Ex-combatants at the polls: Exploring focus groups and electoral meaning


  • Johanna Söderström Uppsala University




This paper investigates the meaning attached to elections among ex-combatants in Liberia, in relation to the historic elections of 2005. These elections were generally considered successful, and should therefore be instrumental in the consolidation of democracy; this paper investigates the extent of such consolidation that can be seen in their wake. In particular, the meaning attached to elections is described in terms of voting behaviour and motivation, as well as the application of the equality principle, and finally in relation to the perceived legitimacy of the elections, based on focus group discussions carried out in the spring of 2008 in Liberia. This paper also tries to gauge the advantages and disadvantages of using focus groups as a data collection method. The creation of trust in a well designed focus group, which given the field of research – post-conflict context – may be especially important. The conclusions presented in this paper point to problems vis-à-vis the legitimacy of the elections which may have long term implications for the consolidation of democracy in Liberia. However, other areas, in particular attitudes towards vote buying, show more positive tendencies.

Author Biography

Johanna Söderström, Uppsala University

Johanna Söderström is currently completing her Ph.D. in political science at the Uppsala University (Department of Government). Her research deals with the interface between democratisation and peacebuilding, in particular how the political reintegration of ex-combatants in Liberia is affected by the participation in demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programs. She can be contacted at johanna.soderstrom(AT)statsvet.uu.se.