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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Neo-Downsian Model of the Alternative Vote as a Mechanism for Mitigating Ethnic Conflict in Plural Societies


A fundamental challenge faced by many countries is the accommodation of ethnic and religious diversity. The search for methods to mitigate or resolve conflicts in plural societies has been a major concern of both scholars and politicians, and there is a vast literature on this topic. This general debate about appropriate institutional design for plural societies plays itself out in terms of arguments about choice of electoral system. The two key academic protagonists in the debate over the appropriate electoral system to use in plural societies are Arend Lijphart, in his work on power sharing and consociationalism, and Donald Horowitz, in his work on constitutional design and ethnic accommodation. The former has advocated list PR, the latter advocates methods such as AV. Their two approaches to electoral system choice in plural societies are widely viewed as being in direct opposition to one another, both by academics studying ethnic conflict and by politicians in plural societies, themselves. This paper focuses on Horowitz’s approach to the use of the alternative vote as a tool for mitigating ethnic conflict. We illustrate such a situation hypothetically for the case of Fiji, a country where, largely due to Horowitz’s influence, in 1999, the alternative vote was adopted for national parliamentary elections.

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