Democracy: all power does not rest with any one organ of the government.

Power sharing among legislature, executive and judiciary is very important to the design of a democracy.

why is power sharing desirable?

Two reasons in favor of power sharing:

1. Prudential reasons- It helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups.

  1. Social conflicts often lead to violence and political instability; power sharing ensures the stability of political order.
  2. Short Run: imposing the will of majority community over others seems like an easier option;
    Long Run: it undermines the unity of the nation.
  3. Tyranny of the majority:
  • oppressive for the minority;
  • often brings problems to the majority as well.

2. Moral reasons- Power sharing: the very spirit of democracy.

  1. Democratic rule:
  • sharing power with those affected by its exercise,
  • sharing power with those who have to live with its effects.
  1. People have a right to be consulted on how they are to be governed.
  2. Legitimate government: one where citizens, through participation, acquire a stake in the system.
  • Prudential reasons: power sharing will bring out better outcomes.
  • Moral reasons: emphasize the very act of power sharing as valuable.

Belgium and Sri lanka

Belgium and Srilanka


  • A small country in Europe, smaller in area than the state of Haryana.
  • Neighbouring countries:
    • France
    • The Netherlands,
  • Germany,
  • Luxembourg.
  • Population: a little over one crore, about half the population of Haryana.
  • ETHNIC Composition- very complex. Of the total population:
    • 59%: lives in the Flemish region & speaks Dutch language.
    • 40%: lives in the Wallonia region & speak French.
    • Remaining 1%: speak German.
    • Capital city Brussels: 80% people speak French; 20% are Dutch-speaking.
  • French-speaking community:
    • Minority,
    • relatively rich and powerful.
  • Dutch-speaking community:
    • got the benefit of economic development & education much later.
    • led to tension between the Dutch-speaking & French-speaking communities during 1950s & 60s.
    • Tension between two communities: more acute in Brussels.
  • Problem in Brussels: Dutch-speaking people were a majority in the country, but a minority in the capital.

Sri Lanka

  • Island nation, just a few kilometres off the southern coast of Tamil Nadu.
  • Population: 2 crore people, about the same as in Haryana.
  • Sri Lanka- a diverse population. The major social groups:
    • the Sinhala-speakers (74%),
    • the Tamil-speakers (18%).
      • Tamil natives: called ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’ (13%).
        • concentrated in the north & east of the country.
      • Indian Tamils: their forefathers came from India as plantation workers during colonialism.
  • Most of the Sinhala-speakers: Buddhists,
  • Most of the Tamils: Hindus or Muslims.
  • Tamil and Sinhala Christians: 7%.

a comparison

  • Belgium: Dutch community could take advantage of its numeric majority.
    • It could force its will on the French & German-speaking population.
    • Conflict among communities pushed further, could lead to a messy partition of the country.
      • both the sides would claim control over Brussels.
  • Sri Lanka: Sinhala community enjoyed an even bigger majority.

  • It could impose its will on the entire country.


Majoritarianism in Sri Lanka

  • 1948: Sri Lanka became an independent country.
  • The Sinhala community leaders sought to secure dominance over government, given their majority.
  • Sinhala supremacy: democratically elected government adopted majoritarian measures.
  • 1956: an Act passed to recognise Sinhala as the only official language, disregarding Tamil.
    • Governments followed preferential policies that favoured Sinhala applicants for university positions and government jobs.
    • A new constitution stipulated that the state shall protect and foster Buddhism.
  • Feeling of alienation increased among the Sri Lankan Tamils. They felt that:
    • no major political party led by Buddhist Sinhala leaders was sensitive to their language & culture.
    • the constitution and government policies denied them:
      • equal political rights,
      • discriminated against them in getting jobs & other opportunities,
      • ignored their interests.
  • Result over time: relations between the Sinhala & Tamil communities strained.
  • The Sri Lankan Tamils launched parties and struggles for:
    • the recognition of Tamil as an official language,
    • regional autonomy,
    • equality of opportunity in securing education & jobs.
  • Their demand for more autonomy to provinces populated by the Tamils was repeatedly denied.
  • 1980s: several political organisations formed demanding an independent Tamil Eelam (state) in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.
  • The distrust between the communities turned into widespread conflict, soon turning into a CIVIL WAR.
    • Thousands of people of both the communities have been killed.
    • Many families were forced to leave the country as refugees and many more lost their livelihoods.
    • Sri Lanka had an excellent record of economic development, education and health.
      • The civil war caused a terrible setback in social, cultural & economic terms.

