Electoral systems and the contest for relative group status in post-conflict societies: The case of the 2009 election in South Africa
Empirical support appears to be growing for the claimed effectiveness of proportional electoral systems in contributing to lasting peace in post-conflict societies. We raise two objections against this claim. Firstly, we argue that the theoretical rationale for this causal effect, as presented in consociational theory, is inadequate, in lacking a psychological mechanism for moderation. We argue that the capacity of constitutional arrangements to deliver parity of esteem amongst competing political groups should be added as a criterion for evaluating the effectiveness of constitutional rules in maintaining political stability. Secondly, we challenge the empirical claim that South Africa should be considered as an example which supports the argument for Party-list Proportional Representation (PR) as a conflict-regulating rule. Using data from the 2009 general election in South Africa to illustrate the nature of the engagement between ruling and opposition parties, we find that despite the entrenchment of the proportional electoral system, there is a disparity of esteem in political relationships. This necessitates a reconsideration of the purported value of PR as a conflict-regulating constitutional device. © 2011 South African Association of Political Studies.