International IDEA – the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance has launched a series of three interactive videos that aim to explain in plain and understandable language what a constitution is, how a constitution is created and why constitutions are so important.
What is a constitution?
A constitution is the fundamental law of a country, the law that defines the rights and obligations of citizens, how other laws are made, what the state authorities are and what roles they have. The video starts by explaining the role of government in a country and how the lack of constraints for public authorities can lead to abuse of office. The constitution is explained as the “corset” that prevents this abuse, setting out clearly what the executive, the legislative and the judiciary can and cannot do, but also as the instrument that provides for the most basic rights of the people leaving in the country. In a democracy, that constitution ultimately ensures that the people are in the driving seat of their country.
How are constitutions made?
Creating a democratic constitution does not start the moment you pass a new constitutional law. The process is longer and more complex, including electing a body that has as its mission elaborating the new constitution, submitting the proposal to public debate, voting and approving the new fundamental law. After the entry into force, one last important step remains: implementing constitutional provisions. For them not to remain just words on a piece of paper, public authorities need to execute their attributions and citizens must uphold their rights and fulfil their obligations.
Why do constitutions matter?
The last video explores the case of fictional state Ruritania, where the people suffer because they lack a good constitution to limit the powers of the president. The message of the video is that constitutions affect progress in a country, even if indirectly. If the power of leaders is limited and up for control, and there is a greater chance that they use that power for the benefit of the general population. Constitutions are not just for political leaders, judges and civil servants; they exist for the benefit of each and every citizen, protecting them against abuse and ensuring that their human rights are respected.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization that supports sustainable democracy worldwide. Its mission is to support sustainable democratic change by providing comparative knowledge, and assisting in democratic reform, and influencing policies and politics.