By Dinesh Dodamgoda –
When I published my previous article arguing that power sharing is counterproductive and would not solve the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka, many (including commentators, civil society members and some members of the Steering Committee drafting the new constitution) asked me then ‘what is the solution you propose?’ The solution is Power Dividing or the Multiple-Majorities Approach that was proposed by Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild.
Power diving is a ‘prudential strategy’ of institution building. Yet, the approach’s philosophical foundations are principles of liberalism and pluralism.
The power dividing strategy proposes to remove ‘the most divisive issues’, in SL’s case the ethnicity and religion, from the government and reserve the decision making power to individuals and civil society. Therefore, the strategy is based on principles of liberalism. On the other hand, the power dividing strategy promotes multiple identities, cultural as well as non-cultural identities, and therefore, the strategy is rooted in principles of pluralist democracy.
Liberalism in Practice
The power dividing strategy proposes to bring legislations, such as bill of rights in USA to impose restrictions on government to protect individuals and society from the state. Those legislations are to remove issues that are likely to ignite political conflicts, such as in SL’s case, ethnicity and religion from the government and make institutional arrangements to reserve decision making powers to individual and civil society. In addition to the decision making rights, the approach proposes to guarantee freedoms of associations as well. Hence likeminded individuals can form civil society organisations that can meet their cultural needs.
Therefore, power dividing strategy divides decision-making rights between society and the government and guarantees institutions for individuals and civil society to uphold their cultural needs. Since the approach proposes legislations, such as bill of rights in USA to impose restrictions on government to protect individuals and society from the state, it makes the government incapable of taking the given rights and freedoms back from individuals and society. Any such attempt can be challenged in courts.
Pluralism in Practice
After reserving decision making rights on the most divisive issues, such as ethnicity and religion to individuals and society, power dividing strategy seeks to disperse governmental decision making rights horizontally and vertically to multiple, functionally specific organs. This avoids centralisation of governmental decision making powers into a supreme authority, such as parliament or the cabinet. Therefore, power dividing strategy, by empowering multiple actors, proposes a pluralistic approach in making governmental decisions.
In its approach the power dividing strategy proposes to limit actors’ definitive decision making powers only to a narrow realm, such as setting up traffic regulations, devising public health policies, setting up standards for school education, deciding state tax policies, etc. Furthermore, the strategy in giving jurisdiction to local levels as well devolves decision making rights to different layers of the government. Perhaps these decision making power jurisdictions can be cross-cutting. For example, boundaries of police districts may not be identical to the boundaries of school districts or administrative districts. As such, in a given location different authoritative districts can have cross-cutting and non-subordinate jurisdictions. This will stand against any overarching territorial or non-territorial jurisdictions and hence will discourage ethnofederalism and ethnocorporatism, concepts that would further divide the society on cultural lines.
Furthermore, in such realms decisions will be made on the basis of Westminster principle, namely the majority will decide policy. However, by adopting different representative criteria for different realms, the power dividing strategy will create different majorities for different realms. Hence the approach is called the multiple-majorities approach. The multiple-majorities approach therefore, lowers the likelihood that the same majority will dominate all the organs and make all decisions. This enhances the likelihood that losers would not lose everywhere.
Power Dividing and the Ethnic Issue
In terms of solving the ethnic issue in SL, the power dividing strategy will first, remove the most divisive issues, ethnicity and religion, from the government and reserve decision making rights to individuals and civil society. Hence the strategy will take the burden that comes from those issues away from the government and, as such the government does not have to bother deciding issues such as whether to include any super status to a religion in the constitution. This is to encourage pluralism as a principle that would enhance co-existence and make any pressure on government that would be built on ethno-religious line futile as the government does not have the decision making capacity to solve those issues. Therefore, challenging the government is not necessary to find solutions to ethno-religious problems and this will mitigate any ethno-religious political conflicts as the ethnicity or religion are not anymore politically important subjects of the government.
Second, the strategy in terms of individual level gives individuals to develop multiple, situation specific, and cross-cutting identities in cultural as well as non-cultural domains. For example, an individual can simultaneously be a Buddhist and a teacher and maintain both identities differently in a Buddhists’ association and a teachers’ club as well. The most important thing is neither of his/her identity will be supported by politics. Hence this will encourage a pluralistic society as no identity will be privileged or discriminated politically and further it will enhance freedom of association for individuals. Therefore, individuals will find many opportunities in such societies to uphold their cultural and non-cultural identities beyond the curse of politics and this will create a society that has no overarching cultural conflict. Hence the strategy will encourage and maintain peace and harmony.
In terms of the civil society level the strategy will not empower ethno-religious leaders politically and therefore, the power will not be concentrated only in their hands as the strategy would disperse resources. Hence ethno-religious leaders in a given society will not have more powers than non-cultural leaders to influence issues and this equation will encourage development of multiple associations along multiple dimension of social cleavage. Therefore, in terms of civil society level the multiple-majorities approach will enhance conditions for the development of a civil society of many NGOs.
The strategy in the state level is less likely to facilitate the escalation of ethno-religious political conflicts as it removes decision making powers on ethno-religious issues out from the government. Therefore, any actors who seek to resolve any ethno-religious issues should go to individuals or civil society associations that deal with such issues. The important point to note is that those individuals or civil society associations are not politically privileged or discriminated entities and therefore, their approaches also will be non-political approaches to ethno-religious issues. This will further reduce the likelihood of escalating ethno-religious political conflicts.
Power Dividing in Practice
Power dividing strategy in practice can be seen up to a point in Switzerland and in the ten West Coast and Rocky Mountain states (minus Utah) of the United States. In Switzerland, ethnolinguistic identity is less salient in political actions and even in the country’s bicameral legislature ethnolinguistic identity was not privileged. The Swiss government leaves many decision making rights to individuals and civil society especially, decision making rights related to ethnolinguistic issues. Hence ethnolinguistic identity has a seldom representation in country’s political life.
In the United States, the multiple-majorities approach has contributed to setting up multiple and cross-cutting special purpose governments such as school districts, natural resources districts or fire districts that exercise autonomous revenue raising, spending and regulatory powers led by their own elected leaders. Many of the states have plural executives and made it difficult for one party to dominate all executive organs. As such a pluralistic democracy that has multiple majorities is observed in those states.
Therefore, the power dividing strategy is not just a concept that has no practical validity. Instead, the strategy is a prudential strategy of institution building. However, it is recommended for the interested readers to read the following works of Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild to gain further understanding on the subject.
*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. 66-83
*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