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Elite behaviour and elite communication in a divided society: The Belgian federal coalition formation of 2007

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Consociational democracy theory attributes an important role to the subgroup elites. They have to build the bridges between the subgroups and govern together in a divided and segmented society. This need for an accommodating elite has been criticized — among others — for its unrealistic expectations. A compromising attitude can hardly be expected when the subgroup leaders need to remain acceptable and legitimate among their rank and file. Post-electoral guarantees for power sharing are not enough to ensure real and functioning power sharing. In this article we focus on Belgium — a textbook example of consociational democracy — and more in particular on the difficult post-election period of 2007. We analyze newspaper interviews with both moderate and radical Belgian political leaders and illustrate how their discourse is torn between loyalty to the rank and file and the necessity of consociational power sharing. A combination of critical discourse and framing analysis shows how this representation is built up linguistically through an interplay of names used to describe oneself, the specific use of the pronouns of the first person plural and consistent metaphors.
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Keywords: consociational democracy; discourse analysis; framing; journalistic interviews; political communication

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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