What's behind the wave of referendums to change constitutions around the world

On Tuesday night (25), the Tunisian electoral commission reported that 95% of voters who voted in the constitutional referendum held on Monday (25) were in favor of the proposal of a new Magna Carta for the country.

The approval of the new text, which has been denounced as a route to autocracy by giving broad powers to President Kais Saied and limiting the Legislature, is the most recent chapter in a worldwide trend of 2022: popular consultations to change articles or replace constitutions altogether.

The referendum in Tunisia was the fourth relative to the constitution of a country this year, and at least two more are scheduled to take place by the end of 2022. Check the list:

  • Serbia (January): changes to articles of the Constitution that deal with the Judiciary (approved)
  • Belarus ( February):
  • Dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s response to protests for democracy, the constitutional changes will allow him to remain in office until 2035 and revoked the status of nuclear-weapon-free area of ​​the country

  • (approved)
  • Kazakhstan (June): proposals to amend 33 of 2035 articles of the Constitution, the changes included decreasing the power of the Executive and increasing that of the Legislative, after protests against the government earlier in the year
  • (approved)
  • Tunisia (July): a new constitutional text, boycotted by the opposition , concentrates powers on the figure of the president and has been considered the shovel in the dreams of democracy in the North African country. The low turnout (about 30% of voters) indicates that the political crisis in the country, generated by the suspension and then dissolution of Parliament by President Saied, is far from over (approved)
  • Chile (September): a mostly progressive constituent assembly drafted a text to replace the Constitution of the Pinochet period (1973-1990), reformed since the return of democracy; the new proposal increases social spending and has been considered “fiscally irresponsible”
  • Taiwan (November): Taiwanese will decide whether or not to ratify a constitutional amendment so that the minimum age for voting in the country passes 20 for 18 years

In addition to these six processes already carried out or scheduled, constitutional referendums can also be held in Haiti (for a reform of the current charter) and in Libya (for a new text), two countries plunged into economic and institutional crisis. However, deadlines for these votes have already been postponed before, and it will be a surprise if they still happen in 2022.

Eduardo Fayet, professor of relations institutional and governmental institutions at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, believes that many constitutional referendums are being held in 2022 because in the previous two years, with the height of the Covid pandemic 19, the countries were focused on solving their public health and economic problems, “whether they were democratic countries or not”.

However, in an interview with Gazeta do Povo, he also pointed out that most of these referendums are taking place in countries where mass protests and/or political crises have taken place in recent years and these consultations are instruments to try to appease internal conflicts.

“There is a worldwide movement of questioning national states, which are unable to provide a quick and objective response as the population wants. These are nations undergoing a process of repositioning their ways of conducting their economies, their national states, their social relations”, explained Fayet.

In this sense, he believes that more constitutional referendums should be proposed in the coming years (as suggested by President Pedro Castillo in Peru), but their effects will largely depend on the degree of democratic maturity of the countries that carry them out.

“Obviously, those countries and nations that do not have a democratic tendency, therefore, a democratic structure, could become dictatorships or ultra-radical systems, as is the case of Tunisia, where what is being tried is, let’s say, legalize extremism. Democracy is going through a difficult time because it is based on a model of consensus building and this has a time-consuming nature,” he warned.


Back to top button