Electoral Processes & Political Parties: Key Debates & Implementation Challenges
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. What is more, sequencing and timing of elections is a particular obstacle that has in many cases had very real consequences for democracy and stability. Also, managing issues of electoral flaws that often emerge, as well as fraud in electoral processes, and distinguishing the barrier between these two notions presents some difficulty. Finally, given delicate environments, challenges may arise in capacitating sustainable political parties and electoral systems.
1 It subsequently created a permanent Electoral Assistance Division in order to provide countries making the transition to democracy with technical advice and outside observers for the holding of elections. This division is deeply involved in post-conflict peacebuilding activities and was even briefly under UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations supervision. In his 1996 An Agenda for Democratization, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then UN secretary-general, proclaimed democracy "a system of government which embodies, in a variety of institutions and mechanisms, the ideal of political power based on the will of the people."2
Regional organizations underwent a similar evolution, emphasizing their commitment to the principles of electoral democracy and being more actively engaged in activities supporting them. All of this "would have been virtually unthinkable during the Cold War years of ideological polarization."3 Yet, behind the apparent consensus, several aspects of the model are being contested.
One central presumption of the liberal peace model is that democracies are more peaceful both domestically and internationally. From a "civil wars" point of view, claims have been made that within states, democratic institutions and processes channel competing interests and provide means of compromise through legitimate mechanisms. They also provide better guarantees that governments will not abuse their power, as well as a basis for a lasting social contract.4 Further, through an internationalist lens, democratic peace theory holds that democracies are the best choice for an international order because they supposedly do not go to war with one another.
Using this perspective, the peacebuilding model developed since the early 1990s has tried to apply a Wilsonian view, which identifies democracy as the basis for peace and therefore makes this presumption the basis for statebuilding agendas worldwide. Yet, some consider this to be a particularly naive approach.5 Indeed, a fair number of scholars now argue that applying the liberal peace model as a result of its perceived domestic and international tendencies is at best simplistic.
First, "it tends to take the existence of functioning states as a given." Having accepted this, the model then reduces the problems faced to merely the question of the most desirable political and economic system, rather than asking whether the state itself is irreparable.6 Yet, "war-shattered states typically lack even the most rudimentary governmental institutions. By taking the existence of a working government for granted, many authors have effectively 'assumed away' one of the most difficult and important problems that peacebuilders confront in their field operations: namely, how to establish functional governments and stable nonviolent politics in conditions of virtual anarchy."7
Second, the assumption that because "western" consolidated democracies are internally and externally peaceful, democratization will make a state more peaceful reflects a lack of historical perspective and a failure to understand that democratization may produce varying degrees of democracies. In reality, the process of democratic consolidation in western societies is often cited as having been in itself a violent transition. Most advanced industrial democracies have experienced highly violent processes on the road to entrenching democracy, domestically, through coercion and capital exploitation,8 and internationally, by fighting wars.
Finally, some go one step further to contest the argument that these democracies are peaceful. Instead, they argue that many "advanced" democracies have been instrumental in violence and wars abroad (more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan) and have historically undermined democratically elected leaders, in particular during the Cold War, in much of Latin and South America, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The democratic peace argument itself is still the subject of an open debate among political scientists and historians.9
On this basis, whether the liberal peace model is the most appropriately suited system to consolidate a post-conflict state is a centrally contentious topic in the field today. An increasing number of scholars have argued that it may actually undermine the consolidation of peace in those contexts. Some critics have noted in particular that ethno-national self-determination can catalyze calls for secession based on ethnic notions of citizenship, which may encourage or intensify violent conflict and result in the defining of citizenship in new states on homogenous terms, countering the rights of people to suffrage and discouraging plural citizenship.10 Problems of this sort have occurred in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Israel/Palestine, and the former Yugoslavia.
In addition, ill-timed pressure to democratize where it is unlikely that parties will adhere to protocols may incur violent outcomes. In Rwanda, the democratization process is often cited as having put too much pressure on extreme groups to democratize. These parties were discontented with the transition and turned to ethnicity-based violence.11 Indeed, "transitions to democracy can be treacherous processes," with a risk of putting too much pressure on state and political elites and encouraging violence in the society, as well as outside the borders of the state.12
Some even wonder whether it is better to enforce democracy where it may be ill-timed and ill-placed to deal with some of the challenges of post-conflict environments, or whether a more authoritarian state might be better suited to such situations. In certain circumstances, what some have called a "quick and dirty" approach, pushing to the organization of elections at all costs, has yielded resurgent war, as in Angola and Liberia.13 The main result of such a debate is that movements toward democratic transitions are not uniformly to be promoted, but rather must be tailored to the realities of the local situation and to each states capacity at the particular post-conflict juncture.14
Last but not least, critics note that the model is embedded in a particular western paradigm. It has been described by some as the new "mission civilisatrice," referring to the colonial adage of "civilizing."15 Indeed, in attempts at socio-political engineering, western actors have often sought to recreate their own political and economic systems in post-conflict societies.
