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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.

February 13, 2013

Marking Two Years of Libya's Revolution

Foreign Policy

As Libya prepares to mark the 2nd anniversary of its revolution, nationwide protests against the current authorities are expected, while authorities are calling for “vigilance and restraint.” Though many Libyans are frustrated with the pace of change since the revolution and want to hold their government accountable, they understand that they elected the current authorities in office. Civil society and protest groups are also underscoring the legitimacy of the current government.

“Amid the political, institutional, and security vacuum created by the fall of Gaddafi's tyrannical regime, a new era is emerging, one in which many Libyans aspire to realize the ideals of liberty, equality and rule of law. These ideals are genuine, and Libyans remain optimistic that they can be realized.”

“Libyans are currently practicing their democratic right to protest and hold their elected government accountable. They're sending a strong message to their new leaders that they've found their long-lost freedom, and they will use that freedom to realize a fully democratic and prosperous Libya.”

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February 8, 2013

Mali: The long, troubled desert road ahead


The French advance through Mali has pushed back Islamist militants, but restoring Mali’s territorial integrity will be more difficult. The country faces challenges like a “Malian military with little credibility and discipline, political institutions that have atrophied, Tuareg separatism, continuing tensions between north and south (including allegations of human rights atrocities), vast uninhabited areas that could be bolt-holes for militants, and a refugee crisis.”

For the July elections to be successful, Mali has to meet the challenge of creating a new political dialogue to stabilize political factions, as well as “a new constitution, new voters rolls, polling security, all within months.”

“Alex Thurston, author of Sahel Blog, says that ‘If efforts at national reunification and reconstruction falter, bitterness among northern communities, combined with unaddressed grievances, could plunge Mali back into crisis a few years from now.’”

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January 28, 2013

Paving the Way for Mandela's Election

Foreign Policy

In Foreign Policy, Amy Mawson, a senior project manager at Fireside Research, outlines the challenges that South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission faced in organizing the country’s first post-apartheid election in 1994. The commission, lead by Johann Kriegler, was tasked with creating polling places, issuing voter cards and bringing opposing factions into the conversation, among other things. In just four months, the commission was able to overcome these hurdles to successfully hold the country’s first democratic vote, which resulted in the election of Nelson Mandela. Kriegler and the commission’s ability to find solutions to the many challenges they faced was a large part of the election’s success, but Ben van der Ross, another commissioner, also credited the people of South Africa: "‘It worked because the people of South Africa really wanted it to work.’"

“The commission's timetable was short, but like many post-conflict countries, South Africa had to move fast. By demonstrating a high level of commitment, working closely with political parties to tackle problems head on, and seeking unique innovative solutions to last-minute glitches, the commission convinced a nation that it could believe in its founding elections.”

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January 22, 2013

Obama's Second Chance to Stand Up for Democracy

Foreign Policy

Paul Bonicelli asks if, over the next four years, the Obama administration will base its foreign policy on the same ideals of freedom and equality that were celebrated in his second inaugural address. He notes that “if the character and reputation we have and want to keep is one of a beacon of democracy and a friend to it everywhere, then surely we are obligated to put actions to our words.”

Support for democracy is in our national interest, writes Bonicelli, as he urges the second term administration to “do something more concrete about it in the next four years.”

“Support for democracy and democrats means giving voice to our ideals and to take action to support those who share our ideals. We should never fail to talk about liberty and rights with all states who deny them to their citizens… And we should take action, such as providing resources of various kinds to those men and women who ask for our help.”

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January 20, 2013

Keeping the Internet Free

Washington Post

At the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai last month, 193 governments met to discuss revising the principles that govern the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union. Though an effort was made by “those governments that hunger for more control” such as China, Russia and Iran to pass a resolution that would “provide a veneer of political cover” for Internet censorship, the U.S. and other countries committed to a free Internet refused to sign the agreement.

The Washington Post editorial board suggests that “while the Internet cannot fall into the hands of those who would censor and restrict it, the United States should put more effort into remaking the current model so that it can serve what has become a global infrastructure.”

“The conference did serve to highlight broad, opposing camps over Internet freedom. After the United States pulled out, 89 nations signed the agreement, including Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. The blank screen of the Internet censor is not likely to disappear soon. A long and fateful battle looms for digital freedom.”

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January 18, 2013

Looking Ahead in Mali

The New York Times

Though French military intervention will help force rebels in Mali to retreat, it is only a temporary solution, according to The University of Wisconsin’s Scott Straus and Leif Brottemis. The French, “who are now investing so much blood and treasure, while exposing themselves to serious political risk,” need to start rethinking how they put Mali back together—primarily by rebuilding the country’s political process. Straus and Brottemis cite challenges such as the corruption that lead to the demise of the country’s political process, military forces that have not retreated from the political arena since staging the coup, and the lack of a long-term solution for northern Mali and its various ethnic groups. They recommend that “the French, the Americans and other international actors need to pull together…and devote resources” toward long-term solutions like starting a national political dialogue, keeping uniformed soldiers out of politics and finding a referendum on regional autonomy in northern Mali aimed at lasting peace.

