The Purpose of a Transitional Government

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  • 0:01 Time for Change
  • 0:50 Why They Develop
  • 2:47 Challenges During Transition
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll imagine what it would be like to live in a country where the government has just been overthrown. We'll discuss the purpose of transitional governments and what challenges they face.

Time for Change

Roger lives in a country on the verge of massive political change. Every day, he wonders what will happen next as demonstrations at the capitol city pressure the leadership of the government to resign. Sometimes, violence erupts and people have been killed by government officials.

One night, just as he's about to head to bed, he sees the big news everywhere on social media: the government has been overthrown and a new, transitional government will be established.

As excited as Roger is about the political change, he wonders what this transitional government will mean for his country and the people. This lesson explores the reasons why transitional governments develop, including their objectives and challenges.

Why They Develop

A transitional government is a system of law and leadership put into place during a change from one type of government to another, usually during a period of crisis.

In Roger's case, an old regime has been overthrown and dismantled by public pressure. This is one possible reason for a transitional government to be established. Other reasons include economic collapse, disaster, war and conflict and even assassination by a foreign power.

One example of a transitional government is the one established in Iraq, following military invasion by the United States in 2003. Another example is the transitional government following the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi's regime in the African nation of Libya in 2011. These two countries had two different reasons for the change in government. Yet both Iraq and Libya each needed their own transitional government during the period of time between the old form of rule and a new system.

The purpose of transitional governments is typically to determine a new political structure, and sometimes even a new economic structure as well. The transitional leadership may be expected to establish a new constitution and hold elections, if the new system is democratic. It will also be concerned with ensuring security and stability within the nation. Ideally, a transitional government will play a role in restoring a sense of justice, if injustice resulted during the previous government.

Transitional governments often involve the use of martial law, in which military forces are used to establish order. During a transition, this form of law is meant to provide protection for the public and the new government while laws are being revised.

Challenges during Transition

Unfortunately, martial law can be used in oppressive or corrupt ways at times. It also may not prevent violence and ongoing conflict. These are just a few of the challenges faced by a transitional government.

In the case of Roger's nation, he might witness violence and terrorism leading up to, or following an election or may experience representatives of the transitional government engaging in corrupt practices, such as theft. He could even see atrocities committed by those who are meant to protect the public. Many factions may fight for control in the new transitional government, leading to new problems in day-to-day life. Even though he's grateful for the old system to be overthrown, there's a lot of work ahead to form a better way of life.

Transitional governments can take a long time to meet the goal of establishing a more stable, long-term government, if they even succeed. Multiple attempts at a transitional government may be needed, as is the case in recent years in Libya, and also Somalia, another African nation undergoing change.

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