Public Consultation in Authoritarian Constitution-Making: Cuba’s 2018 Constitutional Consultation in Comparative Perspective

Why do authoritarian regimes consult citizens when designing national constitutions?  The field of comparative constitutionalism has largely focused on the functions of authoritarian constitutions. Much less is known about the process of design—and the extent to which popular participation may impact the final text.

To theory build, I investigate the 2018 constitutional consultation in Cuba, a one-party, Marxist-Leninist state, and compare the experience to those of other authoritarian countries. First, I argue that the consultation served an instrumental purpose—to allow the Cuban government to reduce the sociological legitimacy deficit felt by the party-state in the face of leadership change and socio-economic reforms. Second, I contend that the Cuban leadership used the consultation for ideological purposes—mainly to advance their illiberal conceptions of constituent power and socialist democracy as guided by the vanguard party. I conclude by considering how authoritarian constitutional consultations assume particular forms and strategies, with strict bounds of participation, which are distinct from those in liberal democracies.

This paper serves as a call for more comparative studies of popular participation in authoritarian constitution making to discern how the instrumental and ideological purposes of consultations interact.

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