Critical perspectives are particularly evident within Africa, Asia, and Latin America.16 For instance, some would question the "concepts, strategies, techniques, methodologies and prescriptions of international-assistance programmes [which] are primarily derived from the experience of mass-based, secular political parties. Such parties have evolved in western democracies that are characterized by high levels of urbanism, literacy, political consciousness and economic prosperity. However, the socio-economic conditions and cultural traditions of most transition societies, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, are different from those in western democracies. Their political parties are organized differently and function differently. Consequently, much assistance by international organizations tends to be of limited relevance to the parties in these countries." 17 As such, existing indigenous political and social structures may be more able to support effective democratization processes.18
[Back to Top] 19 The "by default" definition of these processes used by the international community focuses on procedures, central to which is the holding of "free and fair" elections, rather than on the substance of the democratic project. A natural risk of such an approach is that any framework of democratization may lack concrete substance. Some critics have shown the limits of this highly technical approach. They argue that such methods forget the political dimensions and accompanying conditions that support each step of an electoral process: "Such a questioning echoes the traditional debate on democracy as an institutional arrangement or as a project for a society."20
This partly refers to the distinction made by political scientist Larry Diamond between liberal democracy and electoral democracy. In this view, "liberal democracy extends freedom, fairness, transparency, accountability, and the rule of law from the electoral process into all other major aspects of governance and interest articulation, competition, and representation," whereas electoral democracy is a much more minimalist understanding.21 As Diamond has classified different types of political regimes available worldwide, he asserts that elections may be hosted in a range of regime types that are not necessarily democratic.22
A number of troubling consequences attend this approach. First, by focusing on the procedures of elections, stakeholders show a tendency to neglect the fabric that makes up a consolidated democratic society. As a result, elections may be prioritized before the necessary accompanying conditions have been met (See sequencing and timing of elections). There is an assumption that these will develop as an outcome of elections; however, in many situations, the absence of these qualities prior to elections has led to the immediate or long-term erosion of democratic principles.
In some circumstances, elections are organized before the society is demilitarized or while some regions of the country remain under the control of military groups outside of the state (as illustrated in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Iraq). Where elections are prioritized over security concerns, the risk is run of elections being unrepresentative,and institutionalizing a violent system.
Past examples have demonstrated the risk of premature political competition reactivating old logics and leading to the destabilization of the socio-political situation. Beatrice Pouligny notes, "This question relates to the acceptance of election results immediately following the end of the war (for example, Angola) but also to that of future polls (as, for example, in Cambodia and Haiti)."23 Electoral processes may be discredited if violence does not subside as a result of polling. Moreover, "in a weak state incumbent leaders and local strongmen have at their disposal an endless array of tools with which they can manipulate voter preferences and election outcomes, so as to fit their private, sectarian interests."24 This may explain why "some people and many political leaders equate democracy with violence, instability and disorder."25
A strong emphasis on elections also often means less political change than what is usually expected: "The new politicians coming to office through the ballot box hardly ever transform the basis of politics and remain essentially reliant on personalistic and clientalistic mechanisms of internal control within their parties and in their relationship with the electorate."26
Finally, elections cannot replace processes of supporting other dimensions of the democratic process and (re)socializing citizens and communities, though they can contribute to them.27
For all these reasons, many scholars and practitioners have insisted that elections should not be viewed as "stand-alone" events, but rather as "one step on the road to democracy and sometimes not even the most important one."28 In his 2000 version of the Support by the United Nations System of the Efforts of Governments to Promote and Consolidate New or Restored Democracies report, the UN secretary-general recognizes these limitations, noting that elections are an important factor but that they do not "create democracy." He states, "For many in the international community, the announcement of election results signaled an end to political crisis and the beginning of reconciliation and reconstruction."29 In the 1990s, this tendency was reinforced by an "exit strategy" approach that encouraged a tendency to view the holding of elections as a quick fix and, as a consequence, to overlook flaws and fraud, particularly where it was thought that they had not affected the outcome.
In many cases, premature voting and circumstances where flaws and fraud are overlooked may lead to an authoritarian electoral model rather than a democratic system. Allowing the main parties to the conflict to legitimately capture the state perpetuates "war by other means," as was the case in Cambodia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina until the municipal elections of 1997 and the general elections of November 2000. In such instances, "procedural democracy" does not inherently bring about the most democratic system or leaders. Another consequence of this problem is that it may foster distrust or "democratic disenchantment" in populations and may decrease voter confidence in elections and government. This is the precise opposite of what is intended by elections, as such procedures are proposed to bolster, not damage, the relationship between citizen and state.
Elections and support to political parties are necessary features in consolidated democracies, but there is no evidence that putting these processes in place leads to democratization. The assumption that it does may be damaging. Although the practice has been improving over the last decade, moving beyond the belief that elections are one-day "magic" events, such critiques remain partly valid and have practical implications for the implementation of electoral processes and transformation of political parties.
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The general debate and the moral and judicial dilemmaThe transformation of military groups into political parties raises a number of debates, as there is a risk to legitimizing leaders who may be perceived as "unrepresentative, corrupt--or worse-- criminal."30 This may appear even more disconcerting to observers in contexts where the popular vote has been in favor of those who were considered by the international community to be warlords or war criminals. As one political analyst explains, "Voters often choose to use the limited power of their franchise either to appease the most powerful faction in the hope that this will prevent a return to war or to select the most nationalistic and chauvinistic candidate who pledges to protect the voters community. Outside observers regard some of these leaders as warlords or war criminals, but to vulnerable voters they may represent powerful protectors capable of defending the voter from rival military forces."31 This scenario was particularly strong in Liberia and in the Balkans.
