Comparative analysis of political systems of Lebanon and Switzerland

Consociational Democracy and its Core Principles

Seminar Paper, 2002

10 Pages, Grade: A






Testing the core principles of Consociational Democracy




In the late 1960s Arend Lijphart introduced the term ‘consociational’ to characterize democratic systems like that of Netherlands. He derived the term from Johannes Althusius’s concept of consociation in his Politica Methodice Digesta (1603).[1] In his later works, Lijphart deliberated more and more about this type of democracy and how it is implemented in the plural societies, which are fragmented along the ethnical, religious, linguistic or/and other lines. He emphasized that in the consociational democracy “majority rule is replaced by joint consensual rule”, and whose working principles are “grand coalitions, mutual veto, proportionality, and segmental autonomy”.[2]

Nowadays, not many countries employ this system of governing, primarily because the segments of society agree to have electoral system based on competition of elites. If they, however, do so it is because each segment of society wants to have its share in the government and the only “…option is to be either consociational or not to be democratic at all.”[3] More precisely, there must be a certain environment in which consociational democracy can be successfully planted and then developed. To analyze the core principles of consociational democracy, how they can be employed and which results they can bring I explore two countries that are situated in the different world regions, which have different backgrounds, which now have different outcomes of the political development and only one thing in common – consociational democracy. So, let me introduce Lebanon and Switzerland in the light, at which you haven’t looked at them before.


Lebanon is a unique ancient country of the Middle East, which is called “the gate of the Middle East”, because numerous conquerors have invaded Lebanon to gain strategic leverage in regional dominance.[4] Mainly, the four different segments, “Maronite Christians (about 30 percent of the population in the mid 1950s), the Sunni Muslims (20 percent), Shiite Muslims (18 percent), and Greek Orthodox (11 percent)” made up its population.[5] From the very beginning, when the Greater Lebanon was established in 1920 by the French mandate the problem of the regrouping the Christians and the Muslims was posed. At that time Lebanon considered itself the only Christian country in the Arab world and was always backed up by France. Numerous religious and violent conflicts were part of Lebanon’s history since the antipathy between Christians and Muslims was very strong. After granting independence to Lebanon, the French wanted to secure the position of the Christians and not let it “be absorbed into a Syrian Muslim state.”[6]

The parliamentary democracy with a single chamber of deputies elected on the basis of religious representation was first established in Lebanon with the constitution of 1926.[7] A decade later “[t]he Franco-Lebanese treaty contained an annex that guaranteed the fair (my emphasis) representation of all the country’s sects in the government and high administration.”[8] Finally, the National Pact of 1943 provided the precise formulae for representation of the religious sects. They agreed that the key positions in the government are to be assigned to the different segments. Since that until the late 1980s the Lebanese political system has followed this pattern of power sharing.[9] Although in that time establishment of the consociational democracy was seen as the only solution to preserve peace among the different subcultures of Lebanon, failure to meet the core principles of the consociational democracy led to the civil war of 1975, to sectarian unrest and continuous struggles for political and economic power.


Switzerland is a small ancient West European country that serves as the best example of the successful implementation of the consociational democracy in practice. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna guaranteed the neutrality and recognized the independence of Switzerland. The Pact of Restoration (1815) substantially reestablished the old regime, where the government in cantons was the exclusive business of a small oligarchy. In 1844 the Radical party tried to revision the cantonal constitutions and called for the greater centralization. Opposition was made by Catholic rural cantons, which lost in the almost bloodless civil war (1847). The victorious Radicals transformed the confederation into one federal state under a new constitution, which was adopted in 1848 and revised in 1874. It assigned specified functions, notably communications, foreign relations, and tariffs, to the federation, leaving the cantons sovereign in other respects.[10]

Currently, each canton [23] and half-canton [2] has its own constitution, parliament, government and courts. The cantonal parliaments have between 58 and 200 seats, while the cantonal governments have 5, 7 or 9 members. All the cantons are divided into municipalities or communes of which there are at present 2903. Their number is tending to diminish as these municipalities merge. The scope of municipal autonomy is determined by the individual cantons, and therefore varies widely.[11] As to the segmental cleavages, Switzerland is fragmented along the linguistic (German 69%, Frencp0%, Italian 4%, and Romanish 1%) and religions (Roman Catholics, other Christians, other faiths) lines.[12] “In addition, with a few exceptions the twenty-five cantons are highly homogeneous internally with the respect both to religion and language; as a consequence, the country as a whole is highly fragmented along territorial lines.”[13] Saying all that, it is essential to stress, that Switzerland is a truly plural society, which historically uses consociational democracy as democratic means to coexist. Moreover, this way of self-governing lives in Switzerland more than a century and a half and it was, indeed, a choice of the political elites of the different segments to avoid internal disagreements.


[1] Dahl, 364.

[2] Giovanni, 238.

[3] Giovanni, 238.

[4] Gebeyli,

[5] Lijphart, 1974, p. 147.

[6] Cleveland, p. 209.

[7] Cleveland, p. 210

[8] Cleveland, p. 211.

[9] Cleveland, p. 212.



[12] Lijphart, 1977, p.73.

[13] Dahl, p.256.

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Comparative analysis of political systems of Lebanon and Switzerland
Consociational Democracy and its Core Principles
American University of Central Asia
Electoral Politics
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Comparative, Lebanon, Switzerland, Consociational, Democracy, Core, Principles
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Irina Wolf (Author), 2002, Comparative analysis of political systems of Lebanon and Switzerland, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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