Threats to Democracy

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Nigeria has been a sterling example of a country striving to consolidate democracy after years of military rule and mismanagement. President Obasanjo has gone to great lengths to nurture a fledgling democracy. Many applauded his tenacity as well as the activism of the Nigerian parliament. The perceived failure of democratically elected governments to deliver a better standard of living and greater human security is probably one of the greatest threats to democracy in Africa.

The clear lesson from Africa is that economic renewal and democratization must go hand in hand. There are African leaders who believe that economic development must precede democracy. For instance, Botswana and Mauritius have experienced the highest long-term growth rates, while also enjoying the longest period of democratic rule.

More recently, positive growth has returned to Benin, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa, where the resurgence of democracy has been the strongest. Those having the most difficulties during the s are not cases of failed democratization but failed governance.

The Global State of Democracy

The greatest hope for democracy in Africa is the resurgence of civil society, which has been at the forefront of the struggles to dislodge authoritarian regimes and install democratic ones. The NGO sector in many countries has grown with groups dedicated to the promotion of democracy and good governance. It is in states where civil society and an independent media are weak that we find the greatest challenges to genuine electoral competition and accountability. Such threats to democracy abound not only in Africa but around the world, it is the response to these threats that will determine the extent to which we are free to determine our own destinies.

As the primary instrument in its region for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe OSCE puts a great deal of emphasis on enhancing democracy from "Vancouver to Vladivostok. Canada has been a strong, long-time supporter of this facet of the OSCE's work, and has been well pleased by the contribution its efforts have made in enhancing European peace and security.

These values and traditions are reflected in the Harare Declaration of , in which member governments pledged their commitment to the protection and promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth, namely democracy including democratic processes and institutions, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government and human rights.

These are referred to as the Harare principles. In order to be a member in good standing of the Commonwealth, a country must now have a civilian, democratically elected government. The result was the Millbrook Action Programme, authorizing increased Commonwealth action to promote democracy, development and consensus building. The composition, terms of reference and operation of the Group are reviewed by the Heads of Government every two years. The fact that they are Foreign Ministers, rather than officials, means that they can take decisive action, while the small size of the group encourages a faster decision-making process.

CMAG uses a variety of carrots and sticks ranging from constructive dialogue to sanctions in order to encourage military regimes to return to the barracks and restore democracy as quickly as possible. The key to its effectiveness has been its flexibility. The Americas too have seen an extraordinary democratic revolution, a far cry from twenty years ago when there were only four democratic governments in South America.

Threats to Democracy Archives - WhoWhatWhy

The promotion of democracy was a fundamental consideration when Canada joined the OAS ten years ago and has been the abiding consideration in our relations with OAS member states. The OAS was the first international organization to expressly promote democracy. Canada has focused on developing the capacity of the organization to promote and serve democratic development.


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We have also strived to consolidate and strengthen the institutions that support political and human rights. Since its adoption at the OAS General Assembly, Resolution has been the principal inter-American mechanism for providing a collective response to a grave democratic crisis in a member state.

Threats to Democracy: Plenary Session IV

In essence, the resolution provides for a collective response to a crisis situation, such as a coup, but does not contemplate action in the face of other democratic irregularities. The mandate of the Ad Hoc meeting or special session of the General Assembly is to look into the events collectively and adopt appropriate decisions.

Resolution has been invoked four times: Haiti , Peru , Guatemala and Paraguay The Protocol of Washington, which amended the OAS Charter in , allowed for the de facto suspension from the OAS of a country whose democratically-elected government has been overthrown by force. This important mission is taking place this week. In Windsor, member states also adopted a resolution establishing a Special Fund for Strengthening Democracy to be used to respond to requests from member states requiring assistance when faced with threats to the democratic process.

Windsor also saw foreign ministers agree to "take ownership" of democracy and governance issues in the Summit of the Americas process. Canada has worked with La Francophonie to support democracy. The organization has developed mechanisms to foster and strengthen democracy and has undertaken several informal political initiatives to support democracy in some countries at risk.

