I am not in any way qualified to comment on any constitutional questions that arise upon the death of Her Majesty the Queen. But several readers of this blog are. So, are there any interesting issues to discuss?
Such a result would be quite an indictment of the entire process. Others may know better than I would, but I would imagine it is unusual in a democracy for a constitutional-replacement project to result in failure at its final stage. The constituent assembly evidently did a poor job at looking down the game tree and discerning what the public would accept.
In an earlier thread, there has been a discussion ongoing about the constitution, and a link to the draft (both Spanish and English).
This post is part of Fifty Shades of Republic, a series of overviews of US political institutions at the state level
While the Federal Constitution is arguably the world’s oldest national constitution, the states were the ones that began the practice of having ‘written’ constitutions – entrenched laws with a higher status than regular laws, establishing the main features of the system of government. Since I’ve been doing some work on constitution amendment rules (of both national and US state constitutions) for my dissertation, I thought I’d do this topic next (it is also closely related to the topic of a podcast I am currently preparing for Leviathan’s Couch).
The amendment procedure has far-reaching effects. John Burgess, one of the 19th century pioneers of political science, argued it to be the most important part of a constitution. Constitutional amendment procedures entrench written constitutions, making them harder (or, at least, different) for politicians to change than regular laws. Entrenchment is meant as a means to provide the system of government with stability and to protect basic rights from change by temporary majorities. However, it also often leads to the constitutional entrenchment of various policy measures that do not pertain to the state’s basic institutions, either as a result of opportunistic coalitions seeking to protect legislation from future change or because restrictive provisions in the constitution make the incorporation of contradictory provisions into the constitutional text the easiest way of passing certain policies. Lastly, entrenchment is also an important driver of the power of the judiciary (to whom enforcement of the constitutional hierarchy is delegated).
Most US states have two or more of the following tracks to initiating a constitutional amendment: by the legislature, by a voter initiative, or by constitutional convention. The final stage is almost always ratification by voters in a referendum.
Supermajorities – 28 states today require a supermajority for passage in the state legislature. 22 only require regular majorities (simple or absolute) before going to referendum.
Of those only requiring approval by one legislature:
- 10 states (turquoise) require a majority in both houses
- 9 states (blue) require 3/5 in both houses
- 16 states (dark blue) require 2/3 in both houses.
Of those requiring intervening elections:
- 11 states (pink) require a majority in both houses before and after the elections
- 3 states (red) require a 2/3 supermajority at one stage but not both. In Tennessee, the votes after the election must be by 2/3 in both houses; in Vermont, the amendment must be supported by 2/3 before the election, although only in the state Senate. South Carolina (dark red) requires 2/3 in both houses, after which the amendment is put to the voters at the following election. The referendum, however, is not final; it the amendment is approved, the newly-elected legislature must ratify it by majority vote in both houses.
- Delaware (green) requires 2/3 in both houses both before AND after the intervening election, with no referendum requirement.
Intervening elections – 15 states require approval by two legislatures separated by intervening elections (shown on the map in various shades of red). A few of those states allow this requirement to be bypassed by supermajority support in the legislature (shown by a blue asterisk, with the shade of blue corresponding to the required supermajority (in states without intervening election requirement – see below) – only exception being Connecticut, where ¾ is needed to bypass the intervening election requirement). Since main idea behind this institution is often said to have been to allow voters input on constitutional amendments through the election process, many states that had this feature in earlier constitutions removed it when introducing ratification of amendments by referendum, but many have kept it nonetheless.
Initiative – Currently, 17 states allow voters to propose amendments to referendum by petition (indicated by a capital letter I on the map). The exact signature requirements vary widely from state to state. This provision originated in the Progressive era, although a few states introduced it later.
Referendum – the referendum requirement became a near-universal feature by the time of the Civil War. In states that did not have it to begin with, it often replaced requirements for intervening elections and/or assembly supermajorities. Referendums today require a majority to ratify in almost all states; the denominator is sometimes simply the number of valid votes on the respective amendment question, but in some states it is the more demanding number of people voting at the election, so that ballots left blank count as a ‘no’. In a few states a supermajority is required for some or all amendments, e.g. in Colorado, 55%, in New Hampshire, 2/3.
