British aid ‘risks promoting US models of democracy’?


MDG : Dfid : Department for International Development LondonThe British Department for International Development‘s use of US groups to strengthen parliaments in developing countries risks using taxpayers’ money to promote “less accountable” political systems at the expense of those based on the Westminster model, The Guardian reports:

In a report published on Tuesday, the International Development Committee acknowledges that DfID is a major contributor to parliamentary strengthening – spending around £22.5m bilaterally last year – but urges it to ensure its long-term aid is being spent effectively by putting parliaments “at the heart of its governance work” and taking a more “hands-on approach” to the issue.

 While the UK does not “explicitly promote its national parliamentary traditions”, says the report, the situation is very different in the US, where USAid set up the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (Cepps) program to provide funding for US institutions to work together to promote democracy in its country programmes.

“The Cepps and National Endowment for Democracy programmes provide some US institutions with an advantage over UK institutions; they have been effectively subsidised by US taxpayers to become powerful institutions well-positioned to win DfID tenders,” says the report. “In contrast, Westminster institutions are largely unable to win bids for US money spent on promoting democracy since much of the money is reserved for core US institutions.”

Relationships between parliaments and the president or prime minister, government ministries, civil society groups and media can be as important for effectiveness of parliaments as the formal capacity and resources of the parliament itself, the report notes, citing a submission by the Carnegie Endowment’s Rachel Kleinfeld, which argued:

Donors should look for areas of interest where elements of society itself, or portions of parliament, are already organized and active. Highest priority should go to programs where there is both citizen demand and receptivity from some portion of parliament…. Where elements of the broader public are speaking on behalf of an issue, but there is a lack of parliamentary interest, it may be a good choice for allocating funds to both civil society and to parliament, in order to enable and encourage responsiveness to citizen demands. Funding to both sides is essential to ensure oversight from citizens, as well as enable parliament to act.


Rising risk of Burundi election violence, says rights groups and analysts

Jailed journalist Bob Rugurika

Jailed journalist Bob Rugurika

Burundi is facing a mounting risk of unrest ahead of key elections and African leaders should stop President Pierre Nkurunziza from running for a third term, rights groups warned Tuesday. Burundi, a small nation in central Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war and its political climate remains fractious ahead of the polls, Agence France Presse reports.

“The situation in Burundi is spiralling out of control, with hundreds of civilians killed or disappeared, due to the ongoing political impasse over moves by President Nkurunziza to run for a third term,” said a grouping of civil society organisations from across the continent, who signed under the banner “The AU We Want Coalition.”

“This elaborate scheme to alter his term limits is a raw power grab, similar to what was attempted in Burkina Faso, and Senegal years prior. It also is in direct contravention of the Arusha Peace Accords and contravenes the core principles of the newly ushered in African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG),” said Dismas Nkunda, a member of the coalition, which includes several partners of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Burundian soldiers shot dead 17 rebels at point-blank range after they surrendered in January, witnesses have told the BBC:

The rebels, with hands raised, were lined up on the edge of the cliff before being killed, one witness said. Burundi’s army denied the allegation, saying 95 rebels were killed in a five-day battle in the remote north-west. Low-level conflict has resurfaced in Burundi about a decade after a civil war which killed more than 300,000.

burundi mbonipaProminent Burundian rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa (right – who has been described as “Burundi’s Mandela) says he has been receiving “more and more detailed reports of executions, and burials of dozens of rebels in mass graves”.

It is increasingly likely that Nkurunziza will stand for re-election, despite intense local and international opposition, according to IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review:

Although the constitution may be open to interpretation, the president’s plans run against the letter and the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, which brought an end to Burundi’s long-running civil war and on which the constitution is based. In December 2014, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Russell Feingold, suggested that prolonging Nkurunziza’s stay in office could threaten the country’s stability and discourage new investment.

