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Interim Transitions

Read our key findings so far on transitional arrangements, bridging the transition from conflict to peace.


Transitional arrangements are put in place as a way of managing, or ‘bridging’, the transition from conflict to peace.  Our work on the PA-X Peace Agreements Database, which documents peace and transition agreements, has revealed that this is a very common mode of process design.

Societies facing armed violence or political and social crisis (such as through post-elections crises, coup d’etats), often try to move from that violence and crisis by getting opposing parties to agree to share power in a temporary set of transitional governance arrangements for a pre-set period of time, during which a series of institutional reform projects will be carried out, to lead to elections and, it is hoped, a more permanent resolution of the violence and its root causes.

Transitional arrangements typically aim to both restore peace and calm, and to enable both conflict resolution and democratic development, in essence aiming to end conflict permanently by building political and legal institutions to deal with its root causes (which often relate to lack of democratic participation). These arrangements, however, encounter characteristic difficulties in tracking forward. We set out our key findings and recommendations for designing and implementing this type of arrangement below.


Transition Management: definitions and overview

Transitional arrangements are often put in place as a result of electoral crisis, coup d’états, political deadlock, secessionist conflicts, prolonged civil conflicts, or a complex combination of these (Bell and Forster, 2021; Bell and Forster, 2020).

Three key components are common for transitional arrangements to include: the formation of power-sharing arrangements between political-military elites, in what we term ‘interim governance arrangements’; the commitment to the suspension of hostilities; and a mechanism through which power is transferred to a post-transition government (usually via elections) (Forster, 2019).

Transitional arrangements often map out four interlinked sets of activities (often grouped into political, constitutional, funding, and economic tracks). Diagramme 1 below indicates an idealized transitional framework. In practice, models must be responsive to the risks and rewards of potential transitional mechanisms (Forster, 2019).


Diagramme 1: Idealised Transitional Arrangements: Tracks and components

All components in the transition arrangement (see Diagramme 1) are inter-related to the other components and their developments. This means that as transition arrangements get more complex, they also become more vulnerable, as deadlock in one area can stall progress in another (Forster, 2019).

Transition arrangements typically also include:

  • a degree of legal internationalisation;
  • a time limit on the transition period;
  • limitations on subject-matter the transition administration is to engage in;
  • practice and discourse of inclusivity;
  • transitional justice mechanisms (De Groof, 2019).

The design of the transitional arrangements varies widely, both in terms of interim governance arrangements and the number and nature of reform processes that are undertaken. Our research shows that they are shaped by political dynamics and bargaining between relevant stakeholders, notably those involved in violence and exercising power, and that this can limit what might be considered ‘good design’ which should nonetheless be considered and supported (Forster, 2019; Bell and Forster, 2020).

As a ‘bridge’ to peace, interim transition arrangements are not intended to be a destination. As such, their design must reflect realistic expectations of what can be achieved in the transition period so as to avoid collapse if the bridge is expected to carry the load of solving all social and political problems in a short time frame (Forster, 2019).

As much as possible, they should provide for administration of the country on a provisional basis rather than foreshadow any permanent arrangements for how power will be held and exercised (De Groof, 2019).

Transition arrangements can be national or subnational. Substate interim agreements often arise out of territorial conflicts (Forster, 2019), and are limited by the ‘constitutional space’ allowed by the central state’s constitution, that is, the ways in which the central state constitution permits sub-state constitutions to be developed (see further, Welikala & Zulueta-FĂŒlscher, 2017).

Our research shows that transitional arrangements have characteristic design problems, such as the configuration of transition government arrangements, level of inclusion which the arrangements should facilitate, and the need for a balance between local ownership and the need for international brokerage, which we address further below.

Transitions are ‘predictably unpredictable’ – that is, they tend to all hit unravelling points, but for different reasons. A key to supporting transition is building an approach of ‘adaptive management’, understanding timetables and formula might need change over time (Bell and Forster, 2020), for which ideas are set out below.

Sometimes, interim arrangements see no real transition. Bell and Forster (2021) set out ways in which transitions may be unilaterally instigated by a side keen to progress, including through unilateral reform, Commission of Inquiry and National Dialogue.

Key questions: procedural and substantive

There are multiple options for how to create power-sharing arrangements for the executive during transitional arrangements. Our research sets out the many ways in which executives may opt to divide power (see Bell and Forster, 2020).

Transition arrangements, more often than not, face challenges related to the control, command and oversight of the security sector. This means that in almost all transition arrangements, questions surrounding control of armed forces are central and there is a need for inclusion of the actors in control of the means of violence (see Salmon, 2020; Forster, 2019).

The level of inclusion in interim transition arrangements is a key tension in interim transition design. Politico-military elite are usually the key members of an interim government, and necessary to ensuring a ceasefires or end to violence, as is some government authority. However, consultation of wider segments of society in working through reform processes so as to attempt to re-establish a social contract is often necessary both to the effectiveness of any new arrangements, and the transition’s capacity to withstand set-backs in the long term (De Groof, 2019; Salmon 2020; Forster, 2019).

Whilst inclusion of human rights considerations in transitional arrangements is often understood as a commitment to norms, our research also finds that human rights provisions have an important pragmatic dimension in strengthening the position of non-aligned groups, including women, to advocate for the types of constitutionalism and rule of law that relate to addressing root causes of violence (Bell and Forster, 2021; De Groof, 2019).

The involvement of international actors necessitates a balancing between the need for international brokerage and the need for local ownership of the transition arrangements (see Salmon, 2020 and further below).