  • It ended in 2009.

Accommodation in Belgium

  • The Belgian leaders recognised the existence of regional differences and cultural diversities.
  • 1970-1993: amendments made to constitution 4 times to work out an arrangement enabling everyone to live together within the same country.
    • Their arrangement: different & innovative. Elements of the Belgian model:
  1. As per Constitution, number of Dutch & French-speaking ministers shall be equal in central government.
    1. Some special laws require the support of majority of members from each linguistic group.
    2. No single community can make decisions unilaterally.
  2. Many powers of central government have been given to state governments of the 2 regions of country.
    1. The state governments are not subordinate to the Central Government.
  3. Brussels has a separate government in which both the communities have equal representation.
    1.  The French-speaking people accepted equal representation in Brussels because the Dutch-speaking community has accepted equal representation in the Central Government.
  4. Third kind of government: Community Government.
    1. It is elected by people belonging to one language community – Dutch, French & German-speaking – no matter where they live.
    2. It has the power regarding cultural, educational and language-related issues.
  • These arrangements have worked well so far.
  • They helped avoid civic strife between the 2 major communities & a possible division of the country on linguistic lines.
  • When countries of Europe came together to form European Union, Brussels was chosen as its headquarters.

Observations from the two stories of Belgium and Sri Lanka

  • Both are democracies, yet dealt with the question of power sharing differently.
  • Belgium: leaders realised that unity of the country is possible only by respecting the feelings & interests of different communities and regions.
    • It resulted in mutually acceptable arrangements for sharing power.
  • Sri Lanka: It shows us that if a majority community wants to force its dominance over others and refuses to share power, it can undermine the unity of the country.

Different Forms of Power Sharing

Different Forms of Power Sharing

  • Emergence of power-sharing: in opposition to the notions of undivided political power.
  • Previous belief:
    • All power of a government must reside in one person or group of persons located at one place.
    • Power dispersal: not possible to take quick decisions & to enforce them.
    • Emergence of democracy: notions have changed.
  • A basic principle of democracy: people are the source of all political power.
    • People rule themselves through institutions of self-government.
  • Good democratic government: due respect given to diverse groups & views that exist.
    • Everyone has a voice in the shaping of public policies.
    • Political power: distributed among as many citizens as possible.
  • Modern democracies: power sharing arrangements take many forms. Most common arrangements:

1. Power: shared among different organs of government.

  • Like among the legislature, executive and judiciary.
  • Horizontal distribution of power: allows different organs of government placed at the same level to exercise different powers.
  • Balance of power: ensures no organ exercises unlimited power. Each organ checks the others.
  • Judges: appointed by the executive.
  1. They can check the functioning of executive or laws made by the legislatures.
  2. This arrangement is called a system of checks and balances.

2. Power can be shared among governments at different levels.

  • General government: usually called federal government.
  1. In India, it is the Central or Union Government.
  • Governments at provincial or regional level: called by different names in different countries.
  1. In India, these are the State Governments.
  2. This system is not followed in all countries.
  • There are many countries where there are no provincial or state governments.
  • federal division of power: In countries with different level governments, the constitution lays down the powers of each.
  1. It can be extended to other levels of government, like municipality & panchayat.
  2. This is what they did in Belgium, but was refused in Sri Lanka.
  • Vertical division of power: division of powers involving higher & lower levels of government.

3. Power may also be shared among different social groups such as the religious and linguistic groups.

  1. Community government of Belgium is an example of this arrangement.
  2. In some countries, there are constitutional & legal arrangements whereby socially weaker sections and women are represented in the legislatures and administration.
    In 2005, some new laws were made in Russia giving more powers to its president. During the same time the US president visited Russia.
  3. This type of arrangement is meant to give space in the government & administration to diverse social groups who otherwise would feel alienated from the government.
  4. This method is used to give minority communities a fair share in power.

4. Power sharing arrangements can be seen in the way political parties, pressure groups & movements control or influence those in power.

  1. Democracy: citizens must have freedom to choose among various contenders for power.
    1. It takes the form of competition among different parties.
    2. Competition ensures that power does not remain in one hand.
  2. Long run: power shared among political parties represent different ideologies & social groups.
  3. Sometimes sharing can be direct, when 2 or more parties form an alliance to contest elections.
  4. Elected alliance: they form a coalition government and so, share power.
  5. In a democracy, interest groups like those of traders, businessmen, industrialists, farmers & industrial workers have a share in governmental power, either through:
    1. Participation in governmental committees;
    2. Brings influence on the decision-making process.