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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Voting for Peace: Postconflict Elections in Liberia
Terence Lyons

(Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999)
104pp. Index. Pb.: ISBN 0-8157-5353-5.

On July 19th, 1997, the Liberian people participated in Special Elections that resulted in the election of rebel leader Charles Taylor, thus heralding the end of ethnic strife and civil war that plagued the country for seven years. In the book Voting for Peace: Postconflict Elections in Liberia, Terrence Lyons presents a concise overview of the events leading up to the Special Elections, paying particular attention to the relationship between war termination, elections, and democratization in Liberia and beyond. For Lyons, the Liberian case demonstrates that "[t]o insist that post conflict elections should not be held until the enabling environment of democratization is in place may mean missing an opportunity to help end the war and this could lead the country back into conflict" (p. 17).

This book is divided into four well-written chapters, with a detailed Apendix which lists the key actors involved in the transition process, a well-documented Notes section, and a user-friendly Index. The first chapter analytically addressed the "potential and limits of post conflict elections as a mechanism to facilitate conflict management and democratization" (p. 2). For Lyons, the successful implementation of peace agreements in post conflict countries is a delicate process that requires a realistic and workable plan, a clear understanding of the role of interim governments in the transition process, the skilful management of "inevitable security dilemmas among the combatants" (p. 11), the demilitarization of politics, and a properly timed election.

The following two chapters focus on the specific case of Liberia. Chapter Two chronologically details Liberia's violent civil war, addressing the impact of ethnicity on this process. This is followed by a detailed overview of the July 19, 1997 Special Elections. The final chapter offers several lessons that were learned from the transition process from violent conflict to elections. Lyons argues that the elections played an important role in terminating the civil war and recognizing the existing power relations in the country, but they had a minimal impact on nurturing democracy. The elections also provided the Nigeria-dominated Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forces with the face-saving opportunity to disengage from the civil war, and retreat from their anti-Taylor rhetoric and military advances during the ECOWAS peace-keeping mission in Liberia during the civil war.

For student and scholar, novice and expert, this book offers a chance to understand the complexities of the transition from ethnic conflict/civil war to democracy. As the Liberia case demonstrates, elections can play an instrumental role in the process of war termination, but there is no guaranty that the ballot box will inevitably facilitate the emergence of a democracy.

Paul J. Kaiser,
Mississippi State University

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