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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A constitutional crisis is a severe breakdown in the orderly operation of government. Generally speaking, a constitutional crisis is a situation in which separate factions within a government disagree about the extent to which each of these factions hold sovereignty. Most commonly, constitutional crises involve some degree of conflict between different branches of government (e.g., executive, legislature, and/or judiciary), or between different levels of government in a federal system (e.g., state and federal governments).

A constitutional crisis may occur because one or more parties to the dispute willfully chooses to violate a provision of a constitution or an unwritten constitutional convention, or it may occur when the disputants disagree over the interpretation of such a provision or convention. If the dispute arises because some aspect of the constitution is ambiguous or unclear, the ultimate resolution of the crisis often establishes a precedent for the future. For instance, the United States constitution is silent on the question of whether states are allowed to secede from the Union; however, after the secession of several states was forcibly prevented in the American Civil War, it has become generally accepted that states cannot leave the Union.

A constitutional crisis is distinct from a rebellion, which is defined as when factions outside of a government challenge that government's sovereignty, as in a coup or revolution led by the military or civilian protesters.

A constitutional crisis can lead to government paralysis, collapse, or civil war.


Incomplete list of constitutional crises by country





Democratic Republic of the Congo



This covers the Kingdom of England, which became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain after 1707. For constitutional crises since then, see United Kingdom below.


  • In the Fiji constitutional crisis of 1977, the winning party in a general election failed to name a government due to internal conflicts. The Governor-General intervened, appointing a prime minister from the opposition party.


  • A Honduran constitutional crisis is currently underway. President Manuel Zelaya attempted to hold a non-binding referendum which Congress and the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional. The military, following orders from the Supreme Court arrested President Zelaya.




  • The 1981 election, when, due to a quirk in that country's Single Transferrable Vote system, the party winning more than half the votes won fewer than half the seats.


  • The Loktantra Andolan movement of 2006, which rejected King Gyanendra's year-long direct rule and stripped him of political authority.

New Zealand



  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah clashed repeatedly with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in late 1997, accusing him of undermining the court's independence. After Ali Shah suspended a constitutional amendment that prevented dismissal of the prime minister, Sharif ordered President Farooq Leghari to appoint a new chief justice. When Leghari refused, Sharif considered impeaching him, but backed down after a warning from the armed forces. Faced with a choice of accepting Sharif's demands or dismissing him, Leghari resigned. Ali Shah resigned shortly afterward, establishing Sharif's dominance.



  • The crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar in 49 BC with his legions. This action, which had no precedent, precipitated a crisis only fully resolved in 31 BC, when Octavian defeated all his enemies to become the sole master of the Roman world.



This covers the Kingdom of Scotland, which became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain after 1707. For constitutional crises since then, see United Kingdom below.


  • In March, 2006, 60 seats of the assembly of Thailand could not be elected, and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra refused to resign. The Judicial system did not lead up to Supreme Court as the top arbitrator, so there were inconsistent rulings in the Civil, Criminal, Administrative and Constitional Courts.

United Kingdom

United States



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