Legislative vote – today, Delaware (in green) is the only state not to require voter approval for constitutional amendments – the second round of 2/3 vote in the legislature makes an amendment part of the constitution. As noted above, South Carolina does require voter approval, but an amendment approved by voters is still subject to a final (majority) vote by both houses.
Legislative convention call – In 6 states, the legislature can directly order the election of a constitutional convention (without needing voter approval) by either majority (light green) or supermajority (green) in both houses.
Legislative convention proposal – In 30 states, a convention call by the legislature must be ratified by voters. In some states the proposal can be made is by a majority (light purple), in others by supermajority (purple) in both houses. In Pennsylvania, there is precedent for this, even though the state constitution does not provide for it.
Ambiguous, referendum required – In 3 states, the constitution requires the summoning of a constitutional conventions to be approved by voters, but is silent on whether the legislature can propose this (pale blue).
Automatic ballot question – In 14 states, a convention proposal must be placed before voters at least once every certain number of years. This is indicated on the map by the specific number of years in each case.
Initiative – In 17 states, voters can initiate the summoning of a convention, either by the constitution’s explicit provision or by virtue of the possibility of proposing one using the procedure for initiating amendments. This is indicated by a capital letter I on the map.
No provision – in 11 states, the constitution does not provide for the calling of a constitutional convention (grey) nor does the state have any established practice. De facto, each of these state legislature could summon a convention by means of the regular amendment procedure.
Constitutions are usually silent on the conditions for conventions’ proposals to be made or ratified, with the exception of requiring a referendum as on ‘regular’ amendments. A few noteworthy exceptional provisions include Illinois’ requirement for 60% voter approval for any kind of convention proposal to be successful, New Hampshire’s requirement for amendments to be proposed by 3/5 vote of the convention, and Minnesota’s requirement for 60% voter approval to ratify any amendment proposed by a convention.
While explicit constitutional recognition of a convention route is somewhat unusual, state constitutions’ regular amendment procedures in state constitutions are very comparable to those of many national constitutions around the world. Here are a few essentially exact parallels:
- Minnesota, Rhode Island – Ireland (majority + referendum)
- Texas, Maine – Japan, Romania (2/3 + referendum)
- Oregon, Arkansas – Switzerland (majority + referendum, initiative option)
- New York, Virginia – Denmark (majority + election + majority + referendum)
However, there are some clear differences, as well. Around the world, amendment procedures that do not require direct voter approval are far more common than among US states. In fact, most democracies today do not require a referendum at all. Meanwhile, many other democracies have a referendum as just one potential method of ratification – an alternative to a legislative supermajority (so not an absolute requirement), or required for some changes but not all.
Meanwhile, it’s internationally rare for referendums to be combined with an intervening election requirement (especially when further combined with supermajorities). I just gave the example of Denmark, but I think it’s the only one, at least for the main amendment procedure; Spain has a procedure for 2/3 legislative vote before and after an election, followed by a referendum, but this procedure is reserved for amendments to the chapters on fundamental rights and the Crown.
Now that indictments have been announced against the (outgoing–dare I say?) Prime Minister of Israel, it is worth reviewing the institutional basis of the office of Attorney General in Israel.
I am seeing some casual takes on Twitter about why the US doesn’t have an Attorney General who takes a tougher line against law-breaking at the top of government. But the offices could hardly be more different. The US Attorney General is a cabinet appointee. The President picks who holds that position, subject only to Senate majority confirmation. Of course, Trump has had a highly compliant Senate majority throughout his presidency.
