Tag Archives: democracy

Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: The Debates Must Go On

kwara-debate

Just over two weeks ago, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made the shocking (but not entirely surprising) decision to delay the country’s elections by six weeks. Citing ongoing instability caused by Boko Haram in the country’s Northeast and INEC’s own uncertainty about its ability to deliver outstanding voter cards to nearly 40 percent of the country’s 70 million registered voters, the decision to delay has divided opinions.

On one hand, there is doubt that Nigeria’s woefully inept security forces could provide the kind of protection voters need, and the potential disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters due to violence would not bode well for a country making efforts to become a more genuine democracy.  On the other hand, there is little reason to believe the military will be ready to both take out Boko Haram and create a secure voting environment in just six weeks. Furthermore, given the high stakes in the race between current President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari – in the closest and most hotly contested since the end of military rule in 1999 – many are interpreting the election delay as politically motivated.

What is interesting about most of the dialogue currently surrounding the elections, however, is that it is largely focused at the center. Indeed, think tanks and election-oversight bodies have released study after study with polling data and predictions for presidential electoral outcomes, as well as scenarios for how the elections will impact an already delicate security situation across the country.

Though much of the international community is focused on the preparations for and outcome of the presidential contest now scheduled for March 28 , there is very little conversation about the state level elections taking place two weeks later on April 11.

While the national level race is certainly interesting and important, the top issues facing Nigerian voters must ultimately be dealt with locally. Economic empowerment through job creation is a prime example. Despite Nigeria’s substantial oil revenues, the country nonetheless suffers from massive unemployment and income inequality – the primary factors contributing to endemic poverty, low quality of life, and the growth of insecurity.

The solutions for boosting employment and opportunities for Nigeria’s poor and disenfranchised will not come from the Presidency. State and local governments will need to work in coordination with local businesses to create an enabling environment for small, medium, and large enterprises to thrive.  Therefore, the outcome of state elections will have as much (if not more) impact on the daily lives of Nigerians than the contest for the presidency.

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Populism and the Internet in Latin America

The rapid growth of the Internet in Latin America between 2001 and 2008. Today 57% of South Americans use the Internet. (Charts: ZookNIC)

The rapid growth of the Internet in Latin America between 2001 and 2008. As of 2014 57% of South Americans are online. (Charts: ZookNIC)

By William Vogt

Since the rise and fall of the Arab Spring, debate has raged in the fields intersecting communications, technology, and international affairs: will Internet growth be a liberalizing influence that will create stable, prosperous democracies?

So far, this answer appears to be a qualified “no.” Connected and educated youths have not created the groundswell necessary for reform in many politically unstable countries. On the other hand, investments in information communications technologies (ICTs) have greatly improved local economies in many developing countries and hold promise in exposing and rooting out corruption.

In this last point, fighting corruption, the rise of the Internet as a social and economic force has created perplexing political trends. Increased Internet penetration does reduce at least one key aspect of corruption affecting free market interactions: barriers to market entry (for producers and consumers) due to opaque regulations and powerful oligarchies. In fact, studies have shown that merely the act of searching broad terms like “corruption” on an online search engine has significant impacts on the ability of the state to engage in corrupt, anti-competitive practices like demanding bribes from businesses.

This trend, however, does not hold globally and there is one part of the world that has created a particularly worrying balance between the forms of democracy and what is functionally a system of corruption: Latin America. Over its long history this region has developed a unique political culture with a prominent role for the ideology frequently described today as “populism.”

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Can Ukraine Stamp Out its Corruption Culture?

euromaidan

Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” protests were driven by activists fed up with corruption. Can the new government turn things around?

When it comes to opportunity for anti-corruption reform on a massive scale, few countries have ever been as ripe for change as Ukraine today. Western countries and the International Monetary Fund are pushing hard for transparency and clean government. They enjoy unprecedented leverage over Ukraine’s political and economic elites, who need billions in loans to stave off economic ruin. Ukraine’s populace, which took to the streets a year ago to oust a president reviled for his flamboyant corruption, is maddened at the lack of a single, high-profile corruption prosecution since then. Investors, once attracted to Ukraine by a highly educated workforce, cheap industrial assets, and some of the world’s most fertile farmland, have made it clear that corruption is a deal breaker.

Freshly elected Ukrainian leaders committed to reform and European integration are taking seemingly drastic steps on the anti-corruption front. In October, they passed an impressive package of laws that provide the framework to investigate, prosecute and imprison wrongdoers. Just as important, the new laws require the training and monitoring of the tens of thousands of public servants – from traffic cops to school principals to MPs – who collectively represent the “demand side” of Ukraine’s corruption equation.

To implement these new laws and flesh out the details, Ukraine’s elected leaders are turning to technocrats from countries counted as anti-corruption success stories – mostly Georgia and Lithuania. They are laboring away this winter in various ministries and in the Presidential Administration, trying to figure out how to train and empower the men and women who, in the face of a decades-old corruption culture and vastly outnumbered by colleagues benefiting from the status quo, will be the shock troops of anti-corruption reform. Taken together, these are impressive, ambitious moves in a country of 45 million, by far the largest state in the post-Soviet space to attempt such a housecleaning.

