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Will Surviving Constitutionalism in Morocco and Jordan Work in the Long Run? A Comparison with Three Past Authoritarian Regimes

Francesco Biagi

Keywords: Constitutionalism; Transition to Democracy; Authoritarian Regimes

In the past three years, Morocco and Jordan have introduced political and constitutional reforms. Indeed, despite the fact that King Mohammed VI in Morocco and King Abdullah II in Jordan continue to hold near absolute powers, both the 2011 Moroccan Constitution and the constitutional amendments to the 1952 Jordan Constitution introduced some important democratic novelties. The impression is that Mohammed VI and Abdullah II gave rise to what can be defined as ‘surviving constitutionalism’: a constitutionalism whose main purpose is not to democratize the country, but to guarantee the regimes' own survival. We are therefore dealing with the paradox according to which constitutionalism – which should be aimed at limiting arbitrary power – is used as a means to maintain and strengthen authoritarian/semi-authoritarian regimes. This paper shows that the constitutional and political reforms carried out in these two countries were indeed primarily directed to appease people's discontent to ensure the regimes' stability and continuity. However, this paper also argues that it is far from certain that this strategy will work in the long run. A comparative analysis with other past authoritarian regimes (in particular Chile, Mexico and Egypt), shows that the constitutional institutions introduced in Morocco (e.g. the duty of the King to appoint the Head of Government from the party which wins the most seats in the elections to the House of Representatives, the introduction of concrete constitutional review, and the strengthening of judicial independence) and Jordan (e.g. the establishment of a Constitutional Court, judicial oversight of elections, and the abolition of the King's power to indefinitely postpone elections) should not be underestimated: they may become effective constraints on authoritarian power in the future. Thus, the ‘surviving constitutionalism’ that has served to appease the public's dissatisfaction in the short term may boomerang in the medium and long term.

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