Trump could not have had occupants of the office that have been as awful for the rule of law as they have been, if the office were structured like Israel’s. So it is worth sketching how the process of appointing the Israeli Attorney General works. My source for this is Aviad Bakshi, Legal Advisers and the Government: Analysis and Recommendations, Kohelet Policy Forum, Policy Paper No. 10, February 2016.
a. There shall be formed a permanent selection committee that shall screen suitable candidates, one of which shall be appointed to the position by the government. The term of each committee shall be four years.
b. The chairman shall be a retired justice of the Supreme Court who shall be appointed by the President (Chief Justice) of the Supreme Court upon the approval of the Minister of Justice, and the other members shall be: a retired Minister of Justice or retired Attorney General appointed by the government; a Knesset Member elected by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset; a scholar elected by a forum comprising deans of law schools; an attorney elected by the Israel Bar Association.
c. The AGI term duration shall be six years, with no extension, irrespective of the term of the government.
d. The government may remove the AGI from his position due to specific reasons.… These reasons include, in addition to personal circumstances of the AGI, disagreements between the AGI and the government that prevent efficient cooperation. In such an event the selection committee shall convene to discuss the subject and shall submit its opinion to the government, in writing. However, the opinion of the committee is not binding, and the government may decide to remove the AGI contrary to the recommendation of the committee. The AGI shall have the right to a hearing before the government and before the committee.
All of this makes for a reasonably independent office. Even if appointment and dismissal are still in the hands of the government, the screening and term provisions make it an arms-length relationship. The occupant of the post is obviously not a cabinet minister, as in the US, and is not a direct appointee of the head of government or the cabinet.
Worlds apart, institutionally.
And this is even before we get into the parliamentary vs. presidential distinction. A president is–for better or worse–meant to be hard to indict, let alone remove. That’s why the main tool against a potentially criminal executive in the US and many other presidential systems is lodged in the congress, through impeachment, and not in a state attorney. A prime minister in a parliamentary system, on the other hand, by definition has no presumption of a fixed term.
The normal way to get rid of a PM is, of course, a vote of no-confidence or the PM’s own party or coalition partners withdrawing support. But that’s the point–they are constitutionally not protected when the political winds, let alone the legals ones, turn against them.
In the broader institutional context of a parliamentary system, it is presumably much easier to take the step of also designing an independent Attorney General’s office that has the ability to indict a sitting head of government.
On the other hand, there is still no obvious way to remove Netanyahu from office any time soon, unless his own party rebels against him. Even though Trump’s own party will probably block the super-majority in the Senate needed to remove him from office*, the resolution of the case against Trump might happen considerably sooner than any resolution of Netanyahu’s case. Barring a rebellion by his current allies, Netanyahu may remain PM fore another 4-5 months, through a now-likely third election (since last April) and the post-election coalition bargaining process.
* Assuming the House majority impeaches him, which now looks all but inevitable.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has announced his support for amending the South Korean Constitution to allow presidents to serve two four-year terms, instead of the current non-renewable five-year term. Moon, of course, came to office following the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, who became embroiled in a corruption scandal at the end of her non-renewable term: a similar fate befell her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who was recently arrested for a wide range of corruption charges.
Presumably, the idea behind this proposal is that it will encourage presidents to improve their behaviour at the end of their terms, given that they will be entitled to seek re-election. The proposal would also mean that members of the National Assembly would serve terms of the same lengths as the President, although elections to the two offices would not become concurrent–indeed, given that Moon’s term expires in 2022, and that the National Assembly’s term expires in 2020, it would shift South Korea to having legislative elections consistently in the middle of presidential terms.
The proposal has a number of other features. The Prime Minister will no longer be expected to act “under order of the President”, the voting age will be lowered from 19 to 18, and the President is no longer able to appoint the head of the Constitutional Court. However, there would appear to be no change in how the Prime Minister is appointed or removed: the Assembly can only pass a motion recommending that the PM or a minister may be removed, which both Samuels and Shugart (2010) and Robert Elgie have interpreted as not being sufficient for semi-presidentialism. The Prime Minister will also remain nominated only by the President (subject to Assembly confirmation).
