Introduction: Democracy & Governance Sub-topics

The democracy and governance thematic area consists of the following sub-topics:
This section offers a concise elaboration of these five points and how they are central to democracy and, through that lens, to peacebuilding. It is on this basis that these points have been identified as central to any discussion on democracy and governance.


A constitution is a framework document that enacts a basic legal structure upon which the sovereignty of the state rests. It may be defined as referring to "fundamental principles of government of a nation implied in laws, customs or contained in a document or collection of documents (which may be referred to collectively as a constitution, as basic laws or organic laws). A constitution delineates the basic organization and operations of government, describing both its powers and limitations. Essentially, a constitution outlines the rules of the political game."1

While the document itself is essential, in the context of peacebuilding, a variety of related ideas constitute a significant bulk of the work done on constitutions. Beyond the tangible and concrete document of a constitution, the notions of constitution making (also called constitutional engineering) and constitution building are essential features. Constitution making refers to the technical act of rendering a constitution. Constitution building largely connotes the process by which this document is formed, deliberated upon, instituted, and amended. In modern discourses, deliberation and participation are seen as instrumental not only to the constitution-building process but also to constitution making.2

While constitutional processes alone are insufficient to effect peace, they play an important role because they provide the general structure around which various institutions of democratic peace are formed. They lay the groundwork for sovereign state legitimacy from a traditional, top-down perspective by constituting what is public order and when that has been suspended.3 They do the same from the bottom up through the increased attention paid to participatory and deliberative inclusion of the population in constitutional processes, representing the vitality of popular conceptions of sovereignty.4

In the wake of conflict or in attempts to forestall violence, constitutional processes may be imperative to (re)establishing the basis of state legitimacy by guaranteeing membership in the political community. They do this by offering citizenship in situations where relationships of trust between communities may have been significantly eroded. Whether a tacit agreement or a formal written document, a constitution is a key component of democracy, and it lays out the range of institutions that enable a functioning governance sphere, in particular in post-conflict contexts. On this basis, constitutions are important features to be including as part of democracy and governance. 

[Back to Top]

Electoral processes and political parties

Notions pertaining to electoral processes "those events surrounding an electoral period" are multiple and include the following set of terminology:
  • Electoral engineering: May be understood as the process of determining electoral systems in a given context.
  • Electoral systems: These are "commonly understood as the rules that govern how votes obtained by a political party or candidate are translated into representatives (seats) in a representative body, and the interaction between these and party behaviour."5
  • Election (electoral) assistance: This "may be defined as the technical or material support given to the electoral process."6
  • Election (or electoral) observation: This "refers to information gathering or on-site fact-finding and making and informed judgment about the credibility, legitimacy and transparency of the electoral process. It is often carried out by external agencies that cannot intervene in any material way in the voting and counting operations."7
  • Election (or electoral) monitoring: This "refers to information gathering and examination and evaluation of the electoral process. It is often carried out by domestic agencies that are able to draw the attention of the presiding officers to observed deficiencies in the voting and counting operations."8
While these terms are interrelated, and even at times used interchangeably, this definitional framework helps to delimit notions and concepts used throughout this section.

Political parties generally refer to "a group of citizens that are organized to seek and exercise power in a political system."9

Electoral processes and political parties are often seen as seminal to any democratization process capable of bolstering and sustaining peace, and thus are considered a central pillar of democracy and governance.

Elections are so important as to be tied into the various conceptions of democratic consolidation. Suffrage has also been enshrined as an international human right.10 Emerging from conflict, elections are supposed to serve a dual purpose: to put in place a legitimate and democratic government, and to consolidate peace structured by a durable democratic system.11 Thus, these processes offer a political solution to violent conflict and a basis for a durable peace. This presents a difficult balance. Inappropriately timed elections may exacerbate tensions and perpetuate conflict. In the long term, however, elections are a pivotal feature of democracy. Hence, sequencing of elections and packaging them with an array of other essential governance needs are vital to the success of democracy for peacebuilding purposes.

