10 guiding questions by Asanga

Ten issues / building block

  1. State-wide Structure of Government: Executive and Legislature
  2. Sub-state Structure of Government: Executive and Legislature
  3. The Courts
  4. Electoral Framework
  5. Constitutional Rights
  6. Foundational Principles of Government
  7. Local Government
  8. Procedures for Constitutional Change
  9. Independent Bodies
  10. Symbols of Culture and Identity


  1. The ten building blocks identified above are the common features of most democratic constitutions. They describe what is often felt needed in order to operate a democratic system of government. Many are also common features of non-democratic states.
  2. No need to use the pyramid structure, but I thought this was a useful way to ascribe a value in terms of importance (or essentialness) to the ten building blocks.
  3. At the bottom are the building blocks that are absolutely essential, ascending in order of diminishing importance to the top at which are building blocks that are not essential.
  4. This order however should be regarded as relatively fluid – some countries may find essential what others may find marginal – but in all cases, the foundational building block in terms of a government at the bottom is sine qua non.


State-wide Structure of Government: Executive and Legislature

The basic unit is the territorial, political and legal construct called the state. The essential institutions for a state to function is an executive which can govern, and a law-making legislature.

Sub-state Structure of Government: Executive and Legislature

These may be fully-fledged democratic structures, or merely centrally appointed institutions. In the latter case, there may not be a separate legislature. Sub-state structures may serve to manage societal pluralism within the state, to democratise decision-making, or merely for administrative convenience.

The Courts

The judiciary is often separate if not independent of the executive and legislature. Its role may be minimal – as a dispute resolution mechanism among individuals and between individuals and the state – or it may be more maximal – serving as a guarantor of the constitution against the executive and the legislature.

Electoral Framework

There can be no democracy without procedures and institutions for elections. But even some formally non-democratic states have limited provision for elections.

Constitutional Rights

Every democratic constitution nowadays includes some statement of rights, although there are wide variances with regard the scope, range and depth of their protection, and of course their practical implementation.

Foundational Principles of Government

Most constitutions would set down the basic principles of government, such as the separation of powers. This may be expressed in purely functional terms, merely describing the roles of the institutions of government and their interrelationship. Increasingly however these take on an overtly normative character in the way they are articulated in constitutions. In this sense, they go beyond functional allocation of roles to a statement of values by which the society is to be governed.

Local Government

This is not essential but is extremely widespread.

Procedures for Constitutional Change

All constitutions set down procedures for their amendment, although these are extremely heterogeneous.

Independent Bodies

The use of de-politicisation institutions is becoming more and more widespread (some would now call them ‘the fourth pillar of government’) in weak political cultures to ensure independence, integrity, and professionalism in the delivery of public services, as well as to pursue certain normative goals such as human rights.

Symbols of Culture and Identity

Although often of little or no legal force, constitutional symbols are powerful devices of building a cohesive polity around a constitution. In preambles or other preliminary provisions, it is quite common to see constitutions making reference to the society’s past, present, and future, its nature and culture, its values and aspirations, and appeals to unity and diversity.