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Elite stalemate in a deeply divided polity: Could a citizens' assembly make legitimate decisions instead?

James Pow, Queen's University Belfast

Tue 14 November 2017

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


As a deeply divided polity, it comes as no surprise that plenty of political issues in Northern Ireland provoke intense disagreement. However, in a consociational system of government political parties from opposing ethno-national blocs are required to share political power and reach compromise. What happens when power-sharing at the elite-level does not work? What happens if destabilising gridlock threatens the legitimacy of an already fragile political system? This study examines a range of conventional elite-led and citizen-led responses to such a political crisis. Specifically, it compares conventional crisis resolution mechanisms, such as an immediate election, against a more radical alternative: the establishment of a citizens’ assembly of randomly selected citizens. In a survey experiment, we present respondents with a personally unfavourable policy decision on the sensitive subject of Irish language policy, manipulating the venue of the decision. We are interested in the direct effect of decision venue on decision acceptance, as well as the potential moderating effects of ethno-national ideology. These results will be of direct relevance to institutional design in deeply divided societies, specifically on the question of whether or not citizen-led initiatives could be used to strengthen the legitimacy of fragile political systems.

About the speaker

Jamie is a PhD student based in the Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. Under the supervision of Professors John Garry and Rhiannon Turner, Jamie’s interdisciplinary research experimentally examines how a citizens’ assembly could potentially strengthen the quality of democracy in post-conflict Northern Ireland. Drawing on literature from both political science and political psychology, Jamie’s central research question addresses the extent to which, and the conditions under which, people would recognise a citizens’ assembly as a procedurally legitimate decision-making body. Prior to pursuing doctoral study at Queen’s, Jamie completed a Masters degree in Political Science at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

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