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Serving peace and democracy? The rationales and impact of post-conflict self-determination referendums in Eritrea, East Timor, and South Sudan

Fujikawa, Kentaro (2020) Serving peace and democracy? The rationales and impact of post-conflict self-determination referendums in Eritrea, East Timor, and South Sudan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004244


Self-determination referendums have been used to resolve protracted self-determination conflicts. The existing peacebuilding literature on post-conflict self-determination referendums is limited and divided between those who are concerned about the negative impact of their zero-sum nature and those who argue that they contribute to peace under certain conditions. To resolve this debate, the thesis conducts a structured, focused comparison of three post-conflict self-determination referendums held with their respective central governments’ consent: Eritrea, East Timor, and South Sudan. Relying on approximately 70 elite interviews, it examines (1) rationales behind the decision to hold referendums; (2) the referendums’ impact on resolving the original self-determination conflicts; and (3) their impact on post-conflict peacebuilding inside the newly independent states. Findings for each question are as follows. First, once self-determination was agreed upon, pro-independence movements strongly demanded a referendum as they reflected upon their historical experiences and were worried that their representatives might be bribed or threatened in an indirect vote. Second, the referendums have helped resolve the original conflicts decisively by showing the wish of the population quantitatively. But they do not seem to have a specific effect on the long-term relationship between the newly independent state and the continuing state. Third, there is no evidence to suggest that the referendums helped accommodate tensions within the newly independent states, but they could help consolidate democracy if other conditions permit it to endure. However, the unity of the pro-independence movements shown during the referendums contributed to excessive optimism among the international actors. The international actors wrongly assumed that this unity would continue after independence, that this unity meant democratization would not be difficult, and that this unity indicated that no tensions existed within the pro-independence movements. Overall, self-determination referendums have value in settling the original conflicts, but their positive effect on peacebuilding inside newly independent states is limited and could be outweighed by the accompanied excessive optimism by the international actors.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Kentaro Fujikawa
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Hoffman, Mark

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