Passage of the amendments requires approval of two-thirds of the National Assembly and majority support at a referendum with a majority turnout threshold. Moon’s Democratic Party only holds 121 seats in the 300-member assembly, and the opposition right-wing Liberty Korea Party holds 116, giving that party veto power over any potential amendment. That party appears to oppose the amendment proposal, instead apparently supporting a switch to semi-presidentialism, although the Democratic Party could block that. Moon’s proposal has greater public support, although the vast majority of the electorate support at least some change.
Vox published quite an incisive article today by Lee Drutman. The title almost speaks for itself, though I would have put ‘checks and balances’ where he put ‘separation of powers’, since the point is that the latter has proven insufficient for the former to be meaningful or effective. Though the issues involved should be very familiar to most of our readers, it is worth a read, and is not long. The article’s diagnosis is very accurate, and the solutions it points to are spot on (refreshingly, confidence votes are mentioned in addition to proportional representation). Its analysis of the founders’ constitutional design intentions is, however, flawed.
First of all, the founders probably did not think the Constitution would prevent parties from forming. The authors of the Federalist Papers certainly didn’t think so. In Federalist no. 10, Madison argues that parties arise from “the nature of man”, and quite clearly states that as long as we maintain liberty, faction is inevitable: “There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects. There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests… The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.”
To Madison, therefore, the purpose of constitutional design is not to prevent faction or extinguish it, but to “control its effects”. In Federalist no. 10 he proposes to achieve this end through the large republic, whose size and combination of so many people with so many different interests would make it hard for a majority to materialize. In Federalist no. 51, he repeats this argument, saying “the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” But to this he adds another mechanism: “each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.” This is the separation of powers, giving the different branches institutional independence and their own separate interests.
As Drutman rightly says, experience has shown, especially lately, that this system of incentives has proven insufficient (especially to checking the executive) when the presidency and both houses of Congress are controlled by the same party. It is hard to argue the framers did not attempt to guard against just that, especially in making the House and Senate so different from each other. The passage which Drutman himself quotes from Schattschneider is probably correct, and as Drutman himself writes, “[dividing] up power across so many competing institutions that it would be impossible for partisan majorities to form” meaning majorities of the same party in both houses along with the presidency – unified government. I don’t think the framers were so optimistic as to think their design made unified government impossible, only that it made it significantly less likely – not an unreasonable expectation. But unified government was not an unknown danger, but one of the main dangers they set out to avoid. And, as I said before, they clearly did not think their institutions would actually prevent parties, only prevent them from forming majorities.
Which brings me back to the Federalists’ first argument – that in a large republic interests would be too numerous and diverse to allow one party to form a legislative majority. This has clearly proven wrong – but the reason for this, crucially, is the electoral system. With single-seat districts, a party can win an assembly majority even in a democracy as large and diverse as India, the result of the mechanical effect of the system on seat shares. Under proportional representation, however, even very small countries rarely witness single-party legislative majorities. Whether or not increased numbers and diversity in the population also brings with it a lower chance of this occurring, in accordance with Madison’s logic, is unclear. What seems certain, however, is that under proportional representation, Congress and the system as a whole would function much more in line with the framers’ original predictions.
Constitution Net has a valuable update on proposals for reforms to the constitution and electoral system of Greece.
Alexis Tsipras and his coalition have proposed
The possibility of direct election and the reinforcement of the competences of the President of the Republic, the proliferation of constitutional referendums, the introduction of the constructive vote of no-confidence, and steps towards the separation of the church and state.
These measures have stalled. However, electoral reform is still advancing.
The SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government did, however, submit a bill on the introduction of proportional representation in Greek election law, which was approved by the Greek parliament on 18 July 2016.
The main change appears to be the elimination of the bonus adjustment. Under the Greek constitution, the law would not take effect at the next election, but only at the one after that. Unless, that is, the government calls a referendum, a path that is apparently inconsistent with constitutional provisions.
As most are undoubtedly aware by now, the package of constitutional amendments proposed by Turkey’s government passed narrowly in the referendum two weeks ago.
