A Theory of Parties and Electoral Systems

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Perhaps the most powerful criticism is that, by entrenching segments and defining all politics in those divisive terms, one actually postpones or even obstructs the breakdown of segmental barriers. The way in which power-sharing requires geographically concentrated groups who have autonomy, not only in regional affairs, may ultimately increase the segmental divides. The tension remains: How does one recognize segmental groups, while at the same time attempt to diminish their importance?

An even greater danger exists of imposing ethnically aware consociational structures on societies where political segments are not clearly or primarily defined along the lines of ethnicity. Nagata argues that in some cases, "the depth of segmental cleavages frequently follows rather than precedes consociational arrangements, thus creating instead of solving problems of pluralism" The great value of consociationalism is that it offers powerful conflict-resolving solutions to those divided societies which show no hope of generating such interethnic political accommodation.

It is the solution when all else fails. But if consociational structures are entrenched in plural societies which do show potential for the withering away of ethnic voting, then the very institutions designed to alleviate tensions may merely entrench the perception that all politics must be ethnic politics. Consociationalism provides few incentives for political entrepreneurs to appeal for support beyond their own ethnic bases. An alternative electoral path to accommodation in deeply divided societies is what we following Sisk, call "centripetalism": institutions and policies which encourage cooperation and centrist policies, and which counter extremism and conflict behavior.

Centripetalism focuses on the electoral system as the chief agent of interethnic accommodation because of the incentives for election that such systems provide. Centripetalists argue that the use of particular electoral rules which encourage politicians to campaign for the votes of members of rival groups, via "vote-pooling" and ''preference swapping" can induce interethnic bargaining and promote accommodative behavior.

At the core of this approach, as developed by Donald Horowitz , , , is the need "to make politicians reciprocally dependent on the votes of members of groups other than their own. The most reliable way of achieving this aim, according to proponents of the centripetal approach, is to offer sufficient electoral incentives for campaigning politicians to court voter support from other groups. In deeply divided societies, this can be very difficult to achieve. Under conditions of purely ascriptive ethnic identity and hostility, for example, almost nothing will convince a member of one ethnic group to cast his or her vote for a member of a rival group.

However, some electoral systems such as the alternative vote AV permit or even require voters to declare not only their first choice of candidate on a ballot, but also their second, third, and subsequent choices amongst all candidates standing. This feature presents candidates who wish to maximize their electoral prospects with a strong incentive to try and attract the second preferences of voters from other groups the assumption being that the first choice of voters will usually be a candidate from their own group. An alternative strategy is for major parties contesting FPTP elections in heterogeneous districts to nominate members of different ethnic groups as their chosen candidates in different districts.

In Malaysia, for example, Chinese voters will help elect Muslim candidates in some seats, while Muslims will help elect Chinese in others. The argument for the integrative effects of AV is premised on the assumption that politicians are rational actors who will do what needs to be done to gain election. Under AV, "what needs to be done" varies. The optimal scenario is a case where no candidate can be assured of an outright majority of support, so that the role of second and later preferences becomes crucial to attracting an overall majority.

Those candidates who successfully "pool" both their own first preferences and the second preferences of others will be more successful than those who fail to attract any second-order support. To attract such second-order support, candidates need to attract the support of groups other than their own, and this is usually achieved by their moving to the center on policy issues to attract floating voters, or by successfully accommodating "fringe" issues into their broader policy.

There is a long history of both these types of behavior in Australian elections, the only established democracy to use AV. There is also widespread agreement that AV has facilitated coalition arrangements in Australia, such as that between the Liberal and National parties, and that it works to the advantage of center candidates and parties, encouraging moderate policy positions and a search for the "middle ground" see Reilly, b. In cases of deeply divided societies, however, policy-based cleavages are usually considerably less salient than ethnic or linguistic identities.

But the incentives for election under AV rules can still operate in the same manner: candidates will do what they need to do to gain election. Where a candidate needs the support of other ethnic groups to gain election, there is a powerful incentive for him or her to reach out to these groups in search of their second preferences. The more groups present in a given constituency, the more likely it is that meaningful vote pooling will take place. To build support from other groups, candidates must behave moderately and accommodatively towards them.

In ethnically divided societies, this means that electoral incentives can promote policy concessions: even small minorities have a value in terms of where their preferences are directed, as small numbers of votes could always be the difference between victory and defeat for major candidates. The only time that these theories have been properly tested has been in pre-independence Papua New Guinea PNG , which held elections in ,, and under AV rules. Analysis of the relationship in PNG between political behavior and the electoral system provides significant evidence that accommodative vote-pooling behavior was encouraged by the incentives presented by AV, and further significant evidence that behavior became markedly less accommodative when AV was replaced by FPTP, under which the incentives for electoral victory are markedly different.

Under AV, vote pooling took place in three primary ways, all of which were predicated on the assumption that most voters would invariably give their first preference to their own clan or "home" candidate. The most common and successful method of vote pooling was for a candidate. This required a range of techniques, such as translating campaign speeches and traveling widely throughout an electorate, with the essential request being not for a first-preference vote but for a second preference.

