08 Power sharing

Belgium and Sri Lanka

  • Brussels is the capital of Belgium in which, 80% people speak French while 20% speak Dutch.
  • During the 1950s and 1960s, tensions developed between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking communities which was more acute in Brussels.
  • Sri Lanka has a diverse population like other South Asian nations.
  • 74% are Sinhala-speakers and 18% are Tamil-speakers and form the major social groups.
  • There are about 7 per cent Christians, who speak both Tamil and Sinhalese.
  • In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala community were a bigger majority and could impose its will on the entire country.

Majoritarianism in Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka got its independence in 1948 and the Sinhala community leaders sought to secure dominance over government by virtue of their majority.
  • Consequently, the government who was elected democratically adopted a series of majoritarian measures to establish Sinhala supremacy.
  • An Act was passed in 1956 to recognise Sinhala as the only official language, thus disregarding Tamil.
  • In order to gain recognition of Tamil as an official language, for regional autonomy and equality of opportunity in securing education and jobs the Sri Lankan Tamils launched parties and led struggles.
  • However, their demand for more autonomy to provinces populated by the Tamils was denied time and again.
  • The civil war that ended in 2009, was the reason the social, cultural and economic life of the country faced a terrible setback.

Accommodation in Belgium

  • The Belgian leaders recognised the existence of regional differences and cultural diversities and resorted to a different path.
  • They amended their constitution 4 times between 1970 and 1993.
  • This was done to work out an innovative arrangement that would enable everyone to live together within the same country.
  • Both Belgium and Sri Lanka are democracies and dealt with the question of power sharing in different ways:
    • In Belgium, the leaders realised that only by respecting the feelings and interests of different communities and regions, they could achieve unity.
    • So they made mutually acceptable arrangements for sharing power.
    • On the other hand, Sri Lanka is an example of how a country’s unity can be undermined, if a majority community wants to force its dominance over others and refuses to share power.


Why power sharing is desirable?

  1. Power sharing helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups.
  2. Power sharing is the spirit of democracy.


The first set of reasons may be termed as Prudential and the second as moral.

Forms of power-sharing

  • In modern democracies, power sharing arrangements can take many forms such as the following:
  1. Power is shared among different organs of government, such as the legislature, executive and judiciary.
  2. Power can be shared among governments at different levels – a general government for the entire country, known as federal government and governments at the provincial or regional level.
  3. Power may also be shared among different social groups such as the religious and linguistic groups, like the ‘Community government’ in Belgium.
  4. Power sharing arrangements can also be seen in the way political parties, pressure groups and movements control or influence those in power.

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