Protesters gather peacefully in Central Plaza in Guatemala City, demanding changes to the political system and the resignation of now ex-President Perez Molina. Credit: Ricardo Marroquin
In recent years, Guatemala has made headlines with bleak statistics illustrating the range of challenges it faces: the country suffers from the fifth highest homicide rate in the world, drug trafficking and narco money have penetrated society, child malnutrition is the worst in the hemisphere, and the state institutions responsible for providing services to Guatemalan citizens are notoriously weak and corrupt. Although those challenges still exist, Guatemala is now stepping back from the brink toward a much brighter future, brought about by citizens demanding more from their elected leaders.
To achieve a world “in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social, and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed,” will require political action — leadership, commitment and accountability. The U.N.’s “Transforming Our World” sustainable development framework, which will be adopted by the General Assembly in the coming days, is the latest call to action. We will all be judged on what we do over the next 15 years to make that ambition into an empowered reality for women and girls. Sustainable development goal 5 to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” expands significantly on the Millennium Development Goals by detailing in a single goal a full range of issues and actions that will drive success. However, in the proposed indicators, which anchor accountability for the new global framework, critical metrics for women’s participation in political life and public decision-making are missing.
In recognition of International Day of Democracy, NDI partnered with the International Republican Institute (IRI) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to host an online discussion. Kenneth Wollack, president of NDI, Michael D. Svetlik, vice president for programs at IFES, and Tom Garrett, vice president for programs at IRI, answered eight democracy-related questions posed by @CEPPS and other TweetTalk participants. Using the hashtag #DemTalk, respondents discussed both general shifts in democratic trends across the world and specific examples of programs that create “space for civil society” -- the theme of this year’s Democracy Day.
Professor Gianfranco Pasquino graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Turin, where he studied under Norberto Bobbio, and specialized in Comparative Politics with Giovanni Sartori at the University of Florence. Between 1975 and 2012, he was a professor of Political Science at the University of Bologna. He currently teaches at the Bologna Center at John Hopkins University. Pasquino met with Andrea Fernández, NDI resident program officer in Colombia, to discuss the state of democracy in Latin America.
Credit: Isabela Bernal - Las2Orillas / NDI Colombia
Today is International Day of Democracy, a day meant to inspire reflection and celebration of the principles of democracy worldwide. This year’s theme, “Space for Civil Society,” serves as a reminder that a strong and active civil society is necessary for resilient democracy. This year’s theme is also a reaction to the fact that civil society faces serious challenges globally. Since the early 2000s, authoritarian regimes have used new methods to limit the ability of civil society to protect the rights of citizens, demand accountability from government and engage in public policy. These limitations extend to the Internet and social media; authoritarian regimes continue to curtail political speech and monitor political dissent online. But just as autocratic regimes are imposing these limitations, civil society is adopting new technologies and using open government data to create new civic space and work in parallel with the interests of open, inclusive government. NDI is supporting these efforts by assisting civil society groups in the creation of international norms and standards for legislative openness and open election data.
To celebrate this year’s Democracy Day, we asked NDI staff, who support democracy worldwide, to share a photograph that best represents the answer to the question: “What does democracy mean to you?” NDI staff are from more than 60 countries, spanning five continents. Over 100 thought-provoking images were submitted by photographers from all around the world, but the following five stood out.
NDI President Kenneth Wollack (center) and Dr. Chris Fomunyoh (right) meet with President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.
The next year and a half will be a critical period for democracy across Africa. In 2015 and 2016, African countries will hold more than 35 presidential and legislative elections. The outcomes of these elections have the potential to spark a wave of democratic change for the continent. It was within this context that NDI President Ken Wollack traveled to Burkina Faso, Niger and Cote d’Ivoire, accompanied by Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, NDI’s senior associate and regional director for Central and West Africa. All three countries will hold elections before the end of the year.
At a constituency dialogue event in Cambodia, a participant displays his electricity bill to show members of the National Assembly how expensive energy is in his village, and asks them for a solution to rising costs. NDI helped organize the constituency dialogue event. (Photo by NDI's Chhiv Kimsrun)
Citizen access and influence in political decision-making can vary across identity groups. NDI programming helps citizens expand civic space and streamline processes to enhance their own political participation, with a cross-cutting priority to support the inclusion of historically marginalized populations. This past month’s resources discussed the need to lower barriers to voter registration for people with disabilities, how to partner with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, and the use of ICTs in women’s empowerment. In August, the Citizen Participation team and the Political Parties team organized a ‘TweetTalk’ on what political parties can do to include youth in the political process.
Leaders from seven major political parties in Honduras, as well as civil society groups, attended a dinner hosted by NDI and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) on August 11, 2015, to discuss how to advance important democracy initiatives in Honduras. The event was the first time the leaders had convened in two years.
Over the past three months, Hondurans have taken to the streets to call attention to corruption and impunity in response to the latest corruption scandal involving the embezzlement of $120 million from the Honduras Social Security Institute. Unrest has been noticeable in Honduras for years, particularly after a 2009 constitutional crisis culminated in a coup that removed President Manuel Zelaya from office. Although the 2013 presidential elections helped the office of the president regain a degree of legitimacy, democracy in Honduras continues to face significant challenges. The United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) recently sent missions to the country at the request of the Honduran government to facilitate a national dialogue in order to stabilize the unrest.
A party organizer practices voter canvassing through a door-to-door exercise as part of an NDI political party training on July 29, 2015. Photo credit: Munira Aziz, NDI Afghanistan
Canvassing, an organized system of face-to-face citizen outreach, has long been used by politicians and advocacy groups to encourage constituents to vote, assess the habits and preferences of voters, and gather public opinion data. The time-honored tradition of knocking on doors remains an integral part of campaigns, though new mobile technology is starting to change the way canvassers operate on the ground.