Constitutional Reform Processes and Political Parties: Principles for Practice

This publication provides a set of guiding principles for constitutional reform based on practical experiences of constitutional reform processes in a number of countries (Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa). While the primary focus of the publication is on the role of political parties in constitution-building processes, the publication is also of relevance to other actors involved in similar processes as it provides the reader with an overview of common phases, characteristics, challenges and guiding principles that may be customised to country specific contexts.

Constitutional reform processes within a particular country are often about responding to broad challenges of peace building, reconciliation, inclusion and socio-economic development in a way that is seen as legitimate and is widely accepted. As the demands placed on constitutions have increased, they have become complex and lengthy, and hence more challenging to design and implement. The stakes are often high in constitutional reform processes themselves, with vested interests and national divisions in play.

One major challenge is the need for actors with short-term interests, who may be leading the drafting of reforms, to ensure the long-term durability of a constitution for future generations. Political parties, often the key actors in constitution-building processes, are critical in addressing this challenge. Political parties have a unique contribution to make to constitution-building processes and to ensuring their long-term sustainability and legitimacy. In particular, dialogue between political parties can help overcome the temptation in politics to focus on short-term gain in order to allow constitutional reform to be durable across generations.

This publication provides a set of guiding principles for constitutional reform. These have been taken from practical experiences of constitutional reform in a number of countries. As the case studies illustrate, although country-specific reform processes may be unique in terms of (priority) objectives, context, popular involvement and achievements, these reform processes do go through similar phases. For instance, prior to the actual content deliberations, there is the need to decide on the way the reform will be institutionalised and to inform, educate and consult ordinary citizens and specific interest groups. Once an agreement has been reached on a new (or revised) constitution, each country goes through an adoption and implementation phase. As a result of these commonalities, we have been able to identify some common best practices that cut across these phases. Bolstered by empirical evidence from academic reflections, it is these best practices that are presented in this publication as guiding principles.

It is not the intention of this publication, however, to provide a blueprint for the complex, unique and volatile processes of constitutional reform. Instead it aims to provide political parties and other institutions involved in similar processes with an accessible overview of common phases, characteristics, challenges and guiding principles for which countryspecific solutions need to be found.

Constitutional Reform Processes and Political Parties: Principles for Practice