image of a compass

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.

May 19, 2014

Malawi Elections - Lack of Transparency Could Lead to Violence

All Africa

On May 20, Malawians head to the polls for the country's most contested elections since the first multi-party elections in 1994, and "the aftermath of the election [could] turn violent if the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) does not rectify problems with the voters' roll, which is believed to have been manipulated. Some candidates, for example, are said to have ferried voters to change voting districts. Some voters' names appear to be missing from the voters' roll, while others' names incorrectly appear in Arabic. Such identity mix-ups could prevent some voters from casting their ballots."

"The importance of the voters' roll as the key document for free, fair and credible elections cannot be overemphasised. There have been numerous complaints, both from election stakeholders as well as the public, that the MEC is not addressing rumours and allegations of rigging in favour of President Banda and her party. The PP has also reportedly benefited unduly from using state resources to boost its campaign."

"Although Malawi has a history of peaceful elections, the risk of post-election unrest cannot be discounted. The Malawi Civil Society Grand Coalition fears the flawed roll could precipitate violence such as riots in major urban centres, and has urged the MEC to address criticisms of the roll."

Read More
May 19, 2014

Malawi 2014 Tripartite Elections - Pre Elections Situation

All Africa

"The Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) under the banner of the Malawi Election Information Centre (MEIC) would like to highlight a number of pertinent issues that could potentially have both negative and positive impact on the upcoming Elections."

Among the challenges that could have a direct bearing on the elections are:

  • "The legal framework is still problematic, with incomplete harmonization of the laws. The unpopular Local Government Amendment Act of 2010 [was] not reviewed."
  • "The late appointment of Commissioners resulted in delays in the release of the electoral calendar."
  • "The credibility of the voters roll is still questionable with the clean-up exercise not being thorough and complete."
  • The list of candidates for constituencies and wards are not thoroughly cleaned up with anomalies like two candidates in one ward, and names of candidates missing in some constituencies."

"On the positive side, MESN would like to commend MEC for improving the flow of information and timely reporting and consultations with key stakeholders. We believe that the constant flow of information from MEC has helped reduce the level of bias on the part of the election management body."

Read More
May 19, 2014

Russia’s interference in Ukraine’s national election must carry consequences

The Washington Post

Ukraine's "presidential election planned for Sunday is likely to go forward in much of the country, and to be free and fair. 'The legal framework, administrative capacity and political will in place suggest that a democratic process will be feasible in the vast majority of polling places,' said a report Monday by the National Democratic Institute, which has deployed an observer team. 'Candidates have been able to campaign with minimal interference, the media [are] pluralistic and there have been few formal complaints about election law violations or pressure on voters.'"

"At the same time, it is already clear that in two eastern provinces, where 14 percent of the electorate lives, balloting will be next to impossible, thanks to forcible disruption by Russian-backed militants. The United States and its European allies have said they will impose additional sanctions on Russia if it disrupts the election."

"In the coming days, the focus of U.S. and other Western officials will be, appropriately, on supporting the staging of the elections. Negotiations between the interim government and representatives of the eastern regions are also worth encouraging, though they appear unlikely to produce results in the short term."

Read More
May 7, 2014

Presidential debates, a positive development

BNL Times

In Malawi, "[t]he introduction of televised presidential debates has...opened a new chapter in the country’s election campaign. Despite criticisms on the format because of the 'big' number of presidential candidates being grilled at once, the three presidential debates are generally being celebrated as signalling a positive turn in Malawi’s political campaigns."

"The debates have seen most presidential candidates graduate from practising the usual politics of personality attacks and mudslinging towards a more sober, issue-based form of electoral competition."

"Organised by the Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa with support from some cooperating partners," such as the National Democratic Institute, "it is now being generally agreed that the presidential debates offered platforms to the candidates to put across their visions and policies to the masses so that the electorate can make informed choices on May 20."

Read More
April 22, 2014

It’s All About May 25

The New York Times

The future of Ukraine may be “one of the most consequential foreign policy challenges” of this era “because it will not only determine the future of Ukraine but of Russia.” While President Vladimir Putin of Russia “can’t live with a successful, Westward-looking democracy” in Ukraine, “young Ukrainians can’t live without it.”

“The first test [for these countries’ futures] will come on May 25 when Ukraine holds presidential elections,” which “Putin is working to prevent or discredit….If a majority here votes in a free election to move toward Europe and away from Moscow, Putin has a real problem. It is a huge rebuke of his warped vision, coming from right next door.” But the Ukrainians will also have “to make sure [the] elections are relevant by electing a decent, inclusive person, who will work to ensure Ukraine’s unity and clean up its corruption.”

Read More
April 8, 2014

Tunisia Lawmakers Start Debate on Key Step in Democratic Transition


In Tunisia, political parties “have begun a parliamentary debate on an election law, the final step before setting a ballot date to complete a transition to democracy in the country that lit the fuse of Arab popular uprisings.”

The debate over the law, which started on Monday, is expected to last as long as two weeks, while the Islamist Ennahda party and the secular Nida Tournes party try to agree on “whether to hold separate presidential and parliamentary elections.”

Once the law is passed, a date for the elections, expected to go ahead later this year, will be set. This “will be only the second ballot since the 2011 revolt that ousted autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the first since the adoption of a new constitution praised internationally as a democratic model.” Election authorities are “seeking to register more than 4.2 million voters” for the elections.

Read More
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.”

Read More
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."

Read More
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”

Read More
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."

Read More