Electoral Processes & Political Parties

Last Updated: December 18, 2008

Electoral processes and building or reforming political parties are central elements for states emerging from and attempting to avoid conflict. This sub-section reviews the respective definitional and conceptual issues associated with these elements, as well as their roles in war and peace, the main actors and activities involved in their establishment, and some of the most critical debates and challenges regarding their implementation.

The first section reviews major definitions, as well as their implications and relationship to one another. Notions on political parties are reviewed, including the purpose and goals of such groups and how they relate to and diverge from political movements and politically transformed movements. Definitional points are made in regard to electoral processes, which encompass issues such as electoral engineering and systems, as well as election assistance, observation, and monitoring. Some key related concepts are also highlighted, such as democratization and democratic transitions.

The sub-section then turns to the interplay among elections, political parties, democracy, and peacebuilding. It is first important to observe that the right to vote is enshrined in international law around the world as a basic human right. In the context of peacebuilding, elections fulfill a certain number of functions that are essential to the legitimacy and the consolidation of both the state and the governance system. If poorly arranged, elections may catalyze further violence. In ideal circumstances, elections, by putting in place legitimately elected bodies, provide a political solution to violence conflict and, on that basis, provide a foundation for durable peace.

To support these processes, many domestic and international actors are involved in a range of activities. The different components of political party assistance and election organization and assistance are detailed. Information is given about a series of supporting programs, including those used to encourage womens full participation in electoral processes and all aspects of political life.

Support to electoral processes and political parties as part of the post-conflict democratic reconstruction model has been at the center of numerous debates, especially in the last two decades. These debates concern, in particular, the liberal democracy paradigm itself, as well as more specific elements within this framework, including the general conflation of democratization/democratic transitioning in post-conflict environments with electoral processes and the legitimacy of transforming military groups, particularly former warlords, into political parties and leaders. These debates have concrete implications at the implementation stage, where specific challenges emerge as a result of the nature of the pre- or post-conflict environment. This is particularly true of the difficulties in transforming former combatants and military actors into legitimate political parties.

A natural issue emerging from this is how to sequence and prioritize electoral events. Also, managing issues of electoral flaws, as well as fraud in electoral processes, and distinguishing the barrier between these two notions present some difficulty. Finally, given delicate environments, challenges may arise in capacitating sustainable political parties and electoral systems.

In order to illustrate some of these issues, some case studies are suggested: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, El Salvador, Haiti, Mozambique, Nepal, and Rwanda.

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