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Varieties of Constitutionalism in Asia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2021

Li-ann Thio*
National University of Singapore Faculty of Law
Corresponding author. E-mail:
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Western liberal constitutionalism, the dominant vision of which is rights-oriented and court centric is hegemonic to the discourse. While important, this is a particular rather than total expression of constitutionalism which conflates constitutionalism with liberalism and treat this as paradigmatic. This may obscure all other non-liberal models or fuel their dismissal as sham constitutions. A third space must be found, without collapsing anti-constitutionalist, illiberal despotism with no objective limits on power into the sphere of constitutionalism, and without equating judicial review with constitutionalism. To that end, this article seeks to advance the project of pluralising understandings of constitutionalism, drawing from the rich variety of constitutional experiments in Asia, with its multiplicity of religions, political ideologies government systems, cultures, and levels of economic development. Against an idealised model of liberal constitutionalism deployed as an organisational tool to highlight features of non-liberal constitutionalism in their full variety, the article examines three typologies of constitutionalism: religious, socialist and communitarian. In so doing, the idea of normatively desirable and defensible constitutionalist models is investigated, through an inquiry that goes beyond text and courts to other sites of constitutional practice and governance.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the National University of Singapore

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160 Cmd 21 of 1989.

161 ibid para 17.


162 ibid para 15.


163 ibid para 16.


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168 Konrad Lachmayer, ‘Constitutional authoritarianism, not authoritarian constitutionalism!’ (Völkerrechtsblog, 31 Aug 2017) <> accessed 13 Aug 2021.

169 Baxi, Upendra, ‘Constitutionalism as a Site of State Formative Practices’ (2000) 21 Cardozo Law Review 1183, 1210Google Scholar.

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