2014 was a landmark year for governments around the world. Here are some of the most important constitutional events of the past twelve months, brought to you by the Comparative Constitutions Project and Constitute.
January: Egypt Holds Constitutional Referendum
On January 24, 2014, poll results showed that Egyptian voters approved a constitutional referendum by over 98 percent. This constitution, Egypt’s second charter in just 13 months, reflected a reaction against the brief presidency of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi. The charter commits the Egyptian government to obtain high human rights standards, consolidates parliament into a single house, and reduces the role of Islam in governance relative Morsi’s document (Al Jazeera).
January: Tunisia Adopts New Constitution
On January 26, the Tunisian constituent assembly adopted a new constitution, which President Marzouki ratified on January 27. This constitution was the culmination of the Arab Spring movements. The document expanded the power of the judiciary and generally represents a more liberal, secular government (Grote). Marzouki’s loss in the presidential election in December 2014 reflects the first peaceful transfer of power between elected leaders in the Arab Spring (see below).
February: Ukraine Government Falls
In late 2013, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, and instead made a deal with Vladimir Putin that involved Russia’s acquisition of $15 billion worth of Ukrainian bonds. Students gathered in Euromaidan, or Independence Square, to protest Ukraine’s alliance with Russia and Ukraine’s potential membership of the Russian Customs Union. The protests became violent in late 2013 and early 2014, and the Ukrainian government fell on February 22, 2014 (Diuk).
March: Russia Annexes Crimea
On February 27, 2014, Russian troops stormed the Crimean parliament and other government buildings in Simferopol. The president of the Verkhova Rada of Crimea addressed the Crimean people later that day, and stated that due to “Ukraine slipping into chaos, anarchy, and economic disaster,” the legislature declared that it would engage in “the application of the principles of direct democracy” through an independence referendum (Unian). The referendum was held two weeks later, and Crimea voted to be annexed by Russia. This annexation violates Ukraine’s constitution and is not recognized by the West. Meanwhile, separatists declared the Donetsk People’s Republic in Eastern Ukraine.
May: Military Coup in Thailand
On May 22, the Thai military staged a coup in which it suspended the constitution, detained the prime minister and cabinet, enforced a curfew, and arrested at least one anti-government protest leader. Military leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced on television that the goal of the military takeover was to halt six months of governmental paralysis and violent anti-government protests. The military enacted a new constitution and established an interim government (BBC). On July 22, the Thai military junta adopted an interim constitution that gives the military, identified in the constitution as the National Council for Peace and Order, a variety of powers. This interim constitution provides a plan to restore the democratic government in late 2015; however, the elections have been delayed until at least February 2016. Visit Global Voices for a month-by-month breakdown of the coup.
June: Former King of Spain Juan Carlos Abdicates
Former King of Spain Juan Carlos abdicated on June 19, 2014. Mr. Carlos will serve in the lower house of the Spanish Parliament, which will make him the first royal to transition roles within the Spanish government since 1975 (BBC). Mr. Carlos is succeeded by his son King Filipe IV. Spain is a constitutional monarchy under the 1978 constitution (Infoplease).
September: Scotland Holds Independence Referendum
In September 2014, 3.6 million Scottish voters cast their ballots to decide whether Scotland would become independent from the UK. This independence movement, which culminated in the Scottish Referendum vote, had been a three-year undertaking by the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP officially launched the referendum in October 2011 after gaining Scottish parliamentary majority the previous May (BBC), and the issue was so divisive that 85% of Scotland’s eligible voters participated in the vote. With only 45% of the popular vote in favor of independence, Scotland remained part of the United Kingdom (The Scottish Government).
September: Presidential Elections in Afghanistan
After a year-long election process, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani succeeded Hamid Karzai on September 29 in the first presidential transition of power in Afghanistan since 2001 (The Guardian). President Ghani received his Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York, served as a lead anthropologist for the World Bank between 1991 and 2001, and returned to Afghanistan in 2001 to work as a special envoy to the UN and serve as the Finance Minister under former president Karzai (Tasvir). President Ghani shares his power with presidential runner-up Abdhullah Abdullah, who serves in a new role as Prime Minister (NPR).