Timelines for transitional arrangements are sensitive and the extent to which they are held often strongly influence the perceived legitimacy of the transitional government. Here there is a trade-off between allowing enough time to be able to achieve reform, and shorter timelines which are meant to incentivise parties to move forwards (see Forster, 2019 and Bell and Forster, 2021). There is no perfect balance to this, rather a sense of momentum should be balanced against ensuring that complex reform processes that seek to widen and deepen civic participation in the process and depend on engagement beyond armed actors, have sufficient time to be realistic.

As transitions often need extended, it can be good to frame timeframes clearly but not in terms that set up any future extension to look like a breach of the transitional agreement (Bell and Forster, 2021).

It is also important to consider and mitigate the risks of delay. Delaying elections is a particularly sensitive issue as it may be seen to damage democracy by extending the period during which someone is in the Presidential role without being elected to it.


The Relationship to Constitution-Making Processes

As a part of interim transitions arrangements’ task of embedding transfer of political position and authority within a process of reform, transition arrangements frequently define legal structures of subsequent regimes. In many cases, this takes the shape of constitutional reform (Salmon, 2020).

Bell and Forster (2020) suggest that transitional legal arrangements vary across five main options. These options are situated along a spectrum of constitutionality, and include:

  • Within existing constitutional frame
  • Constitutional arrangements within the existing constitutional order
  • Other legal mechanisms (context specific: ambiguous to whether within or outside existing constitutional order)
  • Supraconstitutional arrangements affected by the peace or transition arrangement: outside the existing order but leaving it partially in place
  • Supraconsitutional replacement: outside existing order replacing it.

Constitutional reforms in the interim transitional period also vary regarding institutionalisation of rights protection, with supra-constitutional arrangements often including extensive human rights provisions (Bell and Forster, 2020).

Bell and Forster (2020) find that how transitions are ‘constitutionalised’ is influenced by the politicised nature of transition arrangements and reform overall, rather than being designed in accordance with principles of ‘good practice’.


The Role of International Actors

Most transitions are internationalised. International actors can offer political, economic and technical support, and act as sources of deterrence through for example military action and sanctions (Salmon, 2020).

International influence on transition arrangements also makes itself present through the increasing expectation that transitions and transition governments are guided by international legal norms and are in the ‘national interest’ (often defined as pro-democracy) (see Salmon 2020).

However, how internationalised the process is, is itself often a contested issue between governments (who assert sovereignty), and opposition groups who may seek the outside arbitration and leverage that comes from international involvement, or because different international actors support different domestic constituencies. International involvement will therefore require itself to be negotiated into context (Bell and Forster, 2021).

Due to changing nature of international conflicts and challenging experiences of international administrations (in for example Kosovo and Iraq), there is increasing focus on the need for transition arrangements to be domestically driven whilst also enjoying international support (Salmon, 2020).

Transition management involves balancing between actions that create reform and actions that reinforce the political settlement. This balancing act is often reflected in international support. Salmon (2020) finds that to be successful, international engagement must:

  • ensure ‘effective’ domestic ownership of the transition;
  • ensure the build-up and stability of international coalitions;
  • ensure effective coordination of international support;
  • and engage with the need for ‘sequencing’ when deciding on priorities for resources and support amongst the different ‘tracks’ of the transitions.

Salmon (2020) finds that international actors can play the most constructive role in transition periods by creating space for negotiations.

A key issue currently facing international engagement with interim transitions is the lack of fitting funding instruments for transition arrangements (Forster, 2019). Salmon (2020)


Moving From Conflict: the Role of International Actors in Transition Management

This report reviews the types of international actors, types of support and priority sectors of international action. It concludes by offering some brief reflections on dilemmas and trade-offs related to the ownership, burden-sharing, coordination and sequencing of international action.

Constituting Transitions: Predicting Unpredictability

This chapter is part of International Law and Transitional Governance: Critical Perspectives, which examines the role of international law in shaping and regulating transitional contexts, including the institutions, policies, and procedures that have been developed to steer constitutional regime changes in countries affected by catalytic events.


Interim Governance Arrangements in Post-Conflict and Fragile SettingsInterim Governance Arrangements in Post-Conflict and Fragile Settings

This Report was developed as a follow-up to the Sixth Edinburgh Dialogue on Post-Conflict Constitution-Building held in December 2019. The dialogue was jointly organized by International IDEA and the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, as part of the Political Settlements Research Programme of the University of Edinburgh.


The Features of Transitional Governance Today

This report presents an overview of relevant practice in relation to transitional governance (TG), that is, temporary governance arrangements put in place to manage transitions from violent conflict and increasingly social crisis. Since 1989, TG became disassociated from decolonization, secession or dissolution processes. It became a process whereby transitional authorities (TA) introduce a wholesale constitutional transformation (‘reconstitutionalisation’) with the intention to bring peace and stability (‘peace-through-transition paradigm’).

Substate Constitutions in Fragile and Conflict-affected SettingsSubstate Constitutions in Fragile and Conflict-affected Settings

This paper was developed as a follow-up to the Third Edinburgh Dialogue on Post-Conflict Constitution Building, held in December 2016, with the theme of ‘Substate Constitutions in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States’. The workshop was co-organized by International IDEA, the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law and the Global Justice Academy, in association with the Political Settlements Research Programme of the University of Edinburgh.


7 Tactics for Women to Influence Stalled Peace Processes

The PSRP has produced a video with UN Women exploring the strategies women can use to influence stalled peace processes. The video is based on a PA-X Spotlight Series report, ‘Reinvigorating Stalled Peace Negotiations: Challenges and Opportunities for Women’s Inclusion’, which will be published later this month. The report addresses questions such as: When formal peace negotiations stall or break down, how do international mediators and other diplomatic efforts attempt to reinvigorate them? What challenges and opportunities do these efforts create for women and women’s rights advocates?