Roundtable on Politics of Divided Societies and the Limits of Constitutional Design



Participants of the roundtable discussion

The ‘Politics of Divided Societies and the Limits of Constitutional Design’ roundtable discussion, organised by the Centre for Asian Legal Studies (CALS), was held on 23 February 2018 at NUS Law.

Convened by Assistant Professor Jaclyn Neo ’03, the roundtable discussed the challenges that divided societies pose to constitutional design by critically examining the realities of various divided societies in Asia (specifically India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Sri Lanka).

Together with expert commentators, participants at the roundtable interrogated various limitations on constitutional design options, identified gaps in constitutional design theories, and proposed future trajectories for constitutional design in such societies.

Associate Professor Dan W. Puchniak, Director of CALS, in his welcome address, emphasised the need to rethink assumptions of homogeneity even in societies that do not conventionally present themselves as divided.

Assistant Professor Jaclyn Neo, NUS Law, started the introductions and shared an anecdote on how the idea for roundtable came about over a dinner conversation in Melbourne, and then set the tone by interrogating the concept of ‘constitutional design’ and identifying various constraints that have emerged in the exercise of designing constitutions.

Thereafter, Professor Donald Horowitz from Duke University, one of the leading experts on constitutional design and ethnic politics, provided his preliminary thoughts on the current state of the scholarship and practice on constitutional design in divided societies.

The country presentations kicked off with Dr Dian A.H. Shah, NUS Law, whose paper compared the ‘The Politics of Religion and Decentralization in Malaysia and Indonesia’. This was followed by Dr Mario Gomez, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, who shared his analysis and suggestions for institutional change for Sri Lanka in his presentation titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Long Walk: Compromise and Accommodation through Incremental Constitutional Change’.
After lunch, Assistant Professor Rehan Abeyratne, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, examined the origins of Hindu nationalism and its recent rise in his presentation on ‘Hindu Nationalism and Caste-Based Politics: Is India a Deeply Divided Society?’

Dr Nyi Nyi Kyaw, NUS Law, provided insights on challenges in forging a constitutional order in Myanmar in his presentation ‘From ‘Union’ to ‘Federal Democratic Union’ in Myanmar: An Emerging Case of Constitutional Centrifugalism’. Assistant Professor Jaclyn Neo rounded off the presentations with her paper on ‘Ethnic Representation without Ethnic Politics? Contrasting Singapore’s Group Representation Constituency and Reserved Election Schemes’.

The event concluded with expert commentary from Donald Horowitz, Kevin Tan, NUS Law, Associate Professor Eugene Tan, Singapore Management University, and Assistant Professor Jaclyn Neo.

Associate Professor Dan Puchniak, Director of CALS


Workshop convenor and principal investigator, Assistant Professor Jaclyn Neo


Professor Donald Horowitz, Duke University


Dr Dian A.H. Shah, NUS Law


Dr Mario Gomez, International Centre for Ethnic Studies


Assistant Professor Rehan Abeyratne, the Chinese University of Hong Kong


Dr Nyi Nyi Kyaw, NUS Law


Associate Professor Eugene Tan, Singapore


 

 

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