I feel like my first post on the subject did not adequately cover the already deeply authoritarian background in which the referendum took place. Freedom of speech and the press have never been fully established in Turkey, and their suppression has worsened over the last decade. Moreover, since AKP rose to power in 2002, the public sector has been subjected to repeated purges, and not just since last year’s failed coup. The referendum campaign itself was strongly affected by this, and the legitimacy of the outcome should certainly be questioned. Claire Berlinski writes:
“The poll took place under a state of emergency. A third of the judiciary has been fired; some are still in jail. Three members of the Supreme Election Board are in prison, too. It’s possible that they’re mostly Gülenist coup-plotters as charged, and possible that jail is exactly where they ought to be, but this doesn’t obviate the point: Nothing like an independent judiciary buttressed this referendum. In some cases, authorities prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events; those opposing the motion were tear-gassed (of course), and prohibited from carrying signs or assembling, or even beaten or shot at. The “yes” campaign received vastly more publicity; its supporters were given hundreds of hours on television stations. Opponents, almost none…
Hundreds of election observers were barred from doing their jobs, and at the last minute, the election board changed the standards required to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. Many instances of voter fraud appear to have been captured clearly on camera. [my link]”
It is clear that many of these democratic deficits have existed for years now. Not just in terms of democratic rights or process, but also the constitutional checks and balances. As Berlinski argues, the referendum “merely legally formalized the longstanding de facto state of affairs”. Dissolution power, extensive decree powers, emergency powers – all existed already. The only difference was that they were mostly vested in the government. Under semi-presidentialism, president’s Erdogan’s position was already secure, but his power depended largely on being able to control the government.
In theory, under the semi-presidential system, AKP MPs (including the Prime Minister) could use their position to check the president’s power by scrutinizing the government and holding it to account. In practice, of course, they have little reason to do so. Therefore, the only situation in which the president (and the government) might be subject to meaningful check would be if the government ever lacked a majority in the Grand National Assembly – in extremis, this could have resulted in cohabitation, depriving Erdogan of control over the executive entirely.
My current theory is that AKP’s loss of its assembly majority in 2015a is what motivated Erdogan to seek a fully presidential system – completely eliminating the assembly’s confidence power over the government and vesting all executive power (plus decree powers) in the president and his agents. Now Erdogan will be secure in his position as president, as before, but his control over the executive will be secure too.
Therefore, despite this change to presidentialism (and earlier, semi-presidentialism), this democratic breakdown comes in the ‘parliamentarism’ column. Was it something inherent in parliamentarism that made, or allowed it to happen? Probably not. All else being equal, things could have easily followed much the same path.
What probably did make a difference, I think, is the electoral system – specifically the 10% threshold, which has a strong tendency to manufacture majorities. At the 2002 election, the AKP came to power with a single-party majority gained off a mere 34.3% of the vote. Admittedly, at every election since (except 2015a), the AKP received more than 46% of the vote, vote shares which would have granted it majorities even in most proportional systems. But I wonder whether, under a truly proportional system for the assembly:
- Fewer voters would have voted strategically for AKP (at the 2007, 2011, and 2015b elections), instead voting for other parties which would have been viable as a result of the lower threshold; and/or
- Lacking a majority from 2002 through 2007 would have prevented AKP from accruing an incumbency advantage (of any kind – democratic or not) at the 2007 election (assuming it would still have managed to form the government).
If either were true (and both seem likely to me), it is considerably more difficult to see how the party would have managed to undermine democracy and usurp power in the way it has. Without a majority, the other parties would have been able to check AKP’s consolidation of power, it would have been much more difficult for the party to change the constitution to introduce direct presidential elections (2007) or undermine the independence of the judiciary (2010), and it would have been difficult for it to force through its own choice of president in 2007. Even if the above propositions were not true, proportional representation and a multi-party legislature would undoubtedly have delayed the erosion.
 Meaning, he cannot be removed by majority vote in the assembly or by his party.
 Though I do not think this feature is inherently undemocratic, majoritarianism is problematic (especially in young democracies). If it is included in a system, it should always be balanced out by countervailing checks such as strong bicameralism and a well-entrenched constitution.
