n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Ethnic identity and institutional design : choosing an electoral system for divided societies

Volume 42, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



Institutional design is increasingly considered an important part of states' response to the challenges of ethnic diversity. This contribution focuses on a particular aspect of the design of democratic institution, namely the electoral system. Drawing on the experience of two multi-ethnic states, the article examines the impact of electoral system in establishing a representative lower house of parliament in multi-ethnic states. The discussion suggests that supplementing institutional arrangements that seek to respond to the multi-ethnic challenge with a proportional electoral system enhances the representativeness of the lower house and fosters inclusivity. The effect of an electoral system on the representation of ethnic groups should, however, not be evaluated in abstract. The choice of the proportional electoral system is not motivated by the capacity of the latter to ensure a broader representation of the different ethnic groups. This can be achieved by the plurality system as well provided that the different ethnic groups are generally territorially concentrated. The reason for the choice of the proportional electoral system lies in its other role, namely its capacity to contribute to inter-ethnic solidarity and social cohesion by encouraging parties to develop a state-wide objective.

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