Political Settlements, Elite Pacts, and Governments of National Unity: A Conceptual Study
Author: Edward Laws
Access full text: available online
How should political settlements be defined and understood? How should elite pacts and governments of national unity (GNUs) be defined and understood? The concept of the 'political settlement' has been used in a variety of subtly, but significantly, different ways. Sometimes it has been used interchangeably with 'elite pacts', 'elite bargains' or 'peace agreements'. This paper surveys and clarifies the conceptual field.
For some, the term 'political settlement' encompasses only 'horizontal' agreements between key elites; at other times it has been used to refer to the 'vertical' relations between states and societies. Some conceptions point towards political settlements as 'one off' events, or deals; others suggest that settlements are better used to describe the ongoing institutional arrangements and political processes that both reflect and shape the (no doubt changing) distribution of power in a society.
How should political settlements be defined and understood?
- Political settlements are not simply a form of 'social-contract' between states and societies. 'States' and 'societies' are not, each, unitary entities or actors. They are always characterised by internal differences and a variety of interests and forms and degrees of power. There is, therefore, disagreement, division and exclusion within both. This undermines the plausibility of thinking about a social contract between 'the state' and 'the society'.
- Political settlements are ongoing political processes that include one-off events and agreements between elites, but are not defined by them. The 'process' aspect of the definition is important for political settlements analysis. Equally important are the one-off events and agreements that provide rough markers for tracing the point at which settlements begin, end and change.
- Political settlements are typically the outcome of bargaining, negotiation and compromises between elites. This is sometimes formal, open and public, but often informal or less open, and commonly both.
- However, political settlements are also typically played out across two levels. They involve both horizontal negotiations between elites and vertical relations between elites and their followers.
- Political settlements influence the form, nature and performance of institutions. And institutions can in turn help to consolidate and 'embed' political settlements.
- Political settlements are not set in stone. They can and should adapt in response to changes in social, political and economic power relations and to contingent events and critical junctures.
- Political settlements can be more or less inclusive of social or political groups. But the stability of settlements over time does not necessarily or always depend on the degree to which they are inclusive, at least in the short to medium term – though longer-term settlements may require progressive 'inclusion'.
How should elite pacts and governments of national unity (GNUs) be defined and understood?
- Elite pacts/bargains and peace agreements are one-off events that are part of the ongoing political settlement. Retaining a distinction between elite pacts/bargains, peace agreements and political settlements is important for explaining how and why one-off pacts and agreements may fail to produce developmentally positive outcomes in the longer-term.
- GNUs are a type of inclusive elite pact aimed at establishing formal shared institutions and organisations of government. They usually occur during or after a time of crisis, but may not last for very long.
- Acquire local knowledge and understanding. Donors and others will need to acquire a deep understanding of, and sensitivity towards, local political dynamics if they are to make best use of the settlements framework to guide their activities.
- Take a long-term approach to influencing political settlements. There are no 'quick-fix' policy implications of the political settlements framework. Influencing political settlements will require patience and long-term commitment.
- Understand how elites relate to wider coalitions and their support bases. In using political settlements analysis, donors need to be alert to the ways in which elites may come into conflict with wider coalition members, and must also be aware of the pressures on elites to satisfy their supporters.
- Work to broker opportunities for elites to come together. Negotiation, compromise and bargaining between elites are central to the formation of durable political settlements. Therefore, external players could look for opportunities to facilitate meetings, partnerships, alliances and coalitions between different elites.
- Be aware of excluded groups. Donors should be aware of the precise boundaries of a political settlement in order to anticipate possible challenges from excluded groups, and to identify if it may be appropriate to try to broker more inclusive arrangements.
Access full text: available online
Laws, E. (2012) 'Political Settlements, Elite Pacts, and Governments of National Unity: A Conceptual Study', Developmental Leadership Programme
Organisation: Developmental Leadership Program, http://www.dlprog.org/