In the May newsletter we present our readers with three original Voices from the Field and a number of updates on constitutional reform processes around the world. In Malawi all except one presidential elections have been won by candidates who received less than the absolute majority of votes. To enhance the acceptance of election results, a Special Law Commission has proposed a shift to a majoritarian system where candidates must obtain more than half of the validly cast votes. Considering the reluctance of most of the political parties to support the shift, however, it is not clear if the recommendation will be endorsed. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal to amend Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution courts uncertainties that could undermine established understandings on the use of military force. While the ruling coalition may possibly garner the necessary legislative supermajority, the requirement for the popular approval of any proposed changes is likely to prove more daunting. It is doubtful whether this revision, if realised, will solidify Japan’s security as it would become more difficult for the Japanese people and outsiders to predict under what conditions Japan might exercise the use of its military forces. In March 2017, Benin’s National Assembly declined to consider an executive bill to introduce 15 and to amend 43 of the 160 provisions of the country’s 27-year old, thus-far untouched 1990 Constitution. Rejection of proposed amendments was principally due to concerns regarding the hasty and nontransparent drafting process, combined with the fundamental nature of some of the targeted provisions. The experience indicates that a legacy of broadly inclusive and participatory processes in the making of the original constitution could establish expectations of similar levels of participation for significant amendments among the public and other stakeholders, including crucial veto players, such as courts. For now, whether the 1990 constitution will be amended, and when, remains anyone’s guess.
The remaining updates cover a range of issues in countries ranging from Japan to Slovakia and from Somalia to Guyana, providing an excellent overview of recent constitutional developments around the globe.