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The role of elections in peace processes: When and how do they advance stability or exacerbate conflict

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“Elections play a significant role in peace processes since they are widely considered to be the main method of achieving a peaceful resolution to political controversies. An election process is a means of pursuing or retaining political power in which social differences are highlighted by candidates and parties campaigning for popular support. This process can contribute to peace, but it can also provide entry points for violence and conflicts”.

The latest UNSSC-ZIF publication offers a window for reflection on the “quintessential manifestation of political competition”, i.e. the electoral process. In post-conflict societies, the first election following a peace settlement can be often considered as the ‘last act of war’ as it reflects several war-time dynamics and takes places in countries devastated by civil strife and physical destruction. Yet, a careful observation of subsequent electoral contests reveals some interesting patterns and challenges that the UN system and its partners are starting to address in a more sophisticated and effective manner. In the last decade, the UN has had to deal with an increasing number of situations of disputed elections where losers repudiate the election results and formerly militia and non-state actors become the unexpected winners, and where the integrity of the contest is overshadowed by an authoritarian ruler’s effort to groom a successor within his own family.

The different contributions look at some challenging case studies of post-conflict elections (Liberia, Sudan, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire) and highlight some innovative processes and actions to mitigate the potential for election-related violence and promote peaceful reconciliation in divided societies.

The authors of the publication participated in the second Dialogue Series organized by UNSSC and ZIF on “The role of elections in peace process”, an event organized in Turin in December 2010. The Series is a regular forum on Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding and Sustainable Development dedicated to UN Deputy Special Representatives of the Secretary-General.