Coakley J. -Resolving conflict in bipolar societies

The capacity of institutional reform to deliver stable and balanced settlements to longstanding conflicts has been endorsed in a substantial literature (Horowitz, 1985, 1990; Reilly, 2001; Reynolds, 2002; Lijphart, 2004; Wolff and Yakinthou, 2012).

Yet, in many cases the pursuit of durable settlement through such reform has turned out to be ineffective, as the recent history of the Basque Country, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, and many other cases implies. This begs an important question: to what extent is institutional design sufficient to resolve complex problems of government, especially in the case of highly polarised societies, or are there other considerations that need to be borne in mind? This is the question that we address in this article, confronting the evidence provided by a pair of states in which we can detect structural similarities, socio-economic contrasts and cultural differences. These states have Conflict in Fiji and Northern Ireland -2- been selected as ones where the challenge of finding a political solution to conflict was particularly demanding, since the stakes were extremely high: the two sides have had mutually incompatible goals, but each has potentially had sufficient demographic strength to perceive itself as having ‘majority’ status.