Veto Player and the Greek Constitution, Part 2

von George Tsebelis

For part 1 of the series (introduction), click here.

2. A long constitution is a (positively) bad constitution[1].

Constitutions are “locked” documents because they are the stable basis of all legislation in a country. They require qualified majorities to be modified. The Greek constitution specifies that “two separate parliamentary votes on either side of a general election and a majority of three-fifths of the total number of seats in at least one of the votes” is required for all changes. This 29-word summary of Article 110 of the Greek constitution condenses the article from the original six paragraphs and uses 255 words! In other words, it is almost 10 times as long. We will return to this point in a while.

Constitutions can be “locked” in different ways: qualified majorities of a parliament may be required; agreement of multiple chambers may be required; referendums may impose additional requirements at the end of the process; and/or certain articles may not be amendable (usually human rights). We will examine the impact of these “locking” devices in a while, but for the time being, we could form an expectation, that the more locked a constitution, the more difficult it is to be modified, and the fewer amendments it will have over the years. This is an equilibrium statement, because what is the reason for locking a constitution, if not to prevent modifications, and if these locking devices work, we should not be seeing many amendments. In other words, the expectation should be a negative relationship between the existence of “locking” provisions and amendments.

Locking (“rigidity”) and frequency of amendments in OECD countries

Figure 3, presents the actual relationship between locking (“rigidity”) and frequency of amendments in OECD countries ...

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