Comparative Politics

B13 - Constitutions, Conflicts, and Language

Date: Jun 13 | Time: 01:45pm to 03:15pm | Location:

Uncertainty in Canada’s Independence Referendums: Past Issues and Future Solutions?: Sabrina Sotiriu (University of Ottawa), Andre Lecours (University of Ottawa)
Abstract: There are various types of uncertainty that domestic politics and economics deal with on any given year, and this only gets heightened during more stressful times such as independence referendums. My paper zeroes in on how the various forms of uncertainty (political, electoral etc) contributed, or were manipulated, in the 1995 independence referendum in Quebec. I first break down some theoretical understandings of uncertainty both in comparative politics as well as in other political sub-fields. Substantively, I look specifically at the questions around the ballot box question and its relationship with the semantics of sovereignty constructed in this context. I also focus on the use of cultural and non-cultural markers in leaders’ discourse during the 1995 referendum campaign and how they may have contributed to electoral uncertainty for voters (causal inferences are impossible to establish so later from said campaign). Finally, I analyze how the federal institutional setting, and constitutional silence contributed to fostering uncertainty between the two orders of government (federal and provincial), how this played out in leaders’ speeches, and how, unlike in Scotland two decades later, there was no negotiated agreement on the rules of the referendum process. My methodology is qualitative discourse analysis of key leaders’ speeches, and my conclusion is that uncertainty can be very easily amplified for political purposes (also known as a political golden goose, or a Pandora’s Box), as Quebec has showed in its 1995 independence referendum. This should be carefully taken into account from as many angles as possible, to ensure a minimal-only level of uncertainty present in future iterations so that a clear vote, with a clear question, and a clear majority will be the minimal legally-mandated goal posts that will ensure a legitimate, valid, and democratically acceptable conclusion on both sides. (292 words)

Pretzel Politics: The Gordian Knot of Chile's Missed Opportunity to Replace the 1980 Constitution: Nibaldo Galleguillos (McMaster University)
Abstract: Description: On 17 December 2023 Chileans will vote to ‘approve or reject’ a new political constitution. This is the second plebiscite in two years to attempt to replace the 1980 constitution enacted by the military regime. The document now before voters contrasts with the constitutional draft rejected in 2022. The paper compares three documents: the 1980 constitution; the rejected 2022 draft, and the 2023 document. It examines political representation and participation in the drafting of these documents: from no popular representation and controlled participation (1980 document), to extensive participation and representation (2020-2022: 150 popularly elected members to the constitutional assembly, gender parity, and 17 indigenous representatives); to limited representation in 2023: (committee of 24 ‘experts’ prepared the draft) and reduced participation in the constitutional council (50 elected members, with just one indigenous representative). The paper addresses these questions: (a) what explains the electorate’s swings, from wanting a constitution (2019), to rejecting a progressive one (2022), and likely rejecting the current conservative draft (2023)? (b) Do two strikingly different constitutions (2022, 2023) reflect irreconcilable ideological differences between Left and Right? Has a moderate alternative all but disappeared in Chilean politics? (c) Will the failure to approve a new constitution lead to a return to the social mobilization that ignited the demands for a new document in 2019, and the accompanying violence from protesters and government’s repressive apparatuses? (d) If the new draft were to be rejected in December 2023, can that be interpreted as the legitimation of the undemocratic 1980 constitution?

When Ideals and Ideas Exclude: Revisiting the French Republics' Language Policies and Their Consequences for the Concept of the French Nation: Marat Akopian (Shepherd University)
Abstract: The paper offers a critical examination of one of the most influential concepts in the studies of nationalism and ethnicity, namely the idea that there are two distinct types of nationalism and nation - individualistic, culture-blind, inclusive, civic nationalism where the membership in the body politic is conditioned by one's attachment to liberal values and political institutions, and collectivist. exclusive, ethnic form of nationalism where the membership in the nation is contingent on one's ancestry and language. My co-author (Dr. Regina Akopian) and I seek to challenge this argument by closer examination of one of the more prominent cases in this scholarship. The case of France and civic and yet collectivist French national identity (manifested, among other things, in the state policy of linguistic assimilation) has always been "explained" as a peculiarly French pre-occupation with language as "une affaire d'état." Our examination produces a more nuanced picture with a clearly contrasting policies of successive post-1789 republican governments' ideologically-motivated preoccupation with the language and speech of their citizens and those of the Old Regime which sought to establish the pre-eminence of the King's French in the courts and political discourse while being largely indifferent to the speech of its "humbler subjects." For our case study, we borrow the sociolinguistic concept of 'language planning' and draw on a variety of classical and contemporary scholarly works on French language and nation in the fields of history, historical sociology, literary and Catholic studies, and sociolinguistics.

Inter-Ethnic Parties in Consociational Democracies: Northern Ireland and the Alliance Party: Owen Wong (Queen's University), John McGarry (Queen's University)
Abstract: Consociationalism has fostered peace in deeply divided societies. Despite its potential to transform societies ridden with ethnic conflict, it is criticized for privileging ethnicity at the expense of non-ethnic or inter-ethnic parties. While critics maintain that transformative inter-ethnic parties cannot succeed in consociational democracies, the recent success of Northern Ireland’s inter-ethnic Alliance Party (APNI) contradicts these claims. Under what conditions can inter-ethnic parties succeed in rigid consociations? While scholars are beginning to theorize about these inter-ethnic parties, they have not adequately addressed when and why they gain and lose support. Using Northern Ireland, in the context of Brexit, this paper presents three factors that allow inter-ethnic parties to succeed. Using process tracing and congruence testing, this paper advances a theory that both challenges conventional understandings of consociationalism and explains the relative success and failure of inter-ethnic parties in other consociational regimes. Specifically, it assesses the relative merit of permissive institutional mechanisms, weakening ethnic identity, and ethnic tribune dysfunction. By analyzing the factors under which inter-ethnic parties succeed in consociational democracies, this paper highlights weaknesses in conventional criticisms of power sharing. It also helps to develop traditional theories of consociationalism that do not predict inter-ethnic parties in multiethnic or pluri-national societies. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East highlights the importance of understanding peace processes. Beyond its academic contribution, this paper highlights the practical benefits of consociationalism as a conflict-regulating tool.