Institution-building under the aegis of international administrations has faced various hurdles and obstacles in Kosovo and Timor-Leste. One of these hurdles is related to the specific mandate of these missions, which created a specific conflict of objectives for the international presence – between institution-building and empowerment. The piece analyzes specifically the strategies of international and local elites in this context. After trying to prioritize institution-building while paying lip service to empowerment imperatives, international officials had to readjust their strategy following contestation and resistance from local partners. Facing practical consequences of the conflict of objectives, international officials then proceeded to prioritize democracy promotion imperatives and reduced their institution-building role. The paper concludes on the implications of these experiences for the debate concerning democracy promotion and highlights the possibilities of the “participatory intervention” framework put forth by Chopra and Hohe.