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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Institutional Design in Plural Societies: Mitigating Ethnic Conflict and Fostering Stable Democracy

  • Author(s): Grofman, Bernard
  • Stockwell, Robert
  • et al.

We review institutional approaches to mitigating ethnic conflict and fostering stable democracy in plural societies using a four-fold classification: (1)building institutional fences between different ethnic communities through mechanisms such as federalism, communally-based legal and educational systems, and mono-ethnic electoral constituencies or ethnic electoral rolls (the extreme case of which is political breakup into states that are more ethnically homogeneous); (2) implementing power-sharing mechanisms at the elite level that institutionalize norms such as proportional allocation and mutual veto across ethnies, using electoral rules such as list PR that strengthen the power of (ethnically-defined) political elites; (3) implementing electoral institutions that have the potential for voting across ethnic lines and the election of candidates with perceived obligations wider than their own ethnic group, or the creation of parties that are multi-ethnic in character (such as use of the single-transferable vote within constituencies that are multi-ethnic in character, or its single district variant, the alternative vote); (4) minimizing the importance of ethnicity for political life and for social and economic opportunity via mechanisms that emphasize a common legal system with a strong system of civil rights and civil liberties, shared civic values, and either the teaching of a single common language or "forced" multilingual education, and which strengthen the political importance of non-ethnic bases for divisions, e.g., class or geography, and avoid allocative mechanisms that are ethnically-based. We link our approach to dealing with plural societies to the foundations of constitutional political economy laid out in Buchanan and Tullock (1962) and to our own perspective (Grofman 2000) on institutions as "problem solvers."

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