Fighting for the centre: civic political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland in comparative perspective
Murtagh, Cera Eleanor
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In deeply divided societies political parties that attempt to reach across that divide, by definition, form the exception. Indeed, in post-settlement contexts where institutions have been designed to accommodate communal identities, non-ethnic parties are broadly cast in the literature as marginal actors. Nevertheless, in a number of segmented societies, civic parties and movements have emerged and seized space in the political system. This thesis probes the puzzle of these actors’ existence and endurance in power-sharing frameworks by comparatively analysing the experiences of civic parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. It explores the constraints and opportunities these parties encounter in such settings and how they navigate those structures. This thesis seeks to advance understanding of this critical topic, contributing comparative findings on which broader theoretical work can build. Standing at the juncture of the theories of consociational democracy and civic mobilisation in divided societies, this research examines this problem comparatively in the selected cases. Taking a qualitative, interpretive approach it draws primarily on evidence from elite interviews, as well as a limited number of focus groups with voters and analysis of party documents. This thesis has found that civic parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland, in varying ways, meet with severe barriers in the formal and informal structures of their consociational settings, but that they also find critical openings therein. These opportunities, however, can incentivise non-ethnic actors to assume roles and pursue strategies that conflict with their longer term goals and challenge their legitimacy as civic parties. In fighting for survival on the centre ground in divided polities, civic parties are faced with strategic dilemmas that they must carefully negotiate. These findings demonstrate the centrality of institutions for the type of politics and political actors that ensue following peace settlement and bear potential implications for institutional design and party strategy in such contexts.