Elections Don't Curb Violence in Developing World

The pictures are certainly gripping: a purple index finger in Iraq, a line of burqa-clad women in Afghanistan. International officials who oversee rebuilding countries often try to nudge them toward democracy as soon as possible. But political scientists now think that's getting it backward. Paul Collier, a professor at Oxford and author of The Bottom Billion, has run exhaustive studies of post-conflict societies, to learn what factors lead to peace. His conclusion? Elections don't help. Although the risk of violence decreases during an election year, in the following year it more than doubles, from 5.2 to 10.6 percent. Overall, an election slightly raises the odds that a country will relapse into civil war. "What an election produces is a winner and a loser," says Collier. "And the loser is unreconciled." Ballots only temporarily replace rockets and AK-47s.