According to Wikipedia, there are more than 153 countries in the world with fully recognized constitutions. So how hard can it be?
A constitution is a document. A document that rules a country. And 153 of these documents rule the world.
That is a slight exaggeration. A constitution is a document comprising a set of laws, that underpin all the laws of a whole country. It can be one document or a collection of them, 27 articles or 448 articles. But it does control what the country is. It constitutes what the country is. And they are basically as old as human civilization itself.
The oldest official constitution that I could find any record of was from Ancient Greece, called the Constitution of the Athenians. There is some evidence that it was written by Aristotle or one of his students. It describes the political system of Ancient Athens (which was an independent city-state). This isn’t a legal document, but a description of the system already in place. There isn’t a written constitution for the Roman Empire or Republic, but there was apparently a constitution passed down by word of mouth. But logically, if you have a country you have to know what the country is. It is a fair assumption that every culture, from Ancient Babylonia and the Indus Valley to the Native Americans and Inuits, would have some set of rules dictating how their society works.
The earliest written constitution that there is definite proof of is the Constitution of San Marino, written in 1600. While that does seem a big jump from Ancient Greece, Europe did go through the ‘Dark Ages’ in the late 1st millenium. San Marino is a ‘microstate’ on the coast of Italy. The document seems pretty basic by modern standards – it dictates how the police, legal system, education system and basic infrastructure should work. And weirdly, the authors did a really good job. The first alteration to the document was made in 1974, more than 370 years later.
Being a proud Brit, I was a little disappointed to learn that we don’t have an actual constitution. The list of documents that forms the UK constitution is exhausting. I think this is because we have no main document – instead of changing the original constitution, we just add on a new document. The most recent of these was the amendment that allowed first-born females to precede second-born males in inheriting the Throne. We do have a core document – the Magna Carta. This document was signed by King John in 1215, after his barons decided he was abusing his power. This is essentially a constitution, but the feudal barons managed to muck up on one point. They didn’t add in a clause that allows Parliament to change the Magna Carta. So whenever we want to make a change to the laws of the country, we need to add a new document. Great work, feudal barons of the past.
But ‘Murica is almost a polar opposite when it comes to constitutions. You lot had a solid start as a country, having just been given independence (from us). So you had the chance to make a completely fresh start on the laws governing a country. And held a conference.
When the Constitution Conference was held in Philadelphia, 1787, the United States were a very different place. There were a grand total of 13 states (plus 3 territories) with just over 4 million inhabitants. The country barely extended a third of the way across the continent, with the rest as wild, Native American country. The States had been independent for 11 years, but did not have a proper government.
So representatives from all 13 states (including George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson) sat down and hammered out a document. There were 7 articles that laid down how the government was to work, which made up the actual, original constitution. Then, in 1791, an amendment was made to put in some actual rights for the citizens. This is the constitution you will probably have heard of – the one that gives citizens the right to bear arms, and the right to have freedom of speech.
So I thought – how hard can it be? Given that there are so many constitutions around the world, it can’t be that hard to write one. Can it?
So I present to you: the land of Puftnarkel. Approximately 2400 miles from North to South (about the width of Australia), it lies to the North of the Philippines in the East China Sea. A population of about 90 million people, its prime industries are mining the rich helium deposits in the lowlands, and tourism. The GDP is $45,000 per capita, a little less than the USA. It is mostly covered in subtropical forest, with some desert and mountain regions. Having just gained independence from the Liechtensteiner Empire, it is need of a new constitution. It is also entirely fictional. In case you hadn’t got that by now.
Puftnarkel has 18 regions (and an autonomous lake), most of which were drawn up along the old tribal boundaries or by the invading Liechtensteiner people. The capital city, Zark, sits on the Purblezhim River in the south-east of the main island. Lake Lothgaron (the lake to the north-east of the southern mountainous region), is about 100 miles across – just to give some scale.
And now, after an even lengthier preamble than last time, we get to my point. Let’s write this constitution.
Constitution of the Free Federated Republic of Puftnarkel
- All citizens of Puftnarkel are free and equal; regardless of age, race, religion, gender, birthplace or disability. They therefore will have equal rights and opportunities (in accordance with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights) , and will all be represented in government. These people shall have protected Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Petition.
- The government of Puftnarkel will be composed of the following 3 entities.
- The Executive House: an elected group of 18 representatives (1 from each Region of Puftnarkel) and a President chosen by and from aforementioned group. Each Region elects a representative to send to this Branch, with a re-election every 9 years. The President of this Branch will change every 6 months, and a representative cannot run for candidacy more than once per term. Representatives cannot run for office for more than two terms.
- The Democratic Branch: an elected group of 180 representatives (10 from each Region of Puftnarkel, regardless of the area or population of said Region), with a re-election every 9 years. These representatives shall vote on and debate any issues or laws. In the aforementioned debates, the representatives should not be divided by political party but by opinion. Representatives cannot run for office for more than two terms. It is the Democratic Branch which votes on and debates any issues regarding national or international affairs.
- The Regional Branch: an elected group of 360 representatives (20 from each Region of Puftnarkel, whose distribution through said Region is based on population density), with a re-election every 9 years. These representatives shall vote on and debate any issues or laws. In the aforementioned debates, the representatives should not be divided by political party but by opinion. Representatives cannot run for office for more than two terms. Should any local citizen or group of citizens of fewer than 100 members have a concern they deem necessary for government debate, they should address said issue to their Regional representative. It is the Regional Branch which votes on and debates any issues regarding local or Regional affairs.
- These 3 branches of Government shall vote on any proposed issue or law. For a proposed change, the Executive Branch will send the issue to one of the Branches, who will debate, make any changes and then vote on the issue. Should the issue not receive a majority vote, the Branch can change the issue or veto it (with a majority vote). Should the issue receive a majority vote, the issue will be passed to the other Branch and the process will be repeated. When both Branches agree, the issue will be passed to the Executive Branch, who will approve or veto with a vote.
- The Judicial System of Puftnarkel shall be laid out as follows:
- The Regional Court: a court that settles any issues that are relevant only within individual Regions of Puftnarkel. This includes any crimes committed by citizens of the Region in question.
- The National Court: a court that settles any issues that are relevant within more than 2 Regions of Puftnarkel (should any issue concern only 2 Regions, the issue must be settled by 2 Regional Courts working in conjunction).
- Each Region can create its own laws or modify National laws to act only within its borders, as long as the Regional Branch approves it. But if the Government chooses to make Super-National laws, the Regions cannot choose to modify them. The Laws of this Constitution are higher than any other law.
- Should the Executive Branch want to make any Amendments to this Constitution, the Amendment must be approved by 2/3 of every Branch.
As I was writing this, I found out first-hand how precise you have to be with your language. Take the First Article – it says ‘all citizens’. This was originally ‘all residents’, until I realised that could be read to include illegal immigrants. I was also going to add the phrase ‘financial status’, but that would mean you cannot have state welfare. It makes you realise what a hard job people in the law-writing industry actually have.
Please leave a comment if you like our constitution, and expect Puftnarkel to reoccur every time we need a random country. Oh yeah – the first 18 people to comment get a place on the Executive Branch, the next 180 get places on the Democratic Branch and the next 360 get places on the Regional Branch. So if you leave a comment, leave a footnote saying what position you would like to fill. And apologies to the person to leave the 559th comment. You can be a secretary.