September: Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution
In September, Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest Beijing’s control of Hong Kong’s 2017 elections. Hong Kong, a former British colony, operates under the “one country, two systems” framework: Beijing has been responsible for Hong Kong’s defense and foreign affairs since 1997, but Hong Kong enjoys local liberties that are not available throughout the rest of China, including freedom of the press. Protestors claim that when it resumed partial control of the city, Beijing promised Hong Kong direct, universal suffrage in the 2017 elections of Hong Kong’s chief executive (The Guardian). However, Beijing revealed in August that a Beijing-based nominating committee must approve all candidates, which effectively blocked open elections in Hong Kong. Protestors gathered for months in Hong Kong’s streets in a demonstration colloquially referred to as The Umbrella Revolution (CBC, CNN). Public consultations on election reform will be held in January.
October: US Supreme Court Silent on Gay Marriage
In early October, the United States Supreme Court decided not to rule on gay marriage cases, which allowed five states to legalize same sex marriage (CBN). Shortly following this ruling, eleven states legalized same-sex marriage. None of the Justices have chosen to comment on this decision. Thirty-five states, plus the District of Columbia, now allow gay marriages (National Journal).
October: Amendment Protests in Burkina Faso
In October, former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore attempted to modify the country’s constitution to remove term limits, which would allow him to indefinitely extend his 27-year presidency (Washington Post). Violent protests broke out in reaction to this endeavor, and Mr. Compaore resigned on October 31. Former foreign minister Michael Kafando will serve as a transitional president for the country (Al Jazeera).
November: Poll Shows Catalans Favor Independence
The Catalan government held a symbolic independence poll on November 9, in which 80% of voters favored independence from Spain. The Spanish Constitutional Court had previously suspended the vote as a violation of Spain’s constitution after the Spanish parliament rejected the referendum proposal in February. The Catalan High Court is now investigating Catalan president Artur Mas for his role in the mock referendum (Jurist).
November: Myanmar Stalls Constitutional Reform
On November 19, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s National League for Democracy party announced that it would not be able to gain enough support to amend the Myanmar constitution to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president (International Business Times). This announcement came after a series of roundtable talks with both the leading military party in Myanmar and US President Barack Obama in mid-November. Ms. Suu Kyi is banned from running for president according to a 2008 constitutional provision that states that anyone whose spouse or children are foreign citizens cannot run for office, as Ms. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British citizens (BBC).
November: Opposition Parties Meet in Nepal
The constitutional drafting process in Nepal continues, with some skepticism that the draft will be completed by the January 22, 2015 deadline. In November, a 22-party political alliance met with diplomats in Kathmandu to clarify their positions on contentious issues in Nepal’s draft constitution (ekantipur). Nepal PM Sushil Koirala and the head of the constituent assembly urge all parties to prioritize drafting a new constitution by the deadline rather than taking a hard stance on their own issues during the drafting process (Times of India).
December: China Celebrates First Constitution Day
On December 4, China celebrated its first Constitution Day to commemorate the adoption of its current constitution in 1982. President Xi Jinping established the day to demonstrate China’s adherence to the rule of law (ABC). The LA Times reports that discussions of “constitutionalism,” “constitution,” and “constitutional governance” were censored on the search engine Baidu, and that police blocked protestors from entering Tiananmen Square.
December: US Releases CIA Torture Report
On December 9, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report that details the C.I.A.’s torture practices. The report revealed the program’s harsh interrogation techniques, program mismanagement, misreporting, wrongful detention, and lack of effectiveness (New York Times). The ramifications of the report are still being negotiated by government officials, but US Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonin Scalia has said directly that the US Constitution does not address torture (Huffington Post).
December: Tunisia Holds Democratic Elections
On Sunday, December 21, Tunisia elected Beji Caid Essebsi as president in its first free elections. The 88-year-old Essebsi served as parliament speaker under Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who acted as head of state until he was ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring (Al Jazeera). Some fear that Essebsi’s presidency will be a return to the Ben Ali regime; however, Essebsi argues that he is “the technocrat necessary” to transition away from an Islamist-coalition government.
Thank you for following constitutional news in 2014! The Comparative Constitutions Project wishes you a Happy New Year, and will continue to bring you the best in constitutional news in 2015. Be sure to check out the new Constitute site, now in both Arabic and English.
Emily Bieniek, Executive Assistant/Director of Social Media at the Comparative Constitutions Project.
For image sourcing, please refer to this article on BuzzFeed.