Sanjana's Notes

Ten issues / building blocks

  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

Channa's comments in bold below give an idea of how they could be interpreted as strong or weak. Ideas which will eventually be reflected as spatial relations or symbolic forms that become part of the final object that is the perception of a particular constitution by an individual critiquing it. This will have a grade of 1-10. 1 being week and 10 being strong.


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.

The ability of the state to function more or Less efficiently will depend of the relationship between the executive and the legislature. The nature of governance will depend on the actual relationship between the two. If the legislature is powerful then the voice of the Governed people are likes to prevail while the executive being powerful may mean that the voice of a privileged few prevail.

1. for a strong executive ( ex a fully fledged monarchy with a board of minsters or privy council to advice and make laws)

10. for a strong legislature. ( a fully fledged Democracy with a non-executive head of state)

Spatial Manifestation

Here space shows a relationship between the executive and the legislature, through a spatial connection to each other. the relationship between the two range between one in end the legislative space dominates or controls access to the executive to one in which the executive controls access and dominates movement into and through the space representing the legislature. This is manifested in the kind of openings between the places and the connecting spaces between them being direct or convoluted.

Sanjana’s original idea was a totem-pole like creation in, firstly, a 3D virtual space. The spine on a vertical axis to Sanjana symbolised constitutional rule, and the rest of the elements a subjective interpretation of aspects of the constitution. Channa’s imagination went further, looking at each of the elements as a distinct spatial structure, and the connections between them to also then capture the inter-relation of the various aspects in a constitution as flagged by Asanga in his original note. There was a lot of discussion around how the territorial aspect noted by Asanga could be captured. Sanjana came up with some suggestions but Channa’s point was that no matter what the territory, the political and legal structures would determine or more accurately visually demonstrate, for the purpose of this exercise, a relationship with the State. The exact nature and structure of the model, its form and shape, was discussed but deferred for later until Channa had a better understanding of all the other aspects, and how they all fit in with each other.


Sub-state Structure of Government: Executive and Legislature

No all states may have a sub-state level of government, although most increasingly do. 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.

Substructures and their effectiveness is based on the relationship it has with the state. On one end they will be governed by democratic decision making at the level of the substructure (10) while at the other end of the spectrum will be mere administrative convenience. (1)

Spatial manifestation

Here the relationship of spaces should be about the spatial connection between the main state structure and the substate structure. It may be manifested in the way the spaces representing the executive and the legislative in the Sub state structure relates to the main legislative and executive spaces. In a situation in which the Substate structures are independent it may show that the these support and hold up the super state structure whereas in a situation where they are only organs of government to spread out the writ of the main state structure they will appear linked and even held from above by it.

The conversation here was anchored to the centrifugal tendencies of a centrist, authoritarian state and the centripetal tendencies of a more federal state with power devolved to the periphery. A federal state could retain centrist features, just as much a unitary state could embrace a great degree of power sharing. And so again, it isn’t an academic gaze or first glance that defines the form and shape here, but subjective perception and experience – a State may appear to be highly decentralised for a member of a majority community able to access or navigate what in fact are weak power sharing arrangements or high centralised for a member of a minority community unable to access basic services because, even though constitutionally guaranteed, power structures and the interface with government is mono-lingual and thereby hard to navigate.


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.

To define how this will relate to the final objective of how these various aspects of the constitution works within a given situation, relationships need to be established. In the case of the courts it will then be about understanding its relationship to the executive and the legislature. In could at one end be dictated to by the executive or legislature, or justice is meted out by the executive or the legislature or both ( as in an absolute monarchy) (1) , and at the other end remain totally independent as a guarantor of the constitution against the executive and the legislature (10)

Spatial Manifestation

Here the space representing the Judiciary will at one end be completely integrated with that of the legislature/executive and at the other be completely independent but connected to the two spaces representing the executive and the legislative with possibly one way entrances where the Judiciary has independent access to the executive/legislature and controlled it.

