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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.

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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February 26, 2014

Where are the flawed elections?

The Washington Post

“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:

  • “...[a] lack of a level playing field in political finance and campaign media was seen by experts as the most serious risk to [electoral] integrity worldwide.”
  • “...electoral integrity was particularly strong in several third wave democracies and emerging economies, including the Republic of Korea, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Argentina, and Mongolia.”
  • “Worldwide, South East Asia was the weakest region….[while] Eurasian elections also raise[d] concern.”
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January 31, 2014

Thailand's Democratic Way Out

The New York Times

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.”

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January 27, 2014

Tunisia finally passes progressive constitution

Associated Press

“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.”

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January 24, 2014

From Tunisia, Hopeful Signs

The Washington Post

“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.”

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