What accounts for the difference between peaceful and violent elections in semi-authoritarian countries? This article analyses the influence of electoral management bodies (EMBs) on the likelihood of widespread violence triggered by opposition protest during election times. It is argued that by establishing inclusive and collaborative relationships through which political actors can jointly negotiate important electoral issues, EMBs influence the incentive structure of the major stakeholders in favour of non-violent strategies. The relationship is explored by comparing elections in Malawi (2004), Ethiopia (2005) and Zanzibar (2005). The analysis supports the idea that inclusive EMBs, rather than legal independence, are critical to guarantee the influence of the opposition in order to address both their interests and their mistrust of electoral politics.