Not unlike the entirely distinct spatial construct of the courts in the original Corridors of Power project, the courts need to be visually distinct in form, shape and function, but at the same time, connected to the legislature and executive. Any architectural construct that encroaches on the courts, either through the overt benevolence of structural support, or the more ominous undergirding or overhang of foundation or roof, needs to be captured in such a way that it is, aesthetically, symbolically and structurally, seen as a threat to the independence of the courts.


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.

The electoral framework is a fundamental relationship between the people and the body of governance. In any democratic process, The level of democratic freedom in a structure of governance will be essentially defined here. At one end all officials in the structure of governance structure would be elected by the people (10) on the other, the whole structure of governance would be wielded by a person or body whose authority ultimately comes from violent submission often clothed in the idea of divine right (1)

Spatial Manifestation

Here is the very foundation of the relationship between the governed and the government. At one end the electoral system is the foundation of all elements of the government where the choice remains totally and wholly with those electing. At the other end, the foundation of the elements of government are perhaps non- existent, or pinned down violently from above.

In the discussions with Channa, Sanjana stressed the point that this aspect was the first and for most citizens, the most direct tangible engagement with a constitution. The exercise of franchise, or the impediments to it, would invariably colour one’s appreciation of constitutional rule and the constitution writ large. Just as much as the point Asanga makes, it is also the case – not unlike in Sri Lanka over 27 years of war – that regular elections are no guarantee of the health of democracy or constitutional rule. Nevertheless, this structural element is the one aspect that is the most ground to, and located in, the public – the vox populi, as it were, which in its best form is a check on authoritarian excess, and in other forms, like with Sinhala-Buddhist majoriatarianism that supports and countenances many excesses in government so long as they benefit the majority community, can also support the violation of rights. Either way, this aspect is vital as a tangible means through which the more theoretical aspects and constructs are grounded in the public consciousness.


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.

Spatial Manifestation

The relationship of the rights and the nature of the rights offered to the governed by a constitution defines in many ways the relationship between the executive and the legislature. Where rights are most highly respected and open ( 10) then the nature of the relationship defined for the executive, legislative and judicial in BB1 and BB2 will tend towards (10) as well and the contrary would be true on the other.

Here we find the expression and aspirations of the people in constitutional form, captured by a document both to give voice and also to inspire. These are inviolable rights, and a constitutional guarantee of them supersedes, in practice, theory, spirit and the application of the law, anything else anyone else dictates at any time for whatever reason. In this sense, a constitutional guarantee of rights is fundamentally important as the foundation upon which citizens can interact with the state, and the state in turn can enjoy a relationship with its peoples.


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.

The statement of values of how a state is governed, will define the relationship between the State and the People and the rights guaranteed by the state and enshrined in the constitution. This then clearly sets up the relationship between the executive , legislative and judicial arms of the state

Spatial Manifestation

Spatially this will manifest itself in the way each arm of government relates to each other. an open and multidimensional set of spaces will indicate values that are more about individual liberty and the guarantee of it and more convoluted relationship may indicate values that support one or other interests of different groups in Society where individual liberty must succumb to those of different power groups be they nationalist, racist, religious or others.

Akin to the rights guaranteed by a constitution, here we find something that again is both functional – in that it is clearly laid down – as well as aspirational – in that it captures the spirit and nature of government, at its more attentive, responsive and democratic. The disconnect between what is enshrined here and what is promoted or practised by government is often the basis of critique and activism. This is what you note as well in your take, and the struggle would be for the constitution to give life to our better angels, instead of the worst from and amongst us, is a perennial one – with what is noted in writing here the final bulwark against the total erosion of democratic values in society and polity.


Local Government

This is not essential but is extremely widespread.

