Benjamin Reilly

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    Centripetal approaches to conflict management seek to foster peaceful politics by encouraging cooperation, accommodation and integration in divided societies. These goals are broadly shared with other approaches to conflict management, such as the scholarly orthodoxy of consociationalism, discussed elsewhere in this volume. However, the specific institutional recommendations to achieve these goals differ significantly from orthodox prescriptions. Centripetalists believe that the best way to manage democracy in divided societies is not to replicate existing ethnic divisions in the legislature and other representative organs, but rather to put in place institutional incentives for cross-ethnic behaviour so as to encourage accommodation between rival groups. As such, they typically reject elite-driven approaches such as consociationalism, and instead seek to dilute the ethnic character of competitive politics and instead promote outcomes which favour the political centre. To do this, centripetalists place a premium on promoting cross-ethnic electoral behaviour to make politicians reliant on the votes of different ethnic communities to gain election. In so doing, they advocate political institutions which can help to break down the salience of ethnicity rather than fostering its representation. As a shorthand for a political system or strategy designed to focus competition at the moderate centre rather than the extremes, centripetalism is so named because ‘the explicit aim is to engineer a centripetal spin to the political system – to pull the parties towards moderate, compromising policies and to discover and reinforce the centre of a deeply divided political spectrum’ (Sisk 1996: 19). Prominent centripetal scholars such as Donald Horowitz (1985, 1991) argued that deeply divided societies such as post-apartheid South Africa needed to foster intercommunal moderation by promoting multi-ethnic political parties to encourage inter-group accommodation. In the same vein, my own work has highlighted how centripetal reforms centred around cross-cutting electoral incentives have lowered electoral violence in highly fragmented states such as Papua New Guinea (Reilly 2001). The competing claims around different institutional models of ethnic conflict management have spawned a prodigious political science debate, and also have had a significant impact on institutional designs in a range of post-conflict societies. While proponents of both consociational and centripetal approaches can point to some successes (and more failures), developments over the past decade have seen a bifurcation in terms of the ‘real world’ experience of each model. On the one hand, high profile attempts at post-conflict peacebuilding such as in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and more recently Iraq have all adopted broadly consociational political settlements. On the other hand, a range of emerging democracies in Africa, Asia and Latin America have chosen centripetal reforms when refashioning their own domestic institutions. This chapter examines the key institutional elements of centripetalism as a model of political engineering in these developing democracies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict
    Editors Karl Cordell and Stefan Wolff
    Place of PublicationOxon, UK, also New York, USA
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415476256
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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