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NDI

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.

January 7, 2015

Taking Democracy for Granted

Washington Post

In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, columnist Anne Applebaum argues that those who live in “functioning democracies” should be aware of how lucky they are and shouldn't be too critical of the difficulties faced by democracies in transition.

Drawing from the work of economist Esther Duflo on poverty issues, Applebaum contextualizes the global struggle for democracy by pointing out, “Americans and Europeans don’t have to write their constitutions from scratch in order to elect a government or change their entire court system if they want justice — but Libyans and Ukrainians do. Ask yourself if you would find that easy.”

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December 22, 2014

Why is the United States shortchanging its commitment to democracy?

Washington Post

The United States should increase its commitment to democracy around the world, writes Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in the Washington Post. Since 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development has cut funding for democracy, governance and human rights programs by 38 percent. While democracy assistance may not produce instant results, patient support for democratic institutions can have sustained benefits, which cut across all sectors of development. “No emergency health delivery measures, no matter how heroic in the short term, will solve the deeper governance problem,” Carothers writes.

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December 16, 2014

The Other War in Ukraine

Foreign Policy

Battling corruption is a far greater priority for building democracy in Ukraine than foreign aggression. That’s the consensus among several key observers, including NDI’s 2014 Democracy Award winners Serhiy Leshchenko and Oleksandr Solontay, in a new Foreign Policy article. Cracking down on a long-standing culture of corruption in Ukraine is a top priority for democratic reformers and legislators in the country. That includes curtailing the influence oligarchs have on Ukraine’s economy, enacting campaign finance reform and implementing internal reforms within the country’s military. While many of these reforms are expected to take years to implement, Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Kiev, stresses that for democracy to thrive in Ukraine, the status quo cannot continue. “Business as usual,” says Pyatt, “is a bigger threat than Russian tanks.”

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December 12, 2014

Azerbaijan Imprisons an Investigative Journalist

Washington Post

The Washington Post editorial board criticized Azerbaijan President Illham Aliyev’s recent move to jail Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilov, calling it a sign that the country is drifting toward “a bleak dystopia for human rights and democracy.”

The detainment adds to a list of recent actions taken by Aliyev to silence dissenting voices in Azerbaijan, including jailing a group of human rights activists. With Aliyev’s attempts to attract Western economic interests to Azerbaijan’s energy resources, the Post said, the president’s poor human rights record will undermine his efforts and ultimately hurt the country.

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November 4, 2014

America’s Big Bet on Indonesia

The New York Times

With the inauguration of Indonesia’s new president Joko Widodo, the world’s most populous Muslim country has marked its place as an important emerging democracy, writes the New York Times Editorial Board. According to the article, Indonesia’s presidential election in September, along with Tunisia’s parliamentary elections last month, provides “further evidence that Muslim nations can evolve peacefully under democratic systems.” Indonesia nascent democracy will face many challenges ahead of it in the coming years, including endemic poverty, corruption, and the threat of religious extremism.

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November 3, 2014

Remember What They Died For

Foreign Policy

International democracy support still has an important place in the world, say Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, former leaders of Serbia’s Otpor movement and co-founders of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies. In a recent article in Foreign Policy, the two say that in spite of discouraging developments around the world and continued flaws in Western-led democracy promotion efforts, people around the globe still aspire to the freedoms and dignity of democratic rule. Though the struggle to spread democracy may be difficult, it is “worth fighting for now more than ever.”

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October 24, 2014

Chasing Away the Democracy Blues

Foreign Policy

Larry Diamond, professor of political sociology at Stanford University and one of the world’s leading experts on democracy studies says, that now is the time to redouble efforts at democratization. According to Diamond, the last fifteen years have seen the democratic successes of the post-Cold War period recede. Rather than abandon faith, however, the United States and other liberal democracies must still support democracy, but that will take assessing and reforming the way it is done.

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October 2, 2014

A Way Out of Crisis

Foreign Policy

Genuine political and economic reform can seem a daunting task, especially in an age of widespread corruption and public dissatisfaction. However, according to democracy and governance specialists Kristen Sample and Jorge Valladares M., reform-minded politicians can be politically successful and create positive change at the same time. The key to success, they argue, is focusing on broad programmatic policies versus patronage or identity politics. By focusing on clear policy objectives politicians will attract allies and legitimize them in the eyes of their constituents.

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September 28, 2014

A Turning Point in the Fight for Hong Kong

Foreign Policy

According to Foreign Policy, Sept. 28 may prove to be a turning point in the history of Hong Kong. Tens of thousands of protesters crowded the city center demanding “true democracy” from authorities in Beijing after the central government announced regulations for the 2017 election that would deprive the Hong Kong people of meaningful choice among candidates for role of chief executive. While Hong Kongers have been largely ambivalent about politics, the harsh police response to student demonstrations has swung public opinion in support of the protestors. Though China is unlikely to reverse its decision, this recent turn of events may signal a significant shift in relations between Hong Kong and the central government.

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September 25, 2014

The Virtues of Modesty

Foreign Policy

Democracy activists and development practitioners should avoid overly ambitious attitudes towards reform and instead focus on an incremental approach, says Brian Levy, adjunct professor of international development at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Levy contends that some Western reformers’ focus on good governance -- stymied corruption, free and fair elections, rule of law -- neglects the nuances of informal power-sharing practices in many developing societies. Rather than threaten local elites with sweeping changes, which will likely amount to little, he advocates empowering locals to make modest changes. Over time, Levy argues, these small reforms will produce larger democratic outcomes.

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