The hybridity of a confessional state

Authored by: Michael Kerr , Amal Hamdan

Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415566216
eBook ISBN: 9780203395974
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727627


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Power sharing (consociational government) regulates political conflict in states where no single national, linguistic or religious group can dominate the others and where the polity is governed through an agreement which allows rival parties peaceably to co-exist (Lijphart, 1999; O’Leary, 2003, 2005). Complex constitutional engineering processes which aim to manage ethno-national divisions within deeply divided societies experiencing post-conflict transition using power sharing, and the implementation of provisions such as decentralization or devolution within such frameworks, are rarely consistent between theory and practice. Peace processes and power-sharing agreements in pluri-national places are prone to renegotiation and are often reliant on external support from states intervening to further their own interests by bringing about constitutional change (Kerr, 2005). This is particularly true of the ‘hard case’ that Lebanon represents, where the political implications of decentralization threaten traditional elites whose political authority is reinforced and legitimized through its corporate consociational system. Lebanon’s elites have much to lose if the form of administrative decentralization that was proposed through the powersharing agreement that ended its civil war in 1989 were to be fully implemented. Debate in Lebanon over whether strong decentralized government should be implemented is ongoing: decentralization would challenge the unrivalled predominance of political parties and traditional elites that represent Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim communities; and it would undermine the clientelistic politics that preserve the power bases of these traditional elites, a key source of party loyalty upon which they depend. In contrast, a weak decentralized system poses no such threat. Therefore, this political determinant remains an obstacle to shifting Lebanon away from what is a unitary, ‘corporate’ consociational system towards what might arguably be a more hybrid, ‘liberal’ consociational system. The distinction between these two forms of power sharing is important. Corporate consociations privilege some identities or groups over others (McGarry and O’Leary, 2006: 271), thereby creating and reinforcing communal grievances based on disproportional powersharing arrangements. For example, Lebanon’s power-sharing system is less liberal than Northern Ireland’s in the sense that the latter uses Single Transferable Vote to elect its assembly and the d’Hondt electoral system to form its executive. In Lebanon, corporate consociationalism has meant that the posts of the president, prime minister and house speaker are reserved exclusively for the Maronite, Sunni and Shi’a communities, respectively. This has fuelled communal grievances of unequal power sharing as they do not equally participate in executive authority.

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