This enabled electors to cast their primary vote for their ascriptive candidate—an essential element in cases of ascriptive ethnic identity—but also to indicate their second choice if their ascriptive candidate was not elected. For this strategy to succeed, candidates needed to be able to sell themselves as the "second-best" choice, which meant, in general, someone who would look after all groups, not just his own.

A second strategy for victory under AV was for candidates with significant existing support bases to reach out to selected allies for secondary support. Traditional tribal contacts and allegiances, for example, could be utilized to create majority victors. This similarly necessitated a commitment to behave positively toward that group if elected. In one seat at the elections, for example, tribal leaders of previously hostile groups made deals with each other for preference support. The winning candidate forged particularly close connections with a traditional ally tribe via "intensive ties of ceremonial exchange," had urged his supporters to cast their preferences for a member of a hostile rival tribe as well as for himself, and consequently received a generous proportion of that opponent's second preferences to win the seat.

A third strategy, increasingly common by the time of the third AV election in , was for groups and candidates to form mutual alliances, sometimes campaigning together and urging voters to cast reciprocal preferences for one or the other.


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This similarly necessitated a strong cooperative approach to electoral competition Reilly, a. The central appeal of the integrated approach is thus that it produces incentives for accommodative behavior—via the search for secondary support—rather than relying on constraints such as minority vetoes against hostility.

A second virtue is that it relies on popular rather than elite activity: campaigning politicians and their supporters are directly rewarded by moderation and can directly expect to reap what they sow. Candidates who are elected will be dependent on the votes of groups other than their own for their parliamentary positions, and can be expected to serve the needs of these groups as well as their own ethnic group if they are to establish their positions and gain reelection.

A system similar to AV has been used to elect the Sri Lankan President since , and some observers have argued that this has led to increasing recognition of minority Tamil and Muslim interests by the major Sinhalese parties de Silva, ; Reilly, b. AV was also recommended for elections to postapartheid South Africa Horowitz, and was recently chosen as the basis of a new, nonracial constitution in Fiji as the best way.

Other arguments for AV include its use of small single-member electorates, thus guaranteeing geographic accountability, and the fact that it guarantees that victorious candidates will be supported by an absolute majority of the electorate.

In This Article

Critics of the centripetal approach have focused on four themes. The first is that there are no examples of successful centripetalism in practice Sisk, ; Lijphart, a , and that "although vote pooling is theoretically compelling, there is simply insufficient empirical evidence at the level of national politics to support claims that subsequent preference voting can lead to accommodative outcomes.

Other objections to AV are more substantial. The first is that, because AV is a majoritarian system, it results in highly disproportional electoral results and minority exclusion, especially when compared to PR systems Lijphart, ; Reynolds, There is some truth in this, although many of these arguments focus less on standard single-member AV than on the multimember AV system proposed by Horowitz , which did indeed produce dangerously disproportional results when used in the Australian Senate between the wars Reilly and Maley, ; Lijphart, Research indicates that single-member AV is actually among the least disproportional of majoritarian systems, although it is clearly less proportional than PR systems Reilly, a; but see Lijphart, , for a reply.

A second criticism argues that AV actually acts in practice much like other majoritarian electoral systems such as TRS and FPTP, and consequently that there is no more incentive to compromise under AV than under these systems Lijphart, Again, the evidence from PNG in particular tends to undermine this argument, as the political behavior at both the elite and mass level became markedly less accommodatory when the electoral system changed from AV to FPTP Reilly, a. The third criticism is that AV would fail to encourage integrative behavior in some regions because of the demographic distribution of ethnic groups Reynolds, This last criticism is the most significant.

In many ethnically divided countries, members of the same ethnic group tend to cluster together, which means that the relatively small, single-member districts which are a feature of AV would, in these cases, result in constituencies which are ethnically homogeneous rather than heteroge-.


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Where one candidate is confident of achieving an absolute majority of first preferences due to the domination of his or her own ethnic group in an area, they need only focus on maximizing their own vote share from their own supporters in order to win the seat. This means that the "vote-pooling" between different ethnic groups which is a precondition for the accommodative influences of AV would not, in fact, occur. Most regions of Latin America and southern Africa, for example, feature geographically concentrated ethnic groups. Both of these social structures, which appear to be particularly common in the Asia-Pacific region, would result in ethnically heterogeneous electoral districts and thus, under AV rules, strong incentives towards accommodative preference-swapping deals see Reilly, a.

The arguments for and against centripetalism are a good example of the contextual nature of electoral system design, and how proponents of different approaches run the risk of talking past each other.

There is strong evidence that AV has worked or will work well in some types of social setting PNG, Fiji, and other intermixed areas but poorly in some others e. AV also requires a reasonable degree of literacy to be utilized effectively, and because it operates in single-member districts it can often produce results that are disproportional when compared to PR systems.

