The Committee on Defense of Democracy stages a protest in Warsaw on December 19, 2015.
After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Poland became a poster child for democratic and market-oriented transition. While the necessary reforms were difficult and often painful to the average citizen, they did deliver political freedoms and rapid economic growth, reversing decades of totalitarian oppression and decline. Poland became a respected member of the European Union (EU) and a model for other countries in the region. Despite persisting challenges typical for transition countries, such as youth unemployment, the overall institutions of democracy and a market economy appeared solidly in place.
This began to change rapidly after the 2015 elections when the Law and Justice Party (PiS) candidate won the presidency and the party gained a majority of seats in the parliament. Inspired by the policies of Victor Orban and his party in Hungary, PiS began a rapid push to challenge Poland’s democratic institutions—from the Constitutional Tribunal to public media. However, unlike the Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz), PiS does not possess the constitutional majority necessary to pursue such systemic changes, which put it on a collision course with Poland’s judiciary and civil society, as well as EU institutions.
From left: podcast guest Jeffrey Smith, guest host Toni Weis and host Ken Jaques
This week’s guest is Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, a startup nonprofit that provides campaign advice and public relations support to pro-democracy leaders in Africa.
Smith aims to bring the international spotlight to Gambia, which is recovering from a more than two-decades-long dictatorship. Political and civil rights were nonexistent during the presidency of Yahya Jammeh, a former military officer who ruled the country from 1994 to 2016. Vanguard Africa partnered with Gambia’s presidential candidates in 2016 to campaign against Jammeh, who lost the election.
Despite this accomplishment, Smith says Vanguard Africa’s work in Gambia is unfinished; a country cannot transition from dictatorship to democracy overnight. The nonprofit is now focused on holding the new government accountable. To aide with the transition, CIPE has partnered with the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry to establish a national business council for the private sector.
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When governments have exclusive control over the provision of goods and services, citizens are trapped without an alternative. Because the state monopolizes the entire market, there is no competition to ensure fair prices, sufficient quality, and satisfactory customer service. Taxpayer money is poured into government services, ostensibly to improve their quality, yet private citizens rarely see improvements. For example, many homes and businesses in Lebanon lose power for hours on a daily basis. Public servants are similarly inefficient, making basic bureaucratic procedures a nightmare.
The Lebanese Institute for Market Studies (LIMS), an independent economic think tank in Beirut, advocates for the implementation of free-market economic policies in Lebanon. LIMS’ current work focuses on the government’s inability to reliably provide electricity throughout the country. With CIPE’s support, LIMS launched a campaign to create awareness of the need to repeal the electricity subsidy, stop government investment in the sector, and open the sector to private competition. As a result of LIMS’ advocacy efforts, the Lebanese government announced in February that it would repeal the electricity subsidy this year. The government also announced in June that it decided not to lease Turkish power-generating ships after Lebanese officials discovered bidding process irregularities. These decisions represent progress towards LIMS’ reform objectives.
Local leaders in the city of Talisay in the Philippines used CIPE partner the Institute of Solidarity in Asia’s performance governance system (PGS) to harness the city’s tourism-, agriculture-, and location-based strengths to reshape development and ensure sustainability through community involvement.
At CIPE, we’re accustomed to examining problems of democratic and economic development through a governance lens. We wonder how entrepreneurs can possibly succeed when the policy and regulatory environment is stacked against them. We wonder how good policy and regulation can be made without input and feedback from affected constituencies. We wonder what the point of policy is if government cannot be counted on to implement it. To address these problems of the enabling environment and government performance, we look for systemic change.
Not everyone thinks this way and many are frustrated by the demands and promises of good governance recommendations. They want to see immediate, tangible results from development. They see places where Western-style reforms have not delivered and other places that have done well economically despite a lack of rule of law or freedom. They see obstacles to fixing governance and wonder if it’s worth the effort.
Protesters at the March for Europe protest on July the 2nd, 2016 in London.
The outpouring of anti-globalist sentiments from both right and left in many western democracies is teaching those of us who support a global economic architecture many valuable lessons on how we should look toward reforming our international institutions of trade and finance. The rise of nationalism and populism in western democracies is a reaction to the perceived loss of sovereignty and economic exclusion that many ordinary citizens have felt as a result of the growth of transnational institutions, be they the European Union, the World Trade Organization, or more focused initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In reaction, citizens have been reclaiming their desire for sovereign power through exercising their democratic franchise at national polls, especially in the Euro-Atlantic family. Whether a backlash to Brussel’s Euro-bureaucracy through Brexit and the rise of populism in Central Europe or the increasing influence of anti-globalization politics within both U.S. political parties, we need to recognize that these assertions of political will are legitimate forms of grievance. While we may be disheartened by the message at times, we must at least take heart that these grievances play themselves out in a democratic process (albeit one that seems increasingly under fire). In essence, citizens are using their local ballot boxes to push back at international institutions that they otherwise feel powerless to influence.
This article originally appeared in Arabic on cipe-arabia.org
As I prepared for the final paper of my college years, I recall my unwavering conviction in the infamous saying by Muhammad Yunus – Founder of Grameen Bank – that, “Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations.”
Multiple public policies and methods have been devised, yet the primary objective has always remained unchanged: provide citizens with a decent standard of living. This, I believe, can be achieved through paving the way for entrepreneurial initiatives and creating a just and equitable investment environment, where investors, citizens, workers, and employees alike are familiar with their respective rights and obligations.
Podcast guest Murray Hiebert (left), with hosts John Morrell and Julie Johnson
In this week’s Democracy That Delivers podcast, Murray Hiebert, Senior Adviser and Deputy Director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), talks about the historic visit to the U.S. last week of Aung San Suu Kyi. Hiebert discusses what the visit means for Myanmar’s future, including the peace process and the investment climate in a country where peace and development is long overdue. Hiebert also talks about what the lifting of sanctions will mean for the inflow of foreign direct investment, and how economic development and the resolution of ethnic grievances through the peace process are linked. Reaction in Myanmar to Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit is also discussed. Hiebert also talks about the tension between the Muslim-minority Rohingya population and the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to resolve tension between the two groups.
For more information on Murray Hiebert and his work, visit the CSIS website.