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Exclusion Amid Inclusion


This tension within power-sharing has been ever present in both scholarly debate and real world application. The democratic shortcomings of consociational power-sharing have been the source of vehement debate since the model was first conceptualised by Arend Lijphart in 1969 (1969).  More recently, the EAI problem has formed a core impetus for theoretical refinements to consociational theory, including the distinction between corporate and liberal power-sharing (McCulloch, 2014; McGarry & O’Leary 2006; 2009, 2007; Nagle, 2011; Wolff, 2010).

In practice, the EAI dilemma has been brought into sharp focus by a number of constitutional crises and controversies in power-sharing states. In 2009 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bosnia and Herzegovina's state presidency election rules, by allowing only Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs to stand for election, discriminate against other minority groups. The so-called ‘Sejdic-Finci ruling’ marked a challenge to Bosnia’s power-sharing constitutional framework which is designed to accommodate the state’s three constituent peoples but not citizens who prefer not to identify in terms of the three ethnic groups or who identify with other ethnic groups.

The rules of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing institutions have also faced the charge of marginalising the rights of non-dominant groups, including women and the LGBTQ community. The petition of concern mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly - an effective veto designed to protect the interests of the dominant groups, nationalists and unionists – was used on a number of occasions, most recently in 2015, to block legislative proposals to legalise Same Sex Marriage. 

While the EAI dilemma continues to plague power-sharing in theory and practice, we believe that solutions can be found. As a model of post-conflict democracy, power-sharing has proven highly effective in securing peace and stability in places riven by conflict. The system has much to offer and must be engaged with by scholars of democracy in divided societies.

We contend, however, that power-sharing can be refined and improved in ways that address the EAI problem.

Project Design

This project addresses the central question: How can power-sharing arrangements be best implemented to account for the exclusion amid inclusion (EAI) problem? We identify three kinds of non-dominant groups who were neglected in the original design of power-sharing institutions and remain on the sidelines of post-conflict politics: 

First, non-ethnic minorities, who do not identify with any of the principal ethnic groups in society and seek to participate in politics on a non-ethnic basis; 

Second, re-aligned minorities, that define gender, sexuality and/or able-bodiedness as core identities that impact on their opportunities for engagement in the power-sharing institutions; 

Third, micro-minorities, ethnic or national groups that make up a small proportion of the overall population. 

The research design is three-fold, entailing: 

  • macro-political analysis of power-sharing institutions; 
  • structured, focussed comparison of four case studies where power-sharing has been implemented (Northern Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon and Macedonia); 
  • semi-structured interviews with relevant political elites, community activists and representatives of international organisations engaged in post-conflict democratisation

Assessing the experiences of states engaged in power-sharing, we develop a series of policy proposals for modifying the institutional framework to accommodate identity groups that have either been marginalised under the initial institutional design, or who have emerged during the period of peace.

Planned Impact

The post-conflict divided societies we study in this project are the sites of some of the most intractable conflicts in the world. This necessitates fresh ideas and proposals about building stable state institutions and economies. In producing such insights, this project seeks to make both an academic and practical contribution to the pursuit of peace and post-conflict democracy. In this way, it moves the debate about power-sharing forward, from identifying its problems of exclusion to uncovering inclusive solutions.  

In the realm of scholarship, this research aims to advance knowledge and understanding of the EAI dilemma, both empirical and theoretical. It seeks to confront this persistent challenge to democracy in divided societies identified in the literature and, in so doing, build on and refine power-sharing theory. The conceptual framework we develop can be extended to societies beyond our comparative cases where peace is marred by episodic violence, frozen conflict, and/or active violent conflict between the dominant groups, also affecting the non-dominant groups.

In practical terms, our research works to benefit those making policy and working at community level to resolve the EAI dilemma. The project engages in a two-way exchange of knowledge with those at the heart of the EAI problem, in order to inform the research and, in turn, allow its findings to inform practice.  

We engage in close communication with policymakers, political elites, community activists and NGO representatives at the international, European and domestic levels in the project’s four case studies. Through our research we promote better understanding of the EAI problem amongst these stakeholders and of the potential innovations and reforms that can address such exclusion.  

We believe that the findings we produce can provide tools and resources for policymakers in post-conflict states engaged in institutional design to tackle the EAI problem. They also stand to inform the strategies of non-dominant groups in power-sharing settings for navigating the institutional structures and accessing political channels to best effect.

This research aims to support attempts at constitutional, political and policy reform in deeply divided societies, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Lebanon and Northern Ireland and beyond. It will contribute to the broader goal of securing more just, inclusive democracy in post-conflict societies and more full and sustainable peace.

Summary of Findings & Recommendations:

Consociational power-sharing is a frequently preferred tool for ending civil wars. The exclusion of non-dominant minorities is most commonly perceived to be a part of a necessary trade-off in getting the warring parties to agree to peace. Yet in many cases this exclusion also poses a long-term risk to the stability of post-conflict democracy since the design of the system itself determines reform opportunities. As a result, these ‘others’ have viewed consociation as the chief barrier to greater influence and recognition.

