What is Constitution?
A constitution is the tool a people use to create their government. Most constitutions, like the FSM Constitution, are written. A written constitution creates each branch of government, defines the power of each branch of government, and the relationship of each branch of government to the other. The FSM Constitution creates three branches of government: the Legislative Branch which is Congress, the Executive Branch which is the President and the Departments, and the Judicial Branch which is the FSM Supreme Court.
A constitution protects the rights of citizens and people living in the country. The FSM Constitution includes a Declaration of Rights. Some of the rights protected by the FSM Constitution are: the right to free speech, the right of freedom of association, the right to practice the religion of one’s choice, the right to equal protection of the laws, the right against self-incrimination, the right to a lawyer in a criminal trial, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
A constitution also announces to the world the values of the country. The Preamble to the FSM Constitution sets out Micronesia’s values: “we respect the diversity of our cultures;” “we hope for peace;” “we wish unity;” “we seek freedom;” “we are the proud guardian of our own islands.”
Where did the FSM Constitution Come From?
Beginning in the early 1960s, Micronesia leaders across the Pacific from the Marshalls to Palau began to demand more political rights, including the right to self-rule. By 1965, the Congress of Micronesia was created. Two years later, in 1967, the Congress of Micronesia created the Future Political Status Commission whose purpose was to explore possible future political arrangements for Micronesia. The Committee recommended that Micronesia seek a status of Free Association with the United States.
In 1970, as part of this process of decolonization, the Congress of Micronesia in Joint Resolution 87 set out the Four Principles of Legal Rights of Micronesian People:
- That sovereignty resides in the people of Micronesia and their duly constituted government;
- That the people of Micronesia possess the right of self-determination and may therefore choose independence or self-government in free association with any nation or organization of nations;
- That the people of Micronesia have the right to adopt their own constitution and to amend, change or revoke any constitution or governmental plan at any time; and
- That free association should be in the form of a revocable compact, terminable unilaterally by either party.
On July 12, 1975, exercising Principle 3, the 60 delegates to the Micronesian Constitutional Convention were sworn in. The 60 delegates included traditional leaders, members of the Congress of Micronesia, government officials from the Executive and Judicial branches, private citizens, and both men and women. On November 8, 1975, the Convention approved the Constitution.
In 1978, the Constitution was ratified by voters in Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap, creating the Federated States of Micronesia.
Amending the FSM Constitution
The political leaders of Micronesia recognized from the beginning that the people of Micronesia had a right to adopt their own Constitution and to amend or change that Constitution. The Delegates to the 1975 Constitution knew that there would be social, economic, and political changes that would require amending the Constitution and provided for an orderly and legitimate process for making those amendments so that the FSM could adjust to changing times and circumstances.
Article XIV of the FSM Constitution provides three ways to amend the Constitution: 1. A constitutional convention; 2. By popular initiative; and 3. By Congress as provided by law.
Throughout the world and here in Micronesia, a constitutional convention is the most common method used to amend a constitution. A constitutional convention provides for popular control of the constitution making process, because the people elect the delegates to the convention and the delegates are responsible and responsive to the people who elected them.
The FSM Constitution requires that “At least every 10 years, Congress shall submit to the voters the question: ‘Shall there be a convention to revise or amend the Constitution?’” If a majority of the voters vote “yes”, then a constitutional convention is held. The people of the FSM have the right to choose to hold a constitutional convention. And, the people of the FSM have the right to vote on the proposed amendments to the constitution during a referendum.
This power of the people to control the constitutional amendment process reflects the first of the Four Principles of the Legal Rights of the Micronesian People – “that sovereignty resides in the people of Micronesia.”
The Delegates to the 1975 Constitutional Convention believed that it was important to protect and secure “[t]he right of future generations of Micronesian citizens to revise, reform, and change the Constitution.”
How Many Times Has the FSM Constitution Been Amended?
The FSM Constitution was ratified by Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae when more than 50% of the voters in each state voted to accept the Constitution and end Trust Territory Rule. The FSM Constitution became effective on May 10, 1979, when the First Congress of the FSM was seated.
