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.
|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
|January 10, 2014||
On the three-year anniversary of the Arab Spring, there is optimism for democracy in Tunisia, where “political leaders have managed something that ought to be a new model for the region: democratic compromise.”
In 2011, “Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party won the first democratic elections after the revolution but quickly lost popularity because of poor governance, including its failure to control extremists.” But rather than endure a military conflict like Egypt’s, Ennahda’s prime minister agreed to step down “to make way for a technocratic administration that will govern until elections are held this year. Meanwhile, a national assembly has appointed a nonpartisan election commission and is rushing to complete a long-delayed constitution” this week.
“If Tunisia’s constitution is ratified and elections go forward, it will demonstrate that the dream of liberal democracy is not a mirage in the Arab world. On the contrary: Tunisia, which began the uprising against the old order, will establish the paradigm for a new one.”Read More
|January 10, 2014||
This year is “being billed as the ‘biggest year for democracy ever’ by the Economist, which notes that 40 percent of the world's population will be voting in national elections….But how much will the results tell us about the actual state of democracy in these countries?” While elections are the bedrock of a democracy, they are not enough to ensure it.
“Democracy is scarcely viable in the absence of genuinely democratic institutions such as an independent judiciary, relatively free media, and organized groups that reflect the varied needs and interests of community.” And “sufficiently strong institutions” will not likely exist “unless there's a critical mass of engaged citizenry who are willing to fight for them….It's in the places where citizens are prepared to mobilize, and to work actively to claim and realize their own rights, where the prospects for democracy are best.”
“The big surprises for democracy [this year] will come in the places where citizens manage to mobilize effectively despite the odds….That's the funny thing about democracy: It has a knack for breaking out where you least expect it.”Read More
|January 8, 2014||
The recent protests in Cambodia, Bangladesh and Thailand “are a vivid reminder of the fragile state of democracy in many developing countries, particularly those that do not have independent judiciaries and professional police forces and militaries.”
In all three countries, “[a]utocratic and corrupt political leaders have used government agencies, in some cases over decades, to serve themselves and their cronies” rather than the people. As a result, “[t]he lack of sufficient democratic checks and balances...has undermined faith in elections and helped to create the conditions for civil unrest.”
“There are no easy or quick solutions to the crisis in these three nations. While elections are vital, they are not sufficient to create stable democracies. Until these countries build institutions capable of serving as a check on political leaders, they will remain vulnerable to civil unrest.”Read More
|January 3, 2014||
Last Friday, Tunisia, which sparked the Arab Spring three years ago, began voting on a new constitution. This vote is expected to put the country’s “turbulent progress to democracy back on track” after “divisions between Islamists and secular opposition parties led to a political deadlock” in 2013.
Around 192 lawmakers attended the opening debate at the National Assembly, where introductory clauses to the constitution were voted on one-by-one, including the first clause which read: “[Tunisia is] a free country, independent, with sovereignty; Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the republic its regime.”
Approval of the constitution's 146 articles is expected to take at least a week.
Tunisia’s “final steps to full democracy have been widely watched as a possible model in a region where Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which also ousted their leaders in 2011, are struggling with violence and instability as well as resurgent Islamism.”Read More
|December 18, 2013||
Three years ago, the pro-democracy demonstrations known as the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and quickly spread throughout the Arab world. Recently, the Arab Spring countries have faced periods of violence and stalled transitions. But after a recent political agreement, “it is Tunisia, once again, that could show the way to get the transitions to democracy back on track.”
Three weeks ago, Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, and opposition parties “reached an agreement...to put a caretaker administration in charge until new elections.” Ghannouchi and former prime minister Beji Caid Essbsi, who negotiated the agreement, recognized after months of political and economic turmoil that “only a broad political compromise could halt the country’s downward spiral.”
Since 2011, Tunisia’s transition has had some successes: the country “avoided excessive political score-settling against the former elite” and “kept its military under civilian control.” And now, “Tunisians can show that political compromise is possible” in the region.Read More