The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.
News and Views
Commentary from experts on the directions and challenges of democracy assistance programs.
|October 4, 2012||
Georgia’s postelection calm has been “shaken” by triumphant members of the Georgian Dream Coalition who are challenging “a dozen regional vote counts in hopes of securing additional parliamentary seats.”
In response to the protest, some of which turned violent, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the Georgian Dream coalition, is urging his followers “to end street protests and wait for change to come through legal means.”
Additionally, “a newspaper in Tbilisi published a full-page list of the names of guards and other officials at Gldani prison in Tbilisi, where a recent abuse scandal took place, in what seemed to be an invitation for revenge.” These events have heightened concerns about Georgia’s stability because the country has “no record of a peaceful transfer of power.”
Mr. Ivanishvili has “given mixed signals” about how he plans to re-structure the government. When “asked what would happen to Mr. Saakashvili and the half-dozen officials closest to him," he said, “’what awaits them is the court and the law.’”
Many fear that “Mr. Ivanishvili’s supporters have dangerously high expectations for the postelection period.” Human Rights experts—including Giorgi Gogia, a researcher for Human Rights Watch—,warn that “this new government needs to say very clearly that they should not be taking justice into their own hands.”Read More
|October 2, 2012||
Ellen Barry reports on Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s decision to concede defeat and declare himself an opposition politician in the parliamentary elections on Tuesday, after his party lost the Oct. 1 parliamentary elections to the Georgian Dream coalition 55.1 percent to 40.1 percent. This decision is “extraordinary” as other Georgian post-Soviet leaders have left office only after “pressure from chanting crowds and the threat of civil war.”
“‘You know well that the views of this coalition were, and still are, fundamentally unacceptable for me… But democracy works in this way — the Georgian people make decisions by majority,’” said Mr. Saakashvili about his decision.
In the run up to the election, many feared “a confrontation between government forces and the throngs of voters who had coalesced around Mr. Saakashvili’s challenger, the billionaire philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili.” Despite these fears, many celebrated the recent events, including Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, who remarked that Mr. Saakashvili’s concession is a sign of his “‘commitment to the democratic process.’’’ Republican Congressman David Dreier of California, who lead a delegation from the International Republican Institute (IRI) said that it was “'clearly the most competitive election in the history of the country.'”
Saakashvili’s concession, however, “opens to the door to another unknown.” Mr. Saakasvhili will remain president until next year, which means “he will have to serve alongside Mr. Ivanishvili, who will most likely be prime minister.” Many, including Ivanishvili himself, fear that the “two men can [could] not collaborate,” given their fundamentally different political ideologies and visions for Georgia’s future.Read More
|October 2, 2012||
Former President Thabo Mbeki expresses excitement about the signing of the Sudan-South Sudan Co-operation Agreement, which he describes as “epoch-making in terms of the remaking of the African continent.”
The agreements define a slew of matters including economic, security, nationality and border issues all in the interest of creating and maintaining peace. “They determine that the conflict in this part of Africa has ceased to be a UN Charter Chapter VII threat to international peace and security.” These agreements “constitute the most comprehensive set of agreements determining relations between two African neighboring states...” Lastly, they are the “only” agreements in “which two independent African states enter into a binding agreement to work together for mutual benefit, to ensure each develops as a viable state.”
The “bulk” of African media “essentially ignored the signing of the Sudan-South Sudan Co-operation Agreement, treating this immensely important African development virtually as a non-event.” President Mbeki believes that is a “failure by the media to inform its readers, listeners and viewers about a matter vital to Africa’s future,” and will “inevitably feed the perception that Africa’s future” is defined by outside forces.
As Mbeki asserts, these historic agreement “sets a unique benchmark between two African sovereign states about how neighbors should construct relations, to give concrete reality to the objectives shared by the peoples of our continent of African integration, unity, solidarity and mutually beneficial co-operation.”
The implementation of this agreement could make the Sudanese people “pathfinders” or “pioneers” in achieving “the historic objective of African unity.”Read More
|October 1, 2012||
Mark R. Kennedy’s article, “Inspired by Collaborative Political Leaders” reflects on a historic moment of American bipartisan collaboration that pushed the country and the world forward.
Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Charles Manatt and Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf “inherently understood their common interest was in layingthe foundation for transition from authoritarian governments that controlled so much of the world's political map in 1983.” Kennedy notes that today’s political leaders would benefit from studying this kind of consensus-building.
Through collaboration and joint effort under President Reagan, Congress authorized and funded the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Center for Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Solidarity Center. The establishment of these institutions profoundly influenced and facilitated the spread of democracy around the world. Kennedy explains that the “new freedoms many enjoy today resulted from the democracy promotion efforts spawned by Reagan, Rep. Dante Fascell, Manatt, Fahrenkopf, and others.”
To celebrate their achievements, The George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) has opened the exhibit “Making Democracy Work.” Because today’s “national political leadership seems to have lost all appreciation for consensus-building skills,” Kenney hopes that this exhibit “will help inspire surmounting the current political hurdles we face.”Read More
|September 30, 2012||
In Bill Keller’s op-ed, “The Burmese Odd Couple,” he reflects on the relationship between the revered opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Thein Sein. They are “improbable partners,” says Keller, but they both share “an awareness that dictatorship has led their country close to utter ruin.”
