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Is consociational democracy democratic?

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Politics and Society in Europe Is consociational democracy democratic? Today, democracy is both a pervasive presence and a valued symbol in European politics1. Theorists of the concept generally agree on the fundamental principles of democracy but have tended to differ radically in their conception of popular rule and democratic practices2. Consequently, it was somewhat inevitable that democracy as an ideal emerged in different forms across the diverse societies prevalent in Western Europe. Arend Lipjphart's seminal work on 'consociational democracies'3 contributed to democratic theory - concerned primarily with political stability of democratic regimes in plural societies4. The democratic viability of Lipjphart's theory has recently been called into question however5. What then is 'democracy'? Establishing the benchmarks of the concept at the outset will allow us to evaluate the extent to which 'consociational democracy' can be seen as 'democratic'. An assessment of the key themes of Lipjphart's theory - that of 'grand coalitions', 'segmental autonomy', 'proportionality' and 'minority veto' respectively - will set the structure to the following discussion. Drawing examples from the Belgian and Swiss 'consociational' regimes will provide illustrations of the emerging argument that consociational democracy is undemocratic6. Abraham Lincoln famously described the concept of 'democracy' as 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'7. Lincoln's prominent phrase encapsulates three fundamental principles, which, roughly translated, mean that we as citizens govern through political parties representing our interests; exercise our choice through franchise to elect those in control; and have the right to hold persons in power accountable for their actions. Moreover, the fourth striking characteristic noted by academics is that democracy represents political stability8. ...read more.


Thus, with regard to representation, it would seem that consociational democracy acquires the higher democratic ground. On the other hand, even if we concede that 'proportionality' is more 'representative', it is implicit that a defining characteristic of consociational democracy is the absence of competition since the campaigning is directed at the mobilization of the sub-cultural constituency, not at competition with other parties. Competition between parties is, however, a defining feature of democracy39, stemming from the notion of freedom and choice. Can non-competition be equated with absence of choice and thus be seen as undemocratic? Conversely, certain academics have argued that in its pure form the system of proportional representation "generally backfires and may turn out to be the kiss of death"40. Indeed, party volatilities may have significant consequences for the political process in consociational democracies41. The Swiss party system is highly fragmented42, and the increasing fractionalisation of the party system in Belgium has led to high volatility elections and instability43. Does this adhere to the democratic notion of stability? Moreover, in the Swiss context it may be argued that referendums are basically majoritarian in their effects, because they are usually decided by simple popular majorities. Indeed, it has been suggested that, due to the inability to discuss matters emerging in referenda, they are bound to be more dangerous than representative assemblies to minority rights44. Additionally, statistics show that the level of participation in Swiss referenda has been low - often below 50 per cent of those eligible to vote45. In the light of some assertions that 'too many referenda kill democracy'46, can this aspect of proportionality in Swiss politics be described as democratic? ...read more.


38 Indeed, Switzerland has developed "the theory and practice of the referendum to a pitch to which no other nation has begun to match" (Butler and Ranney, eds., Referendums:A Comparative Study of Practice and Theory (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1978) p.5 39 What democracy is and is not p.70 40 Comparative constitutional engineering, p.73. It has been said that the dispersal of power across several minority parties adds profusion to confusion, Ibid. p.71 41 paul pennings, party elites, p.38 42 The odd fellow, p.141 43 From consociation to federation, Belgium, p.93. In 'Democracy or Anarchy?' Ferdinand A Hermens warned of the dangers proportional representation posed to the survival of democracy, arguing that the instability created by the latter would invoke the rise of autocratic regimes. (F.A. Hermens, Democracy or Anarchy? Astudy of Proportional Representation (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972) p.293) 44 Democracies, p.31 45 The Swiss Labyrinth, p.5 46 The Swiss Labyrinth, p.5 47 Consociation and Federation, Lipjphart, p.501 48 Note: The term 'minority veto' will be used interchangeably with 'mutual veto' 49 From consociation to federation, Belgium, p.103. The Belgian constitution can only be changed by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the legislature. This rule is effectively a minority veto where a minority or a combination thereof controls at least a third of the votes in one chamber. 50 Parties, Pillars and the Politics of accommodation, Andweg p.127 51 Democracies, p.190 52 The Swiss Labyrinth, p.27 53 Comparative Constitutional Engineering, p.71 54 Comparative constitutional engineering, p.72 55 http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journals/details/issue/abstract/ab013998.html 56 http://www.xrefer.com/entry/343729 57 Craig and De Burca p.155 ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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