“None of these tasks is simple. But if the deep political and institutional problems in Mali are not addressed, the international intervention may succeed in winning the battle but losing the war.”

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January 14, 2013

Mali's Atrocities Began When It Lost Its Democracy

The New York Times

Landry Signé, a fellow in the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, writes that democratic nations have a duty to “safeguard popular rule in neighboring lands.”

Referencing the crisis in Mali, Signé writes that “too often, a failure of democracy is what starts a country down the road to atrocities.” Neighboring countries and the West failed to intervene after a military coup last March allowed the current rebellion in the North to succeed, and “Mali has slid into a devilish civil war and national breakup accompanied by reports of war crimes, atrocities and crimes against humanity.” By failing to protect democracy in Mali, Signé argues, these countries now have “reaped a heavier responsibility — the duty, laid out by the United Nations at a global summit meeting in 2005, to protect 'populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.' The task is far more complicated than it would have been last spring.”

“Where institutions and traditions prove no match for a crisis of democracy, the region or the continent should step in. The African Union’s charter already empowers that organization to intervene to prevent war crimes and genocide, and it condemns 'unconstitutional changes of government.' Such ideals need to be invoked boldly and quickly; that may be the strongest argument for a new doctrine of a responsibility to protect democracy, with a protocol for military or other forms of firm coercion when diplomacy fails.”

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January 14, 2013

A Widening War in Mali

The New York Times

The New York Times Editorial Board writes that France’s airstrikes have so far failed to stop the advance of Islamist rebels southward in Mali. Containing these militias “and the threat they pose to West Africa and the wider world is essential.” But the task of reclaiming the north belongs to Mali’s army and its West African allies. Until Mali’s army is able to reclaim the north, extremist groups will “continue terrorizing the people of that region.”

“Still, this is no time to walk away from Mali. American training programs there should be strengthened, with greater emphasis on human rights and civilian supremacy. In the meantime, France’s airstrikes, responding to urgent pleas from Mali’s government, make sense. But they are no substitute for what Mali must now do for itself.”

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January 11, 2013

Avoiding War Number Two in Liberia

Foreign Policy

Michael Scharff, a senior research specialist at Princeton University, describes how Liberia achieved peaceful elections in 2005 following the 2003 peace agreement that ended the civil war that had devastated the country since the late 1980’s. The peace agreement resulted in an interim government, which set clear electoral laws and appointed a new election commission tasked with establishing public trust and ensuring peaceful elections. A UN peacekeeping mission was also deployed to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement.

The election commission tackled issues like voter registration and electoral boundaries, and on election day international and domestic monitors helped make sure polling staff followed electoral procedures. Despite some controversy with the presidential election results, the October 2005 elections were relatively peaceful, which Scharff credits to pre-emptive measures like the presence of armed United Nations peacekeepers to ensure voters felt safe, and the election commission’s “care in staff selection, its emphasis on fairness for parties and candidates, its openness, and its willingness to relax certain requirements to encourage broad participation by Liberians.”

“‘Those were exciting times, because Liberia had been at war for nearly 14 years, and to have an opportunity to elect leaders that would take them out of the mode of belligerence and violence, that was very good,’” said Frances Johnson-Morris, head of the election commission. “‘When you involve people in decision making, you uphold your transparency and your credibility. I think we did that very well.’”


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January 6, 2013

Greece's Rotten Oligarchy

The New York Times

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Kostas Vaxevanis, a Greek magazine publisher and TV journalist, describes the Greek crisis as a “battleground of interests and ideologies.” Vaxevanis argues that Greek democracy has been broken since the collapse of the military junta in 1974 resulted in a “hybrid, diluted form of democracy” that gives real power only to members of the political elite. “Democracy is like a bicycle," he said. "If you don’t keep pedaling, you fall.

Vaxevanis describes a dysfunctional public sector with business elites bribing politicians, the rich evading taxes, a corrupt ruling class that “answers to the name of democracy even as it casually nullifies it” and a largely complicit media. He shares his own experience being arrested after publishing a list that named wealthy citizens who committed tax fraud, after many other outlets refused to publish it. 

“The Greek people must remount their bicycle of democracy by demanding an end to deception and corruption. Journalists need to resist manipulation and rediscover their journalistic duties. And the government should revive Greece’s ancient democratic heritage — instead of killing the messenger.”

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