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Department of Comparative Politics

Rebel to Party Transformation

For armed groups to compete for power through ballots rather than bullets, it is crucial to transform them into political parties that are capable of sustaining peace. This transformation provides channels for both interest articulation and political process engagement, which in turn, should contribute to peace, stability and democracy.

Our research agenda considers the conditions and causal mechanisms that promote the successful transition of armed groups to political parties. Our studies focus on:

  • the challenges of transforming from armed into non-armed political organisations
  • the factors that explain the initial electoral success of former armed groups that have turned into political parties
  • large N-studies to explain successful rebel to political party transformations

Our research indicates that the legacies of armed group mobilisation, the character of the war, rebel group pre-war experiences as well as the nature of conflict endings (settlement vs victory) impact on the transition process.

Political Parties and Elections

Our research examines the everyday dynamics of former armed groups in post-conflict party politics. In recent decades, peace agreements have enabled armed groups to transform into political parties, mobilise voters and ultimately stand for elections. About one third (35.5%) of armed groups entering negotiated peace between 1975 and 2011 transformed into political parties.

Our goal is to understand how former rebel group political parties operate, organise and mobilise after the initial transition to a political party has taken place. Tackling this broader issue enables us to assess whether such parties are different from or just like political parties that lack a violent origin.

The research also runs counter to conventional knowledge from disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) literature, which focuses on reducing armed movements and removing armed actors from politics. Rather, we emphasise their political role and potential for building strong, peaceful and representative political parties.

To discover whether and how the war-time origins of political actors affect their democratic capacity and participation in the electoral political game, we focus on the following questions:

  • does the nature of the conflict itself matter for how political parties manage to become efficient parties?
  • does the nature of the conflict-ending (insurgent victory or negotiated settlement) dictate whether more authoritarian or democratic post-conflict politics develops?
  • how does the foundation ideology, identity and governance structure of armed groups help them mobilise and achieve their post-conflict political agenda?
  • what allows former armed groups to adopt more democratic internal workings?

State-building

We aim to begin a conversation about former armed movements and the practices of state-building. While it is generally agreed upon that the transformation of rebel groups into political parties provides avenues for former rebel groups to contribute to sustainable peace, stability and democratisation, there has been little study of the actual politics they practice after the conflict has ended.

Our work examines the relevance of ideology for practices of state building and governanceafter conflict. We are also particularly interested in whether rebel group organisational dynamics and the type of conflict ending influences the extent to which former rebel groups are able to implement their ideas of state transformation.

We map the changing ideological identities and political strategies employed by former armed groups before and after the conflict as they seek to continue to influence, implement and articulate ideas and practices of state-building.

Inclusion and Democracy

We are conducting the first systematic investigation into the broader connection between the inclusion of former armed groups in politics and a) the durability of peace and b) the deepening of democracy over time through the inclusion of previously excluded minority groups.

We have identified three sub-themes that help structure our evaluation of the effects of rebel group inclusion on democracy. We analyse whether rebel group inclusion has enhanced:

  • democratic stability
  • representative democracy; and
  • good governance

Democratic stability concerns the links between rebel group inclusion and the likelihood of recurring political violence. Our studies suggest the inclusion of former rebel groups into politics has a positive effect on political stability.

While it is expected that inclusion leads to more peaceful interaction between political actors, the implicit assumption that such stability also ensures democratic stability has not been sufficiently tested and explored for post-civil war countries in the decades following the end of intra-state war.

Parties may not necessarily become less extremist in their ideology following their inclusion in democratic politics. If such extremist parties continue to display anti-democratic attitudes remain ‘relevant’ within a country’s party landscape, how do they shape democracy? This is a question we seek to address.

The second sub-theme concerns whether rebel group inclusion enhances the representative character of democracy. While there is an implicit expectation that the transformation of rebel groups into political parties and their subsequent inclusion into the political system ensures the representation of formerly excluded minorities, little attention has been paid to the extent to which former armed groups turned political parties actually fulfil the expectation of a representative democracy. We will explore whether some groups are better equipped to fulfil a party’s role in raising the voice of minorities.

The third sub-theme considers whether the inclusion of rebel groups in politics affects defacto governance in the long-run. Moving beyond the issue of stability and representation, we ask what role do former rebel parties play in providing good or bad governance in post-war contexts? Do some wartime organisational legacies and practices make for better post-war governance?