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PO377 Ethnic Conflict and Political Violence Week 17 Seminar: Institutional Design as Conflict Management: Executive Structures and Electoral Systems in Divided Societies. Core Seminar Question.

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PO377 Ethnic Conflict and Political ViolenceWeek 17 Seminar: Institutional Design as Conflict Management: Executive Structures and Electoral Systems in Divided Societies

core seminar question
Core Seminar Question
  • Can institutional design solve violent ethnic conflict and/or prevent the outbreak/recurrence of future violence?
more specific questions
More Specific Questions
  • What are the perils and virtues of presidentialism in ethnically divided societies?
  • Which, if any, type of electoral system for the legislature has the greatest potential to reduce inter-ethnic tensions?
  • Are vote-pooling (preferential) electoral systems or electoral systems of proportional representation based on party lists (list PR) more likely to help achieve sustainable peace in deeply divided societies?
linz 1990 the perils of presidentialism
Linz (1990): The perils of presidentialism
  • Personalisation of power
  • Dual democratic legitimacy
  • Temporal rigidity
  • Politics perceived as zero-sum game
  • Polarisation (in the populace as well as among politicians)
  • Weakening of party system
horowitz 1990 critique of linz
Horowitz (1990): Critique of Linz
  • Linz’s selection of case studies is regionally skewed, as he mainly focuses on experience from Latin America; there have been many instable parliamentary systems in postcolonial Asia and Africa.
  • Linz assumes certain form of electoral rule for presidency (plurality/majority system) from which most of his criticism follows (→he criticises the electoral rule rather than form of government).
  • Government and opposition frequently cooperate in the legislative process in presidential systems (contradicts argument of polarisation).
  • Fixed term of elected president is not more likely to create a crisis than the flexible term of a parliamentary government (→ the possibility to remove a parliamentary government in the middle of its term can foster political instability particularly in fragmented societies).
  • Also the power of prime ministers can become personalised.
a brief overview of first past the post
A brief overview of First Past the Post
  • A plurality/majority (i.e. not proportional) voting system;
  • candidates are presented in single-member districts;
  • voters vote for one candidate;
  • the candidate with the most votes (not necessarily an absolute majority of the votes) wins.

The First Past the Post electoral system is the simplest form of a plurality/majority system. Other plurality/majority systems include the Block Vote, Party Block Vote, the Two-Round System and the Alternative Vote.

[There are also mixed electoral systems besides “pure”

plurality/majority or proportional representation systems.]

a brief overview of the alternative vote
A brief overview of the Alternative Vote
  • A preferential but plurality/majority (i.e. not proportional) voting system;
  • candidates are typically presented in single-member districts;
  • electors rank candidates in the order of their choice, by marking “1” for their favourite candidate, “2” for their second choice and so on;
  • a candidate who has won an absolute majority of votes (50% plus one) is immediately elected;
  • if no candidate has an absolute majority, the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is eliminated from the count;
  • second preferences of the “eliminated” candidate are assigned to the remaining candidates in the order as marked on the ballot;
  • process is repeated until one candidate has an absolute majority.
a brief overview of list pr
A brief overview of List PR
  • A proportional representation system using party-lists;
  • each party presents a list of candidates to the electorate in multi-member electoral districts;
  • voters vote for a party;
  • parties receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the national vote;
  • winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their position on the lists.

Important variations among List PR systems include the introduction of formal thresholds for party representation; the adoption of open, closed or free lists; and the system used to calculate the allocation of seats.

[For sources on different electoral systems see the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network or the handbooks by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).]

a brief overview of the single transferable vote
A brief overview of the Single Transferable Vote
  • A preferential proportional representation system (i.e. not party-lists);
  • candidates are presented in multi-member districts;
  • voters rank candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper (like AV);
  • the total number of votes is counted, then divided by the number of seats in the constituency plus one; this produces the quota of votes required for the elections of a single candidate;
  • any candidate who has more first preferences than the quota is immediately elected;
  • if no-one has achieved the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is eliminated, with her second preferences being redistributed to the remaining candidates;
  • at the same time, the surplus votes of elected candidates (i.e. those above the quota) are redistributed according to the second preferences on the ballot papers; all the candidate’s ballot papers are redistributed, but each at a fractional percentage of one vote, so that the total redistributed vote equals the candidate’s surplus;
  • this process continues until all seats for the constituency are filled.
group work
Group work
  • Split into small groups and have a look at the excerpt from Freedom House’s (2009) country report on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Based on the description by Freedom House, which type of executive structure and electoral system for the legislature would you recommend for BiH post-Dayton? Use the following check list by the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network ( to guide your choice:
  • Is the system clear and comprehensible?
  • Has context been taken into account?
  • Is the system as inclusive as possible?
  • Will the voters feel motivated to participate?
  • Is a competitive party system encouraged?
  • Will the system help to alleviate conflict rather than exacerbate it?

Source:Office of the High Representative and EU Special Representative, <>.

some further questions to consider
Some further questions to consider
  • Under which conditions is a presidential form of government preferable to parliamentarianism in ethnically divided societies?
  • Should ethnically divided societies dismiss the adoption of majoritarian electoral systems? Why/why not?
  • Is the combination of a presidential form of government and a majoritarian electoral system for the legislature a recipe for violent ethnic conflict?