The work of democracy is never “over”

As part of a series of events organized by NDI’s Jordan youth political participation program Ana Usharek and the Al-Hayat Center for Civil Society Development – NDI’s local partner – 60 Ana Usharek students participated in a networking and coalition-building event on December 5 with 43 local civil society organizations in Zarqa, Jordan. Photo Credit: NDI Jordan

It is important to remember the task of safeguarding democracy at home, and encouraging and supporting democracy abroad is an unending one. There is no such thing as a fully consolidated democracy. Various shocks and strains, whether internal or exogenous, will constantly test the resilience of democratic institutions. Likewise, there is no such thing as a “graduated” emerging democracy.

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The Success of Nigeria's Inaugural Braille Ballot Guides

A man smiles as he uses the Braille ballot guide in Osun state, Nigeria.

In advocating for strong democratic institutions around the world, it is easy to overlook the rich diversity of democratic traditions across nations. In the United States, presidential hopefuls descend on Iowa every four years to grill steaks for eager caucus-goers. In London, commuters tune to BBC Radio to hear the prime minister and opposition leader spar on issues of the day. And in Nigeria, voters press their thumbs into ink pads, locate the name and party of their chosen candidate, and leave a thumbprint to mark their democratic choice.

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A Force Multiplier for Democracy in the Digital Age

A woman participates in voter card reader test exercise in Nigeria. Credit: Sarah Cooper

In countries and communities around the world, defenders of democracy are working to understand and respond to the ways that technology is impacting political and electoral processes. With every election or political event, democracy’s defenders are capturing new lessons on how democracy can weather evolving threats and even thrive in the digital age. Despite this growing body of projects and the commitment of local actors in countries around the world, responses to evolving digital challenges to date often lack coordination. But both globally and regionally, key democracy stakeholders haven’t had a proper channel for information-sharing, research coordination, and advancing shared priorities at the intersection of tech and democracy. So we’re building one, as a community.

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Making Democracy Popular: Corruption, Populism & Brazil

Brazilians take to the streets to protest rampant government corruption on March 13, 2016.  Photo by Agencia Brazil (CC BY 3.0 BR)

What do Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez have in common? They’ve all been branded as populists, both celebratorily and scathingly. As Brazil heads to elections on October 7, all eyes are on ultra-conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro – who brazenly rejects political correctness, defends Brazil’s authoritarian past and promises to upend the establishment – as the latest in a line of political strongmen turning citizen malaise into electoral success. Charismatic populist leaders present society as divided into two separate and homogeneous entities: the corrupt elite, and the pure people who the corrupt have oppressed. Proclaiming their direct link to the people (often enabled by social networks), they tend to eschew representative institutions and checks and balances. While left-wing populists take a class-based approach pitting working and middle-class people against a greedy economic elite, right-wing populists typically define the people as an exclusive group along ethnic, racial or national lines.

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My first Democracy Day as NDI president

On September 4, I became NDI's third president. I do so with humility, at a time when democracy around the world faces its most serious challenge in memory. While the United Nations' theme for this year's International Day of Democracy is "democracy under strain," let us honor the day not just by reflecting on challenges but also how far we’ve come.

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Citizen Centered: Designing technology solutions for democracy at NDI

It’s amazing what humanity can do with the right tools. If you’ve ever looked up the work of Marshall McLuhan, he talks about how even the basic things we create change our outlook on life, politics and society. He’s also often attributed to having said, "We shape our tools and, thereafter our tools shape us…". The light bulb, for example, changed what time of day we can commune with each other.

I have been developing and designing software for close to twenty years. Since joining NDI, I’ve been thinking about the tools we build and how those tools, in turn, shape the lives of beneficiaries around the world. Human-centered design is the process of designing technology with and around the humans who use it. This process is analogous to building a bridge to connect two worlds. Just like civil engineers, practitioners of human-centered design at NDI must connect technology to the needs of citizens.

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All for One: Building Information Integrity into Elections

Drawing by Jesper Frant

Elections are one of the most critical elements of any democratic system, but also one of the moments where democracy is most vulnerable. Politicians compete to take control of the executive, become representatives in legislatures and sometimes appoint judges across branches of government, and the information environment plays a crucial role in the debates that decide who will represent the will of the people. This environment is increasingly mediated by the internet, through social media platforms, messaging apps, email and a wealth of new tools and applications that come online every day. Unfortunately, this new online environment is also increasingly polluted by disinformation.

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A Once in a Generation Opportunity - LGBTI Rights in the Western Balkans and Turkey

Representatives from NDI staff and the NDI Equal Voices Advisory Council with the Equal Rights Association co-Executive Directors Dragana Todorović and Amarildo Fecanji.

 

“This is a once in a generation opportunity,” declared Dragana Todorović, Executive Director of the LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), during a recent meeting with NDI staff in Washington, DC. The “once in a generation opportunity” Dragana referenced alludes to a shared political entry point for most member groups: the chance to use the European Union (EU) integration process to advocate for greater LGBTI rights and inclusion at the national level. Leveraging this opportunity now could establish mechanisms and norms for LGBTI equality, such as national action plans – new or strengthened legislation and LGBTI CSO visibility in a mainstream political processes – that would have an enduring impact for years to come.

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To protect their democracy, Slovak youth gather in largest protests since the fall of communism

(Photo: Maros Kalina)

In recent weeks, Slovakia has experienced massive protests at a scale unseen since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The protests have been organized throughout the country by young people in their early 20s, many of whom haven’t been engaged politically before. In fact, many of the youth now protesting were born into democracy and barely remember the fight against the authoritarian regime of the late 90s, let alone life under the Soviet-aligned government that came before it. The protests we are currently witnessing, initially fueled by the unprecedented murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, have already resulted in the resignation of the minister of interior and, later, of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s cabinet. While the protests triggered the resignations, civic unrest toward Fico’s cabinet already existed due to accusations of corruption and alleged mafia ties to political elites. However, Slovaks are now demanding Za slusne Slovensko – “Decency in Slovakia” – which means politics clean of corruption, mafia connections and attacks on journalists.

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Best DemWorks Posts of 2017

In its third year, DemWorks has solidified itself as one of the premier blogs on democratic development around the world. The number of visitors to the blog has expanded rapidly, with nearly 40 percent of the blog’s 186,702 unique visitors coming in 2017 alone. Our subscriber list has ballooned to upwards of 3,000 democracy lovers who have been gracious enough to let us into their inboxes (we know it can be a crowded place). Here’s our list of the most-read blog posts and series from 2017.

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