Ballots not Bullets: Testing Consociational Theories of Ethnic Conflict, Electoral Systems, and Democratization [chapter]

Pippa Norris
2002 The Architecture of Democracy  
The late twentieth century has seen a resurgence of ethnic conflict in many states worldwide. In seeking the management and containment of such tensions, interest has increasingly turned to issues of 'constitutional engineering' or 'institutional design'. One of the most important and influential claims in the literature is that proportional electoral systems are most appropriate for ethnic minority representation, promoting support for the political system, and therefore leading to conflict
more » ... ding to conflict resolution in plural societies. But under what conditions do electoral rules shape the political support of different ethnic groups? Does this pattern vary according to the type of ethnonational, cultural-linguistic, racial, or ethnoreligious cleavage? Can we extend our generalizations from established democracies like Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland to plural societies in a wide range of transitional and consolidating democracies like the Ukraine, Romania and Taiwan? To explore these issues, this study examines patterns of support for the political system among ethnic minority populations under proportional, mixed and majoritarian systems in a dozen new and established democracies. Survey data is drawn from the second release of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. The preliminary results presented in this initial study remain subject to reanalysis in a wider range of democracies once more countries are added to this dataset. Nevertheless the initial findings indicate that there is a complex pattern at work and the claim that PR party list systems are automatically associated with higher levels of political support among ethnic minorities is not confirmed by the study. Some of the most difficult issues facing established and new democracies concern the management of ethnic conflict. The familiar litany of problems ranges from the inclusion of diverse racial groups in South Africa and Namibia to long-standing tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland, violence in the Basque region, the Palestine and the Balkans, and the dramatic eruption of bloody wars in Rwanda, Kashmir, and East Timor. Ethnic identities can be best understood as social constructs with deep cultural and psychological roots based on national, cultural-linguistic, racial, or religious backgrounds 1 . They provide an affective sense of belonging and are socially defined in terms of their meaning for the actors, representing ties of blood, soil, faith and community. Agencies concerned with the peaceful amelioration of such antagonisms have increasingly turned towards 'constitutional engineering' or 'institutional design' to achieve these ends. The aim has been to develop rules of the game structuring political competition so that actors have in-built incentives to accommodate the interests of different cultural groups, leading to conflict management, ethnic cooperation and long-term political stability. One of the most influential accounts in the literature has been provided by the theory of 'consociational' or 'consensus' democracy developed by Arend Lijphart which suggests that nations can maintain stable governments despite being deeply divided into distinct ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural communities 2 . Consociational systems are characterized by institutions facilitating cooperation and compromise among political leaders, maximizing the number of 'winners' in the system, so that separate communities can peacefully coexist within the common borders of a single nation-state. Electoral systems represent perhaps the most powerful instrument available for institutional engineering, with far-reaching consequences for party systems, the composition of legislatures, and the durability of democratic arrangements 3 . Majoritarian electoral systems, like First-Past-the-Post, systematically exaggerate the parliamentary lead for the party in first place, with the aim of securing a decisive outcome and government accountability, thereby excluding smaller parties from the division of spoils. In contrast, proportional electoral systems lower the hurdles for smaller parties, maximizing their inclusion into the legislature and ultimately into coalition governments. Consociational theories suggest that proportional electoral systems are most likely to facilitate accommodation between diverse ethnic groups, making them more suitable for new democracies struggling to achieve legitimacy and stability in plural societies. These are important claims that, if true, have significant consequences for agencies seeking to promote democratic development and peacekeeping. To explore the evidence for these arguments, Part I of this study summarizes the key assumptions in consociational theories of democracy and outlines the central propositions examined in this study. Part II describes the data, research design and methods. Evidence is drawn from the current release of the 1996-98 Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) 4 , based upon national election surveys in a dozen nations at different levels of democratic and socioeconomic development. The study compares three nations with majoritarian electoral systems (the United States, Britain and Australia), three using 'mixed' or parallel electoral systems (Taiwan, Ukraine, and Lithuania) and six countries with proportional representation systems (Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Spain, New Zealand and Israel). The study compares political attitudes and behavior among a diverse range of ethnic minorities such as the Russian-speaking population living in the Ukraine, residents in the Catalan, Galician and Basque regions in Spain, African-Americans in the United States, the Arab/Muslim populations in Israel, the Scots and Welsh in Britain, the Hungarian minority in Rumania, the mainland Chinese in Taiwan, and the Maoris in New Zealand. The framework contains relatively homogeneous nations such as Poland and Britain as well as plural societies like Israel and the Ukraine. Some countries like Australia are long-established democracies, others like Spain consolidated within recent decades, while others like the Ukraine remain in the transitional stage, characterized by unstable and fragmented opposition parties, ineffective legislatures and limited checks on the executive. Part III defines and analyzes the major ethnic cleavages in each of these societies and tests Proportionality of Votes: Seats Parliamentary inclusion of ethnic minority parties Greater ethnic minority support for the political system Parliamentary inclusion of smaller parties
doi:10.1093/0199246467.003.0009 fatcat:iu6uxxrjjnewjpzop7bkwsnpiq