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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.

January 22, 2014

Democratic Freedoms Are Under Siege

Wall Street Journal

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.”

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January 15, 2014

'Parallel Vote Tabulation Will Remove Uncertainty'

The Nation

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.

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January 10, 2014

Tunisia Tweets Its Way to Democracy


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 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.”

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January 10, 2014

Tunisia's Democratic Compromises Should Serve as a Regional Model

The Washington Post

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.”

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January 10, 2014

In 2014, It's Not Just About the Ballot Box

Foreign Policy

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.”

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January 8, 2014

Democracy in Peril in Asia

The New York Times

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.”

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January 3, 2014

Tunisia Starts Voting on New Constitution


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.”

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December 18, 2013

Tunisia's Reawakening

The New York Times

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 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.

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November 15, 2013

US Democracy Groups Mark 30 Years of Progress, Controversy

Voice of America

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) are celebrating 30 years of working with non-governmental organizations, political parties, democracy activists and governments around the world to support and strengthen democratic institutions.

The NED, which receives funding from Congress, has helped foster change by providing grants to groups like NDI and IRI who have field-based offices in countries throughout the world. “In most all of those countries, we work with the ruling party, the opposition parties, we work with the government, we work with civil society," said Ken Wollack, NDI’s president.

Despite facing challenging environments in many countries, over the past 30 years these “U.S. democracy groups have been making progress, one country at a time.”

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October 30, 2013

Doing Away with Et Cetera

Foreign Policy

On November 21, 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords ended the Bosnian War and established a new constitution designed to prevent further conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Though the constitution has successfully maintained peace in the country, it’s prioritization of stability over democracy has become “a main source of the country's substantial democratic and functional problems.”

Dividing “Bosnia along ethnic lines into three constituent peoples (the Bosniak-Muslims, Serbs, and Croats),” the constitution inherently excludes Bosnians “who do not fit into any of the three constituent groups.” In particular, these Bosnians, constitutionally known as “others,” are prevented from holding “state and legislative positions,” including the State Presidency, since they “are shared among the ethnic groups.”

In consequence, “Bosnia's political system is in dire need of substantial change.” Its very structure of ethnic representation is hurting its citizens. If Bosnia wants to improve its democratic standing, its ethnic divisions of political power must end and a Bosnian identity emphasizing “more contemporary criteria such as economics or social issues”—with which citizens are more concerned, according to a 2009 NDI opinion poll—should be discussed.

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