Bringing together ethnographic evidence from mid-Western Nepal and eastern Sri Lanka, this article explores how political legitimacy is constructed and contested in post-war environments. We posit that in the post-war context there are important changes in the kinds of politics, agenda-setting, players and tactics that are considered acceptable and those that are rendered transgressive, threats to order and stability, or otherwise placed ‘out of bounds’. The art of crafting political legitimacy is defined in sharp contrast to the immediate history of armed conflict. The end of the war and the resumption of supposedly democratic politics thus mark a shift in what is seen as legitimate or normal politics. This shift constrains certain kinds of actors, tactics, and registers and it amplifies others, while being itself a result of political work. We argue that a reduction of the space for dissent, and an increase of the space for politicking are complementary aspects of the redefinition of what constitutes legitimate politics in the post-war context. These adverse political effects are not simply problems of context – post-war environments being non-conducive to democracy – but rather expose the more fundamental fallibilities and contradictions of demarcating a legitimate sphere of democratic politics in particularly visible and precarious ways.