In other cases, the international community has consciously given former military leaders political office "as the best chance for achieving peace through appeasement."32 In this logic, spoilers, or individuals or groups opposed to and seeking to undermine peace, may hold out in an attempt to gain the best reward, knowing that there is an increased incentive to include extremes. As a consequence, moderates and civilian candidates are unlikely to prevail.
In many cases, the political transformation of warlords raises not only a moral but also a judicial dilemma. In northern Uganda, the International Criminal Court (ICC) put out indictments against Lords Resistance Army leaders. When the group elected to participate in peace agreements, advocates divided on the issue. Some felt that it was best to encourage the continued peace talks at the expense of justice and supported turning instead to local justice rituals (the relative successes and drawbacks of which have also been debated). Others, such as Amnesty International, have been strong advocates against such measures, which they perceive as granting impunity to the worst criminals, signaling to others that this type of violence is permissible and undermining the authority of the ICC in a broader context.33
See traditional & informal justice systems & transitional justice
In other cases, the international community has more clearly chosen peace at the expense of justice. In Mozambique, justice was overlooked, as former combatants were paid significant amounts in order to stop fighting and the main "rebel" leaders of Resistncia Nacional Moambicana (RENAMO) were coerced financially by the international community to "play the democratic game."34
On the other side of the spectrum, the indictment by the ICC of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) exiled former vice president and opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba on charges of war crimes allegedly perpetrated in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003, as well as his arrest in Belgium in May 2008, has been subject to criticism because of its consequences for the democratic process in DRC. Some have even expressed suspicion that this indictment was a means for the international community to push for a political choice that favored the ruling president.
Given the attention given by peacebuilders to issues of justice and rule of law, these contradictions become more acute. However, some have argued that "the potential clash between peace and justice objectives can sometimes be circumvented by pursuing a sequential approachfor example, by getting a peace agreement now, then dealing with justice many years later. This is what has been happening in Latin America a decade or two after transitions to democracy. However, most of those transitions explicitly granted amnesty to enable handovers of power, and it is only many years down the track that those amnesties are being wound back."35 While this approach is not without critics, it is supported in the hopes that negotiated peace will demilitarize politics.36 Although it is a quandary in terms of justice, allowing these parties and individuals to participate in electoral processes may be seen as a necessary trade-off for peace. Go to transitional justice
Converting reluctant leadersIn post-conflict settings, leaders are more likely to participate in the "democracy game" only where they see tangible benefits in the new system for themselves and for their constituency. Such leaders need to be "persuaded to see the potential benefits from supporting a new, more peaceful system for themselves and their followers."37 They are usually "not interested in conflict or in peace as abstract entities. Their choice to ultimately embrace the latter [is] directed by very pragmatic interest and concerns."38 Similarly, they may accept elections for reasons other than support for democracy. They are, in fact, "likely to favor or oppose elections when it is politically expedient to do so."39 This is a major challenge for party assistance, which must recognize that those actors with vested interests "will not give up their influence voluntarily and may evade aid, block it, or channel it to their own supporters" for reasons that may not be immediately understandable by outsiders.40
Moreover, in the past, these actors have been "more associated with inflaming conflict than with ending it; some have even garnered the unwelcome alias of 'warlords'."41 These realities demonstrate that such groups are unlikely, in the immediate term, to make ideal administrators and/or policy makers. Yet, the negotiation package often stipulates that at least some of their members should occupy positions in the state apparatus. Such agreements emphasize the importance of leadership and legislative training programs. However, this might not suffice as "in many countries, many aspects of the political environment (corruption, political culture and institutions) pose structural barriers that cannot be overcome by training of staff and provision of new facilities."42
Go to Public Administration and Local Governance
Last but not least, in the eyes of the larger population, these types of allowances may delegitimize the whole process. According to Roland Paris and Timothy Sisk, "If factional leaders are too powerful, new institutional structures may be viewed as illegitimate by other groups and individuals who believe that these leaders are unrepresentative, corrupt--or worse--criminal."43
Tailoring the party systemIt is extremely difficult for militia and quasi-political/military groups that fought the war to refashion themselves into democratic parties that can operate in a competitive, multi-party system.44 It is particularly so "if they remain organized and led as they were during the period of armed conflict because, inherently, political leadership is supposed to be civilian based, given the fact that non-civilian-based authorities could utilize security threats to their political advantage."45 Indeed, political parties in post-war contexts are often "highly problematic organizations from the point of view of democratic development. . . . Most are what might be called political cabals or clubshighly personalistic, leader-centric organizations in which an assertive, ambitious, often charismatic party leader, together with a set of close followers and associates, pursues political power through elections."46
Yet, international party assistance does not necessarily take this reality fully into account. To a large extent, it often functions as if the transformation had already occurred and actual political parties exist. International assistance also needs to take into account that cleavages emerging in post-conflict or post-authoritarian states have little to do with traditional western cleavages and that the development of broader-based parties representing aggregated interests takes time and, in many cases, might include some tailoring of the party system.47
Balancing accommodation of factional interests with proliferation of partiesIn the formation of post-conflict political parties, two scenarios can be distinguished. In the first instance, "a fairly stable party system emerges, that shows a crystallization of parties and views when tensions heighten. In this case, strong social networks and ties exist with the societal factions that parties represent (e.g. Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka). The second category consists of highly fluid party systems with many small factions that are highly fragmented. In the latter case, parties usually revolve around strong 'patrons,' which results in volatile party structures (e.g. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Iraq, and Cambodia)."48 These two categories not only require different approaches and types of assistance but also pose diverse challenges. In deeply divided societies, reducing the proliferation of parties in order to group interests is useful for peacebuilding. Still, the use of political pacts may be necessary to encourage a reduction in factionalism in party politics.
