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9.27.2009

Constitutional Change in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is going through a lengthy and important constitution-making process that will probably conclude before the end of this year. Several interesting issues have been raised by this process. For instance, the very question about whether the final product is going to be a new Constitution or an amendment to the Constitution of 1966. On the one hand, the changes are so thorough that the final product will be very different from the previous constitution. On the other hand, the changes are being carried out following to the letter the requirements for constitutional reform established in the charter of 1966 (Arts. 116-118). How many changes to an existing constitution amount to actually creating a new constitution? The current Dominican Constitution entrenches in Art. 119 the form of government (“civil, republican, democratic, and representative”) and Art. 120 explicitly forbid any other way to amend the constitution and even its temporal suspension under any circumstances. Thus, one answer may be that as long as the changes are executed according to established procedures and they do not alter crucial features of the form of government, the Constitution will continue to be that originally enacted in 1966.

Beyond the philosophical question regarding the identity of a Constitution, the current constitution-making process in the Dominican Republic has produced other interesting debates. For instance, on the creation of a judicial council and its powers, on whether to create a constitutional chamber within the Supreme Court or rather to establish an autonomous Constitutional Tribunal, and on the inclusion of rights such as the right to life. Indeed, the fact that this process has not produced headlines in major newspapers around the world (unlike those in Bolivia and Ecuador) is in itself good news and a reminder that important constitutional overhauls can also happen without a crisis in the Latin American region. Current Dominican Republican president, Leonel Fernández, has until now averted the temptation to include demands for indefinite reelection and other conflictive issues that have created constitutional crises in other countries (most recently in Honduras). In future posts I will give account of some of the debates surrounding the constitutional change in the Dominican Republic.

JRF

2 comments:

  1. Interesting post, indeed. The Dominican Republic is one of the world's serial producers of constitutions, and so thi sis no surprise.

    One point of fact on Fernandez. If I remember, he was elected and stepped down after his constitutional term. His successor, from the opposing coalition, then engineered constitutional amendments to allow extension of the term, but lost the subsequent election to Fernandez. This is an interesting example of term limits being reformed, but ultimately benefitting someone who had abided by them.

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  2. Thanks Tom. You are right about Fernandez. Actually, he is now in his third term as president. After his first term (1996-2000), a president from the opposition reformed the constitution allowing only one subsequent re-election but he then lost to Fernandez who had his second term from 2004 to 2008. Ironically, Fernandez profited again from that reform and last May he was re-elected for the period 2008-2012. So far, indefinite reelection of the president (a la Venezuela) has not been debated as part of the constitutional reform.

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