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UN peacekeeping and electoral violence in conflict-affected countries

Smidt, Hannah; (2017) UN peacekeeping and electoral violence in conflict-affected countries. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Why do some elections in countries recovering from armed conflict promote violence while others remain peaceful? What do United Nations (UN) peace operations do to contain the risk of electoral violence? And how do their activities contribute to electoral peace and the transition from war to democracy? My dissertation addresses these questions. I argue that violent electoral conflict is puzzling because election winners and losers could avoid the costs associated with violence by negotiating a mutually beneficial power-sharing compromise. To explain why negotiations fail, I reject the assumption of completely rational actors and instead build on prospect theory: First, actors evaluate different courses of action in terms of gains and losses based on their private reference point. Second, actors are generally loss-averse and try to avoid a sure loss, even at the risk to incurring an even larger loss. I argue that election winners’ reference point is the value of holding political office. If the value of holding office is higher (e.g. political office comes with exclusive access to state resources), then election winners face a larger loss from negotiating a power-sharing compromise (e.g. foregoing exclusive access to state resources) and election losers face a larger loss when accepting electoral defeat (e.g. exclusion from state resources). To avoid these losses, election winners reject a negotiated compromise and election losers reject electoral defeat. By consequence, bargaining is more likely to break down into costly electoral violence. Using data on 622 national elections in all 85 conflict-affected countries from 1990 to 2012, the analysis supports my argument. UN peace operations recognize the risks of holding elections after armed conflict. Since the end of the Cold War, UN peace operations have engaged in an increasingly wide variety of activities to support peaceful and credible elections. For example, they prepare elections, encourage democratic reforms, strengthen politically independent media outlets and provide security for voters. Yet, variation in what UN peace operations do on the ground and their effectiveness in containing electoral violence remains under-studied. Using new data on the peacebuilding activities by 44 UN peace operations between 1990 an 2012, I show that the UN invests more resources in peacebuilding when threats of electoral violence loom larger. This result is important because it suggests that we underestimate rather than overestimate peacekeepers’ effectiveness due to this selection bias. I then investigate in which ways peacekeeping mitigates (or exacerbates) electoral violence. I argue that the mere deployment of a UN peace operation increases the risk of electoral violence because peacekeepers channel additional resources to elected governments (e.g. foreign aid and military support). Therefore, they unintentionally increase election losers’ losses associated with electoral defeat and election winners’ losses associated with a negotiated compromise. However, if UN peace operations engage in specific activities, they may contain electoral violence in two ways. First, UN peacekeepers can raise the costs of violence by providing security to voters, candidates and election workers and by counteracting violence-inciting propaganda in domestic media. Second, UN peacekeepers can decrease the value of holding office and the losses associated with power-sharing compromise and electoral defeat by strengthening democratic institutions that guarantee the inclusion of election losers in future political decision-making processes. The statistical analysis indeed shows that while deploying UN peacekeepers increases the risk of electoral violence, UN-led efforts to assist electoral security and counteract violence-inducing misinformation in domestic media contribute to peaceful elections. However, I find no significant effects of election and institution-building assistance. To explore the causal mechanisms underpinning the effects of UN peacekeepers’ activities, I rely on fieldwork-based evidence from the 2015 post-conflict elections in Côte d'Ivoire. Interviews with Ivorian political leaders corroborate the hypothesis about peacekeepers’ ability to make violence costlier. Case evidence also provides possible explanations for the null effect regarding election and institution-building assistance: UN peacekeepers may lack sufficient resources to effectively transform the electoral and institutional environment. Consequently, they cannot sooth election losers’ fear of marginalization upon defeat or incentivize election winners to accept a power-sharing compromise. More importantly, peacekeepers’ robust intervention in previous conflict dynamics may lead political competitors to doubt the impartiality of UN peace operations. These doubts decrease peacekeepers’ ability to build trust in elections and democratic institutions. Overall, this dissertation shows that existing studies might have been a bit too over-optimistic about the virtues of peacekeeping. Solely deploying peacekeepers can increase the risk of violent electoral competition. However, peacekeepers can mitigate these detrimental consequences of liberal peacebuilding and facilitate the war-to-democracy transition if they invest in the ‘right’ activities

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: UN peacekeeping and electoral violence in conflict-affected countries
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Political Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10025839
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