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Policy and Institutional Frameworks

Political Parties in Divided Societies

How does one build a sustainable democracy in deeply-divided societies? Such societies often feature political parties organized primarily around ethnic identities (e.g. Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka), and are thus prone to develop 'centrifugal' politics which reward extremist ethnic appeals as a basis of voter mobilization. This encourages zero-sum political behavior and ethnic tension, often leading to internal conflict along ethnic lines and to the breakdown of democracy.

This project investigates the potential of mitigating this familiar pattern via the application of electoral rules that attempt to foster the development of broad-based, aggregative and multi-ethnic political parties, rather than the narrow and ethnically-exclusive party systems common to so many cases of violent ethnic conflict and democratic failure around the world.

Despite the impressive body of scholarship on constitutional design and electoral engineering over the past decade, there has been surprisingly little attention given to the ways in which multi-ethnic parties can be developed and sustained. This is despite some remarkable recent experiments at constructing broad, cross-regional national parties in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Kosovo and the Philippines. Although potentially of great interest to other multi-ethnic polities, these experiments have so far received very little analysis – particularly presented in a form that may be of use to policymakers elsewhere.

This research project is designed to address this deficiency. Taken together, examination of the strengths and weaknesses of these varying cases and approaches should enable 'contingent generalizations' regarding the applicability and appropriateness of different models that will help policymakers facing similar challenges to learn from the experience of others and hopefully make more informed decisions when facing this vital but neglected area.


Page last modified 2019.04.16.

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