Executives in democracies often want to pass ambitious reforms but confront the institutional constraints of the democratic process. When they lack legislative majorities, executives are generally unable to enact proposals of sweeping change. In certain cases, however, executives can use constituent assemblies—a well-established mechanism of constitutional reform wherein a separately elected body is tasked with rewriting the constitution from scratch—to sidestep a hostile legislature without breaking the parameters of political democracy.
Ambitious Reform analyzes constituent assemblies as an executive tool to restructure laws or political institutions and to redistribute political power in contemporary Latin America. Of many potential mechanisms for reform, executives choose to attempt this process under several conditions, the most important of which are insufficient legislative support and a willingness to bend institutional rules. Stoyan argues that, to have success with this strategy, the executive requires two factors: mobilizational leverage, the ability to rally popular support behind the reform agenda, and institutional leverage, the ability to convince other institutions to allow the reform process to proceed.