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Power-sharing and democracy: Beneficial and perverse effects

English title Power-sharing and democracy: Beneficial and perverse effects
Applicant Bormann Nils-Christian
Number 137308
Funding scheme Fellowships for prospective researchers
Research institution
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.01.2012 - 30.06.2012
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Keywords (5)

Post-conflict; Civil Wars; Ethnicity; Democracy; Power-sharing

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary

In order to end civil wars governments sometimes offer rebel elites government positions. Does this practice of power-sharing motivate observing would-be rebels to take up arms in order to also gain government positions?

Investigating this question brought about two interesting answers:

1. No, power-sharing practices do not, on average, lead to additional civil wars?

2. However, governments that do not yield to rebels earlier appear to be weak by not being able to defeat the rebellion, and thereby invite additional insurrections.

However, one previous concern, namely, that granting regional autonomy would result in additional conflict, could be confirmed.

One question not yet answered is how the practice of power-sharing influences democratic rights of citizens. While a number of civil and political rights indicators turned out positive, the evidence is not conclusive enough to come to a more certain conclusion. Among the problems in answering this question are data quality concerns, deciding when a civil war is big enough to influence democracy, and finally, whether elites that choose democracy are not already more inclined to choose democratic options.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Reputation, Concessions, and Territorial Civil War: Do Ethnic Dominoes Fall, or Don’t They?
Bormann Nils-Christian, Savun Burcu (2018), Reputation, Concessions, and Territorial Civil War: Do Ethnic Dominoes Fall, or Don’t They?, in Journal of Peace Research, 55(5), 671-686.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
70th Annual Midwestern Political Science Association Meeting Talk given at a conference Signaling Weakness? The Intrastate Diffusion of Civil War 12.04.2012 Chicago, United States of America Bormann Nils-Christian;


Today civil wars are the most prevalent, deadly, and costly form of violent conflict in the world. Identifying levers that enable their peaceful resolution is thus one of the most pressing concerns for social scientists. Since the end of the Cold War the international community has played a more active role in civil war resolution and more and more internal conflicts have been ended by negotiated settlements. What are the effects of these settlements on peace, democracy, and regional stability? They often prescribe some form of power-sharing arrangement that accommodates the different parties to the conflict by including rebels into government, by granting autonomy, or by incorporation of rebel forces in the military. While some progress has been made on identifying the conditions for a stable post-conflict order, little is known about the effects of power-sharing agreements on the possible establishment of some minimal form of democratic governance, an end frequently pursued by the international community. Even less is known about the impacts of power-sharing agreements on neighboring countries. Possibly, power-sharing has perverse effects by motivating other rebels to take up arms to make relative power gains. Power-sharing is then understood as a reward for violence against the state. If these negative effects exist and if they would even outweigh the positive effects of bringing peace to the original conflict-torn country, the international community’s preference for these arrangements should be reconsidered.In order to shed some light on these inconsistent claims this project asks three interrelated questions:1. Do power-sharing agreements increase the democratic quality in post-conflict societies?2. Do they have different effects on different dimensions of democracy?3. Do power-sharing agreements have perverse effects by inciting civil wars in neighboring countries?While case studies provide evidence in favor and against power-sharing, so far none of the research questions have been analyzed systematically. This study is to fill the gap. To be more precise, one of the minimal conditions for democracy is the holding of elections. However, elections as in Iraq or Afghanistan do not necessarily produce leadership changes. Even in South Africa, one of the prime examples of a successful power-sharing solution to civil war in the 1990s, leadership change only occurs within the ruling African National Congress. Nevertheless, South Africa is considered to be a mature democracy. This may be due to the fact that democracy encompasses more than elections, the main focus of Western observers. Political equality, human rights and civil liberties are some of the yard-sticks by which democratic quality can be assessed. Comparing the rights of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban and today, underscores this difference. However, the effects of power-sharing arrangements should be assessed more systematically and not on a case by case basis. If power-sharing proves to increase democratic quality within a given country, it could promote unrest in neighboring states. Therefore, the second goal of the project is the assessment of possible `perverse' effects that could outweigh the benefits. However, some skepticism towards such an opportunist understanding of rebel motivation is warranted. Does power-sharing in one country really create incentives for rebels elsewhere to start a violent conflict they might lose eventually? Theory on wars between states would support such a view because a peace agreement decreases the stakes of fighting. Put differently, power-sharing agreements increase moral hazard. However, whether these perverse effects really make rebels take up arms or if domestic grievances and opportunities trump such considerations awaits scientific inquiry.