|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has gone through 38 constitutions, more than any other country, since its independence in 1844. This statistic is a somewhat deceiving indicator of political stability, however, because of the Dominican practice of promulgating a new constitution whenever an amendment was ratified. Although technically different from each other in some particular provisions, most new constitutions contained in reality only minor modifications of those previously in effect. Sweeping constitutional innovations were actually relatively rare.
The large number of constitutions does, however, reflect a basic lack of consensus on the rules that should govern the national political life. Most Dominican governments felt compelled upon taking office to write new constitutions that changed the rules to fit their own wishes. Not only did successive governments often strenuously disagree with the policies and the programs of their predecessors, but they often rejected completely the institutional framework within which their predecessors had operated. Constitutionalism—loyalty to a stable set of governing principles and laws rather than to the person who promulgates them—became a matter of overriding importance in the Dominican Republic only after the death of Rafael Trujillo.
Dominicans historically had agreed that government should be representative and vaguely democratic, that there should be civil and political rights, separation of powers, and checks and balances. Beyond that, however, consensus broke down. The country actually had been alternately dominated throughout its history by two constitutional traditions, one relatively democratic and the other authoritarian. Rarely were there attempts to bridge the gap between these diametric opposites.
As of August 2009, the government currently works to implant a new constitution, which has been referred to as "one of the most conservative constitutions in the region." The Constitution was proclaimed on 26 January 2010.
The first Dominican constitution was promulgated on November 6, 1844, immediately after the nation achieved independence from Haiti. It was a liberal document with many familiar elements—separation of powers, checks and balances, and a long list of basic rights. However, an authoritarian government replaced the country's liberal, democratic government during its first year. The new regime proceeded to write its own constitution. This second constitution considerably strengthened the executive, weakened the legislative and the judicial branches, and gave the president widespread emergency powers, including the power to suspend basic rights and to rule by decree. Thereafter, governance of the country often alternated between liberal and authoritarian constitutional systems.
Even the dictator Rafael Trujillo always took care to operate under the banner of constitutionalism. Under Trujillo, however, the legislature was simply a rubber stamp; the courts were not independent; and basic rights all but ceased to exist. He governed as a tyrant, unfettered by constitutional restrictions.
After Trujillo's death in 1961, the constitution was amended to provide for new elections and to allow the transfer of power to an interim Council of State. Although promulgated as a new document, the 1962 constitution was actually a continuation of the Trujillo constitution, and it was thus unpopular.
In 1963, Juan Bosch's freely elected, social-democratic government drafted a new and far more liberal constitution. It separated church and state, put severe limits on the political activities of the armed forces, established a wide range of civil liberties, and restricted the rights of property relative to individual rights. These provisions frightened the more conservative elements in Dominican society, which banded together to oust Bosch and his constitution in September 1963. Subsequently, the more conservative 1962 constitution was restored. In the name of constitutionalism, Bosch and his followers launched a revolution in 1965, the objective of which was restoration of the liberal 1963 constitution.
Largely as a result of the United States military intervention of April 1965, the civil war had died down by 1966. With Joaquín Balaguer and his party in control, the Dominicans wrote still another constitution. This one was intended to avert the conflicts and polarization of the past by combining features from both the liberal and the conservative traditions. The 1966 Constitution incorporated a long list of basic rights, and it provided for a strengthened legislature; however, it also gave extensive powers to the executive, including emergency powers. In this way, the country sought to bridge the gap between its democratic and its authoritarian constitutions, by compromising their differences.
Later constitutions were enacted in 1994 and 2002.
Centre-right President Leonel Fernández ordered for a new constitution to be drafted so it could be established in mid-2009. The constitution has faced notable criticism, both abroad and at home, with opponents referring to it as an "injustice" and as "step backwards" for ensuring of human rights in the country, especially towards minorities. A complete ban on all forms of same-sex unions and abortion (Article 30) have been drafted for inclusion into the new constitution, and have been heavily lobbied for by the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical Christians. Should the constitution pass, it would become the sixth jurisdiction in the world with a complete, no exceptions ban on abortion (after Chile, Malta, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vatican City) and the first country in the world to constitutionally ban all forms of recognition for same-sex couples. The anti-abortion amendment was easily approved by a vote of 128 to 34. The constitution has also been criticized for "oppressing the rights of Haitian immigrants."[unreliable source?] The National Assembly reportedly largely approved the new constitution on September 17, though unspecified delays have postponed its final ratification until sometime next week. Finally the new constitution was Proclaimed on 26 January 2010 to coincide with the born day of one of Republic Founding Father Juan Pablo Duarte.