All this was on display last week during a fact-finding mission by CIPE’s lead anti-corruption expert in Ukraine, Drago Kos, who also serves as the chairman of the Working Group on Bribery of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. Kos, a plainspoken man who began his career in the Slovenian police force, spent a week in Kyiv, building rapport and sharing opinions with the Ukrainians at the forefront of the anti-corruption effort.

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Democracy Has Survived in Tunisia, But What Comes Next?

 

Hiba Safi is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

After decades of dictatorship, Tunisia’s revolution set in motion a series of uprisings across the Arab world, laying the foundations for a flourishing democracy. It has become the sole “flower” of the Arab Spring and is now heralded as a role model for the Middle East and North Africa region. However, behind the shiny façade, the road towards democracy has certainly not been without barriers and Tunisia still faces numerous hurdles not only in managing security but also solidifying democratic institutions.

Today, Tunisia has made enormous progress in its democratic transition – its future is determined by Tunisians themselves, able to choose their political leaders and their own path. Freedom House described Tunisia in its annual report as “the Arab world’s only free country, the sole success story of the Arab Spring and a full-fledged democracy,” while the Economist Intelligence Unit classified Tunisia as the most democratic Arab state in its last democracy index.

The “Tunisian exception,” political analysts say, resulted from a reconciliation between modern ideals and Islam, the neutral role played by army, a genuine multiparty democracy, a successful national dialogue initiative, and the massive role played by civil society pushing for an end to the Tunisian political crisis.

As a result of these and other factors, Tunisia underwent its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power in December 2014, accompanied by a newly elected parliament, the first democratic presidential elections, and a new constitution, all conducted in a free, fair, and transparent process.

This peaceful political transition is seen as a positive example to the region that should bring hope in the midst of a bloody civil war in Syria, deeply embedded divisions in Libya, and chaos in Yemen. Tunisia now stands tall as the relative success story among the recent popular revolutions in the region.

But to sustain this progress into the future, it must also get its economy on the right footing.

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Is Democracy in Decline?

journal-democracy

Is democracy in decline? This question is on the minds of people around the world in these uncertain times. We have witnessed both triumphs of democracy, including Pakistan’s first-ever orderly transition of power through elections, and challenges to democratic progress such as increasingly authoritarian Russia or (with the exception of Tunisia) the implosion of the Arab Spring. That crucial question became the theme of the Journal of Democracy’s latest issue and framed the discussion at an event organized yesterday by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Johns Hopkins University Press to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Journal.

The choice of the democracy-in-decline theme may at first seem odd for the anniversary issue and its commemorative event. Marc Plattner, the founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy and vice-president for research and studies at the NED, explains:

“Here in our twenty-firth anniversary issue, we feel compelled to confront head-on the questions of whether democracy is in decline. Why? There are two aspects to the answer, which although intertwined are in some measure separable. The first deals with what is actually taking place on the ground: How many countries are democratic? Is their number rising or shrinking? What is the situation with respect to such liberal-democratic features as freedom of the press, rule of law, free and fair elections, and the like? The second, more subjective, aspect concerns the standing of democracy in the world: How is it viewed in terms of legitimacy and attractiveness?”

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Outcry Against Corruption Helps Drive a Change of Leadership in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)

While it is hard to identify all of the issues that drove Sri Lankans during the country’s recent – and for many observers, surprising – elections, a cry for change was evident. Voters had clearly grown tired of corruption, cronyism, and authoritarianism, and there have been widespread calls for investigations into a range of alleged human rights abuses.

On January 8, in an unexpected turn of events, 15 million Sri Lankans, representing a 75 percent voter turnout, went to the polls and ousted incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in favor of Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former Health Minister who shocked many by declaring his intent to run for office. Rajapaksa, who was South Asia’s longest-serving political head of state, in office since 2005, had turned increasingly authoritarian. He called these elections two years early, seeking a third term. It seems unlikely that he anticipated the defection of Sirisena and a number of other parliamentarians.

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Technology and Democracy in Burma

A Burmese man checks his mobile phone.(Photo: Flickr)

A Burmese man checks his mobile phone.(Photo: Flickr)

Since 2011, Burma has slowly been transitioning into a fledgling democracy from a reclusive military dictatorship. Some positive steps have taken place – multi-party elections have been held and more than 3,000 political prisoners have been freed. Yet as the U.S. deputy national security adviser stated recently, “[p]arts of the reform effort have stalled, parts have moved forward and parts, we’ve seen, have even moved backward, so it’s a mixed picture.”

The biggest test for Burma’s democratic transition is the upcoming general elections taking place in November. For citizens to make informed decisions and to hold future leaders accountable, they must be empowered with knowledge. The potential political leaders also must be educated about how to govern, as well as find ways to communicate and engage with their constituents. And technology, more specifically mobile phones, will have a large role to play for both groups.

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