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Department of Comparative Politics
Special Issue of Civil Wars

Understanding Armed Groups and Party Politics

The latest edition of the Journal Civil Wars is a special issue edited by Gyda Marås Sindre and Johanna Söderström.

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Illustration photo: www.colourbox.no

Dr Gyda Marås Sindre is a Marie Curie Fellow and affiliated with the Department of Comparative Politics. The special issue of Civil Wars: “Understanding armed groups and party politics” is the result of a workshop organised by Sindre and Söderström at the Department and financed by Bergen University fund held in March 2015.

The special issue examines armed groups in party politics, using single and comparative case studies. Understanding how armed groups, their members and leaders operate in politics is crucial to an examination of how societies move from and transcend violence and war.

Case comparisons
The special issue includes contributions by researchers at the Department of Comparative Politics. Sindre has contributed with the introduction “Understanding armed groups and party politics” as well as the article “In whose interest? Former rebel parties and ex-combatant interest group mobilisation in Aceh and East Timor.” The case comparison of Aceh and East Timor shows that former rebel group members – via the formation of interest groups – retain significant influence over the policy field both inside and outside of political parties.

In addition, Associate Professor Ragnhild L. Muriaas, Professor Lise Rakner, and Postdoctoral fellow Ingvild Aagedal Skage at the department have contributed with the article “Political capital of ruling parties after regime change: contrasting successful insurgencies to peaceful pro-democracy movements.” The cases of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in Zambia show major differences in the extent to which incoming ruling parties after a regime change build strong party systems. The two cases suggest that a governing party with a history as an insurgent group has a greater potential to build a strongly institutionalised party than one with a history as a pro-democracy movement that did not resort to arms.

Recommendations for future research
In the introduction, Sindre and Söderström forward five recommendations for future research: (1) We need to see more comparisons across taken for granted boundaries; (2) the consequences for democracy should figure more prominently in our analysis of armed groups; (3) think more critically about standards and conceptual tools; (4) critically examine the interaction between levels of analysis; and (5) methodological pluralism would enrich the field.

Workshop       
The purpose of the workshop, titled Dynamics of Party Politics after War, was to bring together experts on rebel movements or political parties. The idea was that these two fields lack communication, and the workshop was an opportunity to start a thought process around how these themes are interrelated in a peacebuilding perspective.