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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.

April 7, 2014

Democracy Doesn't Happen on its Own

The Hill

Since 2011, movements for change have swept the world, with people voicing their desire for democracy and better freedoms in countries like Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela. And these movements are connected, though not by a common ideology or leader. “What unites the protesters is their yearning for human rights and dignity. These movements are a response to extensive corruption, impunity, and political favoritism.”

“It is precisely this universality of desire for fundamental rights that strikes fear in authoritarian leaders….But no dictator’s fall is inevitable. And even the fall of an authoritarian does not mean democracy will follow….A democratic transition takes savvy local leaders willing to subsume personal gain for the good of the country, a strong constitutional foundation on which to build a new government, and investment in training and infrastructure such as an independent judiciary, knowledgeable civil society, and a reliable police force.”

As a result, the U.S. and other democracies must support such countries in their transitions. They “must consistently speak out in support of universal values and condemn abuses, no matter where they happen,” and maintain “[r]obust foreign assistance programs in support of democracy and human rights.”

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March 31, 2014

Roma minority lacks political representation in Europe

Deutsche Welle

Europe’s Roma minority is politically marginalized throughout the continent. “Even in countries where the Roma have formed a large part of the population for centuries, they play a subordinate and negligible role in political and social life….[T]hey are rarely accepted as equal citizens.”

A major barrier to political participation for the Roma “is widespread ethnocentrism and nationalism among the social majority in Central and Southeast Europe,” which often prevent them from forming their own political organizations. In some Central and Eastern European countries, “parliaments have set aside a number of seats for minority representatives, including the Roma, [but] these seats are generally seen as…[having] no real chance to influence policy.”

“Those seeking a positive example of Roma participation in political life [should] look to Macedonia,” where Roma represent “about 8 percent of the population.” In Macedonia, “[t]wo political parties represent the Roma, and their delegates have had seats in the Macedonian parliament for the last 20 years.” However, “[t]o achieve such a status in other countries will require some effort on the part of the find new ways to organize themselves, both politically and socially."

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March 31, 2014

Malians Show Dramatic Leap in Confidence

All Africa

“The return of democracy and peace to much of Mali has generated a complete turnaround in public confidence in the country's future,” according to an opinion survey by the Afrobarometer, a leading researcher on public opinion in Africa.

Before the coup d’etat in December 2012, a survey in southern Mali revealed that only 25 percent of people “believe[d] the country was headed in the right direction.” But now, following Mali’s 2013 parliamentary and presidential elections, the Afrobarometer report found that two in three Malians believe the country is “heading in the right direction.”

The Afrobarometer report also found that “Malians feel very positive about the quality of [the] national elections held in 2013, with 83 percent seeing the presidential contest as ‘completely free and fair.’” However, “Malians still regard political instability as the country’s most important problem”

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March 21, 2014

Malawi: Voters Urged to Go for Roll Inspection

All Africa

"Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) calls on all registered voters to participate in the voters' roll inspection exercise which starts on Monday, March 24 to March 28 in the first phase and April 1 to April 5 in the second phase. Voters should go to the registration centres with their voter cards."

"MESN appeals to registered voters to seriously take the inspection of the voters' roll because it will give them the opportunity to inspect how their names, pictures and other registration details are appearing in the voters' roll."

"...This exercise will also determine the final figures of voters on May 20. MESN appeals to the voters to go the centres in person and not delegate other people."

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March 14, 2014

Hong Kong's Shaky Democratic Future

The New York Times

Since Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kongers have longed for democracy, which Deng Xiaoping, China’s former leader, promised them when he agreed to “one country, two systems” with Britain. But since 1997, Hong Kong has “plodded along with a quasi-democratic political system” in which only half of the legislators are directly elected by the people and the chief executive “is picked by a Beijing-friendly committee of only 1,200 people.”

Dissatisfied with the system, “Hong Kongers have been looking forward to 2017 — the 20th anniversary of the handover and the year that Beijing had ruled that [Hong Kong] would finally be able to choose [its] leader through universal suffrage: one person, one vote.” However, the specifics of the election process remain unestablished and “Chinese government officials are...demanding, among other things, that all candidates must ‘love the country.’”