Some scholars suggest that "countries with large ethnic cleavages are better off having only a limited number of parties that represent the most important aggregated interests."49 To a large extent, this model reproduces the (implicit or explicit) political pacts or power-sharing agreements that have typified many democratic transitions. Terrence Lyons notes, "Political pacts are a set of negotiated compromises among competing elites with the goal of institutionalizing the distribution of power and reducing uncertainty."50 They are designed to provide powerful actors with sufficient guarantees for them to accept change. The limits of these pacts are not only that they are elitist but also that the ability of militia leaders to deliver the compliance of even their own fighters is often in question. Furthermore, "proposals, which center on the usage of list-system, proportional representation, power sharing mechanisms, and mutual veto provisions, have met the objections that they transform elections into little more than an ethnic census, institutionalize divisions, and enable counterproductive forms of ethnocentric elite control."51
Finally, even if they are crafted with the visible, more "powerful" military actors, pacts are uncertain. Indeed, "the ability to assess the political power of a military faction is difficult, and the identity of the critical constituencies to include in a pact is unclear immediately following a conflict. Even if the military balance among factions is relatively clear (as indicated by a stalemate on the battlefield), the relative political power of these factions and the extent to which they are capable of representing significant civilian constituencies in peacetime may be unknown."52 In addition, exclusion of a group that may not seem particularly strong at the time of negotiations may actually have their movements supported more broadly and strengthened. It may also radicalize them in the face of exclusion (for example, the popularization of Hamas in Palestine, the transformation of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) into the provisional IRA in Northern Ireland, and the radicalization of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka).
In many recent cases, the trend has been for the international community to seek to have all interests represented in emerging democracies and to support a multitude of small parties that are hoped to present alternatives to the main factions. Post-war legislatures may therefore hold an excessive number of parties, which can result in an overly fluid and difficult to manage environment. Moreover, "many authors have seriously questioned whether the holding of multi-party elections in weak states serves as a vehicle of political change, and argue that elections are more likely to lead to sedimentation of the existing power structures through a 'premature closure' of the process of democratisation, than a genuine kick off for further democratisation."53 Likewise, the multiplicity of parties may "serve to mobilise and politicise regional, ethnic, religious, and racial solidarities in divided states."54 Iraq is a clear illustration of this tendency.
55 Terrence Lyons notes, "As military leaders lose their capacity to deploy soldiers, they are encouraged to protect their interests and pursue their objectives through a political process."56 Therefore, a subtle interplay occurs between the dynamics of a post-conflict political transition and the manner in which the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) provisions associated with that process are implemented. DDR helps create an environment for confidence and security building and for the development of institutions and norms for non-violent political competition.
The process of "demilitarizing politics"57 goes further, however. It requires taking into account the future of political groups formed after a war, as well as their electoral success not only in the first elections but also in a medium to long term. The success of a peace process is considered to be based on the success of DDR, as well as on the capacity of rebel movements effectively to transform themselves from military to political organizations, that is, to reorient their goals and practices toward legitimate political activities.58 Yet, in peace agreements, the issue of political reconversion is often marginal in comparison with the technical aspects of DDR. Similarly, very little attention typically is paid to the actual change and implementation of laws, which may not favor former guerrillas and minority groups that resorted to violence to achieve political aims during the war. The percentage of participation in elections by former combatants is also an element to take into consideration, as followers can make choices that differ from those of their leaders. This was the case with the Khmer Rouge in the first elections in Cambodia in 1993, when local commanders led entire groups of combatants to vote contrary to the official line of the leaders of movement.
"Demilitarizing politics" is also important for voters. Where populations continue to live in environments that are militarily controlled by political parties, it may be impossible to exercise a free vote. In the first post-conflict elections, citizens usually "use the limited power of the franchise to appease the most powerful faction in the hope that this will prevent a return to war. Alternatively, voters select the faction that seeks to protect the voters community. In this electoral climate, civilian candidates--particularly those who cannot credibly address the security threat-- are unlikely to be serious contenders."59 This means that, for voters, demilitarization may need more time.
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Security, demilitarization, and electionsIn a context where the institutions of war remain powerful, post-conflict elections are dominated by concerns for peace and security. In particular, if populations continue to live in environments that are militarily controlled by political parties, it may be impossible to exercise a free vote. The lack of political autonomy may also be noticed in voting patterns. Go to Demilitarizing Politics
Perhaps the most often cited argument against holding elections too soon has been the risk of aggravating the conflict and reopening violence.60 The return to war in Angola in 1992 and Liberia in 1997 was, at least in part, a result of premature elections. Given this, one lesson learned has been "the need for demobilization to take place before elections, both to give the electorate adequate security but also to deprive would-be spoilers to take a military option if they are dissatisfied with the electoral results. Hand-in-hand with the importance of demobilization is the importance, in some contexts, of militias that have prosecuted the conflict, transforming themselves into political parties that compete for power via the electoral system rather than on the battlefield."61
This is not necessarily easy to achieve, as security dilemmas often thwart demobilization and the transition to non-violent political competition. According to Lyons, "A security dilemma occurs in a situation where one partys efforts to increase its own security reduces the security of the others. . . . In such contexts, information failures and the inability to make credible commitments hinder the demobilization process and make parties reluctant to give up the military option and accept electoral results when they cannot be assured of their rivals compliance."62 As long as this is the case, it may be difficult and even risky to organize elections.
