The true concept of Ethnic communities representation

The true concept of Ethnic communities representation

Rome, Italy
(Paper presented on November 26, 2019)

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi addressing the First PIO Parliamentarian Conference, in New Delhi on January 09, 2018.

The concept of “representation” is quite broad and is used in many areas of public life. One of the most often cited definition of “representation” belongs to Ankersmit, according to whom “representation is a making present (again) of what is absent.

Or, more formally, A is a representation of B when it can take B’s place; hence, when it can as B’s substitute or as B’s replacement in its absence”.

In general, representation should be understood as actions of a representative in the name and on behalf of those whom he (she) represents, while political representation refers here to the representation in legislatures.

There are different types of representation, thoroughly discussed in Pitkin’s book The Concept of Representation (1972). For describing rights of ethnic groups for representation, many authors use descriptive and substantive types.

Advantages for ethnic groups

Descriptive representation means that Parliament of a given country mirrors demographic structure of a state. In other words, political representation of ethnic groups in legislatures should be in direct proportion to the percentage of these groups in the overall composition of the country. On the one hand, descriptive representation has advantages for ethnic groups, as they may experience greater confidence in delegates who resemble them in different issues (E.g., ethnicity or gender); representatives of ethnic groups can serve as a model of their rights,’ protection for other ethnic minorities; and it leads to more justice and legitimacy of the political system.

On the other hand, the question of whether the Parliament should exactly mirror the society remains  controversial, being opposed by some authors (Melissa Williams, Iris Young, Jane Mansbridge, Will Kymlicka), as “this would lead to an unworkable proliferation of group representation and undermine the process of representative government.”

Substantive representation

Substantive representation means that representative acts on the behalf of and in the interest of the represented.

Substantive representation is obtained if the interests and needs that representatives fulfil reflect those that exist in a society. However, minorities can be underrepresented at the substantive level, if the dominant political culture interferes with the access of their interests and demands to the political agenda.

In general, there are both positive and negative aspects of these types of representation and highlight the best type, appropriate for each state is nearly impossible. As it was already noted every case has its own peculiarities that need to be taken into consideration. However, basic principles of political representation of ethnic groups serve as a base from which we can make a start.

The meaning of ethnic group

It should be noted from the beginning, what we mean by ethnic group.

First of all, opposed to Kymlicka, the article does not distinguish national minorities from ethnic groups or immigrants, considering their right for political representation as equal.

Secondly, ethnic groups are not differentiated by national, regional or global context.

In particular, for instance, recognising that Russians in Russia are in some ways different from Russians in Kazakhstan, they are both understood as members of one ethnic group.

Finally, ethnic group is understood here as a group sharing common culture, national origin, language.

The above is an extract of a Paper titled, ‘Contemporary Principles of Political Representation of Ethnic Groups’ by M B Zhanarstanova and E L Nechayeva at the Third  Global Conference on Business, Economics, Management and Tourism, held from November 26 to November 28 in Rome, Italy.

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