The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Post-Election Violence and Human Security

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on January 6, 2011
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In 2002, President Bush advanced his new national security strategy, which asserted that democracy and freedom were crucial to national success. Spreading democracy is emphasized in the EU common foreign policy as one of the solutions to the root causes of violent conflict. In his book, Gareth Evans argues that democracy is an essential long-term tool to ease tension in situations of R2P concern. Furthermore, democracy provides permissive conditions to ensure political security – one of the seven components of human security. However, the recent post-election violence in Ivory Coast has posed grave threats to human security of Ivorian people.

The Ivorian election on 28 November 2010 was expected to end the South-North split in Ivory Coast since a 2002 civil war. However, the election had in fact deepened the crisis. The power struggle between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara has now escalated to violence between the respective supporters of the two political camps. As a result of the dangerous standoff, 173 people have been killed, and thousands of Ivorians have fled to neighboring countries in fear of the situation  escalating into a full-scale conflict. The confrontation has also disrupted the normal life of Ivorians.

The Ivorian turbulence is not an isolated case, and post-election violence is not an uncommon phenomenon in the developing South. Back in 2008, massive violence unfolded in Kenya after a disputed election in late 2007, causing the fear of mass atrocities breaking out. In Asia, we also witnessed similar situations. The clashes between the Myanmar government troops and ethnic Karen insurgents caused the outflow of 10,000 refugees to neighboring Thailand. In January 2010, Sri Lanka had its most violent election in a decade, with six deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Elections that are followed by violence are often characterized by sharp divisions along ethnic/religous/political lines. The elections are often tasked to improve relations among different ethnic/religious/political groups. However, democracy and democratic elections do not necessarily resolve pre-existing tensions. Demet Yalcin Mousseau concludes that democracy in multi-ethnic societies will face more intense forms of political violence than other democracies (‘Democratizing with Ethnic Divisions: A Source of Conflict’, Journal of Peace Research). Andreas Wimmer argues that democracy does not automatically generate inter-ethnic harmony. (“Democracy and Ethno-religious Conflict in Iraq” Pacific Review) Wimmer’s argument can also be applied in cases of religious/political division. The freedom embedded within democracy offers permissive conditions to fuel the claims by ethnic/ religious/ political groups and mobilize followers for their campaigns, which creates hotbed for violence once the election result does not meet the demands of major parties concerned.

Instability might exist during the initial period of democratization, but a more favorable environment can facilitate a smoother transition to full democracy. Root causes of post-election violence include imbalanced access to state power among and unequal distribution of economic gains among different groups. It thus needs synchronized progress on the economic and governance fronts for democracy to persist.

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