What is interim – constitution and why is it needed ?

By Fesseha Nair

The case of interim –constitution and permanent constitution.

What is the difference between interim and permanent constitution.

Interim –constitution is a legal framework providing a basis for the democratic transition.

Interim or provisional or transitional are the various names given to the period from the fall of
dictatorship to the permanent constitution.

In this article I will deal with why interim constitution is needed in Eritrea after the fall of the

Why interim constitution is an issue for discussion

The issue of constitution is the first issue that comes immediately after the fall of the dictatorship. The new democratic system will require an interim- constitution that establishes the desired framework of the transition from the fall of the dictatorship to the establishment of the permanent constitution.


Interim –constitution is supposed to govern during the transitional period – from the fall of dictatorship until the permanent constitution established.

It comes into effect when the regime falls and is handed over to a caretaker government composed the sovereignty of all political organizations. The interim –constitution will function as a basic law during the year of transition until an elected Assembly can draw up a permanent constitution inside the fixed time.

Many argue that what is the need of drafting a constitution at this time? We have already a drafted
constitution of 1997 or the constitution of the federation of 1952.


Both the drafted constitutions of 1997 and of 1952 were not designed to manage the internal conflict of the Eritrean diversity. They were not arranged in a way that provides the people
the opportunity to discuss on their fundamental rights and freedoms except they were granted by those who were in power.


The Eritrean people has never discussed on them freely and democratically.


The 1997 constitution drafted but not implemented/defunct was under the control of dictatorship. It was not people’sconstitution but a one mans constitution and later called a worthless paper and was thrown away by the self- appointed president. If it was of the people why didn’t they defend their constitution and fight against the dictatorship?


When the constitution of the 1952 was violated by Ethiopian Emperor, we have seen student demonstrations and later labour unions demonstrations and it was these uprisings that were the background of the long armed struggle of liberation. But, why didn’t such uprising not happened by those who call themselves democrats in the opposition camp?

An interim constitution is the transitional basic law of the transitional caretaker government until the permanent constitution is drafted and processed. The reason why this issue is crucial and conflict issue is because there is no common understanding what kind of constitution unitary or federal constitution will be suitable to manage conflicts in Eritrea?


Here , I would like to quote Gene Sharps arguments. Gene Sharp in his book, “  From Dictatorship to Democracy” says that, “In the interest of preserving the democratic system an impending dictatorial trends and measures, the constitution should preferably be one that establishes a federal system with significant prerogatives reserved for the regional, state, and local levels of

In Eritrea there are no functioning constitutions either unitary or federal. Therefore the need for interim constitution is of crucial importance. Those who ignore interim arrangements their aim is to establish themselves as new dictators under the 1997 constitution that was drafted under dictatorship without no freedoms.

Our struggle is not only to remove the dictatorship but looking forward how to arrange the period of transition from dictatorship to permanent constitution.

The Key features of the interim constitution:

–        Directive principles of the state/ State structure

–        Citizenship

–        Fundamental Rights & Duties

–        Fundamental freedoms

–        Interim Legislature

–        Interim-Government

–        Interim Court

–        Interim security provisions

–        Constitutional bodies

–        Autonomous and local administrations

–        Constituent Assembly

–        Transitional Justice and reconciliation

–        Other miscellaneous provisions


Transition from dictatorship to democracy is both fighting the dictatorship and at the same time laying the foundations for democratic transition.

For most of Eritreans in the opposition or those who support the dictatorship constitution means for them like a bible that comes from the heavens. Why do we need interim legal framework from the fall of the dictatorship to permanent constitution must be one of our agendas and prepare for it while struggling to topple the tyranny.

Constitutional arrangements provide us an important opportunity  to manage our internal and external conflicts. When designing a legal framework citizens identify the fundamental values they believe in and the sort of institutions by which they want to be governed.  This may involve inclusive and participatory national deliberation resulting in agreements that establish the country’s basic law. Did the 1997 constitution provide us the opportunity to manage our internal and external conflicts? Let our legal experts discuss on this issue.


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