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Published March 1997 | public
Journal Article

Constitutions for new democracies: Reflections of turmoil or agents of stability?


Despite the widely held view in newly emerging democracies that constitutions are mere words on paper or that parchment barriers cannot render a state stable or democratic, those who draft such documents commonly act as if words ARE of consequence. The difficulty, however, is that contemporaneous conflicts too easily intervene so as to corrupt the drafting process and to preclude optimal constitutional design. The specific principle of design most likely to be violated is the proposition that we treat all parts of the constitution as an interconnected whole and that we not try to assess the consequences of one part without appreciating the full meaning of all other parts. This essay illustrates this violation by looking at the new Russian constitution, ratified by direct popular vote in December 1993, with special attention paid to that document's treatment of federalism. We offer the additional argument, however, that even contemporary research in political institutional design pays insufficient heed to this principle.

Additional Information

© 1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers. This essay was made possible through support provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development under cooperative agreement DHR-0015-A-00-0031-00 to the Center on Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector of the University of Maryland as well as through the support of The National Council for Soviet and East European Research.

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August 19, 2023
October 17, 2023