Elections and post-conflict political development

Benjamin Reilly

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Abstract

    Elections are a centrepiece of most international efforts to rebuild states and promote democracy after violent conflict. By enshrining a new political order centered on rule-based competition for office rather than open warfare, it is argued, elections in post-conflict settings can channel the expression of societal conflicts so that they take place within the boundaries of a democratic political system rather than through armed violence. By replacing the rule of the bullet with the ballot, elections directly impact upon the political economy of post-war states. Elections are thus seen as a key step on the road from war to peace. Particularly in high-profile international interventions, elections are also symbolically important, signalling to both domestic and international audiences that the cloak of legitimate government authority has been restored – an essential step in the process of state reconstruction. For all of these reasons, elections are today considered a central part of the process of postconflict statebuilding. Iraq and Afghanistan are only the latest in a long line of international interventions stretching back at least as far as the United Nations operation in Cambodia in 1993 in which elections have been assigned a dual role in transitions to democracy and from violent conflict. In reality, however, there has been a considerable variation in the success of post-conflict elections in meeting these goals (Kumar 1998). One problem is that the goals themselves are often unrealistic. Conflict-zone elections tend to be saddled with multiple and sometimes incompatible objectives, being expected to simultaneously bring an end to armed violence and usher in a new era of democratic peace, while also mobilizing and expressing societal cleavages via a competitive but non-violent political process (Lyons 2005). Similarly, there is a tension between the massive international support lavished upon transitional elections by the United Nations and other international actors, which often build up the capacity of election administrations to unsustainable levels, and the reality that successful election processes can be used as an ‘exit strategy’ by the international community from situations which have not attracted a commitment to longer-term statebuilding (Reilly 2004, 2008). This chapter examines the political and developmental impacts of some of the key choices facing both international and domestic actors in regards to post-conflict elections:• First, there is the question of election timing: should elections be held immediately after a conflict, to take advantage of a peace deal and quickly introduce the new democratic order? Or is it better to wait so as to allow the political routines of peacetime politics to come to prominence? Likewise, is it better to hold national elections before local ones, as some scholars have argued? Or should local-level elections be held in advance of national ones, in the hope of gradually inculcating voters in the rights and responsibilities of democracy?
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Political Economy of Post-conflict Statebuilding: Power after Peace
    Editors Mats Berdal, Dominik Zaum
    Place of PublicationUK
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    Pages33-47
    Edition1st
    ISBN (Print)9780415604789
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

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