Both have made noteworthy accomplishments in democratizing Burma. Suu Kyi has “brought her party into elections, even though she was allowed to contest only a fraction of the parliamentary seats.” Thein Sein has “managed a surprisingly swift, mercifully bloodless, top-down reformation,” and has, among other reforms, released hundreds of political prisoners and relaxed censorship.
Keller fears that some credit U.S. sanctions as the impetus for reform, instead of these two “Burmese patriots.” While the debate over the role of sanctions continues, Congress has begun to “slowly untangle the restrictions.” Many Burmese are in support of this decision, including Suu Kyi who responded by saying, “I think it’s time that we stood on our own feet.”Read More
|September 29, 2012||
This Washington Post editorial argues that despite Burma’s recent reforms there is still “no rule of law, no independent judiciary,” and that while Aung San Suu Kyi sits in parliament, she only has “a small minority.” Secondly, the editorial board draws attention to the “opacity” of the Burmese regime, which makes it impossible for outsiders to “be sure what prompted it to reach out to the democratic opposition at this moment.”
“It seems likely that China’s increasing assertiveness made Burma’s leaders nervous…” the editorial board speculates. They also suggest that the recent reforms could be attributed to strict sanctions and “a desire to improve the lot of their people, as Aung San Suu Kyi charitably suggested.” They also speculate that the Obama administration’s engagement policy, “which let them know that risks for reform would be reciprocated,” may have also have inspired reform.Read More
|September 28, 2012||
Susan Page, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, writes about the importance of helping South Sudan foster its nascent democracy in her op-ed, “Democracy is a Fragile Thing.” She reflects on the struggles the South Sudanese endured on their path to democracy and marvels at their unbroken spirit despite the slow “pace of change” and “imperfect democratic processes.”
“The U.S. government’s assistance to South Sudan is not a gift-it is an investment,” Ambassador Page notes when summarizing the $1 billion in assistance that the U.S. has provided for infrastructure and development. The South Sudanese people must remain committed to the values of representative government and fundamental freedoms and, in turn, the “United States will continue to stand by you.”
The democratic process is “often messy,” notes Ambassador Page, but “it does work and it works best over the long term.” Reflecting on the fragility of new democracies as “hard earned, but easily lost,” she urges the Sudanese people to keep [their] “eyes set on the goal of a strong, unified nation [that] will ultimately prosper, even if the fruits of that toil are ultimately enjoyed by future generations.”Read More
|September 28, 2012||
In The Washington Post, Gwen Ifill, the former moderator of the two most recent vice presidential debates, debunks the “many misconceptions about these events and their impact on a race.”
Ifill writes that while “televised presidential debates serve to focus the mind,” they are only “part” of a voters’ decision-making process. Ifill also disputes the myth that candidates pre-approve questions beforehand, recalling the extensive measures she took to protect her questions.
She explains that the role of the moderator is never to argue with the candidates. “Why, after all, are there two candidates on stage if not to debate each other?” Ifill also notes that he “who zings” does not always win, citing many scathing comments, including one between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan in 1984 that had no effect on the election outcome.
Finally, Ifill notes that sometimes candidates can be defined more by “Saturday Night Live” than by the debates. Conceding that, “a dead-on impersonation that lampoons a candidate’s most cartoonish qualities can leave a nasty mark.”Read More
|September 27, 2012||
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki disputes growing fears of an ominous “Salafi Winter,” arguing that the Arab revolution has not failed, but will continue to flourish in his op-edfor the New York Times. The Arab spring has “definitively refuted the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible,” he argues.
The democratization countries like Tunisia and Egypt has “allowed a number of extremist free riders into the political system.” President Marzouki, argues that while the danger of these extremists cannot be “dismissed,” the violence in response to the anti-Islam video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” is not representative of the entire Arab population nor reflective of the Arab Spring’s outcome.
The president asserts that most Tunisians “firmly condemn the violence,” and are frustrated “by how this unnecessary uproar has made the struggle for what matters most to them [building new democratic institutions] more arduous.” Given Tunisia’s firm commitment to democratization, Marzouki, writes that “at this crucial moment, the West must not abandon us.”Read More
|September 26, 2012||
In Christine Todd Whitman’s piece, “Decision Time,” she proposes policy points to move Ukraine in a “more democratic direction.” Based on findings from the National Democratic Institute pre-election observation mission, Whitman explains that “Ukrainians lack confidence in their political institutions, including elections.”
To restore Ukrainian trust and confidence, parliamentary candidates “should strive to contact voters directly and present specific proposals to improve life in their communities.” Additionally, authorities must ensure that any allegations of voter bribery or intimidation will be investigated.
Whitman also suggests that to build trust in the Ukrainian electoral process, “everyone present [during the vote count] – commission members, observers and the media – needs to see each ballot as it is counted,” to ensure transparency.
In light of the upcoming parliamentary elections, Whitman asserts that “Ukrainians deserve an election that inspires their confidence and a new parliament that reflects their aspirations for a better future.”Read More