Security issues that are of concern for the organization of elections not only relate to DDR processes but also to the reform of the security sector, in particular policing structures and the disarmament of the society at large.63 As some observers have noted, "the state will need to have at least minimal functional capacity as well as something resembling a monopoly of force before such a country can pull itself onto the path of sustainable, pluralistic political development."64
Most analysts also argue that a successful demilitarization of politics includes processes to encourage the transformation of militias and single-party organizations into political parties that can operate in a competitive, multi-party system.65 Beatrice Pouligny suggests, "By definition, when a society is just emerging from a serious crisis (a fortiori from a war), it has not yet had the time to rebuild habitual ways of settling conflicts. During that interval the prize generally goes to the main parties in the armed conflict who can most easily establish control over the political landscape, and even more to their most extreme wings."66 Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder note, "When elections are held in an institutional wasteland like Iraq, for example, political competition typically coalesces around and reinforces the ethnic and sectarian divisions in traditional society."67Hence, rushing elections before a democratic culture has had the opportunity to form may legitimate leaders that were party to violence.
Tensions between the need to organize elections and pursue political reforms on the one hand and security issues on the other may be even more obvious in situations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. In these contexts, many observers wonder "whether democracy even should be 'enforced.'"68 It has been repeatedly stressed that ill-timed, hurried, badly designed, or poorly run elections can actually undermine the very process they seek to support in fragile post-conflict environments.69 However, international, but also national, imperatives may explain the frequent urge to organize elections. Elections are supposed to provide support and legitimacy to governance mechanisms. Interim authorities generally lack at least formal democratic legitimacy.70 Therefore, it may be preferable not to prolong the interim period. A mature democratic culture will take time to build in any case and rather requires a process of "trial and error."71 Go to DDR and disarmament subsections
Postponement of and "preconditions" for peacebuilding electionsBeyond security concerns, post-conflict states need a minimum base of organizational capacity and infrastructure to organize elections. Therefore, it may sometimes be necessary to postpone elections, as was the case in the DRC. In fact, "postponing elections has always posed a dilemma to decision makers as it has both political and cost implications. Nevertheless, 14 of 19 recent post-conflict elections have had to be postponed, without jeopardizing the political process."72 In order to minimize the damaging effects of postponing elections, it is important to:
As a result, a certain number of preconditions for peacebuilding elections are often highlighted, which may include:
Distinguishing between national and regional/local electionsThe scheduling of national and sub-national elections raises many questions, such as: "Is it better to hold national elections before local ones, as some scholars have argued? Or, following emerging United Nations practice, should local-level elections be held in advance of national ones, in the hope of gradually inculcating voters to the rights and responsibilities of representative democracy?"79 Indeed, "some scholars argue that in a new democracy, holding national elections before regional elections generates incentives for the creation of national, rather than regional, political partiesand hence that the ideal process of election timing is to start at the national level and work ones way down. Others such as Larry Diamond a political scientist who has written extensively on democratization and elections, believe that simultaneous national and local elections 'can facilitate the mutual dependence of regional and national leaders. The more posts that are filled at the regional and local level . . . the greater the incentive for regional politicians to coordinate their election activities by developing an integrated party system.'"80
Also of concern is the timing of local elections versus national elections. Although historically, emphasis has been placed on national elections, as they were considered the minimal requisite to ensure governance, there is growing interest in sub-national elections as a precursor to these broader events. Recent interim administrations in Kosovo, Timor-Leste, and Afghanistan have convened local-level elections or assemblies well before national-level elections. In his seminal report of 2000, the United Nations secretary-general asserts, "Experience has demonstrated . . . that local elections often provide the first direct link between a voter and an elected official. The performance of that individual will determine whether he or she is removed, re-elected or elected to higher office. This connection between elector and elected, and the accountability of those elected at the local level, provides an important training ground for promoting democracy at the national level. In addition, the pool of locally elected and often younger officials may serve as an important source of the next generation of national politicians. Therefore, assistance with local elections offers an important and direct opening for a broader democratization process."81
Going beyond exit strategiesIn the past, the organization of elections was a key exit point for the international communitya strategy that has often been criticized for putting too much emphasis on the moment of elections, which was frequently pushed for at all costs by outside actors. This approach has severely undermined the efficacy of some of the largest electoral assistance operations.82 Analysts have regularly called for more patience on the part of the international community: "Patience means holding elections when the conditions permit, perhaps five or six years after war termination, rather than on an artificial two-year time line. Patience means greater reliance for an interim period on locally supported governance mechanisms, be they national or varied across localities. Patience means greater time to assist institutional development of society and state."83
There has also been a growing call for a longer-term approach to democracy support in post-conflict environments and longer-term support by the international community, beyond the organization of the first elections. This has been illustrated in particular by the creation of the United Nations Trust Fund for Democracy, as well as the Peacebuilding Commission.84 Yet, "the real challenge facing the international community is to help build sustainable procedures that function effectively without external assistance. In this area, progress has been slow. There is still a tendency to pay considerably more attention to a nations first election than subsequent ones, and many countries have been left with a legacy of expensive procedures and equipment after an internationally supported transitional election that they cannot hope to replicate in the future. Similarly, subsequent elections beyond the first often fail to attract the intense international involvement that accompanies first-time elections in the shape of observer missions, monitoring and support."85
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The importance of long-term, process-oriented election observationThe major actors engaged in electoral observation have now developed a more consistent, structured, and multi-dimensional approach to observation that covers all key elements. Long-term observation is crucial to this methodology, allowing a thorough observation of the election process in its entirety, not solely on the day of elections. Therefore, short-term observers need the support of long-term ones in order to facilitate planning, briefing, regional deployment, and debriefing. This is possible only for the largest organizations.86
Election observation is also now increasingly process oriented, and has expanded its scope beyond the results of an election. This principle may be seriously challenged in a post-conflict environment in which the outputs of elections are crucial both for local and for international main political actors.