 At a minimum, this would mean a threshold reduction from the current 10% to 5%, ceteris paribus.
 Or a powerful upper house elected by proportional representation, especially with non-concurrent and/or staggered elections.
In case anyone wants to discuss Italy’s constitutional referendum, space is hereby provided…
There is a second exception to political instability in the South Pacific, which I thought should be mentioned.
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, population approximately a quarter of a million, is a federacy of PNG. An independence referendum is due before 2020. Bougainville has its own executive, legislature and courts. The region went through an extended and bitter conflict with the national government over mining and land ownership issues between 1990 and 2005. Autonomy emerged from a peace agreement brokered by New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum. The history is tragic:
Bougainville has remained peaceful for a dozen years. Peace was negotiated following a decade-long war that is estimated to have caused approximately 2,000 deaths and possibly ten times as many more due to lack of services (Braithwaite et al. 2010).
The then province of Papua New Guinea fell from its top rank to the bottom in terms of per capita income and other social indicators of development among the 19 provinces.
The autonomous region has much broader powers than PNG provinces. The national government retains a defined list of powers and Bougainville anything not on that list is a function of the autonomous region. The regional constitution emerged from an inclusive process assisted by international mediators and experts. It is very different from the PNG constitution and other Pacific constitutions.
The president is popularly elected and automatically has a seat in the house of representatives.
The members of the executive council must be members of the Bougainville house of representatives. Some members of the executive council are regional representatives. Each is appointed in consultation with the members of the house of representatives for a subregion within the autonomous region. There is a similar provision a woman appointed in consultation with the women members of the house. Any member of the council can be dismissed by the president.
The president and all members of the house of representatives can be recalled. The vice-president is appointed and dismissed by the president.
While the constitution does state that the executive council is responsible to the house of representatives and through the house to the people, (Section 85(2)(a)) there is no provision for a vote of no confidence.
The removal provision reads:
94. VACATION OF OFFICE OF PRESIDENT.
(1) Subject to Subsection (2), the President ceases to hold office on the assumption of office by a new President following an election of President under Section 89 (election of President) or Section 90 (special election of President).
(2) The office of President becomes vacant if the President –
(a) dies; or
(b) resigns by written notice to the Speaker; or
(c) ceases in accordance with Section 91(2) (qualifications for and disqualifications from election as President) to be qualified to stand for election as President; or
(d) is dismissed from office as President under the provisions of Part 13 (Leadership Code); or
(e) is recalled in accordance with Section 58 (recall of members of the House of Representatives); or
(f) is or becomes of unsound mind within the meaning of any law relating to the person and property of persons of unsound mind; or
(g) has been declared bankrupt by a court of competent jurisdiction and remains bankrupt.
Part 13 provides for misconduct in office to be prosecuted before the Bougainville high court by the Bougainville ombudsman or the independent public prosecutor. No president has been removed or recalled.
Since the peace agreement Bougainville has regained about 40% of the per capita income it had when the war broke out. The region has considerable mineral resources, including the largest copper deposit on the planet.
Should the independence referendum pass, Bougainville will be the first nation with an incontestably presidential system in Oceania, although Madison’s eyebrows could possibly reach orbit were he confronted with an executive president and cabinet who also sit in the legislature.
After its revolution in 2007 more than seven years of discussion, missed deadlines and constitutional deadlock in two consecutive constituent assemblies, Nepal finally passed a permanent constitution earlier this year, which entered into force on September 20th. A two-thirds majority was required to pass it.
The new constitution establishes the country as a federal parliamentary republic, with marked similarities to India and Pakistan. The president is elected for a five-year term by an ‘electoral college’ consisting of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. Executive power is vested in the cabinet.