Leading opposition parties are likely to respond to Nkurunziza’s reported plans by boycotting the elections, with their supporters likely to take to the streets, raising the risk of collateral damage to commercial assets and death and injury risk to bystanders in urban areas over the next year. It is, however, highly unlikely that the protests will lead to Nkurunziza’s ousting due to the likely intervention of the security forces. Army chief of staff Gen Prime Niyongabo and the director-general of police, André Ndayambaje, issued a statement in December, warning the opposition against embarking on similar street protests to those witnessed in Burkina Faso in late 2014.

The risk of gun attacks by individuals or groups in rural areas on military targets, CNDD-FDD supporters, and government assets, such as local administrative buildings, will increase in the one-year outlook.

Burundian authorities arrested a prominent journalist on January 20, 2015, days after his radio station broadcast a series of investigative reports into the September 2014 murder of three elderly Italian nuns in the country, Human Rights Watch said:

The broadcasts included allegations about the involvement of senior intelligence officials in the attack on the convent. Burundian authorities have produced no evidence to justify the detention of the journalist, Bob Rugurika (above), director of Radio publique africaine (RPA), and should immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said. On January 22, 2015, Rugurika was detained in an isolation cell and denied visits.

“Rugurika’s arrest and prosecution appear to be an attempt to silence him and prevent his radio station from investigating and reporting on sensitive issues,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Burundi’s justice system shouldn’t be used to stifle media freedom.”

The European Union has set aside €8 million ($5.7 million) for the Burundi Independent National

Elections in context of political Islam and Russia’s crisis challenge Tajikistan stability

tajikistanAs Tajikistan approaches the March 1, 2015, parliamentary elections, it has to cope with critical challenges from political Islam and the economic consequences of Western sanctions against Russia. The parliamentary elections will pit the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan against its longstanding adversary, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), a moderate Islamic political party.  

After suffering protracted civil war in the 1990’s, the Tajik government and the IRPT signed a peace agreement – which made the IRPT the first and only Islamic party in Central Asia permitted to work lawfully and integrated into the political system. A few years later, however, a new crisis of confidence broke out, and the Tajik government has since sought to marginalize the IRPT. After the 2005 and 2010 elections, deemed not free or fair by the OSCE, the IRPT was allowed only two parliamentary seats despite its claims of winning a majority of the vote.  

Today, the Tajik government continues its effort to discredit the IRPT, portraying them to be as dangerous as the Taliban. Yet suppressing legal and moderate Islamic voices only fosters religious militancy, as more Tajiks join ISIS, and radical sentiments in the country increase.  

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy 

cordially invites you to a presentation entitled

 “Challenges to Stability in Tajikistan: Parliamentary Elections in the Context of Political Islam and Russia’s Economic Crisis” 

featuring tajik UmedBabakhanovUmed Babakhanov  (right)

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow 

with comments by

David Abramson

U.S. Department of State  


Miriam Lanskoy

National Endowment for Democracy

moderated by

Sally Blair

International Forum for Democratic Studies 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 3:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m. 1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Friday, February 6


Twitter: Follow @ThinkDemocracy and use #NEDEvents to join the conversation.

During his presentation, Umed Babakhanov will discuss the history of political Islam in Tajikistan and the impact of Western sanctions on Russia on stability in Tajikistan, including the implications of these trends for the 2015 elections. His presentation will be followed by comments from David Abramson and Miriam Lanskoy.

Umed Babakhanov is founder and editor-in-chief of Asia Plus (, a leading independent media outlet operating in Tajikistan since 1995. Under Babakhanov’s direction, Asia Plus has emerged as one of the most reliable sources of information in the region, committed to strengthening the independent media sector and promoting dialogue through a range of media, including a news agency, newspaper, FM radio, and a business magazine. In 2012, he launched “For a Tolerant Tajikistan,” an initiative that seeks to foster greater understanding between secular state institutions and the Muslim community through discussions on the role of Islam in society. In 2000, he founded an independent school of journalism and served for ten years as its first chairman. Over the past 25 years, he has been writing for Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Associated Press, the Moscow Times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Eurasianet, and other media, covering the civil war in Tajikistan and political developments in Central Asia. During his fellowship, Babakhanov is tracing the evolution of political Islam in Tajikistan and examining whether a legal Islamist party will improve the country’s stability or weaken its political foundations. David Abramson is a foreign affairs analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. Department of State. Miriam Lanskoy is the director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy.