Meanwhile, political parties "are the primary channels linking ordinary citizens with their political representatives, and thus for building accountable and responsive government."12 Thus, parties are a central actor in the realm of governance, linking citizen to state. However, in a peacebuilding environment, parties may have seriously diminished capacity and legitimacy.13 They may be composed of elites and poorly represent the interests of the population at large.14 Although political parties are essential actors in any transition to peace and democracy and are some of the main actors in any governance structure, assistance to these groups requires caution and an understanding of context-based challenges.  Go to Electoral Processes, Political Parties, and Peacebuilding Processes

[Back to Top]

Public administration, local governance, and participation

Public administration is often conceptualized as "an organizational structure, a system, a function, an institutional construct, procedures and processes or just a set of practices in the exercise of public authority."15 It also refers to a much broader process, in which the notions of public policy and civil service are contained and sequenced"an aspect particularly important in the post-conflict reconstruction period, as a government cannot implement all components of these changes at once. Concretely speaking, therefore, public administration is the sector through which government policy is actuated.

Generally speaking, scholars have defined local governance as "the set of formal and informal rules, structures and processes defining the measures with which individuals and organizations can exercise power over the decisions by other stakeholders capable of affecting their welfare at the local levels."16 This definition has been problematized by the frequent use of normative indicators within the definition itself, including challenges to deciphering notions of the local and distinguishing local governance from similar processes of local democracy.

Participation has been defined as referring "to the active and constructive engagement of people. It is a bottom-up process within which people enter (and often help to create) spaces for interaction with and influencing of decision-making mechanisms. Participation is an action undertaken by citizens."17 This is a particularly localized approach to the notion of participation. Other conceptions, such as that employed by the World Bank, which views participation as the "process through which stakeholders influence and share control over priority setting, policy-making, resource allocations and access to public goods and services,"18 conceive of the term in a broader way. In this regard, divergence has emerged between popular participation, which refers specifically to engagement of disadvantaged populations, and stakeholder participation, which highlights that other actors are involved beyond beneficiary groups.19 Conflation of the breadth of actors included may influence interpretations of recommendations on these themes.

Issues of public administration, local governance, and participation play important roles in overarching issues of conflict as well as peacebuilding. During the 1970s and 1980s, a process of neoliberalism instituted programs that imagined a diminished role of government and administrators, or a "roll-back" of the state. This made the process of governance particularly difficult given the lack of financial capacity allocated to these sectors. At times, this intensified conflict by limiting the states ability to rein in patronage networks.

As a consequence, a new focus has been placed on institutions and the essential role of the state in building peace. It has been recognized by many stakeholders that "rebuilding the capacities of the state and the (re-)establishment of credible, transparent, participatory and efficient governance and public administration institutions in fragile post-conflict settings is the key ingredient to achieving peace, stability and sustainable development. A solid governance infrastructure, based on well-articulated horizontal and vertical divisions of power, is crucial to delivering political promises along with the needed public goods such as security, health care, education and infrastructure."20 From that perspective, state legitimacy rests not only in the traditional conception of state sovereignty but also in its capacity to deliver on its political promises and to perform specific functions.

Local governance structures and public administration are essential facilitators of the fulfillment of state responsibility. The mechanisms established at the local level and the administrators that comprise these systems are the apparatuses through which policy becomes action and the functions and services of the state are allocated. Participation is also necessary to reconstructing the social fabric requisite to reorient society toward peace.21 Thus, participation is vital to facilitating a deliberative relationship between the state and citizenry.

These areas of public administration, local governance, and participation offer concrete articulation of how democracy and governance are channeled. It is through these mechanisms that democracy is actuated, as they engage citizen with state. This is also the sphere in which governance operates and policy is formulated. Therefore, these elements comprise essential areas of work for democracy and governance in peacebuilding contexts.

