Marco Pfister: Negotiating Democracy after Civil War: How the rules of the game are established matters.

PhD-Project, University of Basel

In societies emerging from civil war, elections often represent a key moment in the peace process as they are meant to re‐establish civilian government legitimacy. However, their competitiveness also represents a threat to these fragile societies as differences are re‐affirmed. This research project examines how the rules of the game of these processes are negotiated and how this impacts the likelihood of a return to violence.


The project is motivated by the problem that while it is generally agreed that consolidated democracies are usually peaceful societies, the path toward such a state – ‘democratization’ or ‘democratic transition’ – is often fraught with violence and conflict, in particular in post‐conflict and fragile situations.

Specific Objectives/Research Questions

This research project will examine how particular electoral systems have been negotiated and agreed upon. The focus is on two particular, essential elements of electoral processes: the “rules of the game” (the electoral legal framework, the electoral system, codes of conduct etc.) and the consequences of the breaking of these rules (dispute resolution mechanisms). How do these negotiations affect and influence the likelihood of elections‐related violence and conflict?


The project will rely on qualitative methods (process tracing). Six cases in three sites – self‐declared fragile African states that have seen first post‐conflict elections in the last ten years – will be compared. Prime candidates are Burundi, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.

Expected Results

Although this project has only just started, it is expected that the inclusiveness of negotiations and the strengthening of local institutions significantly influences the likelihood of elections‐related violent conflict.


Improved understanding of the negotiation processes between national actors (as well as the impact of external interventions) may have a beneficial impact on democracy assistance programming.


Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Laurent Goetschel

Funding: DONOS Startup Grant for year 1

Duration: 2012 ‐ 2015

Download Poster: Negotiating Democracy after Civil War (2012)

Keywords: democracy, elections, political violence, post‐conflict and fragile situations, statehood, legitimacy, Africa