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Confessionalism is a system of government that is a de jure mix of religion and politics. It typically entails distributing political and institutional power proportionally among confessional communities.


Proponents of confessionalism[who?] cite it as an effective way to secure the peaceful co-existence of diverse religious and ethnic communities by empowering each according to its "weight" in the region. However, critics point out that such a system may actually deepen conflict between ethnic groups. They argue that whichever group holds the most political power may use government to favour itself at the expense of other groups, or even to oppress rival groups. Also, as demographics change, the positions and power held by a particular group may no longer appropriately reflect the size of that group.

Debate over confessionalism raises similar issues to those facing consociationalism, of which confessionalism is one kind.[original research?]


Further information: Politics of Iraq

Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the occupying administration introduced a system where power was shared between the three main ethno-religious groups: Shia Muslim Arabs, Sunni Muslim Arabs and Kurds.

The constitution of Iraq encouraged such power-sharing, due to the parliamentary system and the initial requirement for a super-majority to elect the President. Although not explicitly required in the constitution, political tradition has continued to date for the President to be a Kurd, the Speaker of Parliament a Sunni Muslim Arab and the Prime Minister a Shi'ite Muslim Arab.[1]


Main articles: National Pact and Taif Agreement

The repartition of assembly seats on a confessional basis in the Middle East was invented by the Ottoman Empire (e.g. in the Ottoman Parliament) and continued in several post-Ottoman countries with reserved seats for non-Muslim, namely Christian, minorities (Syria, Jordan, Iraq), or for all religious communities including Muslim subgroups and Christian churches (Lebanon). A similar system prevails in Iran for the Armenian, Assyrian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities.

Although it was meant to be a temporary solution "until such time as the Chamber enacts new electoral laws on a non-confessional basis",[2] more than eighty years later, confessionalism remains the system of government implemented in Lebanon. All posts in government and seats in the legislature are apportioned amongst different religious groups according to a political agreement, as the relative demographic weight of those groups is unknown.[3] The constitution of 1926, amended after the Taif Agreement of 1990 and the Doha agreement of 2008 specified that there should be 54 Christian deputies and 54 Muslim deputies, even though in practice there are 64 deputies each.[4] In addition, within those two groups, seats should be shared according to the demographic weight of each community.[5]

The Lebanese constitution also guarantees segmental autonomy to 18 recognized communities in the country in domains such as education.[6] Lebanon also presents other characteristics of confessionalism. Since 2005 Lebanese politics has been polarized around two trans-religious coalitions[7] with the majority never able to govern alone. There is, however, another section of the constitution that addresses the development of outside parties not represented by popular support.


Main articles: Christian democracy in the Netherlands and Pillarisation

In the politics of the Netherlands the term "confessionalism" refers to any political ideology based on religion. A traditional norm in society, extending to many facets of cultural life, termed pillarisation.

Dutch parties usually labelled as confessionalist are the Christian Union and the Reformed Political Party, both exclusively Protestant. Less often seen as confessionalist is the Christian Democratic Appeal which has also several Muslims among its elected officials, and does not make mention of God in their stated core principles[8] or their 2012 election platform,[9] only mentioning their Christian roots.

There are also minor Dutch Muslim parties, e.g. the Dutch Muslim Party [nl])[10] that has many common programmatical aims with the Christian Union[11] and the local (The Hague) party Islam Democrats.[12] In January 2008, the creation of an Islamic Democratic Party (Islamitische Democratische Partij') was announced, but it appeared after a few days it was a hoax, its programme was actually an adapted copy of the programme of the Protestant fundamentalist Reformed Political Party.[10][13][14][15] The only Muslim parties with political representation in the Netherlands are NIDA with 2 seats in Rotterdam and 1 seat in The Hague. Other Muslim parties are Islam Democrats and its splinter group Party of Unity, each with one councillor in The Hague municipal council.



Bulgaria’s Constitution prohibits religious political parties. Article 11, Clause 4, states: “There shall be no political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, nor parties which seek the violent seizure of state power.”[16][17]


In Portugal, confessionalist political parties are forbidden by the Constitution. Article 51, Clause 3, of the Constitution states: “Without prejudice to the philosophy or ideology that underlies their manifestoes, political parties may not employ names that contain expressions which are directly related to any religion or church, or emblems that can be confused with national or religious symbols.”[16][18]


Main article: Secularism in Turkey

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See also


  1. ^ "Iraq Elects Pro-Iran Sunni As Parliament Speaker". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  2. ^ Lebanese constitution, article 24
  3. ^ Harb, Imad (March 2006). "Lebanon's Confessionalism: Problems and Prospects". United States Institute of Peace. Archived from the original on 2009-07-15. Retrieved 2006-07-30.
  4. ^ Lebanese constitution, article 24 subsection a
  5. ^ Lebanese constitution, article 24 subsection b
  6. ^ Lebanese constitution, articles 9 and 10
  7. ^ Confessionalism and electoral reform in Lebanon, section 3, Arda Arsenian Ekmekji, Ph.D.
  8. ^ "Uitgangspunten". CDA. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  9. ^ "CDA verkiezingsprograma 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Nederlandse Moslim Partij". Archived from the original on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  11. ^ "NMP en CU eensgezind" (in Dutch). De Pers. 15 February 2010. Archived from the original on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  12. ^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, Islam Democraten Archived 2011-10-02 at the Wayback Machine, Suffrage Universel (in French)
  13. ^ Dutch: Islamitische politieke partij wil hoofddoek in openbare gebouwen verplichten, Nieuw Religieus Peil (blog), 4 January 2008
  14. ^ Robert Engel, Islamitisch Democratische Partij is hoax, Lucaswashier (blog), 5 January 2008 (in Dutch)
  15. ^ "Oprichting IDP is een hoax met een boodschap". (in Dutch). 6 January 2008. Archived from the original on January 7, 2008.
  16. ^ a b Rosenblum, Nancy L. (January 2007). "Banning Parties: Religious and Ethnic Partisanship in Multicultural Democracies". ResearchGate. Archived from the original on 2019-09-10. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  17. ^ "Constitution". National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria. Archived from the original on 2019-08-19. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  18. ^ "Constitution of the Portuguese Republic - Part I". Diário da República Eletrónico. Archived from the original on 2019-05-17. Retrieved 2019-09-10.