At the Moncton Summit, the final declaration and the action plan both identified support to democracy and human rights as core goals. In practical terms, the work of La Francophonie has focused on electoral observation missions, technical assistance in areas related to institutional development and "good offices" missions mounted by the Secretary General to assist in political crises. More recently, as a result of discussions at Moncton, Foreign Ministers have agreed to hold a high-level symposium on democracy and human rights in Mali in November With respect to "crises of democracy", the practice has developed of the Secretary General lending his personal efforts or efforts of his representatives to resolve difficult situations.

These missions can have a variety of purposes, but they occasionally have included issues of democratic governance. The missions have tended to be diplomatic, private and facilitative in nature. Canada thinks that this is a very good beginning and we are confident that the organization will continue to play a meaningful role in the promotion of democracy in francophone nations. I think that we first have concluded that there is no single model for how to address threats to democracy.


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  7. For Canada, engaging global partners in democracy through multilateral institutions has been our preferred approach. The second conclusion is that each threat to democracy must be addressed in its own context. In many cases, the best approach is one of what we might call accompaniment.

    That is, we need to be supportive of local initiatives and ideas on how to strengthen democracy and send a message that external actors are there to support, and not necessarily to force change. Wherever possible, we should let local actors take the lead in resolving their own challenges. In other cases, however, particularly when there are violations of fundamental principles, we must be prepared to take stronger measures.

    This again argues against universal models, but instead supports the idea of taking a country-level approach to democracy strengthening. Third, our experience has shown that while in a few cases, threats to democracy can be resolved in short order, most of the time, we must travel a long road and have patience. As external supporters, we need to be ready to listen, enter into dialogue, and provide technical advice and assistance where needed, and be willing to do so over an extended period.

    Finally, we must always be careful that in our efforts to be creative and supportive, we do not compromise basic principles or offer bad advice, and keep our actions in-line with the promotion and protection of human rights consistent with international human rights law. Otherwise, we will not have democracy and we will have betrayed the people we are trying to help.


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    While the threats to democracy may seem great, we must never let them overwhelm us. As I stated earlier, the strength of democracy is in the struggle. It is a struggle to build the conditions in which democracy can grow and it is a continual struggle to maintain it where it is strong. With a full appreciation and understanding of what threatens democracy, let us continue the critical endeavour of strengthening it.

    Search this site powered by FreeFind. David Kilgour, M. Threats to Democracy If there is one overriding truth about democracy, it is that it is precious but vulnerable. Freedom and Responsibility The waves of democracy that swept through the past twenty years has been an extraordinary achievement. Education In order to be a responsible and disciplined democrat, one must first be knowledgeable and informed. Rule of Law Fundamental to a healthy democracy is a strong judiciary. Experience as Secretary of State I have witnessed the challenges of and opportunities for democracy in the Western Hemisphere and Africa.

    Africa Democracy has recently swept through Africa. OSCE As the primary instrument in its region for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe OSCE puts a great deal of emphasis on enhancing democracy from "Vancouver to Vladivostok.

    The Americas and the OAS The Americas too have seen an extraordinary democratic revolution, a far cry from twenty years ago when there were only four democratic governments in South America. La Francophonie Canada has worked with La Francophonie to support democracy. Since countries in the world are interdependent, population pressures have adverse consequences everywhere. Population pressures in the developing world are considered enhanced by the rapid growth of cities. Both the developed and the developing world face the problems of clogged highways, loss of wilderness, polluted lakes and streams, and stifling smog and acid rain conditions.

    The sociopolitical implications of demographic changes vary from country to country, but rapid growth and maldistribution of population strains existing political, social, and economic structures and relations between nations. Urban areas are the arena for clashes of cultures, competition for scarce housing and jobs, the breakdown of traditional family and social structures, and juxtapositions of extreme wealth next to extreme poverty.

    Prevention and Response

    The growth of independent nation states since the s has not allowed much time for development of effective political institutions. There are many obstacles to national unity and popular political participation. The potential for political instability is correlated with a number of factors: large youth populations in overcrowded cities with too high expectations and limited opportunities, diverse and intense ethnic and religious factors, and oppressive governments which violate human rights.