OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

usiplogo.gif (1499 bytes)

International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Elections / Instituting Democracy

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

The most important single step in the peacemaking process is the transition from a situation in which violence represents the ultimate source of power to one in which conflicting parties are unable to use violent strategies to advance their interests. This requires the establishment of broadly accepted legal and political institutions capable of dealing with inevitable conflicts without forcing the parties to resort to violent confrontations. Also critical is the ability to establish police (and military) forces with broad public support and the ability to block anyone who seeks to advance their interests through violent confrontation.

The key to the ability to successfully achieve these goals is some broadly accepted mechanism for determining how the political process will be structured. Theoretically, there are a number of strategies through which this might be accomplished. Homogeneous societies with strong religious traditions might, for example, be able to agree upon a religious form of government. Other societies may be able to unite around historical royal families. Still, in vast majority of cases, the most workable option involves some type of plebiscite or election to determine the form and composition of the government. Such elections can also provide a continuing mechanism for adapting to changing conditions.

Also essential is an ability to hold fair elections. First of all, some type of model is needed for specifying exactly how the democratic principles of equal representation, local control, and protection of minority rights would be applied.   Fortunately, there are a large number of models to choose from; however, any model selected would probably have to be adapted to a nation's specific needs and characteristics. 

Specifying exactly what democratic system to adopt requires a complex and difficult negotiation process. Here it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is the establishment of non-violent mechanisms for dealing with the society's conflicts. Agreement to adopt democratic institutions does not require that all of society's conflicts be resolved, nor that they be resolved by voting. Although most systems rely on voting and majority rule processes to make decisions, these processes have the disadvantage that they institutionalize a win-lose conflict structure.  (By this we mean that elections are usually structured so that one side wins while the other side loses.  The alternative (in some situations) is consensus decision making which requires that all people agree with a decision before it is made.  This only works, of course, on relatively small scale decisions--it could not possible work for choosing national leaders, for example.)   The requirement of any democratic system is the  commitment by the parties to pursue their interests in non-violent ways, and a political system which provides fair mechanisms for addressing everyone's grievances.

If elections are utilized, the next key to success is some mechanism for preventing cheating and giving everyone confidence that the results of  elections are fairly tabulated. Here trusted international observers can play an important role by monitoring the fairness of  campaigns, voting, and ballot counting. Since observers can be drawn from a number of political perspectives it should be possible for all sides to recruit observers that they trust. Observers derive their power to ensure fair elections in two ways. First, if observers report problems which are sufficiently serious to influence the outcome of an election, then the election loses its legitimacy and the parties may not feel obligated to abide by its results. In this case, the most desirable outcome is a restructuring of the election process to further limit cheating and a repeat of the election. The alternative is to return to unlimited and probably violent confrontation.

The holding of fair elections can also be the key to international acceptance of the legitimacy of any new government and the ability of the government to conduct business with and receive aid from other countries.

Links to Examples of Elections and Democratization Processes

Joseph P. Folger, Marshall Scott Poole, and Randall Stutman -- Conflict and Interaction
The authors observe that conflicts may be either destructive or productive. They describe the nature of conflict generally, and then examine those features which make conflicts productive or destructive. Majority rule votes, they observe, can lead to destructive outcomes as they enforce a win-lose approach to conflict.
Susan Shearouse -- A Vote For Consensus
This essay illustrates the shortcomings of majority rule (voting) processes and suggests situations in which consensus is a superior approach to decision making
A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter
Carter observes that elections provide an alternative to negotiation as a peacebuilding tool which was used successfully in Panama, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.
Timothy Sisk -- Power Sharing and International Mediation in Ethnic Conflicts
This is a brief summary of Sisk's book which discusses a variety of power sharing approaches which can be used to resolve ethnic conflicts.  Some involve majority rule decision making, while others do not. 
John Prendergast --  Nested Conflict: The Case of Ethiopia
This is a case in which elections failed to contribute towards peace.
Elise Boulding -- United Nations Peacebuiding in Namibia
Although elections sometimes escalate ethnic tensions, with UN assistance, they contributed to peacebuilding in Namibia.
Elise Boulding -- United Nations Conflict Resolution Attempts in Central America with the OAS
UN election monitoring and certification also contributed to peacebuilding in Nicaragua.
Saadia Touval -- Case Study: Lessons of Preventative Diplomacy in Yugoslavia
Democracy was expected to be the key that held Yugoslavia together, Touval states, but ironically, the suggests that democratic and it economic reforms appear to have fueled the conflict.

Links to Related Sections

Creating Violence Limiting Mechanisms

Majority Rule Processes

Protection of Minority Rights

Clearly Articulated Fairness Rules

Consensus Rule Processes


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu