The risks of constitutional change in authoritarian regimes

In a recent book chapter I analyse the risks that democratic actors face if they seek to reform a constitution drafted by an authoritarian regime – taking Myanmar as the case in point.

Melissa Crouch (2020) ‘Authoritarian Straightjacket or Vehicle for Democratic Transition?: The Risky Struggle to Change Myanmar’s Constitution’ in Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq (eds) From Parchment to Practise: Implementing New Constitutions. Cambridge University Press. Available for download here

Abstract: How hard is it to change a constitution that was drafted by an authoritarian regime? What strategies might democratic actors adopt to change such a constitution, and what risks may they face? These dilemmas face democratic actors in Myanmar who seek to change the 2008 Constitution. In this chapter I introduce the contours and practice of Myanmar’s Constitution as a political order set in place by the former military regime. I identify and explore the different strategies that have been used to change the 2008 Constitution – formal constitutional amendment proposals in 2013-2015; informal constitutional change through judicial interpretation in the Constitutional Tribunal; and informal constitutional change in the form of the legislative innovation of the Office of the State Counsellor. These attempts at constitutional reform come with particular risks to democratic actors, personal, political and institutional. I suggest that the risks of constitutional change are heightened during the first period of a constitution, particularly if the constitution has been designed to protect the interests of the former authoritarian regime.