by Carrie Manning, Ian O. Smith, Ozlem Tuncel

The notion of liberal peacebuilding, the prevailing approach to international intervention to end civil war in the decades after the Cold War’s end, has fallen out of favor of late. But for the last thirty years, international peacebuilding efforts have been built on a foundation of electoral politics and specifically, electoral inclusion for former armed opposition groups. In our book, Parties, Politics, Peace: Electoral Inclusion as Peacebuilding, we examine the impact of electoralism on the construction of peace.

The end of the Cold War marked a significant shift in global conflict dynamics. It presaged the end of many civil wars around the globe, with more such conflicts ending in the 15 years following 1989 than in the entire 45 years of the Cold War. This period provided a unique opportunity for armed opposition groups to transform into political parties and engage in post-war electoral processes, bringing their causes into the political arena.

“Peacebuilding via democratization,” as this approach to peacebuilding is sometimes called, is easy to knock. As we know, elections don’t make democracy. Even if we set the bar to electoral rather than illiberal democracy, the ground is stony. Few countries that have been through a protracted civil war have any history at all with electoral politics. Old political patterns are hard to change. Party systems, where there is more than one party, tend to be dominated by the former belligerents, with a smattering of very weak “unarmed parties” rounding out the picture. Democratic norms are in short supply, especially among would-be powerholders in many such countries.

And yet, electoral politics have had surprising staying power in countries whose conflicts ended after the Cold War. Much has been written about the pros and cons of so-called liberal peacebuilding, both as an idea and as a practice. In this book, we examine the empirical records of the parties that made the transition from armed group to electoral party. What became of these parties? To what extent have they become influential political actors? Have they helped to anchor peace? Promote political change?

We constructed a global dataset that examines the participation and performance of these parties over up to three decades. The Post-Rebel Electoral Parties (PREP) Dataset contains data for 81 post-rebel parties derived from 58 distinct conflict actors in 40 countries over 30 years. Our data cover all civil wars ending in 1990 or later, and include conflicts that vary in duration, intensity, incompatibility, and several other factors. In addition to tracking post-war electoral participation and performance, we also reach back to the organizational roots of these post-rebel parties in wartime or pre-war politics. This allows us to trace the arc of an organization’s development across time and circumstance

Our quantitative approach provided some surprising and important trends. First, rebel groups with strikingly different histories, purposes, and structures, operating in quite different political contexts, not only converted to political parties, but tended to remain engaged in politics over time. This begs the question of whether these parties were also undergoing organizational adaptation as a result of their participation in electoral politics, as well as whether and how they might be affecting the political systems of which they were a part.

Second, very few parties that participated in at least one election returned to armed conflict. This is important and unexpected, given the high rate of conflict recurrence in countries that have experienced civil war. This evidence suggests that engaging post-rebel parties in electoral politics was a viable long-term strategy for bringing political stability, though not necessarily for bringing substantive political change.

While quantitative analysis allows us to identify consistent patterns in electoral performance over time, understanding the causal processes behind these patterns, and their implications for peacebuilding policy, requires fine-grained qualitative examination, which we take up in the latter part of the book.

Here we relied on qualitative examination of a sub-group of our party dataset. Looking more deeply at the set of parties that participated over the long haul, defined as at least twenty years of participation and five or more national election cycles, we found that regular participation in electoral processes prompted parties to adapt, and that this adaptability was crucial for the long-term sustainability of peace in post-conflict societies.

However, adaptation to electoral politics did not always mean embracing democratic values. We identify three strategies of adaptation to electoral politics. One is power consolidation, in which parties use electoral engagement to buy legitimacy even as they seek to lock out competition. The second is accommodation, in which parties engage in a mix of electoral engagement and informal methods of gaining access to power, including both violent and non-violent means. The third approach, competition, implies a more fulsome commitment to formal electoral politics as the ‘only game in town’.

To explain how parties choose among these strategies is not straightforward. It is not a simple function of history, experience, or organizational features. Instead, the picture is a dynamic one in which one of the least experienced parties, Renamo in Mozambique, has persisted in a strategy of accommodation that included a return to armed conflict alongside a search for a path back to unarmed politics. A close comparison of three long-haul parties, including Renamo, highlights the fact that it is not elections per se, but the engagement of political actors in electoral politics over time, that produces stable outcomes. How these interactive dynamics come about is a subject worthy of continued attention.

Our research underscores the pivotal role of armed opposition groups turned political parties in shaping the trajectory of peacebuilding efforts. Through a meticulous blend of quantitative analysis and qualitative case studies, our study contributes valuable insights to the fields of democracy, governance, elections, political parties, and post-conflict peacebuilding.


About the Authors

Carrie Manning
Carrie Manning is Professor of Political Science and Associate Provost for International Initiatives at Georgia State University. She served as Chair of the Department of Political Science from 2011-2017 and was Director of Graduate Studies in her department for four years prior to that. Manning was Fulbright Research Chair in Governance and Public Administration at the University of Ottawa for Spring 2018. She was the resident director in Angola for the National Democratic Institute from 1996-97. She is the author of five books and over three dozen journal articles and book chapters on comparative politics, peace-building and post-conflict politics. Dr. Manning earned her PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley (1997) and an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (1991).


Ian O. Smith
Ian O. Smith is Visiting Assistant Professor and Program Director for International Relations at St. Mary’s University. His research interests focus on the role of political institutions in transition with a particular focus on regime development, political parties and electoral protests. His recent projects have focused on long-term regime development trends and the transition of former rebel groups into political parties. His works have been published in journals including Comparative Political Studies, Democratization, and Government and Opposition. In addition to academic journals Smith has also been featured in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog and appeared on The Source on Texas Public Radio. Dr. Smith received his Doctorate in Political Science from Georgia State University in 2015 with a focus on comparative politics and research methods, and his Bachelor of Science in International Affairs from Georgia Tech.


Ozlem Tuncel
Ozlem Tuncel is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Georgia State University, having received a BA and MA in Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University. Her research agenda focuses on political parties, opposition cooperation and coordination, and authoritarian regimes, and her dissertation research has been supported by the William A. Steiger Fund for Legislative Studies of the APSA Centennial Grant, Craigie Fellowship, and GSU’s Library Dissertation Award. Her work has been published in Party Politics, Journal of Peace Research, and Journal of Civil Society.