The importance of addressing the first post-conflict elections flawsIn post-conflict elections, observers and monitors have a significant role in determining an election is without fraud and declaring it "free and fair." Eric Brahm notes, "Where contentious elections present fears of vote tampering and other irregularities, the presence of election monitors may serve to prevent shenanigans and give parties greater confidence that the vote was free and fair."87 In order to have such a positive contribution, electoral observers and monitors need actually to play that role: "From this point of view, the ambiguous attitude adopted, in many recent cases, by external intervention agents faced with the presence of significant flaws in the organization of initial elections, should not be seen as neutral."88
Problematic designating of "free and fair"
Where elections are required to be designated "free and fair" to be considered successful, a number of problems arise. In the past, the criterion often had more to do with international imperatives than with local realities. In a certain number of cases, the mere organization of elections is itself considered a success, and, as such, elections have been declared "free and fair" even when many problems may have been observed. There is also "a tendency to consider that if rigging does not fundamentally alter the results of the vote (that is, if those who are supposed to win in fact come first), it is preferable to turn a blind eye."89 What may be true for a national-level election may prove different for local-level polls, however.
This attitude on the part of the international community may also be explained by the emphasis generally placed on security criteria on election day in post-conflict situations. This criteria itself has been unequally applied, however. Further still, while some have noted that "the holding of polls in the absence of excessive violence may be considered to be a legitimate criterion, . . . this criterion should never be confounded with the qualification of elections as 'free and democratic' such that the costs of such a claim may rise considerably in the medium term."90
The nature and consequences of flaws
According to Beatrice Pouligny, "Problems encountered in the first so-called 'democratic' elections can arise partly from defects in organisation or technical competence, but also from fraudulent practices on a grand scale. The dividing line between the two is often very thin: problems that appear to be highly technical are almost always related to the major political issues at stake, whether they concern demarcation of constituencies, counting of votes or compilation of electoral registers."91 Some significant issues that may arise include:
Tensions between short- and longer-term requirementsIn post-conflict situations, tensions may exist between the short- and longer-term requirements deemed necessary for peace and democracy. Roland Paris and Timothy Sisk argue, "In the early stages of a statebuilding operation, outside actors typically face strong pressures to address short-term needs, but doing so may run counter to the long-term requirements for establishing effective, legitimate state institutions. Preserving a ceasefire and managing potential 'spoilers,' for example, often involves making explicit or tacit bargains with ruling elites whose continued power (whether this power is formally recognized or informally exercised) can get in the way of building depersonalized state institutions and broadening political representation beyond the parties that fought the preceding war."101
It is also well known that one of the challenges of peace agreements is that they tend to "freeze a moment in history, particularly a moment distorted by the fears and insecurities of war."102 It is widely considered important that support to electoral and political party systems integrate a longer-term perspective, anticipating the issues of the future and helping political actors to devise means to cope with challenges that may arise. Go to designation of free and fair and activity on election monitoring and observation
Sustainability of financial assistance to political partiesAlong the same line, questions have been raised about the wisdom of providing financial and commodity assistance to political parties. Practitioners have noted that such assistance can create dependency in recipient parties. If parties are not forced to manage their activities within their own resources, they may become accustomed to practices that are not sustainable. For example, political parties in poor countries may hire full-time professionals or may spend considerable resources on campaign advertising.
Moreover, when assistance is given only to one or a few parties, this can give the impression that the donor organization has its own preferred parties and is trying to influence the results of elections. Finally, in this situation, party leaders can more easily misuse funds either for personal or political advantage or spend them on shortsighted or otherwise ill-conceived ventures. In the past, there have been questions about the proper use of financial aid by party leaders in Cambodia, Mozambique, and Nicaragua.103
Go to international assistance to political parties
The short life expectancy of post-conflict political partiesOne specific feature of post-conflict political systems is the limited lifespan of most political parties. According to Nicolas van de Walle, "In a logic that is driven by individual clientelist strategies rather than by institutional or legislative ambitions, politicians create parties to compete in a single election and leverage resources from the party in power, only to evaporate once the deal is struck. Clientelist politics are unstable enough that each election engenders another round of this process, in some cases with the same politicians. The consequence is that few if any parties other than the one in power undergo institutionalization over time."104
The sustainability of the electoral systemContinuity of experience appears to be a critical variable. Benjamin Reilly argues, "The evidence suggests that successive elections held under the same rules encourage a gradual process of political learning. Structural incentives need to be kept constant over several elections before the effects of any electoral package can be judged."105 Yet, a key issue in post-conflict environments may be the temptation of changing the rules too often.
