By Dinesh Dodamgoda –
Many political and opinion leaders consider power sharing as a solution to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka. Yet, power sharing is counterproductive and more likely to bring a recurrence of escalating conflict.
SL is for Power Sharing:
President Sirisena recently sought cabinet approval for an eleven-page draft of a national reconciliation policy based on the principle of power-sharing. In Delhi last year, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also explained their effort in finding a power sharing and devolution based solution to the ethnic problem. The leader of the House Mr. Kiriella said that equal rights of the people should be ensured through power sharing with the periphery. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Sumanthiran stated that they want a mechanism of power sharing consistent with federalism. Even the former President Rajapakse promised India the full implementation of the 13th Amendment plus.
Therefore, it is evident that almost all the mainstream political leaders believe power sharing as a magic formula that could solve country’s ethnic problem. However, power sharing is a counterproductive mechanism.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘power sharing’ entered the English language as a term in 1972 in conjunction with the short-lived settlement in Northern Ireland. Power sharing institutions are to formulate institutions that distribute decision making rights between the state and society and within the state, among governmental organs and with a defined decision making procedure. As Arend Lijphart, the main consociational theorist, views, power sharing is a mechanism that secure participation of representatives of all significant groups in political decision making. Therefore, in an ethnically or religiously divided society a power sharing mechanism should secure participation of representation of ethno-religious elite from all significant ethno-religious groups in the making of governmental decisions.
Power sharing gives power to ethno-religious elite that comes from parties and groups which contributed or took part in creating, maintaining or ending ethno-religious conflicts. Therefore, the power that they would be given enhances these elites’ capabilities to press for more radical demands especially, once the violent phase of the conflict is over and the peace is in place. These capabilities give opportunity and power to these elites to ‘escalate conflict in ways that can threaten democracy and peace’[i]. This is evident in most of the conflict theatres especially, after severe conflicts such as civil wars.
These dangers are inherent parts of any power sharing mechanism, despite constitutional architects’ ability to include institutional constrains to limit such powers and capabilities that ethno-religious elites would be given to influence and control governmental decision making processes. Yet, power sharing institutions seek to ‘guarantee inclusive decision making, partitioned decision making, predetermined decisions, or some combination of these’[ii].
Inclusive decision making mechanisms in power sharing aim to include ethno-religious minorities’ will by guaranteeing participation of representatives of elites from main ethno-religious groups in the making of governmental decisions. This aim is to be achieved through mandates that guarantee allocated positions in the government such as appointing cabinet ministers from main ethno-religious groups or by providing opportunities for such ethno-religious groups to secure their representation in the state’s institutions through proportional representation (PR) systems.
Partitioned decision making mechanisms in power sharing is to give ethno-religious elites the power to deal with their own affairs on the basis of the principles of ‘territoriality’ or ‘personality’. The principle of territoriality would be used to consider territory as a proxy for ethnicity creates Ethnofederalism to establish and administer autonomous regions within the territorially based state. The principle of personality creates Ethnocorporatism to have jurisdictions that would be extended only to members of the ethnic community that they want to consider and not all residents within the territory. Ethnocorporatism can create communal legislative chambers, communal bureaucratic administrations, separate school systems for different ethnicities, etc.
Predetermined decision making in power sharing is to include formulas for proportional allocation of governmental resources. For example, it would guarantee a certain percentage of the GDP to education of a particular ethnic group or a predetermined ethnic composition for the Army. Sometimes, predetermined decision making arrangements in power sharing come with requirements of a two third majority in the parliament and a referendum to amend such predetermined provisions.
As such, power sharing guarantees inclusive decision making, partitioned decision making, predetermined decisions, or some combination of these for ethno-religious elites. However, there are different approaches to power sharing such as consociational approach or integrative approach. The consociational approach aims to protect interests of ethno-religious segments by adopting grand coalitions, provisions for mutual veto, proportional allocations in the governmental bodies, and autonomy. The integrative approach seeks to manage conflicts through the use of incentives to promote interethnic cooperation in parties and electoral campaigns[iii]. Despite these approaches, power sharing is against democracy and also counterproductive in terms of achieving sustainable peace.
Power Sharing is Counterproductive:
The main weakness in power sharing is that it privileges ethnicity or religion in creating institutions and devising policies rather than taking into consideration rest of the dimensions in a given society such as non-cultural identities. Therefore, power sharing mechanism discriminates identities other than the ethnic or religious identities and stands against democracy.
