Must all democratic countries have a constitution?

  • It seems to me that all democratic countries, e.g. republics and representative monarchies, also have a constitution of sorts.

    On the other hand, what defines a democratic country is the "power to the people" ergo the ability to decide, directly or indirectly, what laws are passed.

    So, it's not so obvious to me that a constitution, in other words a primary set of rules, is necessary. Countries could do with tradition or simply with a set of laws, none of which are more fundamental than others.

    Is this correct? If yes, are there examples of democratic countries with no constitution or equivalent?

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  • user4012

    user4012 Correct answer

    9 years ago

    No, there are some that have none, but they are pretty rare.

    But all have some sort of replacement, sometimes unwritten, sometimes written but uncodified.

    I'm not aware of a single country outside the 5 below that don't have a codified written constitution and are considered democratic:

    1. Of course, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as Yannis's answer noted, has no written constitution.

      • It instead has a set of basic documents, passed by Parlament (English Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949); which, in collection, function in constitutional capacity.

      • Since the Glorious Revolution, the bedrock of the British constitution has traditionally been the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, according to which the statutes passed by Parliament are the UK's supreme and final source of law. (Wiki)

      • Parliament can change the constitution simply by passing new Acts of Parliament.

      • There is some debate about whether this principle remains valid, particularly in light of the UK's membership in the European Union (src)

    2. Israel is generally considered democratic, but has no constitution. However, they have "Basic Laws" that kinda, sorta functions in a similar capacity, maybe.

      • Interestingly, one of the strong arguments against having a constitution, by David Ben-Gurion, was specifically the fact that UK has none :)

      • There are fairly strong political movements in modern Israel which push for a constitution.

        E.g. Yisrael Beiteinu (until October 2012 the third largest party in Knesset, and which has just merged with Likud into what is generally considered the strongest party in Israel, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu) - has had as its electoral planks, and introduced into 15th Knesset - the creation of Constitution (as well as a change to Presidential form of government).

    3. Canada explicitly follows UK model

      • The preamble to the Constitution of Canada declares that the constitution is to be "similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom".
    4. New Zealand has no codified constitution

      • By some strange coincidence, it's part of UK-led Commonwealth realm. Perfidious Albion strikes again!
    5. San Marino has a codified set of several constitutional documents (differing from UK where they are uncodified).

      • The Constitution of San Marino is distributed over a number of legislative instruments of which the most significant are the Statutes of 1600 and the Declaration of Citizen Rights of 1974 as amended in 2002.

      • This is the only one of five known democratic countries without written codified constitution that is not explicitly modeling its lack of one on UK.

    Interesting fact: While Haiti is currently a constitutional democracy, it has had 24-25 Constitutions in the last 200 years, 5 of them in the last 50 years. Sounds like whoever designed Haiti's political system was hired by Google to be in charge of Chrome web browser versioning.

    As a side note, in Saudi Arabia the Quran is cited by Basic Law as the supreme source of law. But that doesn't quite apply as it is not a country that anyone would describe as "democratic".

    "Israel is generally considered democratic", by whom? How can an ethnocracy be considered democratic?

    @Centril democracy means that the parliament is elected, which is true in Israel. Furthermore, Israel has universal suffrage as it allows all its citizens to vote, including non-Jews. Israeli politics might be "ethnocratic" but not its constitutional form.

    @Skliwz: Democracy does not mean that "the parliament" is elected. Here is what Aristotle said about democracy: "In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme." You can't have a territory where 40%+ can't vote and call it universal suffrage. Either Israel gives up illegal occupation of Gaza & the West Bank and has universal suffrage in "Greater Israel" or it ain't a democracy.

    Addendum: Just because you call yourself something doesn't mean it's true, just like North Korea, also known as: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, isn't not "Democratic" or a "People's Republic".

    @Centril - the fact that you don't know that Israel stopped occupying Gaza 100% years ago, NOR that there are Arab parties in Israeli parlament, means you're not even remotely informed enough to bother discussing this meaningfully with you.

    @user4012 "In January 2012, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary General stated that under resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, the UN still regards Gaza to be part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory." As a matter of international law, you are wrong.

    @Centril the UN is incorrect, and Gaza and the West Bank have their own government. They vote in PA elections, or would if Abbas hadn't unilaterally postponed them. Saying Israel isn't democratic because Palestinians don't vote in Israeli elections is like saying the US is democratic because Iraqis don't vote in American elections. Even if Israel were occupying Gaza, your argument would be wrong.

    @avi The UNSC/UNGA can't be incorrect in matters of international law, they DEFINE international law. The govt. of Gaza which happens to be Hamas does not control the entirety of Gaza and thus Gaza is occupied. If you are 10% occupied you are still occupied. In apartheid South Africa the whites made bantustans, small states/enclaves for black South Africans... Blacks could not vote - this is EXACTLY the situation in Israel/Palestine. The USA is not a democracy, read their constitution...

    @Centril the UNGA does not define law international law, nor does the UNSC, though I think it can issue binding declarations, but no security council resolution indicates that Gaza is still occupied. Nor, by the way, is there any Israeli presence in any part of Gaza; it is entirely under Palestinian control. But even if I gave you that Gaza was occupied, that still wouldn't indicate that Israel was undemocratic. It's totally irrelevant to that.

    @Centril Japan can also be said to be an 'ethnocracy' since 99% of their residents are native Japanese and they're extremely skeptical towards immigration of any kind.

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