“Advancing democracy reflects our values and is an important means of advancing America’s interests and protecting our national security in a turbulent and often violent world,” said NDI president Kenneth Wollack in testimony this week before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This was a full committee hearing entitled Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World and the discussion was a broad overview of both the hurdles and successes in fragile states.
The hearing, which in addition to Mr. Wollack, included IRI president Dan Twining and NED president Carl Gershman, lasted three hours and represented an expression of congressional support for democracy assistance. More than 25 Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle attended and asked questions ranging from human rights in North Korea to the current situation in Nicaragua.
In their testimonies, the three witnesses gave an optimistic view of the state of democracy, even in the face of growing authoritarianism in certain places. In his testimony, Mr. Wollack painted a positive story, even in challenging environments:
“Public opinion polls from countries in every region of the world have shown that vast majorities agree that democracy, despite its problems, is the best political system. One recent study of more than 800 protest movements around the world show that they are not driven primarily by a desire for better economic conditions, but rather by demands for a better democracy, which the protesters believe can better address economic issues. This shows that the desire for improved economic opportunities often coexists with the demand for a political voice.”
Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), who presided over the hearing with Ranking Member (D-NY), joined the rest of the committee in thanking NDI, IRI and the NED for the work they do around the world and stressed the importance for the United States Congress to continue supporting that work:
“At home, we must maintain the decades-old, bipartisan consensus that democracy is a core element of U.S. foreign policy, said Chairman Royce. “That is why it’s important to have the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute here today, and that’s why it’s important that Congress continues to adequately fund these institutions.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) echoed the importance of democracy assistance abroad, saying it made him proud of Congress for supporting these efforts. “I’ve had the privilege of traveling through the auspices of the House Democracy Partnership to a number of countries, and, frankly, the work you are doing on the ground is so exciting,” he said. “You have mobilized young people, older people, to actually express themselves and put their bodies on the line for democratic values in their own cultural setting, and you’ve done it well.”