Another important aspect is the kind of technical and financial support provided. According to the United Nations Development Programme, "Some electoral systems and processes service providers focus on 'D-day' or the election itself, and therefore stress the human, financial and materiel resources that need to be in place to pull off a good election. Other service providers focus more on building longer-term capacities and strengthening institutions and processes before but also between elections, with a view to eventually removing the demand for assistance in this area."106
These differences are important with regards to the objective of building sustainable systems. For instance, support to permanent (not only provisional) electoral bodies and enough funding to support a permanent voter registration process (usually the single most expensive administration component) are key elements to consider. In various recent cases, voter registration had to be undertaken repeatedly almost from scratch.
Another scenario is one in which extensive civil registries or previous lists exist but are not legitimate in the eyes of citizens and do not encourage trust in the system. Electoral assistance is becoming more complex and does not always match available national capacity, raising questions about the sustainability of the electoral system over time.107 Generally speaking, "there is an increasing realization that building the capacity of national institutions so they can organize credible elections may require assistance over a sustained period."108
Go to activity on boundary delimitation and activity on voter and civic education
Finally, more attention is now placed on local ownership and capacity building as important factors "for successful elections, and even more critical for a continuous democratization process."109 The United Nations secretary-general notes, "In the early years of electoral assistance, demands for the earliest possible holding of new multi-party elections often led to the importation or adaptation of procedures and systems used in other countries. Constitutions were frequently drafted using foreign models with the primary goal of legitimizing immediate multi-party elections."110 The practice has evolved. However, some of these issues still need to be addressed.
Consolidating the system: The "two turnover" testWithin the framework of longer-term electoral support, an emphasis has been placed on linking the hosting of successful and multiple rounds of elections to the very notion of democratic consolidation. Indeed, some scholars use the "two turnover" rule to define democratic consolidation; that is, a democracy is considered consolidated when power has changed hands twice as a result of "free and fair" elections.
Others say that democracy is consolidated when it is the "only game in town"; that is, when no significant political party or group seeks to come to power by means other than winning a free and fair election. Finally, others measure the degree to which the country has achieved the institutional and legal characteristics of a mature democracy, using indicators such as competitive politics, regular elections, broad participation, and constraints on arbitrary use of executive power, free speech, and respect of civil liberties, including minorities.111 Regardless, it seems that there is a broad support base for extending the conception of democratic consolidation to encompass a long-term perspective on democratic processes.
1. "Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Principle of Periodic and Genuine Elections," UN Doc. A/RES/45/150 (1991).
2. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Democratization (New York: United Nations, 1996), 1.
3. Roland Paris, "International Peacebuilding and the 'Mission Civilisatrice,'" Review of International Studies 28 (2002): 641.
4. Ibid., 6.
5. Roland Paris, At Wars End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 8.
6. Ibid., 46-47.
8. See, for instance, Youssef Cohen, Brian R. Brown, and A.F.K. Organski, "The Paradoxical Nature of State Making: The Violent Creation of Order," American Political Science Review 75, no. 4 (1981): 901-10; Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States AD 990-1992 (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1990).
9. See, for instance, Bruce Russett, Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, Debating the Democratic Peace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996). For a summary of the theory of democratic peace, refer to, Steve Chan, "In Search of Democratic Peace: Problems and Promise," Mershon International Studies Review 41 (1997): 59-92. A good account of the debate surrounding these questions may be found in, Miriam Fendius Elman, ed., Paths to Peace: Is Democracy the Answer? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997). For a critique of this argument, refer to, Christopher Layne, "Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace," International Security 19, no. 2 (1994): 5-49.
10. Kalevi J. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
11. Peter Uvin, "Rwanda: The Social Roots of Genocide," in War, Hunger, and Displacement: The Origins of Humanitarian Emergencies, vol. 2, ed. E. Wayne Nafziger, Frances Stewart, and Raimo Vayrynen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 159-86.
12. Mansfield and Snyder, "Democratic Transitions, Institutional Strength and War," 334.
13. Paris and Sisk, Managing Contradictions: The Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding, 2-3.
15. Paris, "International Peacebuilding and the Mission Civilisatrice," 641.
16. See, in particular, Sabine Kurtenbach, Why Is Liberal Peace-Building So Difficult? Some Lessons from Central America (Hamburg: German Institute for Global and Area Studies, 2007); Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake, The International Post/Conflict Industry: Myths, Market Imperfections and the Need for a New Reconstruction Paradigm (Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies).
17. Kumar, "Reflections on International Political Party Assistance," 522.
18. See, Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 17-35. See also, "Support by the United Nations System," sec. 19.
19. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 17-18.
20. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 239. On the importance of both the political and the technical dimensions of democratic reform, see also, Ellis, "Elections Are Not an Island."
21. Larry Diamond, "Elections without Democracy: Thinking About Hybrid Regimes," Journal of Democracy 13, no. 2 (2002): 34.
22. See also, Staffan I. Lindberg, "Opposition Parties and Democratisation in Sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Contemporary African Studies 24, no. 1 (2006): 125.
23. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 19.
