Consociational state

Political scientists define a consociational state as a state which has major internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority group, yet nonetheless manages to remain stable, due to consultation among the elites of each of its major social groups. Consociational states are often contrasted with states with majority rule.

Classical examples of consociational states are Belgium, Switzerland, Lebanon, and the Netherlands (from 1917 until 1967, see pillarisation).

Consociational polities often have these characteristics:
*Coalition cabinets, where executive power is shared between parties, not concentrated in one. Many of these cabinets are oversized, they include parties not necessary for a parliamentary majority;
*Balance of power between executive and legislative;
*Decentralized and federal government, where (regional) minorities have considerable independence;
*Asymmetric bicameralism, where it is very difficult for one party to gain a majority in both houses. Normally one chamber represents regional interests and the other national interests;
*Proportional representation, to allow (small) minorities to gain representation too;
*Organized and corporatist interest groups, which represent minorities;
*A rigid constitution, which prevents government from changing the constitution without consent of minorities;
*Judicial review, which allow minorities to go to the courts to seek redress against laws that they see as unjust;
*Elements of direct democracy, which allow minorities to enact or prevent legislation;
*Proportional employment in the public sector;
*A neutral head of state, either a monarch with only ceremonial duties, or an indirectly elected president, who gives up his party affiliation after his election;
*Referendums are only used to allow minorities to block legislation: this means that they must be a citizen's initiative and that there is no compulsory voting.
*Equality between ministers in cabinet, the prime minister is only the primus inter pares;
*An independent central bank, where experts and not politicians set out monetary policies.

In this view, Switzerland, a country with no clear majority group, is a prime example of such a consensus democracy. Examples of this include: the frequent use of referendums, its confederal structure, and the tradition that all large parties are included in the cabinet, creating oversized coalition governments. This can be directly linked to the many minorities Switzerland has: its population consists of both Protestants and Roman Catholics; and French-, German-, Italian- and Romansch-speaking groups.

The EU too can be seen as a consensus democracy: The parliament is bicameral: one chamber, the European Parliament is directly elected, the other the Council consists of national ministers. The executive (the European Commission) is very weak in comparison to the legislature (especially the European Council). The Commission could be seen as an oversized coalition including (nearly) all parties in parliament.

See also

* Consociationalism
* Confederation
* Federation
* Consensus democracy
* Minority rights
* Minority group
* Ethnic interest group


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