Power-sharing transitional governments are common components of peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts. They guarantee the participation of representatives of significant groups in political decisionmaking and reduce the danger that one group will become dominant. Power sharing among former enemies is difficult to manage and potentially conflict provoking. This paper from the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue argues that the international community therefore has an important role to play in assisting power-sharing governments to manage their country’s political transition. It draws on examples from Burundi, Iraq, Cambodia, Nepal and Liberia.
The international community often underestimates the need for third-party political engagement during transitional periods. The establishment of a government of national unity is often seen as the return to ‘normality’ and as the beginning of reconstruction and other ‘post-conflict’ activities. Yet the track record of transitional power sharing governments show that they can require substantial support to achieve their goals. Third party political engagement in transitions is about facilitating dialogue among the partners of power-sharing governments, while mediating between those governments and other important political actors. Excessive interference or inappropriate contributions from external actors (based on their own interests) can have negative consequences.
The transitional period is a continuation of peace talks and, as far as possible, international engagement facilitating these talks should remain in place. Transitional periods provide opportunities to expand participation beyond signatories of peace agreements and to develop agreements on a country’s long-term institutional arrangements.
- Relationships between power-sharing parties are not yet established and partners share few, if any, common interests. They may have low expectations about their partners’ reliability and are plagued by security fears.
- Decisions on long-term constitutional design should not be rushed and should not be dominated by power-sharing transitional governments.
- Encouraging the expansion of participation can improve the perceived legitimacy of power-sharing government, represent newly formed opposition groups, enable the emergence of new leaders and lay the foundations for long-term institutional development.
- In the absence of continued third party political engagement, it is likely that peace processes will be derailed or fail to achieve their stated objectives.
Decisions cannot, and should not, be imposed by external actors. Given the many causes of stagnated power-sharing governments, however, there is an important role for third parties in mediating between political leaders and managing the challenges of spoilers. This requires coordinated and consistent political engagement at the regional and international levels.
- Third parties should see transitional power-sharing governments as vehicles for continuing the peace talks since many issues remain unresolved when agreements are signed.
- Because transitional governments may not welcome continued third party involvement, it may be helpful to include mechanisms in peace agreements that can trigger the involvement of third parties when the transition is faced with obstacles.
- Agreements need to define the processes through which political leaders will reach decisions on constitutional arrangements without defining the long-term conditions themselves.
- If power sharing is to be enshrined in the long-term constitution of a country, it should result from inclusive and lengthy discussions during the transitional period.
- Political spaces for debate should be created outside the power-sharing government in order to facilitate the emergence of new leaders and to strengthen civil society.