[Back to Top]

Civil society

Although civil society is a debated notion, broadly speaking, consensus has been built that this concept includes "the arena of voluntary, uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values," and that "civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power."22 However, it is frequently noted that in practice, the term is not utilized in such diverse ways. In addition, while this framework establishes general parameters with which to understand the concept, there is a lack of agreement on the precise definition or exact forms of civil society.

Civil society plays an important role in democracy and governance for peacebuilding contexts. Although many observe that civil society cannot replace the central function of the state, civil society may offer complementary governance structures where the state is weak, incapacitated, or indifferent to its peoples needs. In addition, civil society may provide a more durable link between citizen and state and can encourage legitimacy of government to the people, or may be best positioned to check governance practices. To this end, civil society organizations "are often seen to carry the best hopes for a genuine democratic counterweight to the power-brokers, economic exploiters and warlords who tend to predominate in conflict-ridden weak or failed states, and may even capture the electoral processes."23

In part because of invigorated support for civic engagement citizen organizations, associations, businesses, neighborhood committees, and the like24 civil society has come to be viewed as a pillar of democracy, along with elections and capacity building of state institutions.25 The ideal is to attain "a diverse, active, and independent civil society that articulates the interests of citizens and holds governments accountable to citizens."26  Go to Civil Society and Peacebuilding Processes

This arena offers both a counterbalance to and a support function for governance, and it provides a means by which to (re)invigorate civic engagement. It provides voice and representation, and may be utilized as a body through which populations can articulate needs to governance structures. This relationship makes the sector of civil society a paramount tenet of democratic peace and governance.

[Back to Top]

Public information and media development

Public information is an overarching term that implies the public production of information but does not designate a mode by which this is done. Media is therefore encompassed in this term and often serves as a primary means of public information dissemination. However, as evidenced in many peacebuilding contexts, this is not the only way in which information may be made public. For instance, use of mobile technologies and text messaging has become an important means of public communication, although in that case, the information process actually results from interactions between citizens, rather than distribution by the media industry per se.

Media is a somewhat more straightforward concept, though it implies a range of activities. From a theoretical perspective, media is "a plural form of the noun, 'medium,' and connotes the mechanisms by which information is transmitted."27 Hence, the term "refers to the several mediums or channels used in an organised fashion to communicate to groups of people."28 A more limited definition suggests that the term "media" primarily refers to "the group of corporate entities, publishers, journalists, and others who constitute the communications industry and profession."29

Finally, media development refers to a strategy that seeks to strengthen the media sector as an institutional component of good governance and long-term development. It receives particular attention in peacebuilding contexts.30

Media has the capacity to play an important role in both conflict and peace, though the role media has played in inflaming tensions is more commonly cited. In cases ranging from Nazi Germany to Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, media has incited tensions and been a transformative tool for violence.31 However, media may also play a number of important roles in building peace:
  • Media helps disseminate information and represent a diversity of views sufficient for citizens to make well-informed choices and be able to participate in public life;
  • Media serves as a watchdog over leaders and officials, as well as other actors in the peacebuilding process;
  • Medias presence is essential in the monitoring of human rights and the functioning of other civil society actors;
  • Media coverage is essential during an electoral period;
  • Media helps raise awareness on other dimensions of peacebuilding processes and is therefore a vital support to many peacebuilding components in different sectors of activities;
  • Media can contribute to efforts to change attitudes in the general public; and
  • Media technology has improved access to citizen journalism and encouraged the use of information and communication technologies for peacebuilding.
In this portal, the choice has been made to have a specific sub-section on media, distinct from civil society. Media is clearly an important component of civil society, as well as a key partner for other civil society actors. It gives civil society organizations (CSOs) the means to monitor occurrences and contributes to CSOs advocacy functions.32 Indeed, in practice, there is significant overlap between civil society and media, particularly where media outlets take on specific advocacy or monitoring functions (for instance, with regard to human rights violations or public accountability). Local CSOs are also actively involved in the production of media and public information initiatives, often with the aim of civic education. Community-based organizations disseminate information through radio initiatives, and CSOs use entertainment programs such as music and theater in order to disseminate messages on important social issues.

