Constitutional crisis

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A constitutional crisis is a situation that the legal system's constitution or other basic principles of operation appear unable to resolve; it often results in a breakdown in the orderly operation of government. Often, generally speaking, a constitutional crisis is a situation in which separate factions within a government disagree about the extent to which each of these factions hold sovereignty. Most commonly, constitutional crises involve some degree of conflict between different branches of government (e.g., executive, legislature, and/or judiciary), or between different levels of government in a federal system (e.g., state and federal governments).

A constitutional crisis may occur because one or more parties to the dispute willfully chooses to violate a provision of a constitution or an unwritten constitutional convention, or it may occur when the disputants disagree over the interpretation of such a provision or convention. If the dispute arises because some aspect of the constitution is ambiguous or unclear, the ultimate resolution of the crisis often establishes a precedent for the future. For instance, the United States constitution is silent on the question of whether states are allowed to secede from the Union; however, after the secession of several states was forcibly prevented in the American Civil War, it has become generally accepted that states cannot leave the Union.

A constitutional crisis is distinct from a rebellion, which is defined as when factions outside of a government challenge that government's sovereignty, as in a coup or revolution led by the military or civilian protesters.

A constitutional crisis can lead to government paralysis, collapse, or civil war.

African Constitutional crises[edit]

Democratic Republic of the Congo[edit]

Patrice Lumumba

Malawi[edit]

  • A constitutional crisis occurred in Malawi in 2012 with regards to the succession of Bingu wa Mutharika. The President and Vice-president were from different parties which led to deliberations over who the rightful successor would be and the constitutional crisis. Vice-President Joyce Banda eventually succeeded wa Mutharika.

Asian Constitutional crises[edit]

Iran[edit]

Malaysia[edit]

Pakistan[edit]

  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah clashed repeatedly with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in late 1997, accusing him of undermining the court's independence. After Ali Shah suspended a constitutional amendment that prevented dismissal of the prime minister, Sharif ordered President Farooq Leghari to appoint a new chief justice. When Leghari refused, Sharif considered impeaching him, but backed down after a warning from the armed forces. Faced with a choice of accepting Sharif's demands or dismissing him, Leghari resigned. Ali Shah resigned shortly afterward, establishing Sharif's dominance.

Thailand[edit]

  • In March 2006, 60 seats of the National Assembly of Thailand could not be elected[clarification needed], and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra refused to resign. The judicial system did not lead up to Supreme Court as the top arbitrator so there were inconsistent rulings from the civil, criminal, administrative, and constitutional Courts.

European Constitutional crises[edit]

Belgium[edit]

Denmark[edit]

England[edit]

For events after 1707, see below.
John of England signs Magna Carta. Illustration from Cassell's History of England (1902)

France[edit]

Malta[edit]

Norway[edit]

Rome[edit]

  • The crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar in 49 BC with his legions. This action, which had no precedent, precipitated a crisis only fully resolved in 31 BC, when Octavian defeated all his enemies to become the sole master of the Roman world.

Russia[edit]

Tanks of the Taman Division shelling the Russian White House on 4 October 1993.

Scotland[edit]

This covers the Kingdom of Scotland, which became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain after 1707. For constitutional crises since then, see United Kingdom below.

United Kingdom[edit]

North American Constitutional crises[edit]

Canada[edit]

Honduras[edit]

United States[edit]

The Electoral Commission was a panel that resolved the disputed presidential election of 1876.

Oceanian Constitutional crises[edit]

Australia[edit]

Fiji[edit]

New Zealand[edit]

Papua New Guinea[edit]

Tuvalu[edit]

South American Constitutional crises[edit]

Chile[edit]

Peru[edit]

Footnotes[edit]