Tunisia processes.

Melanie Allen focuses on women and constitution building in 2013, looking at both their role as participants in the process and how, and to what extent,  gender equality has been reflected in the texts.  2013 saw some remarkable advances for women in constitutional design–Zimbabwe and Tunisia are notable examples–but significant challenges remain in creating actual change in the lived reality for women and girls around the world.

In terms of institutional design, Tom Ginsburg and Yuhniwo Ngenge aim the spotlight on the role of judges in constitution-building processes and how judges fared under the constitutions of 2013, and offer observations on the approach of various judiciaries in the implementation of recent constitutions. Their panoramic analysis from around the globe stresses the rise of the judiciary as an institution putting forward and defending its own interests, rather than merely acting as an arbiter for disputes between other institutions, both during the constitution-building process and within a set constitutional framework.

Continuing with aspects of institutional design, Sujit Choudhry and Richard Stacey distil some of their recent research in the Arab region to look at semi-presidentialism under the new constitutions of Tunisia and Egypt. The authors examine these Constitutions from the perspective of two theoretical benefits of semi-presidential systems–accountability and a President of cross-cutting appeal–and note that they are more apparent in the Tunisian text given greater clarity over both the electoral system and the delineation of presidential powers.

Turning from horizontal to vertical power sharing, Cheryl Saunders examines developments linked to decentralization of power, in all its various forms. A central question for any constitutional agenda is how much detail should go into the constitution; where decentralization is concerned, Professor Saunders posits that 2013 confirms a trend to constitutionalize more rather than less. The chapter also highlights two concerns for the constitution-building process in countries with territorially-based divides that are politically salient: the first is that issues of identity often overshadow consideration of arrangements from a functional governance perspective; and, second, decentralization creates more complexity in the design of participatory constitution-building processes because there will be additional demands for inclusion from regional groups.

The final chapter by Sumit Bisarya provides a review of the role of the military in constitutions and constitution-building processes in 2013, focusing on Egypt and Myanmar. In these and other countries where the military exerts control over the transition, how that control is hard-wired into the constitution and what needs to be ‘unwired’ to enable a transition to democracy requires considered attention

Following these seven thematic chapters, the appendix provides a series of timelines highlighting the major events in countries where large-scale constitutional review processes were under way in 2013, with hyperlinks to relevant primary source documents or news articles.

Proposals for themes and authors for the 2014 edition are welcome!

Suggested Citation: Sumit Bisarya, International IDEA Releases Annual Report on Constitution Building, Oct. 1, 2014, available at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2014/09/international_idea_2013_report

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Published on October 1, 2014
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