Yet, the young field of media and peacebuilding in part refers to specific actors, issues, intervention tools, and programs, and as such deserves specific attention. The distinct sub-section on media is a reflection of the growing attention media has attracted in the last decade and the need to develop this field. To highlight the key linkages with civil society issues, the portal provides multiple cross-references and links between the civil society and public information and media development sub-sections.

1. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Constitution and Its Relationship to the Legislature (New York: UNDP).
2. Sakuntala Kadirgamar-Rajasingham, email correspondence (June 3, 2008).
3. Yash Ghai and Guido Galli, Constitution Building Processes and Democratization (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2006), 8.
4. Kalevi J. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
5. Ibid.
6. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission on EU Election Assistance and Observation (Brussels: European Commission, 2000), 4.
7. Electoral Commission Forum of SADC Countries and the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), Principles for Election Management, Monitoring, and Observation in the SADC Region (Johannesburg: EISA, 2003), 30.
8. Ibid., 30.
9. Krishna Kumar, "Reflections on International Political Party Assistance," Democratization 12, no. 4 (2005): 505.
10. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission.
11. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions," 18.
12. Benjamin Reilly, Political Parties in Conflict-Prone Societies: Encouraging Inclusive Politics and Democratic Development (Tokyo: United Nations University, 2008), 1.
13. Ibid., 2.
14. Ibid., 4.
15. Protais Musoni, "Reconstructing Governance and Public Administration Institutions for Effective, Conflict-Sensitive Rule of Law"(presented at the United Nations Network in Public Administration Ad Hoc Expert Group Meeting, Yaoundé, Cameroon, July 2003), 5.
16. Hsu and Wang, "The Institutional Design," 335.
17.United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Participatory Dialogue: Towards a Stable, Safe and Just Society for All (New York: United Nations, 2007), 11.
18. World Bank, "What is Participation?"
19. World Bank, The World Bank Participation Sourcebook (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1996), 6.
20. UNDESA, Governance Strategies for Post Conflict Reconstruction, 9.
21. UNDESA, Participatory Dialogue.
22. Beatrice Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Ambiguities of International Programmes Aimed at Building New Societies," Security Dialogue 36, no. 4 (2005). This quote is frequently used by different authors and practitioners. See also, London School of Economics Centre for Civil Society (CCS), "Definition of Civil Society."
23. Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding," 496.
24. Timothy Sisk, ed., Democracy at the Local Level: The International IDEA Handbook on Participation, Representation, Conflict Management, and Governance (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2001), 12.
25. Peter Uvin and Sarah Cohen, What Really Works in Preventing and Rebuilding Failed States: Building Civil Society in Post-Conflict Environments: From the Micro to the Macro (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center, 2006), 5; Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, 86.
26. Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, 87.
27. Tim Allen and Jean Seaton, The Media of Conflict: War Reporting and Representations of Ethnic Violence (London: Zed Books, 1999), 4.
28. Ross Howard, Francis Rolt, Hans van de Veen, and Juliette Verhoeven, eds., The Power of the Media: A Handbook for Peacebuilders (Utrecht: European Centre for Conflict Prevention, 2005).
29. Jennifer Akin, "Mass Media," Beyond Intractability (March 2005).
30. Shanthi Kalathil, John Langlois, and Adam Kaplan, Towards a New Model: Media and Communication in Post-Conflict and Fragile States (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2008), 8.
31. Tim Allen and Nicole Stremlau, Media Policy, Peace and State Reconstruction (London: Crisis States Research Centre, 2005), 2.
32. Yll Bajraktari and Emily Hsu, Developing Media in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2007).

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.