24. Mimmi Sderberg and Thomas Ohlson, Democratisation and Armed Conflict (Stockholm: Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency, 2003), 30.
27. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 17-35.
28. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 240-41.
29. "Support by the United Nations System," sec. 21-22.
30. Paris and Sisk, Managing Contradictions: The Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding, 5-6.
31. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 14.
32. Ibid., 14.
33. Tim Allen, Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lords Resistance Army (London: Zed Books, 2006).
34. William Zartman and Victor A. Kremenyuk, eds. Peace versus Justice: Negotiating Forward and Backward-Looking Outcomes (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).
35. Nicholas Waddell and Phil Clark, eds. Courting Conflict? Justice, Peace and the ICC in Africa (London: Royal Africa Society, 2008), 13.
36. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 23.
37. Mari Fitzduff, Cathy Gormley-Heenan, and Gordon Peake, From Warlords to Peacelords: Local Leadership Capacity in Peace Processes (Ulster: International Conflict Research Centre, 2004), 58-59.
39. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 18.
40. King and de Zeeuw, Political Party Development in Conflict-Prone Societies, 8.
41. Fitzduff, Gormley-Heenan, and Peake, From Warlords to Peacelords, 14 and 16.
42. Kumar, "Reflections on International Political Party Assistance," 510.
43. Paris and Sisk, Managing Contradictions: The Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding, 6.
44. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 17-18; Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 23-24.
45. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 23-24.
46. Thomas Carothers, Confronting the Weakest Link: Aiding Political Parties in New Democracies (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006), 6.
47. King and Zeeuw, Political Party Development in Conflict-Prone Societies, 8.
48. Ibid., 6.
49. Ibid., 6.
50. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 10.
51. Bernard Grofman and Jon Fraenkal, "Does the Alternative Vote Foster Moderation in Ethnically Divided Societies?: The Case of Fiji," Comparative Political Studies 39, no. 5 (2006): 624.
52. Ibid., 10-11.
53. Sderberg and Ohlson, Democratisation and Armed Conflict, 26.
54. Ibid., 28.
55. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 23.
56. Ibid., 21.
57. Ibid., 21.
58. For recent case studies on that subject, see, Jeroen de Zeeuw, ed. From Soldiers to Politicians: Transforming Rebel Movements after Civil War (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2007).
59. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 17.
60. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 19.
61. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 31.
62. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 7.
63. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 22.
64. Thomas Carothers, "How Democracies Emerge: The 'Sequencing' Fallacy," Journal of Democracy 18, no. 1 (2007): 19.
65. Ibid., 23-24.
66. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed Procedural Democracy in Post-War Societies," 240-41.
67. Edward D. Mansfield and Jack Snyder, "The Sequencing 'Fallacy,'" Journal of Democracy 18, no. 3 (2007): 6-7.
68. Astri Suhrke, The Democratisation of a Dependent State: The Case of Afghanistan (Madrid: Fundacin para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dilogo Exterior, 2007).
69. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 29.
70. Jarrett Blanc, Aanund Dylland, and Kre Vollan, State Structures and Electoral Systems in Post-Conflict Situations (Washington, DC: International Foundation for Electoral Systems, 2006), 11.
71. Ibid., 11.
72. UN Peacemaker, Operational Guidance Note: Postponement of an Election (New York: United Nations), 1.
73. Ibid., 2.
74. Jack Snyder, From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000), 320.
75. UN Peacemaker, Operational Guidance Note: Setting the Date of Elections, 1-2.
77. Ibid., 24.
78. Carothers, "How Democracies Emerge: The 'Sequencing' Fallacy," 14.
79. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 5.
80. Ibid., 10-11.
81. "Support by the United Nations System," sec. 23.5.
82. See, Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 10; Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 240.
83. Charles T. Call and Susan E. Cook, "On Democratization and Peacebuilding," Global Governance 9 (2003): 243.
84. See, United Nations Democracy Fund, "Situating the UN Democracy Fund."
85. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 10.
86. See, for instance, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Handbook for Long-Term Election Observers: Beyond Election Day Observation (Vienna: OSCE, 2007), ix-x.
87. Brahm, "Election Monitoring."
88. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 19-20.
89. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 241.
90. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 20.
91. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 242.
92. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 71-72.
93. See, OSCE, Handbook for Long-Term Election Observers: Beyond Election Day Observation, 11-12.
94. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 29. See also, Handley, Delimitation Equity Project: Resource Guide, 31.
95. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 20.
96. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 244.
97. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 20.
98. Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed 'Procedural Democracy' in Post-War Societies," 244.
99. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 26.
100. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 21.
101. Paris and Sisk, Managing Contradictions: The Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding, 4-5.
102. Lyons, Postconflict Elections, 17.
103. Kumar, "Reflections on International Political Party Assistance," 515.
104. Nicolas van de Walle, "'Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?' The Evolution of Political Clientelism in Africa," in Patrons, Clients and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition, ed. Herbert Kitschelt and Steven I. Wilkinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 14.
105. Reilly, "Electoral Systems for Divided Societies," 167.
106. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 32.  Ibid., 32.
107. "Strengthening the Role of the United Nations," 7.
108. Ibid., 7.
109. Support by the United Nations System, 6.
110. Ibid., 6.
111. Snyder, From Voting to Violence, 27. See also, Lindberg, Opposition Parties and Democratisation in Sub-Saharan Africa, 132.