1.4.2 Sequencing the process

By “sequencing,” we mean how the different stages are organized and ordered, whether there are clear demarcations among them, and whether the commencement and the conclusion of the process depend on collateral processes and decisions. There are two distinct issues here. The first arises when constitution-making is part of a wider process of ending armed conflict and establishing a peaceful order. The question then is: at what stage does constitution-making become feasible and central? There may be important preliminary questions to be resolved first: a cease-fire, the control of weapons, other confidence-building measures, tentative understandings about truth and reconciliation processes, negotiations of impunity, and some interim arrangements (such as allowing rebels or excluded groups a role in day-to-day government), before the parties negotiate the principles of the new constitutional order.

These considerations were critical in South Africa, and on the whole the sequencing that led to the adoption of the final constitution facilitated the constitution-making process. On the other hand, Nepal’s recent experience (beginning in 2006) shows that unless these matters are first dealt with satisfactorily, the parties can get bogged down in the constitution-making process. However, some broad agreement on how the country is to be governed in the future (i.e., the principles of the new constitution) may be necessary to deal with the preliminary issues mentioned above. Sometimes a specific national situation governs the question of timing. It is said that the Philippines’ Cory Aquino wanted a constitution urgently after her election and the overthrow of Marcos because she was afraid of a coup by the military and felt that a new constitution would minimize its power and deter it. There was no such urgency in Nepal; the king had been forced to give up his powers, and a preliminary agreement between the Maoists (just ending their insurgency) and the “democratic” parties had established a satisfactory basis that allowed them to set a more leisurely pace for a new constitution.

In a situation where conflict has not entirely ended, one relevant factor in the decision to proceed with constitution-making is the consideration of the stage at which maximum public participation might be possible, which may be well beyond the time of the cease-fire. It can sometimes happen that such participation broadens as the process moves on, as matters settle and people begin to feel more secure. We suggest below that one option, when significant public participation is not feasible, is to focus on interim arrangements, promoting as much public participation as possible but keeping the option of a more participatory process open for later. (See parts 2.1.9 and 2.2.2.)

Other tensions in conflict or postconflict constitution-making are the balance between peacebuilding, which may be favored by the international community, and local public pressures for a new constitution; incentives for the cessation of fighting versus trials for war and humanitarian crimes (raising difficult questions of impunity, compounded by the prohibition of amnesty under emerging international norms); and the choice between holding elections before the process and the imperative of confidence-building among the warring factions and between them and the public.

The second context in which the issue of sequencing arises is when the conditions for constitution-making exist, and the question is how best to organize the necessary tasks. The sequence depends on various factors, including the extent of public participation and the distribution of responsibilities for the different tasks. The sequence also depends on the purposes of the process, which can include national reconciliation, nation-building, and democratization. The first step is to agree on the need for constitutional reform, the principles underlying it, and the modalities of the process. The next is to engage the public in the process by providing civic education and information about the process and soliciting the views of the people on constitutional reform. There are different ways in which the people can be engaged; the choice may be to seek public opinion on the basis of a questionnaire or through an open-

ended process, or indeed on the basis of a draft constitution—or a combination of these. A central task is the drafting of the constitution, and here a critical issue is to determine who should have the principal responsibility for it. The debate on the draft constitution and its enactment are the next stages, which are often considered the final ones. But the adoption of a new constitution is only the beginning of the task of establishing a new political and social order, and it is extremely important to consider strategies for implementation as part of constitution-making.

A special issue in sequencing is whether constitution-making should follow or precede elections. Scheduling the process before regular legislative elections may be helpful, as delegates are less likely to know what their positions would be in subsequent electoral contests or in government. They are likely to take a longer view and attend to a range of interests broader than their narrow personal interests.

Another general sequencing issue is whether the people should be consulted before or after the preparation of a draft. Subsequent consultation gives the public a chance to comment on concrete proposals, but prior consultation provides greater scope for the expression of public views and the enhancement of people’s initiatives. It is possible to have public consultation both before and after the draft is prepared, which is becoming the common practice (as in Kenya and Bolivia).

Throughout this constitution-making process many individuals, parties, communities, and interest groups play a part, give of their time and engage their passion, lobby for different values, institutions, and procedures, teach or learn about constitutions, deliberate, and decide. So when planning different stages, it is necessary to agree on the role of these actors: how they are to be represented, how they will express their views, and what part they will play in the actual decision-making.