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Middle East: LALIT Session on Importance of demand for Constituent Assembly

08.03.2011


Thursday 3 March LALIT held a political education session on the burning question where there is mass mobilization and institutions holding up the existing State begin to crumble: the demand for a “Constituent Assembly”. Ram Seegobin did the first part, which was a theoretical analysis of what it is, how it crops up in history, and how it acts as a transitional demand towards deeper democracy.

Ram Seegobin’s Introduction to the concept
Ram Seegobin started with the example of Tunisia. After the flight from power of President Ben Ali, the existing State tried to stabilize itself, and Gannouchi came to power, only to find he could not stay in power either. The peoples’ demands are too clear and strong, their mobilization too far advanced. So, in the case of Tunisia, a Constituent Assembly has been called for by the people through their organizations (political and trade union) and will be elected and set up. It will be charged both with running a transitional government and with, in consultation with the broad masses, drafting a Constitution. So, we are discussing the issue, Ram Seegobin said, in historic times when it is right on the agenda. It is of vital importance. A new constitution is sometimes, he said, written by the previous State, as was the case for the Mauritian Independence Constitution, or by a small Government committee as for when Mauritius became a Republic. These are rather bureaucratic approaches. Some individual or individuals writing a Constitution is not at all the same as the broad massses demanding that a Constituent Assembly be elected so as to draft a New Constitution with specific parameters, and to be drafted while they, the people, are still mobilized and participating in the process.
Ram Seegobin said that it is important to note that the demand for a Constituent Assembly also coming to the fore in both Egypt and Algeria, in two very different situations.

The Russian Revolution of 1917
Then Rajni Lallah outlined how during the course of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the process of revolution was so profound that the Constituent Assembly, though a vital demand and process, was in fact overtaken by events, and power was taken by the peoples’ own democratic committees already set up during the process started in February of the same year. This revolution was the most far-reaching of all revolutions so far, even though its gains were rolled back by a growing bureacracy around Stalin from 1923 onwards, a bureaucracy of a brutal, domineering kind that destroyed the revolution.

Constituent Assembly in Ecuador in 2007-8
Lindsey Collen gave an outline of how, more recently, and in a less radical transformation, in Ecuador, the process of a Constituent Assembly has been experienced (See article in Kreol outlining her talk).

Debate and discussion
Debate was very interesting afterwards. In general, everyone present felt that the three talks had made it much easier to understand all the events in North Africa and the Middle East, as they unfurl. It makes it much easier to imagine the transition from one form of State to another, and really shows how not just mobilization, but prior political organization, is essential for uprisings to ensure that they bring progress.
Ragini Kistnasamy gave a brief outline of how she had tried to look up before the session, what had happened in Vietnam. The South was liberated from US occupation by a revolution and was joined to the North, so this was a process different from a Constituent Assembly. In Cuba, when Castro and Che Guevara overthrew the dictatorship in power, the process of working out a new Constitution seems to have been a long one, taking years and changing over time, and does not, as far as she can find out in her brief research, seem to have gone through a Constituent Assembly as such.

Everyone said that the debate and discussion will continue in the LALIT branches.