New Challenges and Opportunities for Democracy in the Western Hemisphere

Election workers count votes during Chile’s 1988 plebiscite, which ended Pinochet’s dictatorship. Source: Flickr

When I started out as a junior State Department diplomat at the close of the Carter Administration in the dark days of the Cold War, the state of democracy in Latin America was abysmal. Military dictatorship was the norm throughout the region. During my early State Department years I worked to support, sustain, and contribute to the so-called third wave of democracy in the Americas that helped make the Latin America region, as the Economist recently said, “the most democratic region of the developing world,” behind only North America and Western Europe.

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Global Open Parliament Community Prepares for a Productive 2017

At the OGP Summit in Paris, NDI President Ken Wollack joins legislative and civil society leaders from Chile, Colombia, Estonia, Serbia, and South Africa to discuss the role of legislatures in OGP.  

Since its launch in 2011, many have urged the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to expand beyond narrow definitions of the term "government." Legislators, mayors, and others argued that OGP’s transformational potential was tied in part to its ability to accommodate different branches and levels of government -- not only the executive, as is the case in many member countries. A truly open government includes an accountable executive branch, trusted legislatures, and responsive governance at all levels. This was an ambitious vision, but many argued that OGP’s ability to deliver better democracy and better governance was tied to its continued growth and expansion. The OGP Summit in Paris, which took place last month and convened hundreds of open government champions and activists from around the world, clearly indicated that OGP is beginning to deliver on this ambitious agenda.

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First Action Plan for a Transparent Congress in Colombia

The president of the senate signs the first action plan for a transparent congress Credit: Press Office of the Honorable Senate of the Republic of Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. November 2016.

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On November 30 in Constitution Hall of the Honorable Congress of the Republic of Colombia, an important event took place for the country’s democracy, particularly its legislative institutions. Leaders from the Senate and Chamber of Representatives came together to publicly present the first Open Parliament Action Plan of the Colombian Congress, which lays a series of benchmarks toward making the congress more visible and accessible to citizens. Colombia’s Open Parliament Action Plan is notable regionally and internationally – it is the third such plan developed in Latin America and the sixth in the world.

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Guatemala’s Progress Toward Reform Still Faces Many Challenges

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.

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Let’s Speak the Same Language on Democracy and Peace

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.

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Global Legislative Openness Week Showcases Broad, Global Transparency Movement

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.

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Nepal Parliament Finance Committee Enhances Voice and Input of Citizens through Pre-Budget Discussions

NGO representatives brainstorm during a breakout session. 

For the first time in Nepal’s history, pre-budget discussions took place outside of the nation’s capital city of Kathmandu. Since 2014, Nepal's Legislature Parliament Finance Committee has worked with NDI to increase citizen participation, especially in the area of citizen input in the budget process through public consultations. NDI offered its support to the Finance Committee by organizing Committee-led pre-budget discussions throughout 2015 and 2016 to reach out to citizens in the hill, mountain and Tarai regions. The discussions fostered dialogue between Nepali citizens and the parliament, thus opening the decision-making processes to more people. Consultations equipped the Finance Committee with the information and confidence it needed to make improving the overall budget process a priority prior to the finalization of Nepal's new constitution.

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Nepal Civil Society Monitors Earthquake Reconstruction Process

A civil society monitor gathers the concerns of earthquake victims in a temporary shelter.

Ordinary citizens and civic organizations become tremendously more active in the community immediately after a tragedy hits their community. This was my experience with my community in Kosovo in the post-war reconstruction in the late 90’s and this has certainly been the case in Nepal after two mega earthquakes last year took close to 9,000 lives, injured more than 22,000 people and destroyed more than 600,000 homes. Nepalis in solidarity with their fellow citizens flocked to help with relief materials, building shelters and reinforcing other people’s homes. The spirit of the community was very high.

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Innovating in World Megacities: A Search for Stories

Living Cities and NDI have entered a partnership to find and share the stories of innovators in world megacities.

Every 20 years, the United Nations gathers to discuss the work of cities and renew political commitment to sustainable urbanization. In this year of the third Habitat conference, there is a vibrant global conversation happening around poverty reduction and a “new urban agenda.” Innovation will be a critical part of that conversation, as leaders and policymakers look for the new regulation, new office or new technology that could pick the lock on an intractable problem.

The ability to innovate is absolutely critical if cities are going to meet the ever-evolving challenges of the 21st century.

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Join NDI's Panels at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit

Every two years, the country chair of the Open Government Partnership hosts the OGP Global Summit, the largest gathering of open government practitioners from all over the world.

NDI will be joining leaders from NGOs, the private sector, academia, government, civil society, technologists, and other advocates at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit. The three-day conference, which will be held this week in Mexico City, will convene sessions on a variety of topics, including creating and implementing action plans, engagement with the legislative branch, civil society and parliamentary partnerships, standards and frameworks for parliamentary transparency, Latin America regional updates and efforts on openness, and open election data principles.

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