The Center for Constitutional Transitions

Dealing with the Creation of Constituent Units in Federal and Politically Devolved Regimes: A Brief Guide for Practitioners

By George Anderson

Increasingly, countries that are going through democratic transitions find they must respond to pressures for political arrangements more devolved than existed under previously centralized and often autocratic regimes.  If a country opts to constitutionalize its devolved arrangements, it may or may not opt to call the new system “federal”.  Political scientists normally consider any system that constitutionally protects a significant measure of devolution to territorially defined political units across the whole country “federal”, but in some countries the term has negative symbolic connotations so it is avoided. While in older federal systems (USA, Switzerland) the federation is formed by a “coming together” of already existing and territorially defined political entities, more recent federations have been formed out of previously unitary countries, or have restructured existing territorial arrangements within the country (Spain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Africa). While there may be agreement on the general idea of devolution or federalism, there may be no consensus on the number, character or boundaries of the new constituent units. This manual sets out elements of analysis and questions that are intended to aid practitioners and advisers in addressing how to define or delimit constituent territorial units within federal countries. It is based on a longer working paper which appears in this Working Paper series, “Creation of Constituent Units in Federal Systems”.

Download the paper: English (PDF)

About the Working Paper Series

This Working Paper is part of the series “Meeting the Challenges of Emerging Constitutional Democracy”, focusing on specific challenges that confront constitution-makers in new democracies. The Working Papers are intended primarily as a resource for practitioners working in the field in countries undergoing constitutional transition and in new democracies where efforts are being made to consolidate the transition to democracy. The four substantive papers in the series consider constitutional mechanisms to protect of minority rights in culturally diverse societies, whether meaningful electoral democracy can be achieved without a political party system, the advantages and dangers of semi-presidential government in the post-authoritarian context, and the creation of constituent or sub-national territorial units in federal systems. The last of these papers is supplemented by two data-rich annexes and a shorter “practitioners manual”.

About the Center

Constitutional Transitions generates and mobilizes knowledge in support of constitution building. Constitutional Transitions generates knowledge by identifying issues of critical importance to the success of constitutional transitions, where a lack of adequate, up-to-date research impedes the effectiveness of technical assistance for constitution building, and assembles and leads international networks of experts to complete thematic research projects that offer evidence-based policy options to practitioners. Constitutional Transitions mobilizes knowledge through an innovative clinical program that provides “back office” research support to constitutional advisors in the field, and deploys faculty experts and field researchers for support on the ground. We meet existing field missions’ needs for comprehensive research, dramatically enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency in their role as policy advisors and actors.