The role of elections in peace processes

When and how they advance stability or exacerbate conflicts

UNSSC, ZIF | 2015

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 because of the competitive patterns embedded in the “winner-loser” dichotomy. Such instability can derail the peace process and hamper both short-term recovery efforts and long-term development. Therefore, the challenges associated with electoral processes are issues that directly impact peace operations.

Post-conflict polls often take place in the context of United Nations (UN) peace operations and, as a result, the UN has the critical role of ensuring an orderly and safe conduct of the vote. Over the past 20 years, the UN has provided electoral assistance to 104 Member States and four territories. In the past two years (2008-2010) alone, 52 Member States have received assistance, eight in response to a Security Council mandate.

The technical quality of an election is important insofar as it advances and protects fundamental political processes and human rights. However, the true measure is whether elections engender broad public confidence in the process and the outcome. In the 1990s, the UN observed landmark elections and popular consultations in Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, South Africa and Timor Leste, but today this responsibility is increasingly being shifted to regional organizations.

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