Parliament is to be bicameral. The cabinet is responsible to the House of Representatives, which, like the Constituent Assembly, will be elected for five years through Mixed-Member Majoritarian: 165 seats by single-seat plurality and 110 by party-list PR, with no districting. The unusually-named (for an upper house) National Assembly have 59 members: 8 members from each of the 7 provinces elected by Provincial Assembly members, joined by local representatives (chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of village councils, and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Municipal councils) whose votes will be weighted, presumably according to each local authority’s population; the other 3 will be appointed by the government. They are to serve a six-year staggered term, with one-third retiring every two years.
The National Assembly may delay financial bills by 15 days, and delay other bills proposed by the lower house for two months. Only bills that were introduced in the upper house but lack bicameral agreement are to be sent to joint session. Thus, Nepal’s bicameralism is far weaker than in India and Pakistan, where joint session is the deadlock-breaking mechanism for any non-financial bill. And even on bills that make it to joint session, Nepal’s upper house is weaker as it is smaller in relation to the lower house (India is roughly 2:1, Pakistan 7:2 while Nepal will be about 9:2).
With this weak upper house, the constitution enacted has no constitutional ex-ante checks on the power of a majority government to pass legislation. A large number of the proposed drafts contained a more powerful upper house. Sadly, the main parties probably made short shrift of such proposals, preferring not to have their ambitions checked when taking part in future governments.
The constitution can be amended by two-thirds majorities in both houses, with changes to provincial boundaries also requiring the consent of the assemblies of the provinces involved.
Lastly, the Supreme Court is to be appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, out of which a special Constitutional Bench will be formed including the Chief Justice and four other Justices chosen by the Judicial Council. The Chief Justice is appointed for a six-year term on advice of the Constitutional Council. All Justices serve until mandatory retirement age of 65.
The Judicial Council will consist of:
- the Chief Justice, presiding,
- the most senior Supreme Court Justice
- the Federal Law & Justice Minister,
- a senior legal expert appointed by the PM, and
- a senior legal advocate appointed by the Nepal Bar Association.
The Constitutional Council will consist of:
- the PM, presiding,
- the Chief Justice
- the chairman of the upper house
- the speaker of the lower house
- the deputy-speaker of the lower house, and
- the Leader of the Opposition
Far from settling Nepal’s political quagmire, the new constitution has proven to be very controversial. Its (impending) passage sparked demonstrations and unrest around the country. Protesters have blocked roads and vital supplies and dozens have died in clashes with police over the past few months.
The most contentious issue remains as it was during the years of deadlock in the Constituent Assemblies: the drawing of the boundaries of the new provinces. While the final boundaries are said not to be completely settled yet, the schedule is quite specific, and it provides for largely multi-ethnic provinces. There is therefore a great deal of opposition from groups wanting a linguistic and ethnic delineation providing them with their ‘own’ provinces.
Other disputes include women and minority rights in the new constitution (including in particular the definition of citizenship, which favours the father), its secular nature, the lower proportion of lower house seats to be elected by PR (45%, compared with 58% for the Constituent Assembly), and the federal terms concerning provincial autonomy. There are, of course, also those happy the constitutional deadlock is over, if not with the constitution itself, but
It will be interesting to see whether the final provincial boundary-drawing will be affected, and how the salience of these constitutional issues evolves. The first regular elections will not be held for several years, as the term of the Constituent Assembly, now transformed into ‘Legislature-Parliament’, will end in January 2018.
At least 39 bills have been subject to Royal approval, with the senior royals using their power to consent or block new laws in areas such as higher education, paternity pay and child maintenance.
Internal Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that on one occasion the Queen vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, which aimed to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.
(Telegraph, 15 January)
authored by JD Mussel
Since 1970, Belgium has gone through no less than 6 constitutional reforms, possibly more than any other western democracy during the same period. Most importantly, these have transformed it from a unitary state into a full-fledged federation (since the 4th reform, in 1993-95). One of the results to come out of the prolonged (and record-breaking) government formation of 2010-2011 was agreement on a 7th constitutional reform, which will enter into effect after the upcoming elections in May 2014. The most well-known of the changes to be implemented is the splitting up of the Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency along language lines, a measure mandated by the Constitutional Court, solving a quandary which has been a major stumbling block in government formation and reform negotiations over the last five years.
