Legitimacy refers to the perceived rightfulness of authorities, and is central to citizens’ perceptions of institutions such as the government. Legitimate authority is linked to acceptance of institutions and long-term stability of societies. As such, rebuilding the legitimacy of institutions such as the government and judiciary (‘institutional legitimacy’) is essential for stability in post-conflict societies. In this thesis, I explore the factors that lead citizens to view their government as legitimate following the reconstruction of central government institutions after a conflict. I draw on sociological, political science, social psychological and statebuilding theories to develop and present a theoretical model of post-conflict legitimacy.
The model has three key components. The first encompasses relational and instrumental antecedents of legitimacy. Relational antecedents encompass fair and neutral decision-making, as well as respectful and dignified treatment, and are referred to collectively as procedural justice. Instrumental antecedents are those which involve outcomes to citizens, and include distributive justice (fairness in outcome distribution), outcome favourability (personal gain in outcomes), and government performance (the ability of the government to function effectively and provide services to citizens). These main variables are investigated along with contingencies relating to social groups that may influence the relationship between procedural justice and legitimacy, such as national identification and group power.
The second component incorporates the statebuilding concept of ‘local ownership’ as a potential means of rebuilding government legitimacy. Local ownership refers to the extent to which local citizens in post-conflict societies lead and operate reconstruction efforts. This component therefore posits that citizen voice and local influence will build the legitimacy of post-conflict governments.
The third component proposes a social interaction effect on legitimacy, in which citizens both influence and are influenced by the views of those around them. This component therefore proposes an influence of local context on perceptions of post-conflict institutions.
Nepal was chosen as a case study in which to apply the model. Nepal transitioned into a secular democratic republic in 2008, following ten years of civil war, and has been engaged in rebuilding central governance institutions. A pilot study (N=300) and two waves of survey-based quantitative fieldwork (each N=1500) were conducted nationwide in Nepal, employing a random sampling procedure. The purpose of the pilot study was to test the survey design and fieldwork procedures. The first wave of cross-sectional data collection aimed to test components 1 and 2 proposed in the theoretical model, and the second wave of cross-sectional data collection aimed to replicate, expand and improve on the measurement of key variables in wave 1, as well as test component 3 of the theoretical model.
Testing of the first model component revealed that procedural justice was by far the strongest predictor of post-conflict institutional legitimacy, and was significantly stronger than instrumental variables such as distributive justice, government performance, and outcome favourability. Further, the relationship between procedural justice and legitimacy was moderated by national identification and group power, suggesting that procedural justice operates through social identity to exert its positive effect. Moreover, the effect of procedural justice on government legitimacy was not simply due to trust and performance perceptions of local institutions, and was not diminished by the government’s ability to provide essential services (as predicted by the statebuilding literature).
Testing of the second model component revealed that two elements of local ownership—voice and local influence—weakly predicted legitimacy, with these relationships varying according to participants’ position in the Nepalese caste hierarchy.
Testing of the third model component revealed a significant social interaction effect, such that citizens’ legitimacy beliefs are influenced by the legitimacy views of those around them. This effect persisted even when demographic, regional, and individual-level variables were controlled.
This thesis concludes that procedural justice is more predictive of post-conflict institutional legitimacy than instrumental outcomes. Further, the relationship appears to operate through the social identification mechanisms proposed by procedural justice theory in the context of a developing country with a strict caste system. Results suggest that statebuilding concepts of ‘local ownership’ affect elites and low-status groups in different ways. A final way that legitimacy is rebuilt is through social influence, such that citizens are influenced by the views of those around them. This thesis offers detailed insight into post-conflict sociopolitical processes and the mechanisms through which institutional legitimacy is built and diminished during democratic transition.