Constituent Assembly – What it is, definition and concept

The constituent assembly is the body in charge of constituting a new state. It is made up of popular representatives who, on its behalf, will draft the new constitution and define the state structure, as well as the new political regime.

The constituent assembly of a country is a body made up of representatives of the population. This group of people, imposed or chosen by citizens, have the necessary legitimacy to change the configuration of the State, constituting a completely new one.

When we say a new State, we mean the change in its organization within the same territory. Depending on your ambition and needs, the changes will be more or less profound. They are usually in charge of changing the political regime or making democratic transitions.

An example of radical change would be the end of tsarism in Russia in 1917. And of transition, democracy in Spain in 1977.

It is a very relevant concept, but hardly known, since it is in charge of something as important as determining the political system of a country. The constituent power is called the power held by the constituent assembly. The latter can also be defined as the instrument exercised by the constituent power. As we can see, they are related concepts.

Examples of constituent assembly

To better understand and understand the scope and importance of this concept we are going to see some examples where the constituent assembly played a great role.

France (1789)

This is when the concept of a constituent assembly was born, and it is necessary to put in context the events that led France to establish it.

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In France, until 1789, absolutism reigned, led by the absolute monarchy of Louis XVI. It was a period of poverty and misery for the French people, who claimed more power for the common people, since they constituted 98% of the population and only a third of them were represented in the States General (the assembly of the time).

Faced with the inequality of having a vote of three that there was, such a high number, they formed the National Constituent Assembly of France. This was composed of the common people, in order to carry out a regime change and to draft a new constitution. His first measure was to establish a division of powers; approve the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; and the writing of the Constitution of 1791.

During the entire period of the French Revolution there would be an assembly in charge of determining the path of the creation of the new State.

Spain (1977)

In Spain, the name adopted by this assembly was the constituent legislature, developed by the deputies of the Cortes Generales. After the death of Franco and the election of Adolfo Suárez by King Juan Carlos I to carry out the democratic transition, the first elections were called in 1977. These elections were to select those in charge of directing, developing and finalizing the transition. The most voted parties were UCD (165), PSOE (103), PCE (20) and Catalan and Basque Minorities (19).

In this context of change, throughout 1978 negotiations were carried out to draft and approve the new Constitution. Representatives of all political signs participated in these negotiations and deliberations. Fact that confirms the great consensus with which the constitutional text had.

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Regarding their support, in July the Plenary of Congress approved the draft Constitution with 258 votes in favor, 14 abstentions and 2 against. Subsequently, on October 31, Congress approved the opinion of the Mixed Commission with 325 votes in favor, 6 against, and 14 abstentions. For its part, the Senate did so with 226 votes in favor, 5 against and 8 abstentions. Finally, the Spanish people ratified the constitutional text on December 6 with 87.9% support.

This was going to suppose changes like the parliamentary monarchy like form of government; Social and democratic state of law as a state configuration; and the provision of political rights and civil liberties for all citizens. The constituent legislature ended with the 1979 elections.

Russia (1917)

Tsarism fell in Russia in 1917. The First World War and the misery that devastated the country led to the fall of Tsar Nicholas II. In this context and to carry out the transition from one regime to another, the Russian Constituent Assembly was created, which would be voted on by the Russian people. In the period between the fall of the Tsar and the creation of the assembly, it is the Provisional Government that holds power in the country, first led by the Liberals and then by the Social Revolutionaries at the hands of Kerensky.

After the constant postponement of the elections to the Constituent Assembly by the provisional president Kerensky, the Bolsheviks take power after the so-called October Revolution. Weeks later they called the elections but lost them by a wide margin, 168 seats compared to 299 for the Social Revolutionaries.

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Finally, the Bolsheviks, faced with the adverse result, dissolved the Assembly at the beginning of 1918. Carrying out their despotic regime through the Council of People’s Commissars. Organism headed by Lenin until his death.

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