Postconflict Elections: War Termination, Democratization, and Demilitarizing Politics




Lyons, Terrence

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School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution


“Outcomes of transitional periods after peace agreements to halt civil wars are critical to sustaining peace and providing the basis for a long-term process of democratization. Understanding these transitional processes and designing policies to promote successful peace implementation are among the greatest challenges of the post–Cold War era. In a number of recent cases, including Angola (1992), Cambodia (1993), El Salvador (1994), Mozambique (1994), Bosnia-Herzegovina (1996), and Liberia (1997), elections have been designated in the peace accord as the mechanism for ending the transition. Such postconflict elections are designed to advance two distinct but interrelated goals – war termination and democratization. This essay will examine the comparative lessons of these recent postconflict elections and their relationship to the twin processes of conflict resolution and democratization. The election events themselves gain importance by their connection to these deeper and longer-term processes. While the dynamics of conflict resolution and political transition are distinct, postconflict elections are embedded in both. ‘Demilitarizing politics’ is a concept that captures elements of both components and emphasizes the importance of specific processes and policies that support the twin goals of war termination and democratization. Insights from theories and concepts developed by scholars of conflict resolution and in the literature on political transitions therefore help explain the dual nature of such elections and suggest what types of processes support the demilitarization of politics to advance the twin goals of peace and democracy. Conflict resolution concepts point to the importance of managing the inherent strategic and security dilemmas to encourage military leaders to stop the fighting and exchange their armed power for a chance at political power. The literature on political transitions helps us see how the legacies of the old order and the uncertainties inherent in competitive elections structure strategic choice. Both conflict resolution and democratization studies emphasize the role of institutions, suggesting that in postconflict transitions the role of interim government and the construction of democratic institutions such as political parties and effective electoral commissions will be critical to both the security and political agendas.”