Representatives of six Tunisian election observation groups held a joint press conference on October 17 to deliver their assessments of the 2019 elections. From the start of voter registration in April to the conclusion of electoral appeals in November, the groups organized a coordinated effort of each phase of the electoral process.
As Tunisian citizens went to the polls to elect a new president last month, citizen observers were present in large numbers, including non-partisan observers, pollwatchers representing candidates, and international monitors like the delegation led by NDI and International Republican Institute. Since only two candidates were competing in the presidential run-off election, the total number of candidate agents declined significantly compared to the prior elections simply because there were fewer candidates contesting for positions. Misinformation began to spread that the elections were going unwatched, but non-partisan observers were out in numbers equivalent to the September 15 first-round presidential and October 6 legislative elections.
As Yemen’s tragic war – fueled by a regional rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side and Iran on the other – drags on, the antagonists in the conflict have been stubbornly resistant to the efforts of U.N. negotiators to broker compromise and unwilling to make the first major steps toward peace. Yet, there is a curious and slightly hopeful political soap opera playing out in plain sight. The internationally recognized government of Abd Rabo Mansur Hadi and the Houthi rebels (also known by their formal name, Ansar Allah) are pursuing separate but concurrent strategies to increase their international legitimacy by reinvigorating Yemen’s parliament. Ansar Allah has also released a groundbreaking policy document that may show signs of a new appreciation for democratic processes. By seeking to achieve a legal quorum in parliament and drafting a series of policy proposals that could be used by the public to hold their regime accountable, the Houthis are demonstrating a surprising affinity to some of the forms of democracy. Their commitment to the substance of democracy is yet to be proven.
Recent images of hundreds of thousands of citizens marching peacefullythrough Algerian streets demanding the resignation of their autocratic ruler offer an unmistakable and powerful analog to the 2011 Arab uprisings. The ailing and out-of-touch 82-year-old Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth presidential term in a country where 70 percent of the population is under age 30 brings to mind an oblivious Hosni Mubarak tragically misreading the seriousness of the first gatherings against him in Tahrir Square. Like Mubarak, who first tried to placate young Egyptians by promising to step down “later,” Bouteflika’s advisors beggar belief by claiming that their man—rarely seen in public over the past five years—will step down after he is “reelected” yet again.
Andi Parhamovich Fellow Alaa Hammouda giving her final presentation at NDI's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on "Strengthening Young Women's Civic Engagement in Gaza. Credit: Jesper Frant
An opportunity to travel from Palestine to the United States was almost an impossible dream for me. When I applied for the 2018 Andi Parhamovich Fellowship Award, I was not very optimistic that I would win. I said to myself, if NDI needs to choose one young woman leader from the whole world, they won’t pick someone from Gaza because they know that traveling out of the country is almost impossible for Gazans. So when I was selected as the recipient of the award, I felt that I was the luckiest woman this year. It was indeed a dream come true. I felt that I was finally breaking through the walls around me to see the world which I have always wished to see.
A young Lebanese activist participates in a discussion during the Youth Activism Academy
Youth in Lebanon have not had much opportunity to learn about democracy or how they can be involved in democratic governance. NDI conducted a survey in April 2017 suggesting nearly one-third of the electorate has never voted in parliamentary elections—not because they do not want to, but because parliamentary elections have not been held in the eight years since they became eligible to vote. Yet, despite the challenges they face, many young Lebanese men and women are highly motivated to act to improve their living conditions and basic rights.
Usharek+ participants in Jordan launch their advocacy campaign with the goal of improving traffic safety.
NDI’s new theory of change unifies important elements of youth political participation programs and depicts how they can interplay to change practices of youth participation. This theory, which I blogged about last month, was not merely academic exercise from the “ivory tower.” It draws on discussions with young politically active women and men across Africa and Latin America, collaborative discussions with democracy and governance practitioners from around the world, and deep reviews of effective youth programs NDI is conducting in Jordan and Kosovo. The Jordan and Kosovo programs show how the theory of change can play out in practice.
Ferdos Majeed voted in the Iraq parliamentary elections in 2005, her first time voting in a free and fair election.
Before 2003 Iraq was isolated from the world. The country possessed little knowledge of a democratic system, a functioning civil society, a multi-party political system or human rights, especially as they applied to women. As a lecturer at a large university in Iraq, I was speaking with young people every day who expressed their eagerness for freedom of speech. I kept hoping that we would have all of that one day, and I was looking to learn everything I could about democratic systems and human rights.
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.
Breakout group discusses the best way to approach their local municipality to address road repair.
In Lebanon, which is surrounded by countries in crisis, real power is held at the local level. The national government is trusted to protect borders and provide security, but it is the local municipality that largely provides basic services. Yet understanding how municipalities work is a challenge in Lebanon. Budgets are not made public and municipal websites are nonexistent, even in Beirut. Political parties hold power and corruption can be systemic. Youth in Lebanon do not have much opportunity in school to learn about democracy, the role of municipalities, or how they can be involved in governance. Determining how to have an impact can be difficult when the political system is so opaque. To help address this problem, NDI has been working for several years to empower youth and women to play a greater role in politics. The NDI team in Lebanon is working with local partners, such as NABAD, to provide basic training on how to impact political decisions at the municipal level. Hundreds of youth have already been trained and some have even run and been elected to office.