Power Sharing – Belgium is a small country in Europe, sharing its borders with France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. Its population is over 1 crore and has a complex ethical composition. The main languages spoken in the country include Dutch, French, and German. There was tension between the French and Dutch-speaking populations because of the economic conditions and power dynamics.Sri Lanka is an island nation, just a few kilometers off the southern coast of Tamil Nadu. It has a population of about two crores with a diverse population. The main languages spoken in the country include Sinhala-speakers (74 percent) and Tamil-speakers (18 percent). Most of the Sinhala-speaking people are Buddhists, while most of the Tamils are Hindus or Muslims. The mess between communities could lead to further conflicts.
Majoritarianism in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka emerged as an independent country in 1948. To secure dominance over the government by virtue of their majority, the democratically elected government adopted a series of MAJORITARIAN measures to establish Sinhala supremacy. In 1956, an Act was passed to recognize Sinhala as the only official language, thus disregarding Tamil. The governments followed preferential policies that favored Sinhala applicants for university positions and government jobs. A new constitution stipulated that the state shall protect and foster Buddhism, and all these made the Sri Lankan Tamils feel more alienated. They felt that none of the major political parties led by the Buddhist Sinhala leaders was sensitive to their language and culture and denied them equal political rights, discriminated against them in getting jobs and other opportunities, and ignored their interests.
This created tension between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. There were struggles launched for reconsideration of languages. The distrust between the two communities turned into widespread conflict. It soon turned into a CIVIL WAR. As a result, thousands of people of both communities have been killed. Many families were forced to leave the country as refugees and many more lost their livelihoods.
Accommodation in Belgium
The Belgian leaders recognized the existence of regional differences and cultural diversities and they amended their constitution four times so as to work out an arrangement that would enable everyone to live together within the same country. Some of the elements of the Belgian model include:
• Making the number of linguistic groups equal in the central government so that no single community can make decisions unilaterally.
• Ensuring that the state governments not subordinate to the Central Government.
• A separate government in which both the communities have equal representation.
• Apart from the Central and the State governments, there is a third kind of government.
This ‘community government’ is elected by people belonging to one language community – Dutch, French, and German-speaking – no matter where they live. This government has the power regarding cultural, educational, and language-related issues.
Maybe the model looks a little complicated but they helped to avoid civic strife between the two major communities and a possible division of the country on linguistic lines.
For a long time, it was believed that all power of a government must reside in one person or group of persons located at one place because if the power to decide is dispersed, it would not be possible to take quick decisions and enforce them. But these notions have changed with the emergence of democracy.
Firstly, power-sharing is good because it helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups and is a way to ensure the stability of political order. Imposing the will of the majority community over others may look like an attractive option in the short run, but in the long run, it undermines the unity of the nation.
There is a second, deeper reason why power sharing is good for democracies. Power-sharing is the very spirit of democracy. A democratic rule involves sharing power with those affected by its exercise, and who have to live with its effects. People have a right to be consulted on how they are to be governed. A legitimate government is one where citizens, through participation, acquire a stake in the system. There can be many forms of power-sharing, some of them are:
- Power is shared among different organs of government: Examples of such kinds can be the legislature, executive, and judiciary. It is mostly based on the concept of horizontal distribution of powers. Such separation ensures that none of the organs can exercise unlimited power. Each organ checks the others. This results in a balance of power among various institutions.
- Power shared amongst governments at different levels: A general government for the entire country and governments at the provincial or regional level. Such a general government for the entire country is usually called the federal government. An example of this is the Central government, State government, and panchayats in the local areas in India.
- Power shared among different social groups: – such as the religious and linguistic groups. ‘Community government’ in Belgium is a good example of this arrangement. In some countries, there are constitutional and legal arrangements whereby socially weaker sections and women are represented in the legislatures and administration. This type of arrangement is meant to give space in the government and administration to diverse social groups who otherwise would feel alienated from the government. This method is used to give minority communities a fair share of power.
- Power shared by political parties, pressure groups, and movements control or influence those in power: In a democracy, the citizens must have the freedom to choose among various contenders for power. In contemporary democracies, this takes the form of competition among different parties. Such competition ensures that power does not remain in one hand. Sometimes this kind of sharing can be direct when two or more parties form an alliance to contest elections.
A coalition government is formed once their alliance is elected, thus sharing power. In a democracy, we find interest groups such as those traders, businessmen, industrialists, farmers, and industrial workers. They also will have a share in governmental power, either through participation in governmental committees or bringing influence to the decision-making process.