In post-conflict environments, the international community plays an important role in supporting successful planning, delivery, and embedding of elections within a wider context of support to political systems and democratisation. This rapid review provides an overview of lessons on developing more inclusive politics through sub-national electoral processes in recent academic, policy, and grey literature. The report notes that support to sub-national electoral processes is often embedded within broader initiatives to support democratisation, decentralisation and electoral reform. Accordingly, the literature reviewed in this report is drawn from a broad range of sources and is intended to provide an overarching response to the question posed.
The report is structured as follows, sections two and three provide background information to contextualise the rationale for supporting sub-national elections. Section 4 provides an annotated bibliography that explores how support for democratisation, decentralisation or inclusion intersect in many contexts. Although well-timed elections can contribute to conflict resolution and help to consolidate peace agreements or power-sharing deals between elites, they also have the potential to exacerbate latent or simmering hostilities. The evidence reviewed in this report indicates that the content and inclusiveness of pre-election dialogue between former combatants; the timing and sequencing of
elections; the strength of electoral and security institutions; the choice of the electoral system; and the independence and conduct of the electoral administration and observers are key variables. A number of findings emerge from the literature that discusses post-conflict elections including:
- In pre-election dialogue and negotiation, the importance of quickly securing a peace agreement has to be balanced with the need to ensure the talks are as comprehensive and inclusive as possible, in order to ensure smooth progress as elections are rolled out.
- The impact of early elections on post-conflict stability is the subject of much debate. While some argue that early elections facilitate peace agreements, hasten democratisation, and ensure post-conflict stability, others suggest that they undermine genuine democracy and spark a renewal in the fighting.
- Authors also disagree on the proper sequencing of post-conflict elections. Some argue that national elections should be carried out first on the grounds that they have a higher profile than sub-national elections and are more likely to attract international support. Others recommend in starting at the sub-national level to enable political parties time to organise themselves, build up a local support base, and gain political experience.
- The risk of elections resulting in tensions or renewed conflict is much greater in the absence of strong electoral and state institutions.
- The choice of electoral system is an important factor in the success or failure of post-conflict elections. Whilst there is no outright consensus on the most appropriate system for post-conflict environments, elections conducted under the auspices of the United Nations have almost always favoured proportional representation.
- There is a broad agreement that independent, non-partisan, and permanent electoral management bodies represent best practices in terms of electoral administration in post-conflict environments.
- The presence of international observers can provide a conducive environment for independent, free, and fair elections. However, it is better for international observers to refuse to participate than to be complicit in an observation process that tells less than the full truth about an election.
In relation to supporting sub-national political entities, the evidence is mixed. What becomes apparent is that support for sub-national bodies does not necessarily mean fragmentation or division, rather if designed properly sub-national elections can help hold countries together, creating opportunities for democracy to be brought closer to the people without undermining their loyalties to the national state as a whole.