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Looking Ahead at Global Democracy in 2014

We have previously highlighted the Challenges to Democracy blog from Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and we wanted to share one of their latest pieces on the year ahead for democracy around the world. You can read the article below or find the original piece here

Ash logoLooking ahead, 2014 is going to be a big year for democracy. According to The Economist, around 40 countries representing over 40% of the world’s population, and more than 50% of global GDP, will participate in elections this year.

Yet the pervasive mood in countries facing impending elections as well as those embroiled in people-led protest movements is that of disillusionment with politicians and (sometimes) elections. The calls for political accountability are becoming ever more emphatic. And in many cases the disenchantment is accompanied by an extreme polarization in voters’ choices.

It is interesting then to note that while the American voter seems to share this sense of disillusionment with politicians, it is not accompanied by a similar polarization in terms of political choices. If at all, the American voter seems to be losing interest in classic party affiliations.

What does the average American think about US efforts to promote democracy abroad? A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that only 18% of those interviewed believe that democracy promotion is a key foreign policy objective. This wariness with democracy promotion as a tool of foreign policy can partially be explained with the failed experiments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prevailing conditions in the Middle East where many promising pro-democracy movements have disintegrated into chaos.

A key lesson is that any effort to promote or strengthen democracy without regard for political and cultural context is never a good idea. While increased participation, transparency and accountability remain goals worth pursuing, the practice of seeking to transplant Western-style democracy anywhere and everywhere is fraught with problems.

One aspect of this sort of ‘democratization’ is the creation of democratic institutions to replace existing well-functioning and popular traditional institutions. Replacing traditional institutions with propped-up institutions often leads to a diffusion of authority and accountability.

Lack of clarity in terms of roles and responsibilities perpetuates and even exacerbates the very corruption, inequity and injustice that democracy promotion programs intend to eradicate. Read more about an example from Afghanistan and another from Ghana, where consideration for context made all the difference.

Whether the efforts to strengthen democratic governance are endogenous or exogenous, it is important to remember that each case is distinct.  The year has barely begun and the news is full of the events in Ukraine, Thailand, Egypt and elsewhere. Contextual nuance will be the key to understanding the many democratic (and undemocratic) twists and turns countries over the world negotiate in the coming year.  2014 will indeed be a big year for democracy.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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