How to save the new Ukraine

ukraine euA new Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power, note philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, and investor-philanthropist George Soros. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists, they write for The New York Times:

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

It is instructive to compare Ukraine today with Georgia in 2004. When he became president that year, Mikheil Saakashvili immediately replaced the hated traffic police and removed the roadblocks used to extort bribes from drivers. The public recognized straight away that things had changed for the better….., Mr. Saakashvili was a revolutionary leader who first stamped out corruption but eventually turned it into a state monopoly. By contrast, Ukraine is a participatory democracy that does not rely on a single leader but on checks and balances. Democracies move slowly, but that may prove an advantage in the long run.

“Unfortunately, just as democracies are slow to move, an association of democracies like the European Union is even slower. Mr. Putin is exploiting this,” they note.

Strategic Patience

ukraine euromaidan“Right now, yes, most European leaders do appreciate the scale of the problem [of Russia’s military build-up],” says Keir Giles, an expert at London’s Chatham House foreign policy think tank.

“European leaders come and go. And Russia benefits from a continuity of leadership and also from strategic patience, which none of its adversaries can match.”

A Ukrainian female army pilot may die in detention in Russia where she is on hunger-strike, her lawyer said on Monday, calling on President Vladimir Putin to release her, Reuters reports (HT: FPI).

What is at stake in Ukraine is the future of NATO and the stability and security of Europe, analyst Andrew Michta writes for The American Interest:

It’s true that since Ukraine is in Europe’s neighborhood the United States has the right to expect greater determination from Berlin, London, and Paris to stop Russia’s war. But it is only partially true. Ukraine is our common problem as an alliance. This is about the growing threat of a wider war in Europe. It’s time for Washington and its European allies to act accordingly.

What does future hold for Donbas?

This past weekend’s intensified fighting and shelling in southeastern Ukraine, from Donetsk to Mariupol, escalated the Ukraine crisis to a new level. As more people die, political negotiations and eventual diplomatic compromise look less and less likely. What, under these circumstances, does the future hold for Donbas? Carnegie Moscow Center asks:

Alexey Malashenko, Scholar in residence, Carnegie Moscow Center’s Religion, Society, and Security Program

The status of Donbas remains uncertain. Russia still insists that it is in favor of the region being part of Ukraine. However, Russian politicians and, of particular importance, President Vladimir Putin himself, already refer to Lugansk and Donetsk as republics rather than regions. In other words, their statements demonstrate that they effectively consider the regions to be state-like entities.

Still, it’s not viable for Russia to implement the Abkhazian scenario in Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR). …. Donbas is to remain an instrument of Russian politics for a long haul…..the defeats in Donbas might be used to expose Kyiv’s military and political weakness to Ukrainians and point to the fact that Ukraine has no allies in the West that are prepared to take extreme steps on its behalf. …

Balázs Jarábik, Visiting scholar, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment

Donbas is in a downward spiral. With Russia’s support, the conflict has been worsening: …. Kyiv have been able to mobilize their constituents using nationalistic wartime propaganda. Kyiv is caught between a rock (austerity/reforms) and a hard place (war), and will have a difficult time justifying social welfare cuts to the Ukrainian people and lack of reforms to the IMF. The recently introduced state of emergency in Donetsk and Lugansk regions taken together with the ongoing mobilization indicates that Kyiv has decided to take up the military challenge. The battle for Debaltsevo will be the first test of how solid—and efficient—its efforts are.

Andrei Kolesnikov Member of the board, Yegor Gaidar Foundation

It’s clear that Donbas has joined the ranks of the unrecognized republics like South Ossetia. Each case is different, of course, but the typology of such quasi-state formations is almost identical.

