Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe - Vol. 1

By Jan Zielonka | Go to book overview

8 Constitutionalism as a Vehicle for Democratic Consolidation in Romania

Renate Weber

On the basis of the inter-war democratic initiatives as well as of the communist regime, Romania could hardly be described as having a constitutional tradition. In fact, the 1923 Constitution was quite advanced, since it proclaimed the separation of powers and the supremacy of the fundamental law, and guaranteed fundamental rights. However, none of these regimes developed a tradition of observing their constitutions. This was true of the inter-war regime, but was most obvious during the communist regime, which implicitly denied written rules and tolerated frequent abuses perpetrated by the political leadership and its secret police.

With such a poor record of constitutionalism in Romania, it might seem questionable whether the post-communist constitution could have a significant impact on democratic consolidation. After all, why pay attention to something that has been ignored for so long? Yet in 1990 and 1991, the constitutionalization process was the main focus of the National Salvation Front (NSF). At the time, the new political elite fought hard to ensure that the new fundamental law would express mainly their interests. But with little experience in constitution drafting or institutional engineering, the political elite created a constitutional regime that left plenty of room to manœuvre. For instance, the Constitution's vague wording allows flexible interpretation and the imprecision of the functions of constitutional institutions opens the possibility to alter their power and authority through ordinary legislation. Moreover, the NSF was harshly criticized for the political monopoly it created for itself and therefore the legitimacy of the Constitution adopted in 1991 is open to question.

Thus, in the case of Romania, the result of constitution drafting is ambiguous. The Constitution concentrates political power in the

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