Section 1 – Politics After War Special Issue in the Journal of Government of Opposition
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Section 1 – Politics After War Special Issue in the Journal of Government of Opposition


My article in the Special Issue was with my co-author Ian Smith. We were looking at electoral performance by post-rebel parties over time. What’s really interesting to me is that, we have about, in some cases, up to eight electoral cycles that post-rebel groups have participated in. In a previous paper, we had looked at, why do armed opposition groups decide to become political parties. So we were looking at party formations. This second piece built on the same dataset where we had also collected information about electoral performance over time. So we were interested to know, how well do these parties do when they participate in elections? How many electoral cycles do they participate in? Maybe one of the most surprising findings to me was that if a rebel group participated in the first elections, they tended to participate in all available elections thereafter, which was sort of surprising. It was obvious why a group might participate in the first election, because you have very little to lose, and you have more to lose by opting out then by opting in and participating. But participating in elections over time, to me, suggested that maybe it would require some adaptations on the part of these political parties. And I wanted to see who adapted successfully and how. I’ve always been interested in how organisations transform from one thing to another, in many ways, akin to what you might find in evolutionary biology; how do organisms evolve over time? That motivated this particular study. I was interested in ideological transformation, and how that impacted on political performance. The main argument is essentially that there are different aspects of ideological and image transformation of any political party. The first type of transformation is image. The other part of identity is ideology. And ideology, in this case, especially germane for rebel groups is whether or not they reject violence as a political tool. I test that using a sample of rebel groups turning into political parties with two aspects. One is, do they change their name or their image, and do they renounce violence? And what impact does that have on their political performance in elections after the civil war ends? We find that image change really has no difference. What is really important in terms of explaining political success is whether or not the group rejects violence as a means to political ends. That best explains how well they do later. Those that reject violence seem to do better. In particular, they are usually allowed to be part of a coalition government because then they become acceptable partners if they reject violence. This article really came about as part of a larger project where I’m studying political programmes and the manifestos of former rebel parties, so political parties that have a background as armed movements during war. The movements I’ve been studying in particular are the Tamil Nationalists in Sri Lanka, the Aceh Movement in Indonesia’s Aceh province and the Serb Democratic Party. All three movements have adapted. They have moderated. They have not only moderated in behaviour, but they have moderated in the dimension of abandoning the goal of ethnic self-determination in terms of seeking statehood, but have adapted in terms of accepting regionalism and mobilising on the basis of regionalism, so the region rather than the state as a goal. What I also found really interesting in all these three cases is that the peace settlement or the peace process – not all three had a peace settlement – the context of peace, the idea of peace, peace negotiations, had become very prominent part of their political programmes after war. This has broader implications for how they adapted to peace, and the contributions they make to potentially democracy and the way conflict is resolved in the future. I looked at the question of how sustained political participation affects a group’s political ideology and especially how they reinterpret and review their own foundational documents, so how they look at their original manifestos. The assumption here is that by participating in elections over a number of years, they become more attuned to the art of gaining political support and that leads them to shift towards more accommodation-seeking or pragmatic interpretations of their initial, if you wish, outlined ideological documents. So I did this study looking at how a couple of decades of political participation, for Hamas and Hezbollah, led these groups to actually alter, quite significantly, the way they relate to their initial charters and manifestos, and how they develop a political discourse that in a way got around some of the ideological rigidities of their initial documents. What this tries to do in a very simple way is to problematise the notion of inflexibility or that armed groups are incapable of adopting more pragmatic positions over time, which does not necessarily mean moderation; it just means becoming much more attuned to political needs and political campaigns requirements.

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