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Professor Talks Post-Conflict Elections and Colombian Politics

UC Berkeley assistant professor Aila M. Matanock ’05 presented her research Friday on the importance of engaging rebel groups in the post-conflict political process.

Matanock’s research is featured in her new book, "Electing Peace: From Civil Conflict to Political Participation." In the work, she argues that provisions in conflict resolutions that channel rebel groups’ energy into the electoral system increase the chances of achieving long-term peace.

“The evidence in this book...suggests that [this] particular type of post-conflict elections may be particularly helpful” in achieving peace,” said Matanock.”

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Matanock’s specific focus on peace deals that brought rebel parties into the electoral process led her to a far different conclusion than other researchers.

Past research has suggested that post-conflict elections involving rebel groups “don’t increase the probability or durability of peace, and some even show that particular elections can reduce the chances that you’ll have a stable settlement,” Matanock said. But this research has largely focused on what Matanock called “hastily-run” elections in Afghanistan and Iraq where rebel groups refused to participate.

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Matanock also spoke about a forthcoming paper she co-authored that examines the extent to which ordinary citizens’ support for these agreements, typically negotiated by elites, depend on their personal involvement with the conflict.

Referendums only occur in about 10 percent of settlements, noted Matanock, despite broad support for direct civilian input. And even when the public is engaged in the process, their opinions are often overridden, Matanock noted, like when the Colombian Congress agreed to a peace deal on its own last year after citizens voted to reject a similar deal in a referendum.

Matanock’s article closely examined the Colombian Conflict, which began in mid-1960s. The conflict killed over 220,000 people, uprooted more than 6 million, and left some 8 million registered victims, according to the United States Institute of Peace.

Matanock and her colleagues interviewed voters in 59 municipalities around Colombia to gauge support for the peace deal. Their research, conducted in early 2015 prior to the referendum took place found broad support overall for a peace deal, but much more ambivalence toward individual clauses of the deal, specifically concessions to FARC that would have allowed the group to participate in the electoral process.

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the survey results was the finding that victims of the conflict were actually more likely to support peace, even if that meant allowing members of FARC into the government.

Matanock asserted that FARC has seen a slow decline in its recruitment numbers since the organization began participating in the cocaine trade in the 1980s.

Matanock said that after former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe came out against the proposed peace deal because of the absence of substantive punishment for FARC members, public support for a peace agreement fell.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who negotiated the peace deal with FARC, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts, in addition to Harvard Law School’s 2017 Great Negotiator Award.

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