The research for the Exclusion Amid Inclusion: Power-Sharing and Non-Dominant Minorities (EAI) project sought to understand how consociational institutional guarantees for the participation and representation of dominant groups can contribute to the exclusion of non-dominant ‘others’ in post-conflict contexts. Our project compared several consociations, including Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Burundi, North Macedonia, Kosovo and South Tyrol.

The EAI team explored how different Others – Ethnic Others, Ethnic-rejecting Others and Issue-oriented Others – can be constrained by consociational institutions, which in most contexts privilege dominant groups, writing them into constitutions and guaranteeing the protection of their vital interests while leaving Others with less representation and legal protections. Yet, it is important to recognise that consociations are not constructed uniformly and employ different rules with a range of approaches: from those that pre-define who holds power to those which anticipate the emergence of any political groups, regardless of existing lines of conflict.

However, the EAI research has found that exclusion is usually not a result of institutions themselves, but instead reflects how social and political actors operate within the given institutional context. Often dominant actors have little incentive to reach beyond their core constituencies. Our research concludes nonetheless that avenues for dominant actors to initiate reform and to enhance the inclusion of ‘others’ exist in consociations.

The EAI team conducted over 100 semi-structured interviews between 2017 and 2021, with participation of elected officials from dominant ethnic parties, minority ethnic parties, and non-aligned political parties (NAPPs), as well as members of civil society groups and international actors. Our conclusions focus on how to support political reforms and greater inclusion while also ensuring the survival, stability and evolution of power-sharing arrangements.

Project Outputs

Academic publications

Agarin, Timofey, Allison McCulloch, and Cera Murtagh. "Others in Deeply Divided Societies: A Research Agenda." Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, vol.24, no. 3 (2018), pp.299-310

Agarin, Timofey. "The Limits of Inclusion: Representation of Minority and Non-dominant Communities in Consociational and Liberal democracies." International Political Science Review 41, no. 1 (2020): 15-29.

Agarin, Timofey and Allison McCulloch. How Power-Sharing Includes and Excludes Non-Dominant Communities. International Political Science Review 41, no. 1 (2020): 3-14. 

Agarin, Timofey. Nonelectoral Participation in Deeply Divided Societies: Transforming Consociations from the Ground Up? Nationalities Papers 49, no. 2 (2021): 344-360.

McCulloch, Allison. Power-Sharing: A Gender Intervention. International Political Science Review 41, no. 1 (2020): 44-57.

Byrne, Siobhan, and Allison McCulloch. "Gender, representation and power-sharing in post-conflict institutions." International Peacekeeping vol.19 no.5 (2012): 565-580.

McCulloch, Allison, and Aleksandra Zdeb. "Veto Rights and Vital Interests: Formal and Informal Veto Rules for Minority Representation in Deeply Divided Societies." Representation (2020): 1-16

McCulloch, Allison, and Stef Vandeginste. "Veto Power and Power-sharing: Insights from Burundi (2000–2018)." Democratization 26, no. 7 (2019): 1176-1193

Mikhael, Drew. “‘New Others’ in Post-Conflict Consociations: A Continuum of Exclusion?” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 27, no. 1 (2021): 79-98.

Murtagh, Cera and Allison McCulloch. “Beyond the Core: Do Ethnic Parties ‘Reach out’ in Power-sharing Systems?” British Journal of Politics and International Relations (2021).

Murtagh, Cera. Towards Inclusive Power-Sharing in Northern Ireland: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. In: Power-Sharing in Europe: Past Practice, Current Cases and Future Directions, eds. Soeren Keil and Allison McCulloch. Palgrave 2021.

Further relevant publications

McGarry Aidan and Timofey Agarin, Unpacking the Roma Participation Puzzle: Presence, Voice and Influence, JEMS 2014

McGarry, John, and Brendan O’Leary. "Iraq's Constitution of 2005: Liberal consociation as political prescription." International Journal of Constitutional Law 5, no. 4, 2007, pp.670-698

Mitchell, David. "Non-nationalist Politics in a Bi-national Consociation: The Case of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland." Nationalism and Ethnic Politics,  Vol.24, no. 3 (2018),  pp.336-347

Nagle, John. "What are the consequences of consociationalism for sexual minorities? An analysis of liberal and corporate consociationalism and sexual minorities in Northern Ireland and Lebanon." Political Studies, vol.64, no. 4 (2016), pp.854-871

Salloukh, Bassel. Power-Sharing in the Arab World: A Critical Stocktaking. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 20, no. 2: 100-108.

Stojanović, Nenad, “Political Marginalization of Others in Consociational Regimes,” Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft, Vol. 12, no. 2 (2018), pp.341-361

Potter, Michael. Inclusion in Postconflict Legislatures. Palgrave 2020