In 1989, the people of the FSM voted to hold a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution. This vote resulted in the Second Constitutional Convention which was held in Palikir, Pohnpei from July 16 – August 29, 1990. In the Second Constitutional Convention, the Delegates introduced 104 proposed amendments. Only 24 amendments were adopted by the Convention. After the Convention, Congress adopted 2 proposed Constitutional amendments. In March 1991, the 26 proposed amendments were placed on the ballot to be voted on by the people of the FSM. Of the 26 proposed amendments, only 4 were ratified by the people and became part of the FSM Constitution.
In 2000, the people of the FSM again voted to hold a constitutional convention. This vote resulted in the Third Constitutional Convention which wat held in Palikir, Pohnpei from November 12 – December 16, 2001. In the Third Constitutional Convention, the Delegates introduced 58 proposals and approved 14 proposed Constitutional amendments. These 14 proposed Constitutional were placed on the ballot to be voted on by the people of the FSM. None of the proposed amendments were ratified.
The Thirteenth FSM Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution which was placed on the March 8, 2005 ballot. The proposed amendment was not ratified.
The Fifteenth FSM Congress proposed 2 amendments to the Constitution which were placed on the March 8, 2011 ballot. Neither amendment was ratified.
Since 1990, the people of the FSM have been presented with 43 proposed amendments to their Constitution in 4 referendums and have voted to ratify 4 amendments.
The Fourth FSM Constitutional Convention
In March 2019, the FSM people voted to hold a constitutional convention. In August 2019, the 21st FSM Congress passed, and President Panuelo signed into law, Public Law No. 21-19, which establishes the process for voting for the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and the process for organizing the Convention. In November 2019, each state elected their delegates to the Convention.
On January 7, 2020, the Fourth FSM Constitutional Convention convened in Palikir, Pohnpei, with 24 Delegates. The primary duty of the Delegates is to propose amendments to the FSM Constitution. Every Delegate has a right to introduce proposed amendments. A Delegate decides what to propose as an amendment by considering their own experiences and wisdom, by talking with the people who voted them into office, by talking with elected and traditional leaders, and by talking with the Delegates from the other States.
Once a proposed amendment has been introduced, the Convention Secretary numbers the proposed amendment. The Convention President then refers the proposed amendment to one of four Standing Committees (Committee on Civil Liberties and Traditions, Committee on Public Finance and Revenue, Committee on Government Structure and Functions, and Committee on General Provisions). Once the proposed amendment is in Committee, the Chairperson schedules a hearing on the proposed amendment where it is discussed and debated. If the Committee agrees that the proposed amendment should be adopted, the Committee submits a Standing Committee Report which describes the purpose of the proposed amendment, the discussions in Committee, and the Committee’s recommendation to the Convention Secretary.
The Standing Committee Report starts the process of debate on the floor of the Convention. If the Convention adopts the Standing Committee Report, the proposed amendment then goes to First Reading. On First Reading, two-thirds of all Delegates which is 16 must vote in favor of the proposed amendment. If the proposed amendment passes First Reading, then no sooner than the next day, the proposed amendment is heard on Second Reading. To pass Second Reading, a proposed amendment must receive a yes vote of 3 of the 4 State Delegations.
Once a proposed amendment passes Second Reading, it is referred to the Committee on Style and Arrangement. The job of the Committee on Style and Arrangement is to prevent inaccuracies, repetition, inconsistencies, and poor drafting in any of the proposed amendments. The Committee on Style and Arrangement reports back to the Convention which then hears the Final Reading of the proposed amendment and votes on that amendment. To pass Final Reading, a proposed amendment must receive a yes vote of 3 of the 4 State Delegations.
The proposed amendments which pass Final Reading are considered adopted by the Convention. Before any of these amendments become a part of the FSM Constitution, each proposed amendment must be ratified by the voters in a referendum. The proposed amendments adopted by the Fourth FSM Constitution will be presented to the people in a referendum that referendum will take place in March 2011, unless the FSM President calls for a special election or unless one of the proposed amendments will effect the general election in which case the referendum will be in December 2020.