Consociation and Voting in Northern Ireland: Party Competition and Electoral Behavior

Consociation and Voting in Northern Ireland: Party Competition and Electoral Behavior

Consociation and Voting in Northern Ireland: Party Competition and Electoral Behavior

Consociation and Voting in Northern Ireland: Party Competition and Electoral Behavior

Synopsis

For thirty years, Northern Ireland was riven by sustained ethnonationalist conflict over the issue of whether the territory should remain part of the United Kingdom or reunify with the Republic of Ireland. The 1998 Belfast or "Good Friday" Agreement brought peace to the region by instituting a consociational government, which acknowledged the political differences between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland and established a legislative body characterized by power-sharing between the region's political parties. In Consociation and Voting in Northern Ireland, the first study to address electoral behaviors and opinions in a power-sharing society, John Garry interrogates the democratic efficacy of Northern Ireland's consociational government.

John Garry investigates the electoral period between 2007--when all of Northern Ireland's major political parties joined the power-sharing government--and 2011 and analyzes postelection survey data to assess the democratic behavior of Northern Irish voters. The evidence is used to address the following questions: How democratic is a consociational government? If all the main parties are in the government, and there are no opposition parties per se, is it possible for voters to hold the government to account? Do power-sharing structures simply perpetuate underlying divisions in the constituency? And since consociational power sharing relies on agreements between senior politicians, can citizens end up feeling disillusioned and, therefore, disinclined to vote? In the process of answering these questions, Garry presents new information on shifting identity formations in Northern Ireland and extends his analysis to the implications of power-sharing agreements for other nations.

Excerpt

What is the most appropriate institutional response to deep social division? This question, unsurprisingly, has long been the focus of attention of politicians and academics and has provoked heated debate in the policy and academic communities. One particular response to intense division is the implementation of consociational power-sharing institutions. This involves recognizing the distinct community or identity groups that are in conflict, facilitating the sharing of power between the rival groups in a highly inclusive coalition government, and providing each competing identity group with veto powers to protect their group interests.

A range of countries have been characterized as consociational, including Belgium, Lebanon, the Netherlands (1917–1967), Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Burundi, and post-Apartheid South Africa. Proponents of consociation argue that the system is particularly valuable in terms of accommodating deep ethnic, language, or religious differences and providing the political stability and security in which democracy may flourish. In contrast, critics of consociational power sharing lament the implementation of what they see as elite-inspired undemocratic structures which cement rather than lessen the underlying potent (ethnic, language, or cultural) division. The arguments between proponents and opponents of consociational power sharing are directly relevant for the study of electoral democracy under consociational conditions.

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