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.
|March 6, 2014||
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.”Read More
|February 28, 2014||
“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.”Read More
|February 27, 2014||
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.”Read More
|February 26, 2014||
“In many countries, polling day ends with disputes about ballot-box fraud, corruption and flawed registers.” Since disputes can “undermine regime legitimacy and public trust and confidence in electoral authorities,” it is important to determine whether claims disputing elections are accurate. As a result, the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) evaluates the credibility of national legislative and presidential elections worldwide.
The EIP recently released its annual report in which it “compares the risks of flawed and failed elections, and how far countries around the world meet international standards.” Several new findings emerge from the report, including:
|January 31, 2014||
Thailand’s election will not likely break the political deadlock between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party and protesters who have rallied around Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee (P.D.R.C.). “The only way forward for Thailand is to hold reforms in order to strike a more viable balance between the majority and the minority.”
The electoral winners “must accommodate the interests of the losers more openly and more systematically” than in the past. In return, “the electoral minority should not hold the country hostage to get its way,” especially after recent attempts by the P.D.R.C. to facilitate “a citizens coup has polarized Thailand.”
“Rather than trying to seize power without regard for the will of the majority of Thai people who elected Ms. Yingluck, Mr. Suthep and the P.D.R.C.must make concrete demands and propose an actionable agenda on good governance that is acceptable to other parties. And the Yingluck government must address those grievances, by making political reforms a top national priority.”Read More
|January 27, 2014||
“After decades of dictatorship and two years of arguments and compromises, Tunisians finally have a new constitution laying the foundations for a new democracy.” Passed on Sunday, it is “one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world.”
“The new constitution sets out to make the North African country...a democracy, with a civil state whose laws are not based on Islamic law,” with an entire chapter dedicated to protecting the rights of citizens, including freedom of worship and the right to due process. It also guarantees equality between men and women before the law.
According to constitutional scholar Slim Loghmani, “the constitution is an ‘historic compromise between identity and modernity’ that can serve as a model for other countries in the region seeking a balance between an Arab-Islamic heritage and contemporary ideas of human rights and good governance.”Read More
|January 24, 2014||
“For three years now, the Arab world has struggled to create a political culture of tolerance that could anchor the revolution for citizen rights known as the Arab Spring.” But hopeful signs have emerged in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, where a new constitution has been written.
“What’s remarkable about the Tunisian constitution is not just that it promises full rights for women and minorities but also that Islamist forces, led by the Ennahda Party, endorsed this outcome gracefully. That’s the real breakthrough because it suggests a political culture of compromise in which democracy can take root and thrive.”
“The tumultuous course of the Arab revolutions over the past three years suggests that, when it comes to democracy, a nation can’t hope to run before it learns to walk. Tunisia seems to have gotten the sequence right — and shown that political stability and compromise are inseparable.”Read More
|January 22, 2014||
Since 2005, “freedom has been in [a] steady retreat,” according to Freedom House’s new ‘Freedom in the World’ report, which annually measures “the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the globe.”
“The past year continued [a] dispiriting trend, with 54 countries registering declines in political rights and civil liberties compared with only 40 countries registering gains. A disturbing 35% of the world's population lives in societies without fair elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech or minority rights.”
Fortunately, democracy and human rights activists in places like Egypt, Bahrain and Ukraine have not been dissuaded. But activists and citizens who are demanding greater freedom need support. “It's not too late for a reassertion of American leadership and strong pushback against the authoritarian challenge. The alternative is a world marching toward a decade of declining democratic liberties.”Read More
|January 15, 2014||
Ahead of Malawi's May 20 tripartite elections, Deogratias M'mana, public and media relations officer for the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN), explains how a parallel vote tabulation can improve the efficiency and credibility of elections in a Q&A with Malawi's The Nation.Read More
|January 10, 2014||
As Tunisia’s constituent assembly votes on its new constitution, Tunisians are using social media technology to ensure the process is transparent. Bawsala, a Tunisian nongovernmental group, is at the center of this technological openness.
From the balcony of the National Assembly, Bawsala’s staff keeps an eye on every moment of the constitutional proceedings, tweeting assembly members’ comments in real time, allowing more Tunisians to follow the assembly’s debates. Their process has created a record of how members are voting.
“There is plenty to admire in the Tunisian constitutional assembly, which is working long hours...to reach a workable compromise that will lead to constitutional democracy. But the young Tunisians working at Bawsala are also doing a tremendous service to their country and to the ideals of democracy. They are a new face of civil society in the Arabic-speaking world.”Read More