There are more parts to the constitutional reform, but the most important change is probably to Belgium’s Senate. Before 1993, the Senate was perfectly co-equal with the House of Representatives, to the point that governments needed the confidence of both houses. This did not cause much instability, as the houses had similar political compositions; the Senate was largely elected, at the same time as the House, with some members indirectly elected by provincial councils, and the last group co-opted by the first two (Additionally, some Princes were, and until next year remain, members of the Senate by right, but in practice they do not participate or vote). In 1995, the composition of the Senate was changed to 40 directly-elected, 21 elected indirectly by the new Community/Regional parliaments and 10 co-opted members, while its powers were drastically curtailed: its powers to remove a government, as well as block supply, were removed, as were its powers over a host of issues for which the House was designated as having the final say. The Senate retained its veto on constitutional amendments and other changes to state organisation, federal relations and treaties. For other matters bicameral procedure became ‘optional’ – the lower house could decide what to do.
The newest reform will change the composition of the Senate to 50 elected indirectly by the Community/Regional parliaments and 10 co-opted, removing all directly-elected members. Its powers and functions will also be hugely curtailed: it will no longer take part in regular legislation, will no longer have the power of inquiry or to ask ministers questions. The only legislative power it retains regards to the constitution and the monarchy. Instead of being a true legislative chamber, the Senate is supposed to become a forum for the Regions and Communities. The reform was a compromise between those wishing to abolish and those wanting to retain the chamber (the latter being mainly French-speaking parties, if I’m not mistaken).
The difference in political composition that is likely to result may justify a certain curtailment in the Senate’s powers, but why that should mean it abolishing its legislative role entirely, let alone taking away its powers of inquiry, is somewhat beyond me…
A new and fairly comprehensive site that collects constitutions. The site is particularly useful because it lets you view of constitutions by topic.
Fiji has a new constitution. Among the provisions is a new electoral system that will consist of a single nationwide district of fifty seats, using “open-list” proportional representation (OLPR).
By my reading of Art. 53 of the constitution, ((I thank Jon Fraenkel of the Victoria University, Wellington, for sending me a copy.)) it is not clearly open list, in the proper sense of the rank-order of candidates being determined solely by individual preference votes. Yes, it says “open list”:
53.—(1) The election of members of Parliament is by a multi-member open list system of proportional representation…
However, it does not go on to define what this means. A variant of the “flexible” (or semi-open) list system would meet the plain wording of the text. It seems to require that voters give a preference vote:
the total number of votes cast for each political party contesting the election, which shall be determined by totalling the number of votes cast for each candidate of that political party;
However, that does not preclude its being what I call (in my chapter in Gallagher and Mitchell, The Politics of Electoral Systems) a latent list, as in the Netherlands and Estonia. These are both variants of flexible list that require individual preference votes yet still have a fixed order that is overcome only by candidates who obtain some quota of preference votes.
If it really is an open list, Fiji will join Colombia as perhaps the only country to use such a system in a single nationwide district. There it is used in this manner for the Senate only (M=100); the House of Representatives is open list, but districted. ((Actually, in Colombia, parties may present either closed or open lists. Most have chosen open. See Pachon and Shugart in Electoral Studies, 2010.)) There are other cases of OLPR in districts at least as large as Fiji’s, including the Sao Paulo district for Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies (M=70) and the statewide districts several Brazilian state legislative assemblies (one of which has a magnitude of 120, I believe). But Fiji’s single district would be larger than the largest district in Finland (M=34, currently). OLPR in such large districts is problematic because of the overwhelming choice of candidates and challenges of clear ballot design. ((Brazil uses all electronic voting in recent elections.))
If it is flexible (latent) list, it would join Netherlands and Slovakia (both M=150) as cases of nationwide application. However, in the Netherlands, choice and complexity are somewhat reduced by the use of nominating sub-districts.
In any case, Fiji will be an interesting addition to the set of very high-magnitude preference-vote systems.
There will also be a 5% threshold for a list to obtain representation.