In a CDDRL research seminar, postdoctoral fellow María Ignacia Curiel presented her research findings on the impact of institutional safeguards on rebel party mobilization. Commonly found in post-civil war contexts, institutional safeguards, such as guaranteed seats in elected bodies, are often employed to placate rebel groups and integrate them into peaceful politics. They are often viewed as essential to a peaceful democratic transition and preventing future recidivism. But how do these safeguards impact rebel party mobilization? Based on extensive research on Colombia’s “Comunes,” a party established by the rebel group the FARC in 2016, Curiel finds that guaranteed parliamentary representation disincentivized the participation of the party’s civilian base.
Curiel’s study surveyed 251 members of Comunes’ base from 74 municipalities. Of those surveyed, 46 percent were ex-combatants, and the rest were civilians. Participants were asked questions measuring their support for the party, as well as their plans to engage in activities related to the upcoming regional elections, such as voting, campaigning, etc. A randomly assigned audio recording “primed” the subjects by reminding them of the terms of the peace agreement, specifically the stipulation that ten seats of the national legislature would be reserved for Comunes lawmakers.
Among civilians, those treated with the prime were less likely to invest time in party-building activities relative to the control group. According to Curiel, this is attributed to the fact that those reminded of the seat reservations are more aware that their individual efforts matter less for party survival.
Among ex-combatants, however, there was no distinguishable difference in commitment to party building across primed and non-primed groups. The lack of an observed effect, Curiel argues, is not surprising, considering that ex-combatants were once willing to pursue violence on behalf of the party’s founding movement, hence their commitment to contribute to the party regardless of institutional safeguards. They may also hold closer ties to rebel commanders who now hold political positions in Congress.
Curiel’s findings show that institutional safeguards meant to guarantee the representation of parties formed by former rebel groups may actually weaken such parties’ grassroots support.