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Lijphart: The wave of power-sharing democracy

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Lijphart. 2002. The wave of power-sharing democracy. In Architecture of Democracy: Constitutional design, conflict management, and democracy. Andrew Reynolds, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The General Problem Area

The book's editors asked Lijphart to write on this topic: "Constitutional Design in the Third Wave." Lijphart amended this topic so he could write on his usual theme, consociational (power-sharing) democracy. Why: because "ethnic divisions have replaced the cold war as the world's most serious source of violent conflict," and Lijphart is convinced that, in deeply divided societies, constitutional provisions for power sharing are vital.

Lijphart's arguments assume familiarity with the consociational/consensus type of democracy that he has advocated in several previous publications. In particular, see Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy.

What the Experts Agree On

When it comes to engineering a constitution for a divided society, experts tend to agree that

Critiques of Power-Sharing and Autonomy

Problems of Power-Sharing

Complaint: Power sharing isn't democratic enough. Grand coalitions conflict with idea that you must have a strong opposition. These states fail the "turnover" tests of whether a gov't is democratic.

Complaint: Power sharing doesn't work. It results in deadlock and democratic breakdown, e.g. Cyprus 1963 and Lebanon 1975.

Complaint: Power sharing removes incentives for compromise/moderate behavior (Donald Horowitz). It has only incentives to coalesce, not compromise.

Problems of Regional Autonomy

Complaint: Regional autonomy is a slippery slope leading to secession/partition.

Complaint: Regional autonomy strengthens intraethnic cohesiveness, raising likelihood of interethnic conflict.

A General Problem

Complaint: Both halves of the prescription (i.e. power sharing and autonomy) are native to Western experiences and are not suitable for multi-ethnic societies elsewhere.

Practical Guidelines Derived from Consociational Theory

Power-sharing vs. majoritarian debate:

Presidential-parliamentary debate:

Decentralization, federalism, and autonomy debates:

Electoral system design in new democracies:

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Lijphart, Arend (author)Comparative PoliticsConsociationalismMajoritarianismDivided SocietiesPower SharingAutonomyFederalism

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