1.4.6 Scope of reform: Interim, minimal, or complete?

One of the initial choices countries face is whether to engage in incremental constitutional change or to replace an existing constitution with a wholly new document that reflects a new order. In reality, however, countries that initially decide to embark on one approach often eventually change, and instead adopt the other—for example, when the incremental change required is found to be so extensive that a whole new constitution is required, or when major changes prove impossible to achieve but gradual change proves possible. (See part 2.1.2.) In the incremental approach, the drafters must confront outstanding problems, remove the most offensive passages of the existing constitution, and address glaring omissions, and at the same time generate momentum for continuing revision. Chile has pursued this strategy to some degree, as has Indonesia; Israel did so as it set about establishing a new state. An advantage of this approach is that it can lessen the drama surrounding the constitution. In some settings, creating a constitution de novo and using the constitution to solve a range of difficult problems can raise political stakes and may increase societal or political divisions. However, incremental approaches are most workable when there is significant trust among political representatives and between representatives and their constituents. The contexts in which the United Nations and others work generally do not display this characteristic. There is a belief that the incremental option may not be available outside stable, liberal democracies—although the case of Indonesia suggests otherwise.

An interim constitution has some resemblance to incremental change, but the former is clearly accepted as transitional, leading to full reform, while there is no such promise in the incremental approach. On the other hand, when supporters of reform settle for incremental change, they anticipate that the logic of the change will most likely lead to further reform (without prompting resistance from the existing regime).