From Election Observation to Government Oversight: What’s Next for Guatemala?

A young Guatemalan woman participates in an activity organized by civil society to reflect on the political crisis and future priorities. Credit: Pamela Saravia

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As this blog series has highlighted, the 2015 Guatemalan elections were unique in many regards. Citizen protests resulted in the resignation and arrest of the president and vice president on corruption charges. Voter turnout was the highest since the return to democracy in Guatemala. The presumptive winner, the runner-up in elections four years earlier who was leading in the polls, failed to make it to the second round. And electoral violence was lower than expected and lower than during recent electoral processes. The question then becomes, what’s next for Guatemala?

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The Role of Citizens in Democracy

Having just voted for the presidential elections in July 2014, voters in Jakarta’s Senin district show their inked fingers. Photo by Telibert Laoc

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Sovereignty resides in and flows from the people of a country. They have a collective right to choose their governmental, political and electoral systems as an aspect of self-determination. The authority of government derives from the will of the people in their choice of these systems, and the people have a right to take part in their government – including through genuine elections to determine who is to legitimately occupy governmental offices.

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Not Just Observation, Guatemala Election Monitoring Opens Doors to Dialogue and Civic Education

Milvia Roxana Lopez (third from left) speaks during a training for citizen election observers in Guatemala. “Self-confidence was key,” she said, referring to her ability to break through gender-based stereotypes as an election observer documenting incidents of violence and educating voters during last year’s historic elections.

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At 25 years old, Milvia Roxana López, an indigenous woman, may be diminutive in size but she exudes a confidence that demands she be heard. As an observer who monitored electoral violence, Milvia met with leaders from her town and surrounding communities to document acts of electoral violence -- not an easy topic to broach in country that has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. “For me, self-confidence was key,” declared Milvia, referring to her role as an election observer. “To many people, it’s not the same when a woman says something as when a man says something. I don’t know where I got the strength, but I did it.”

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Welcome to Voices from Guatemala

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Since the Guatemalan elections concluded in October 2015, NDI has held conversations with local partner organizations and election observers to better understand their experiences, as well as their hopes for their communities and the country. In order to highlight their voices, we will post a series of blogs documenting stories of inclusion and change -- the people behind the headlines working to build a strong democracy in Guatemala.

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Venezuela, Burma, Burkina Faso: Connect the Democratic Dots…

A Burmese anti-government protest in front of the Petronas Twin Towers. Photo credit: Off2riorob CC BY

In the four weeks between November 8 and December 6, 2015, the peoples of Myanmar (Burma), Burkina Faso and Venezuela delivered surprises: resounding defeats to military rule, strongman domination and populist authoritarianism. These bright spots are the consequence of perseverance by democratic activists in the face of repression. They also highlight the importance of elections as a peaceful means for people to bring about change.

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Burkina Faso: the Day After Presidential Elections

A voter in Burkina Faso displays his ID card. Many observers have described the recent election as ‟the freest and fairest" in the country’s history.

In the past week, the people of Burkina Faso again surprised many Africa watchers – the third time in 15 months – by holding what many observers have described as ‟the freest and fairest" elections in the country’s history.

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The Road Forward: Tunisia Provides an Example for Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

Tunisian citizens protest the rise of the destabilizing trend of regionalism

Nearly five years after protests against former authoritarian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali began in December 2010, Tunisia has adopted a modern constitution and, for the first time, democratically elected a new legislature and president. Tunisia has been lauded as an inspirational -- though not untroubled -- democracy within the Middle East and North Africa region. To ensure the current security concerns and economic difficulties do not encourage undemocratic intervention in the process, it is important that the U.S. government and international community continue to support the new Tunisian government as it makes difficult choices.

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Transparency Could Ease Decades-Long Democratic Erosion in Nicaragua

Poll monitors oversee the 2006 Nicaraguan elections.

Advances and reversals generally mark the trajectory of democratic development. But in the political history of Nicaragua over the last decade, there have been only reversals with next year’s elections likely to see the continued erosion of Nicaraguan democracy and consolidation of power by President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional - FSLN). But there are voices advocating for greater pluralism. Opposition political parties are small but vocal, and different elements of civil society have advocated for democratic reforms. While their efforts have not yet yielded results, the Nicaraguan government still has the opportunity to move toward greater transparency in the polls before next year's presidential elections.

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Initiative Aims to Ensure Citizen Groups have Access to Election Data

NDI is excited to announce the launch of the Open Election Data Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that citizen groups have access to election data that can give a true picture of an election process, including how candidates are certified, how and which voters are registered, what happens on election day, whether results are accurate and how complaints are resolved.

The Open Election Data Initiative, openelectiondata.net, adapts open data principles that are designed to enhance government transparency in other areas, such as service delivery, to elections. The initiative encourages governments to be more accountable and citizens to take a more active participatory role. While primarily geared toward civil society -- including election monitoring organizations, many of which are partners of NDI -- the initiative can also inform the efforts of political parties, election management bodies and other actors concerned with electoral integrity.

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