Social media and the Internet have had a drastic effect on the surprise results of yesterday’s election in the United States, driving the spread of information—and misinformation—at times bringing voters together and, perhaps more often, pushing them apart. As the spotlight shifts off of the U.S. in the aftermath of November 8, it’s important to recognize that this is not a uniquely American trend. More than half of Internet users now report using social media as a primary source of news, according to a study across 26 countries, and more than one quarter call it their main news source. In developing countries where reliable news sources are more limited, those numbers may be even higher. As reliance on social media and the Internet for news and information rises exponentially, political discourse is also rapidly moving online. A free and open Internet, where citizens can engage in fair dialogue and access accurate information, is thus critical to modern democracy and human rights.
Headlines are warning us about Russian “mischief” in the U.S. elections. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence have said they are confident that the Russian government is behind hacks into US email accounts and that cyber-probes of some state election systems may also be traced to Russia. A group of prominent national security and defense experts has predicted that Russian hackers will use the stolen emails to build credibility, then leak fake documents in order to manipulate voters’ opinions and, possibly, choices at the ballot box. These cyber-espionage and disinformation campaigns sound like the stuff of spy novels, except they’re real. What’s going on?
Plenary session of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala
In late October, I joined a staff delegation of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) in its assessment mission to explore a potential partnership between the U.S. Congress and the Congress of Guatemala, a unicameral body made up of 158 deputies elected for four-year terms. Having spent a good deal of time working to end the Central American wars in the 1980s as a congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, it was my first trip to the region in nearly three decades. I returned to the U.S. hopeful and cautiously optimistic that Guatemala may be turning a corner in its democratic development while still working to overcome the legacy of the brutal civil war that resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims from 1960-1996.
Citizens ask questions of candidates during NDI-supported senate debates in Liberia during the 2005 elections. Credit: Jim Della-Giacoma
Can there be peace without the United Nations? Maybe. Resilient democracies might also exist without direct intervention from international organizations. But given that NDI’s Resilient Democracy blog series was launched on the UN International Day of Peace, it would be useful to consider the role of international organizations and the evolving ideas they are promoting about sustaining peace and peaceful societies. Connecting to the UN’s macro thinking could strengthen NDI’s micro-level work.
Presidents of federations of local assembly and council members and the Victims Unit Subdirector for Participation sign a collective reparations plan.
Countries transitioning out of violent conflict are more successful in achieving lasting peace when representative institutions are inclusive and manage reconciliation processes fairly. The end of violent conflict does not guarantee a political voice for former combatants or reintegration into society. By its nature, violence also generates victims, who must be central actors in the development of peace accords, reparations plans and transitional justice systems. In a post-conflict context, the development of transitional democratic political processes is necessary for fostering reconciliation and building peace. In this post – the fifth in NDI's series on resilient democracy – NDI Program Officer Austin Robles examines the peace negotiations and reconciliation process currently underway in Colombia.
The outcomes of the June 23 Brexit vote and the October 2 referendum on the peace deal in Colombia raised questions about voting and political participation: How could something so unanticipated happen? Would people lose faith in democracy? Could we be similarly blindsided in the United States in November? Should we even vote at all?
“Le Magnific” fires up the crowd at a concert for peace in Côte d’Ivoire.
Democratic elections resolve a legitimate competition for power through peaceful, rather than violent, means. They constitute a critical moment in the life of a democracy, where citizens have the right to express their will through the ballot box and a peaceful transfer of power takes place. However, this is not always the case. During the 2010 elections in Côte d’Ivoire – the country’s first election in 10 years – former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after narrowly losing in a run-off to Alassane Ouattara, triggering widespread violence that left over 3,000 people dead and thousands displaced. To mitigate the potential for violence as the 2015 presidential election approached, NDI assisted civil society organizations to monitor the elections, draft Codes of Conduct and spread messages promoting nonviolent conflict resolution.
Jordanian and Syrian participants discuss human rights during an Ana Usharek Mujtam3i session.
Conflict thrives in divided societies, particularly when individuals in positions of power exploit differences for personal or political gain. Many factors, including scarcity of resources and recent histories of intergroup strife, can further exacerbate divisions and drive citizens apart based on political, ethnic, religious and other identity factors. When allowed to deepen, these divides threaten social cohesion and undermine the foundation of cooperation and collective action in democratic societies. As polarization increases, so do the challenges faced by governing institutions. Strengthening inclusive democracies can reduce polarization and bridge intergroup divisions by bringing communities together to pursue shared interests and to develop sustainable intergroup relationships.
As in previous years, Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW) showcased the fantastic work being done around the world to realize the principles of open parliament. Organized by members of the Open Government Partnership’s Legislative Openness Working Group, GLOW featured more than 20 events and activities organized by parliaments and civil society organizations in over 15 countries around the world. This year included a diverse range of activities, such as public events and private meetings, campaigns and advocacy, and hackathons and the development of new digital tools. The diversity of approaches and actors that made Global Legislative Openness Week a success also demonstrates that the global movement for open, responsive legislatures is broad, deep, and growing.
Members of the Defense and Security Commission of Burkina Faso's National Assembly meet members of the armed forces during an informational visit to a military base in Kaya.
Violence and crime pose serious threats to citizen security. A lack of response to these threats from authorities erodes public trust in government institutions and weakens prospects for stable democracy. Maintaining the peace and ensuring the security of citizens is necessary for a democracy to develop and endure. Likewise, democratic institutions, such as parliaments, media and civil society, help guarantee a focus on citizen interest and public good, especially related to civilian oversight of the security sector. Threats to citizen security are particularly notable in West Africa’s Sahel region and Central America’s Northern Triangle, areas where NDI works to bridge the gap between citizens’ security needs and the state’s ability to meet them.