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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.

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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September 24, 2014

President Obama embraces democracy promotion once again

The Washington Post

In speeches before the UN General Assembly and Clinton Global Initiative in New York last week, as well as in a presidential memorandum, Obama pledged to support civil society activists and nascent democratic movements. A Washington Post editorial argues that in recognizing the need for democracy support to counter a growing crackdown on civil society, Obama is returning to an ideologically optimistic position he occupied earlier in his administration. “We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come,” said Obama.

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September 23, 2014

Women and the Rule of Law: A View from the Americas

Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Despite significant progress in the past few decades on issues of democracy and good governance, Latin American and Caribbean countries still suffer from high rates of violence, particularly against women and other vulnerable groups. As studies have shown that violence against women undermines social security in general, improving the lives of women in the region is not merely a humanitarian issue, but also a matter vital to political and economic prosperity. Using examples from American-sponsored programs in the region, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jackson argues that increased women’s political participation will help reduce crime and strengthen the rule of law.

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September 17, 2014

History Is So Not Over

Foreign Policy

Responding to a recent article by Francis Fukuyama reaffirming his 1989 contention that history had ended and liberal democracy had won, researcher Alina Rocha Menocal argues that both history and democracy have a long way to go. Menocal contends that widespread disenchantment with democracy is born of high expectations and uneven results. The promises made at the end of the Cold War of democratic prosperity have failed to materialize fast enough in new and fledgling democracies. However, the world should not lose faith in democracy as a model. Not only have democratic institutions produced real change in many countries, but in those where democracy has failed to take root, elections have opened up new possibilities for citizen participation.

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September 16, 2014

How are citizens made?

The Washington Post

How do societies riven with competing political identities reimagine the state to produce a meaningful and inclusive form of citizenship? This is the question Lahra Smith asks in her new book Making Citizens in Africa: Ethnicity, Gender, and National Identity in Ethiopia. Using Ethiopia as her case study, Smith argues that while formal political institutions -- such as constitutions -- play a role in this process, genuinely democratic outcomes are the result of the interplay between the state and the citizens. Or Smith puts it, “Meaningful citizenship is about how citizens engage in the citizenship-creation process, how they make themselves citizens.”

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September 13, 2014

Uncivil societies

The Economist

Across the globe, autocrats are coming down on non-governmental organizations. Hardened by the memory of the past decade’s democratic movements and the role NGOs played in them, these authoritarians are attempting to keep civil society from receiving funds from abroad. Leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban are leading the inquisition, targeting not only pro-democracy groups but also those that speak out about social issues such as minority rights, public services, and government corruption. According to the Economist, Western democracies should not sit idly by as citizen groups around the world are stamped out. Instead, they should use the tools at their disposal, such as trade leverage and initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, to support NGOs active in illiberal states.

 
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September 12, 2014

Tunisia’s Sister of the Revolution

TIME

Ikram Ben Said, a 34 year-old activist and founder Aswat Nissa, or Voices of Women, is trying to carve out space for women’s political participation in Tunisia. Ben Said’s approach to women’s activism combines negotiation and compromise with strong demands for institutional and legal progress. Unlike other women’s advocacy groups in Tunisia, Aswat Nissa -- which was awarded the 2014 Madeleine K. Albright Grant -- works with women politicians from across the political landscape to make changes within governing bodies. “Feminism for me is not imposing my choice, my vision of society,” Ben Said told TIME. “Feminism is helping women achieving their dreams and assuming their responsibilities and their decisions.”

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