As I noted in my previous article[iv], Sri Lanka is a country that has a society with multiple and often cross-cutting identities. For example, a person in SL can and with regard to non-cultural identities be a ‘labourer’ who is a part-time ‘farmer’ in a ‘rural’ village. Therefore, he simultaneously maintains at least three multiple and cross-cutting non-cultural identities, namely a labourer, farmer and a rural community member. At the same time he can have a cultural identity and be a Tamil-Buddhist as there are 22,254 Tamil Buddhists (another cultural minority) and eleven Tamil Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is evident that a person’s ethno-religious identity is not the only identity he/she has and by privileging a person’s ethno-religious identity, power sharing discriminates rest of the dimensions in the Sri Lankan society. It is not only undemocratic or stands against a plural society, but ‘creates both motives and means for the ethnic elites empowered by power sharing to escalate ethnic conflicts’[v].
As observed by Donald Rothchild and Philip G. Roeder, “in ethnically divided societies, power sharing institutions have given rise to at least seven key problems that have thwarted the consolidation of peace and democracy” [vi]. Accordingly, power sharing limits democracy; empowers ethnic leaders even to challenge power sharing agreements; by privileging interethnic allocations for power and resources, power sharing discriminates other minorities such as non-cultural communities; even where ethnic elites are initially sincere in their commitments to power sharing, ‘the second-generation problem’ arises when ambitious, upcoming leaders with more radical demands try to replace moderates; expanded representation in power sharing causes governmental inefficiency as mechanisms such as vetoes can end up governments in deadlocks; as power sharing institutions tend to be inflexible and unable to adopt to changing social conditions during a transition from intense conflict, it may not meet challenges posed by a post-conflict environment and result in governmental rigidity; and as it may be difficult to enforce the rules of a power sharing arrangement against opportunistic behaviour by the leaders of ethnic groups that are major parties to the agreement, power sharing may suffer from inadequate enforcement problems.
Furthermore, since power sharing strategies privilege selected ethno-religious or cultural identities, power sharing gives powers to ethno-religious elites to cultivate monopolistic identities through separate schooling, public celebration and propaganda. As a result, individuals from rest of the identities such as non-cultural identities either will be discriminated or may suffer from unfair treatments.
As the power sharing privilege the leaders of specified cultural communities with mandated resources and powers that are not available to the leaders of other communities such as leaders of non-cultural identities, power sharing threatens pluralistic societies and civil society organisations including NGOs that represent interests of non-privileged identities. Therefore, in terms of maintaining a healthy pluralistic society, power sharing creates obstacles.
The power sharing arrangements give cultural politicians expanded agenda control power and means to frame agenda items as cultural conflicts. So, these politicians can reframe their demands as challenges to their allocated decision making rights and aim to gain expanded agenda control powers over various subjects such as sole control over natural resources in their homeland. Any opposition to such demands may be interpreted by those cultural politicians as challenges to their sovereign rights. The danger is that these claims and counter claims can result not only a debate over constitutional provisions, but even a civil war that threatens the peace.
Moreover, as the power sharing privileges a number of elites from selected cultural communities, it concentrates state powers into their hands. The danger in this dimension of power sharing is that it enhances those leaders’ ability to threaten the existing constitutional order as a few can impact on many of the governmental institutions and stability. Any opposition to such a move can result again even a protracted conflict or a civil war.[vii]
Power Sharing is not a Magic Formula:
Therefore, power sharing is not a magic formula that can solve the country’s ethnic problem. Instead, the power sharing strategies will create serious undesired effects that are counterproductive in terms of establishing a sustainable peace process.
However, power sharing can be an attractive mechanism to parties to an ongoing conflict as it tends to provide a quick solution to end intense conflicts[viii]. Yet, power sharing is counterproductive and more likely to escalate the one overarching cultural conflict later. To conclude this article it is important to note that as Philip G. Roeder observed, once a state has begun to govern itself under power sharing it is unlikely to make the shift to alternatives and more have locked in to a course more likely to bring a recurrence of escalating conflict[ix].
[i] Rothchild, D. and Roeder, P. G. (2005) ‘Power Sharing as an impediment to Peace and Democracy’ in Rothchild, D. and Roeder, P. G. (ed.) (2005) Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy after Civil Wars, Cornwell University Press: London, p. 29
[ii] Ibid. p. 30
[iii] for a further discussion, see, Ibid., pp. 30-36
[v] Rothchild, D. and Roeder, P. G. (2005), op cit., p. 36
[vi] Ibid., pp. 36 (for a further discussion, see, Ibid., pp. 36-41)
[vii] For a further discussion, see, Roeder, P. G. (2012) ‘Power dividing: The multiple-majorities approach’ in Wolf, S. & Yakinthou, C. (ed.) Conflict Management in Divided Societies: Theories and Practice, Routledge: London, pp. 72-80
[viii] Walter, B. (2002) Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 27-31, 80-81
[ix] Roeder, P. G. (2012), op cit., p. 72