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Political representation and ethnic conflict in new democracies


Sonia Alonso, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, Reichpietschufer 50, D-10785 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:


Abstract.  This article is an exploratory analysis of the efficacy of parliamentary representation as a means to moderate ethnic conflict in new democracies. The authors agree with many others that the interests of a minority ethnic group are better protected when the group has access to decision makers, can block harmful government policies and veto potentially damaging decisions. Parliamentary representation, however, does not always allow for an effective representation of those who are not in government. Seats in the legislature may be of little use in a parliament where the executive dominates the policy process at all stages. This article focuses on the new democracies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union between 1990 and 2000. The authors use the number of parliamentary seats obtained by minority ethnic parties as their main independent variable and the MAR ethnic protest and rebellion scores as their dependent variables. In addition, they employ the system of government (i.e., parliamentary versus presidential) as a proxy indicator of the degree of influence that parliamentary parties have over decision making. A cross-section-time-series regression analysis shows that the ameliorative effect of parliamentary representation over ethnic conflict is stronger in those legislatures where the ethnic group has effective influence over decision making. It is also shown that representation within national parliaments has no ameliorative effects over violent secessionist conflicts. When the ethnic minority's demands are too radical, parliamentary representation is simply an inadequate instrument.