Photo: Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan leads “Take a Step, Reject Serzh” campaign. (Photo by Yerevantsi via Wikimedia)
By Aleksandra Zaytseva
A day before “Victory Day”, on May 8th, former newspaper editor, MP, and political prisoner, Nikol Pashinyan, was elected interim Prime Minister of Armenia, 59-to-42, in a historic exchange of power. This peaceful cessation of power by those who sought to keep it indefinitely, especially in a former Soviet republic, is undeniably an event to be celebrated. “Your victory is not that I was elected Prime Minister; your victory is that you decided who should be Prime Minister,” Pashinyan said. It is widely lauded as a new velvet revolution with many public figures sending public congratulations. Yet, many Eurasia watchers are uneasy.
By Yufei Zhang.
A Bill Facing Polarization
On December 5th, 2017, Taiwan’s legislature passed a bill of transitional justice, which is following a set of similar policies issued by the governing party—DPP. According to the law, a powerful committee, under the Premier, will be established to investigate thoroughly and, then, re-evaluate Taiwan’s authoritarian past, which covers the end of WWII to the early 1990s. The committee’s primary and controversial missions include opening private archives, re-naming hundreds of streets and institutions after authoritarian figures, and acquiring assets owned by the once-ruling party in the authoritarian period, which, nowadays, is the main opposition party—KMT.
Overall, 2017 was a poor year for safeguarding the rights of civil society organizations (CSOs). Several countries passed draconian legislation designed to attack and stifle civil society by delegitimizing CSOs.Restrictions on civil society, which represents the collective interests of citizens, ultimately leads to a poor enabling environment for citizen engagement, one where the linkages between civil society and the State are weak and provide little or no monitoring and advocacy functions.
In June, Hungary’s parliament passed a law that required organizations receiving more than 24,000 euros ($29,500) from foreign sources to disclose their funding sources or risk being shut down. Between March and July, Ukraine proposed a number of reforms, spearheaded by President Petro Poroshenko, demanding any organization with annual budgets over approximately $18,500 to disclose its funding sources online; the rationale for the reforms was “to ensure public transparency of the financing.” And in Egypt, President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi ratified legislation in May required pre-approval of donations above 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($550) to any non-governmental organization (NGO), and restricted donations related to “political activity.”
Photo: South African President Cyril Ramophosa (L) shakes former President Jacob Zuma’s (R) hand at a farewell reception for President Zuma. Photo credit: South African Government
By Kwadwo A. Boateng
Jacob Zuma’s presidency has ended, leaving behind a devastated economy. South Africans are eager to have a transparent government, and anti-corruption reform. The country now has a new president – Cyril Ramaphosa, who took office as interim president just six hours after a National Assembly vote saw Zuma resign under 783 counts of corruption. The country’s new leadership must adopt an effective policy of anti-corruption. Furthermore, it must pursue state-led reform, which starts with restraining executive control and empowering civil society, including black South Africans who face high levels of wealth inequality.
By Jennifer Raymond Dresden, Ph.D.
Today, Sierra Leoneans headed to the polls for the fifth time since the country returned to multiparty elections in the 1990s. The incumbent, Ernest Bai Koroma, of the All People’s Congress (APC) is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, so one way or another the country is about to get a new president.
By Aleksandra Zaytseva
On Monday, January 29th, two big announcements came out of Washington. First, the U.S. Treasury Department released a “name and shame” list of 210 Russian officials and business people, as had been mandated by a law passed earlier this year. Second, an official from the White House promptly announced that the administration would be throwing out this list, and that they would not be announcing any new sanctions. Instead, according to the White House, the threat of sanctions was already acting as a sufficient deterrent to potential customers of Russian trade. The announcements quickly provoked a mix of outrage and mockery from both Washington and Moscow, while the public was left perplexed as to the significance of these developments in light of the ongoing Russian investigations.
By Daniel Brumberg
Director, Democracy and Governance Studies, Georgetown University
On the afternoon of January 26, 2018 the Democracy and Governance Program at Georgetown University will host a special panel to celebrate what is for us a very special occasion: ten years as the only MA degree program in the US that focuses on democracy, human rights and governance. There is no doubt that the significance of our MA program has increased in direct proportion to the mounting challenges to democracies and democratization that have emerged in every corner of the globe – including the United States. Some of these challenges, as I discuss below, are relatively recent, such as the rising influence of “global autocracies.” Others, such as polarization of the US political arena, are not exactly new, as anyone who recalls the political and social conflicts that rocked in our country during the sixties and seventies. But in the context of growing authoritarian challenges abroad, intensified political conflict in the US is surely complicating the task of fostering democratic change abroad.
By Yufei Zhang
China’s New Ambition
In November 2017, a major mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party published an op-ed, inciting fierce debate about the political system in China. “China is the biggest and the most successful democracy in the world,” Han Zhen, the head of a top-ranked university in China, stated in that article. “China’s achievements have already broken up the prerogative interpretation of democracy by the West.”
For many people in the West, facts speak for themselves – China has been an authoritarian country for decades, without a single interval. However, this fait accompli turns out to be not so true for those in China, who have received a set of systematic propagandas since childhood. Over decades, the spin doctors in China have led an effort to have ordinary Chinese believe that the political system in China, modified by various prefixes like socialism or people’s republic, has been a “truly democratic one” from the beginning.
By Jennifer R. Dresden
It’s that time of year again and we here at the Democracy & Governance Program know how busy things can get in December. For those of you last-minute shoppers still unsure of what to get loved ones in the democracy and governance field for the holidays, we’ve got your back. For those of you just looking for a good, thoughtful read at the end of a hectic year, we’re here to help.
We are happy to present the first annual Democracy & Governance Recommended Books List, brought to you by the faculty, alumni, and Advisory Board of the Georgetown University Democracy & Governance Program.
By Allison Schlossberg
The outcome of the referendum in the United Kingdom in June 2016 sent shockwaves through the entire global community. Even though multiple world leaders like Barack Obama and Angela Merkel encouraged British voters to remain within the European Union, ultimately the majority of voters decided to leave the organization. I could not believe the results, and remember reading and watching the coverage extensively to understand the reasons why British citizens wanted to leave the EU. One of the most striking reports was that Google searches for “What is the EU?” skyrocketed after the results were finalized. I could not comprehend that citizens of a Western European, highly educated democracy were seemingly not aware of the impact of the EU in their country prior to Election Day.