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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Taking the Road Less Traveled: NDI’s Conflict Transformation Program in Kosovo

The emerging leaders group 'Diverse Your-Selfie' used this symbol of a hat to promote diversity by taking selfies and posting them to social media networks.

NDI Kosovo recently concluded a more than two-year long program on Conflict Mitigation, aiming -- through its own activities and with the support of its partners -- to cultivate relationships across the country’s divisions, thus easing ethnic tensions in Kosovo. Through the program, more than 600 Kosovars engaged in diverse dynamics across ethnic lines, overcoming their possible post-war fears, prejudices and mistrust, thus establishing rewarding collaboration.

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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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Supporting Political Processes to Transition Out of Conflict

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.

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Three Lessons Côte d’Ivoire Can Teach Us About Peaceful Elections

“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.

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Building Bridges in Communities with Intergroup Tensions

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.

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Promoting Democratic Governance of the Security Sector

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.

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Supporting Democracies that are Resilient to Violent Conflict

NDI marks International Day of Peace by launching a blog series on supporting democratic resilience to violent conflict. Pictured above, Zambian youth leaders meet with Martin Luther King III at an NDI-sponsored event to provide young leaders with anti-violence training and a platform on which to speak out against electoral violence. 

A key goal of democratization is peaceful politics. Political battles may be inevitable, but in stable democracies they are not waged by armed groups, but through institutions such as elections, parliaments, the media, and civil society organizations. Through its focus on peace, security, and democratic resilience, NDI helps democratic actors recover from violent conflict and manage the myriad of shocks and stressors that threaten to tip fragile democracies into violence. This blog post is the first in a series marking the International Day of Peace on September 21 that will highlight NDI’s approaches to supporting resilient democracies.

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