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These are drawbacks, but they are mitigated by the strength of incentives towards centripetal politics that AV appears to encourage. The experience of AV in PNG, Sri Lanka, and in Australia all suggests that it does encourage moderate, centrist politics and enables diverse interests to be aggregated. In the right type of social setting, it can provide significant incentives for accommodatory and cooperative politics, and deserves more consideration as an attractive model of electoral system design, particularly for ethnically intermixed states, than it has received to date.

In many ways the theory of integrative consensualism as advocated by Reynolds, attempts to build on the philosophies underpinning both consociationalism and centripetalism, by retaining the key consociational. Indeed, one of the two most important institutional planks of integrative consensualism is the STV electoral system the other being the rejection of institutions which entrench ethnic or cultural political blocks within the party system. There are important differences, both theoretically and practically, between consociationalism and an integrative consensualism.

Both types contain power-sharing provisions but are based upon different structures, objectives and, most importantly, rest on different premises. As noted earlier, consociationalism rests on the premise that society is deeply divided along ethnic lines, what Robert Price calls "politicized ethnicity," segmented into a number of nonconversing and antagonistic cultural groups Price, Voting affiliation is primarily driven by such ascriptive identities.

While there are strong arguments in favor of consociationalism for ethnically polarized societies, other types of societies may be able to manage sociopolitical conflicts with consensus-oriented systems in which some of the institutional mechanisms of consociation are practiced, but not all of them are institutionalized.

Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking Strategies

Such consensus systems rest on the premise that society is conflictual and may indeed be divided, but those divisions and voting behavior are not primarily motivated by ascriptive identities. Other cleavages, along the lines of class, wealth, regionalism, and clan, may be more salient. Institutionally, integrative consensus democracy prescribes STV in order to encourage cross-cutting ethnic cleavages, while at the same time ensuring the fair representation and inclusion of minorities in decision making.

The argument is that if the institutional incentives embedded within integrative consensual democracy work as hypothesized, they will allow the space for and, indeed, provide incentives for, the growth of multiethnic political parties; but, they will not guarantee that such parties flourish. It follows, therefore, that integrative consensus democracy is only an option in plural societies which show signs that ethnicity need not endure as the sole driving force of politics.

If voters are never likely to look outside of their ascriptive identity to vote for nonethnic parties, then elections will never be anything more than ethnic or, racial censuses , and integrative consensualism is redundant. In a society where politics is determined entirely by primordial affiliations, consociationalism may be the only viable option. Interestingly, the rationale of integrative consensus shares much with the logic of centripetalism, but its institutional prescriptions are at vari-.

Chiefly, integrative consensualism rests on the principles of proportionality and coalition government, while it is more likely that elections under centripetalism would produce nonproportional parliaments and single-party executives. Reynolds argues that, in a plural society which is ripe for consensus government, members of an ethnic group may indeed be more likely to vote for a certain political party, but it is not clear that they do so out of a knee-jerk desire to vote as a communal block for candidates of a similar skin color.

Where there is doubt about what drives voting behavior, and the intuition that the electorate is more sophisticated than an ethnic census explanation would give them credit for, then there is space for constitutional mechanisms which encourage crosscutting cleavages. The goal of integrative consensus strategies is to proliferate such incentives, while at the same time retaining the benefits of inclusionary government i. While the consociational and integrative consensus types share a number of traits indeed they are both forms of power-sharing or consensual democracy , such as proportionality, federalism, bicameralism, and minority vetoes, they differ in the institutional mechanisms they utilize to facilitate such traits.

A Theory of Parties and Electoral Systems

One of the key differences is the choice of electoral system. While consociationalism is nearly always based on a list PR system, integrative consensualism requires the use of the single transferable vote to encourage party appeals beyond defined ethnic boundaries.

Under this system, segments of opinion would be represented proportionately in the legislature, but there would be a great incentive for political elites to appeal to the members of other segments, given that second preferences on the ballot paper are of prime importance. Lakeman argues that under STV "political considerations can gradually assume more importance and racial ones less, without the elector ever being faced with a conflict of loyalties" Advocates of majoritarianism see the dangers of immobilism and paralysis just as inherent in consensual government as in consociationalism due to the mandated oversize coalition governments.

Proponents of both consociationalism and centripetalism have also criticized consensualism's electoral recommendations. Lijphart argues that STV is better suited to homogenous societies than plural ones Lijphart, , while Horowitz objects to STV on the grounds that the threshold for winning a. It is true that, with one important exception, the use of STV in divided societies to date has been limited, inconclusive, and generally not supportive of integral consensual theories.

Until the "Good Friday" peace agreement in Northern Ireland, only two ethnically divided states had utilized STV in "one-off" national elections: Northern Ireland in and again in and Estonia in In both cases, little vote-pooling took place. In elections to the abortive Northern Ireland Assembly, parties neither campaigned for nor received votes across the Protestant-Catholic divide, in part "because the chances of winning an extra seat by adding a few votes from the other community were much less than the chances of losing votes by appearing 'soft' on key sectarian issues.

Again, ethnicity appeared to be the dominant factor in voter choice at these elections, with little evidence of cross-ethnic voting. Just as there are few cases of the use of STV in divided societies, to date there have been no full-blown examples of the integrative typology in the real world.