Donbas is headed for a protracted existence in the state of a “frozen conflict”….. RTWT

Ukraine’s struggle for democracy, independence, and territorial integrity has consequences for the whole world, The National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman writes:

And it’s why the US has a profound stake in its success. By standing with Ukraine, we are not merely supporting their struggle. We are also defending our own national security and advancing the values of human freedom that America, with all its troubles, continues to represent, he argues in World Affairs.

Rule of law – with Chinese characteristics

china rule of lawChinese authorities have detained former State Security Minister Zhou Yongkang on corruption charges and seized $14.5 billion in assets from the minister’s family and members of his inner circle, VOA reports.

“The Ministry of State Security, China’s internal intelligence agency, has been the recipient of huge amounts of money and political support,” said analyst Kerry Brown of the London-based Chatham House think tank. “The MSS, under the control of Zhou Yongkang, became a law unto itself. The MSS has had very little accountability.”

“As with other institutions affected by the anti-corruption purge,” Brown said, “the [leadership’s] strategy has been to take one or two individuals and to make an example of them. In this case, it has been Ma Jian…This is a sign that for the current anti-corruption campaign, no organization or entity is off bounds. The same goes for the military.”

The regime’s approach to rule of law illustrates that China’s elite wants democracy without the demos, says Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang talks to media in BeijingThe Chinese judicial system’s failure to release three high-profile key activists detained in recent months – public intellectual Guo Yushan, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (right), and legal activist Guo Feixiong – reflects progressively harsher suppression of civil society, says Human Rights Watch:

There is no publicly available credible evidence of illegal behavior in any of their cases, yet all three are likely to advance in the coming weeks as judicial personnel handle these cases with instructions from Communist Party authorities. Over the past decade, the three have been at the forefront of China’s human rights movement, pushing officials for greater adherence to the law and devising new methods to advance their cause:

Guo Yushan, 38, founded two influential organizations in Beijing: the legal aid NGO Gongmeng in 2004, and a public policy think tank, the Transition Institute, in 2007. ….;

Pu Zhiqiang, 50, forged a unique path as a lawyer defending many sensitive and prominent free speech cases, including that of Ai Weiwei…. and

Guo Feixiong, 48, is best known for his work in 2005 aiding villagers in Taishi, Guangdong province, as they sought to remove the allegedly corrupt village leader from office. …..

“Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the crackdown on dissent has netted some of China’s most respected critics known for their innovative activism developing the rule of law,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Prosecuting and imprisoning these well-established public figures indicates near-zero tolerance for independent activism.”

China analyst Nigel Inkster of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Xi’s corruption purge may be on shaky legal footing.

“So far things seem to be going Xi’s way,” he told VOA. “But he has gambled a lot on the success of this campaign which, however, suffers from the fact that it is not being pursued within a framework of rule of law…This may well be the hurdle at which it falls.”        

“The question remains to be whether Xi is taking a page from Chairman Mao,” said longtime political analyst Willy Lam with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, noting the three fallen leaders were all considered to be Xi’s political opponents. “Starting with Mao, corruption has been used to take down enemies of the more powerful faction,” he told CNN.

The Financial Times’ David Pilling and Julie Zhu report on arguments in Hong Kong over the term “rule of law.” Mainland officials such as ambassador Cui Tiankai have pushed an interpretation of the phrase which emphasizes public obedience, notes China Digital Times:

….as former Central Party School researcher Wang Guixiu told the South China Morning Post last year, “the public say it is about putting officials in check, while officials say it is about how to govern the public.” Prominent figures in Hong Kong’s legal community have recently urged its government to acknowledge its own obligations under rule of law as well as the public’s..[Source]

Read more from Stuart Lau at South China Morning Post.

At China Media Project, meanwhile, Qian Gang writes that an apparent “death sentence” on the phrase “judicial independence” presents “a worrying signal for rule of law” in China.