Where fill democratic freedoms of local government with decentralisation of power is seen in a structure of governance, then the more likely that BB1, BB2 and BB5 will tend towards (10). Where local government structures are weak, or non-existent these will all tend to (1)

Spatial Manifestation

This will be similar to the spatial manifestation seen on BB1, BB2 and BB5 and perhaps fine tune the exact nuances of the spaces that connect between the main instruments of government.

Akin to BB2, here we encounter structures that citizens would interact with but not necessarily have any deep knowledge of. Nevertheless, the qualitative nature of interactions would invariably colour one’s understanding and appreciation of a constitution.


Procedures for Constitutional Change

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

Procedures for constitutional change will directly relate to the process by which the constitution was first made. Where a democratic procedure may have been adopted in the making of the constitution such a similar set up would be manifested in the process of change. This then related to both BB4, BB2 and BB1. The ability to have a high level of debate and discussion in the processes of change would give this a (10) while to this processes and at the other extreme is constitutional changes without recourse to public discussion and engagement (1) In its manifestation in real terms a process by which the legislature is clearly made to adopt and open and inclusive process for discussion though the power of laws a review of the actions of the legislature and the executive by the Judiciary is very important here.

Spatial Manifestation

The elements here will define the nuances of the relationship between the main instruments of government and also the nature of the foundation of these instruments of government.

How do citizens change a constitution? What is the space that allows them to do this? Are the other structures such that they allow for this to occur, or is the space for it to take place also such that it weakens the other structures? In other words, can constitutional change through amendments pushed through an authoritarian executive risk the structural stability and balance of the entire constellation of power and its exercise?


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.

Spatial Manifestation

Independent bodies are clearly a pressure element that brings to bear on the three most important pillars of government to respect the rights and laws and regulations defined by the constitution. The process of defining their constitution should be one that relates them for their formation to the representatives of the people who are represented in the legislature, but once appointed, checks and balances may need to be in place. This may involve a clear relationship between the legislature and the Judiciary.

Sanjana used the analogy of watch-towers of a fort or castle to describe the spatial function of independent bodies, and also took recourse to classic conflict resolution theory by way of swans and pigs. In a castle or fort, the watch-towers would look within and also look beyond, communicating what they witnessed to those within (threats, risks, needs, challenges and opportunities). Reciprocally, the watch-towers could also communicate beyond the walls of a fort timely, important, relevant messages around how what was going on inside could impact what was being discussed or experienced outside. In conflict resolution theory, a pig would have its nose to the ground, and a swan would be able to see a larger perspective. In this way, independent bodies were akin to the spatial vision of a swan – able to bear witness to what was happening on the ground, but with a view geared to capture what was on the horizon. The central element here is oversight - with these structures providing necessary oversight to vital pillars of government, and also, aside from the courts, providing an avenue by which citizens can seek redress.


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.

This may not have a specific spatial Manifestation. However may have a more material manifestation and could perhaps be included in some form of objective attribute. Often these values are associated with the executive- more specifically the head of government or state as embodied within them and one who is inspired by them in their life and this setting the example to the rest of the population.

Spatial Manifestation

While spatially this will have a clear relationship to the executive and access to it is through the legislature and executive, they are more an objective manifestation that will define a final form to the object. Objective forms such as overarching ones to define inclusivity, high pointed forms to to define unity, or more etc. The choice of what the overall appearance of the constitutional edifice is what here may be changed to reflect something that is not the reality of the spaces within but something that the controlling elements of government might want to be seen as.

Though last, the erasure of symbols that are important to communities – or the state’s intent to remove or render illegal these symbols, can have deep and lasting effects on the nature, substance and perception of a constitution. Like BB6, these symbols either serve to bring together or rent asunder communities, and in this sense, are important to spatially represent. The challenge here is that symbols may not be architecturally manifest – in that they may be written or drawn, as opposed to constructed and cemented in brick and mortar. Each community may have symbols that are entirely distinct from other communities, or in some cases, symbols could be shared, but their meanings to and within each community, different.