If Beijing and its loyalists continue to seek control of the election’s nomination process, they will “put a permanent end to the hope for true democracy — and undermine the transparency, legitimacy and integrity of [Hong Kong’s] system of government….Universal suffrage is the only way to honor Deng’s plan ‘for Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong.’”

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March 11, 2014

Studies Show: People Want Democracy to Deliver the Goods

Foreign Policy

A new Overseas Development Institute study, mostly based on data from a UN survey on people's priorities for the future, shows that the average person considers the issue of governance when thinking about things that affect their life. In other words, people believe governance plays an important role in their well-being.

According to the study, people are concerned “about state performance and the ability of governments to deliver on key needs and expectations in areas including economic management, growth stimulation, job creation, health, [and] education.” While people also value democracy in terms of political freedoms, they often judge governments by whether they successfully provide goods and services. This “place[s] democracy under considerable strain, especially in countries across the developing world where the ability of governments to respond to citizen needs remains weak.”

With the Millennium Development Goals expiring next year, the post-2015 development agenda must place emphasis on governance and treat it “as an objective that cuts across areas such as health, education, and the management of water and other natural resources.” Because without better governance, “democratic institutions run the risk of becoming increasingly hollow and perfunctory, at least in the eyes of the public.”

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March 11, 2014

Women in Politics Map 2014 Shows Gender Equality in Parliaments Could Be Achieved in Less Than 20 Years

The Independent

The Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women recently released their “Women in Politics: 2014” map, which shows that women “could achieve equal representation in parliaments across the world in less than 20 years.”

After a 1.5 percent increase in the number of women parliamentarians last year, the proportion of women in parliament—21.8 per cent—is at a record high. If this 1.5 percent rate is sustained, the world will reach gender parity in parliament in less than 20 years. In other positive news for gender equality, “[a]t the beginning of 2014...there were 36 countries with 30 per cent or more women ministers, a jump from 26 in 2012.”

“However, in contrast to [these] positive figures is the slight decline in women Heads of State or Heads of Government and women Speakers of Parliament…Since 2012, the number of women Heads of State or Heads of Government has decreased slightly from 19 to 18.”

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March 6, 2014

The Civil Society Flashpoint

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

In the 1990s, the international aid community increased funding for development programs focused on civil society. For a while, leaders in aid-receiving countries were “uncertain what to make of this” and “were initially inclined to see [civil society work] as a marginal enterprise populated by small, basically feckless groups of idealistic do-gooders.” However, civil society has "been making itself felt" in driving political change in countries around the world. 

In recent years, more than 50 countries have enacted or seriously considered laws restricting the activities of NGOs. But “[a]fter several years spent improvising responses to the growing pushback...public and private funders are starting to respond in more concerted ways.” For example, “[t]hey are exploring how to employ new technological tools to physically distance international aid from the most challenging trouble spots without giving up on directly reaching civil society activists.”

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February 28, 2014

What's Gone Wrong with Democracy

The Economist

“In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid….By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.”

But, in recent years, democracy has faced some setbacks.

“The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40 percent of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century.”

Why has democracy lost its forward momentum? What can be done to revive it?

Read what the Economist says regarding these questions in “What’s gone wrong with democracy.”

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February 27, 2014

Guinea: Rapid Steps Needed to Ensure Credible Elections

All Africa

On Nov. 15, 2013, the final results of Guinea’s legislative elections were announced, which brought a sense of relief for Guineans, who had been waiting to vote for several years due to numerous electiond elays. However, this is not the time for Guineans to “relax.” The 2015 presidential elections are approaching, and “two key issues must be resolved...for [them] to be peaceful and credible.”

First, government officials “must determine whether a new biometric voter register should be drawn up before the 2015 presidential polls.” Secondly, officials and politicians ought to “reach a consensus on the nature and depth of necessary electoral reforms.” The 2013 elections “revealed shortcomings in the legal and institutional framework of Guinea's electoral system, such as a weak Independent National Electoral Commission,” which have to be addressed.

“Guinea is clearly still finding its way on its path to democracy....Only by acting now can stakeholders ensure that they have time to plan effectively and work together so that the presidential elections in 2015 stand a greater chance of success.”

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