How to organize candidate debates

 

NDI

NDI

Bringing candidates together to discuss issues face to face with voters and each other has become a mainstay of the political landscape in many nations. Especially in new democracies, debates help voters make informed choices, hold candidates accountable for their election promises and reduce the potential for political violence. However, organizing a debate is a difficult task—challenges range from fundraising to convincing candidates to participate.

A new website created by National Democratic Institute and the U.S.-based Commission on Presidential Debates provides information to help sponsors organize all aspects of candidate debates, from selecting a format to set design to ethical guidelines, and more. Read more»

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Technology is connective, but is it democratizing?

Many commentators mistakenly interpreted the Arab Spring in 2011 as a harbinger of democratic movements everywhere, and now the pendulum of punditry seems to have swung hard in the opposite direction, says Sheldon Himmelfarb of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Contrary to this doom-saying, however, opportunities for citizen participation in political processes have never been greater, thanks to the ingenuity of a new generation of activists and technologists, he writes for Foreign Policy:

Three recent studies of “peacetech” tools have documented their use and promise, as well as their limitations. The first, “Citizen Participation and Technology,” released in May by the nonpartisan National Democratic Institute (NDI), reviewed nine international programs with which NDI collaborated in countries such as Uganda, Mexico, and Egypt. The programs attempted to leverage technology to improve citizens’ participation in politics.It found, broadly, that technology is expanding this participation and is changing the relationship citizens have with organizations and public institutions, even in places where these effects might not be obvious.

“According to New York University professor Clay Shirky, social media is a tool that strengthens the public sphere — and a robust and active public sphere is necessary to increase political freedoms around the world and to create political change,” Himmelfarbd notes:

larryDiamondLarry Diamond, a founder of the liberation-technology program at Stanford University, echoes this sentiment and points toward a highly controlled society — China, where citizens have used microblogging site Weibo to identify corrupt officials — to best understand this phenomenon…For experts like Diamond and Shirky, the Internet’s decentralized architecture, the spread of cell phones, and the sheer popularity of social-network applications have combined to produce a revolution in social activism. Others, however, have taken issue with this. Writer Malcolm Gladwell, for example, has argued in the New Yorker that a crucial distinction exists between traditional activism and its online variant. Social media, he says, is effective at building loosely affiliated networks, which are the opposite in structure and character of effective social-change movements of the past.

“It is too early to tell the outcomes of today’s violent conflicts that are spawning the chorus of calls for more inclusive governments,” he argues. “But this is certain: The public sphere is growing. And in a world where 3 billion people are expected to enter the global middle class over the next two decades and have greater access to technology in their daily lives, the power of technology-enabled citizen networks to pressure governments and large institutions to act is only going to grow — putting new potential to prevent wars and solve humanity’s most pressing problems within reach, if not in our grasp.”

RTWT

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Authoritarians shaping post-Ukraine world order – Ignatieff

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinRussia’s annexation of Crimea has shaken our assumptions about the global order that took shape after 1989, says a leading authority. The re-ordering underway is truly global, writes Harvard UniversityProfessor Michael Ignatieff:

In the East Asia, rival naval fleets are circling each other, Chinese oil platforms are drilling in disputed waters and belligerent accusations fly between Asian capitals. China no longer speaks the language of ‘quiet rise’. Ji Xinping’s muscular foreign policy is alarming Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the United States. 

We sense that these changes – in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia – are connected to each other. We sense that the tectonic plates are shifting. We question whether anyone in Washington, London, Moscow or Beijing truly grasps what is going on. So this is a good moment to consider what narratives are available to us to make sense of what is happening.

Francis Fukuyama was right to tell us that the history-defining contest between capitalism and communism was over in 1989, Ignatieff said, delivering this summer’s Ditchley Foundation annual lecture:

wenty five years on, however, from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan border, a new political competitor to liberal democracy has taken shape that Fukuyama did not anticipate: authoritarian in political form, capitalist in economics and nationalist in ideology.

Lawrence Summers has called this new form ‘mercantilist authoritarianism’ which certainly captures the central role that the state and state enterprises play in the Russian and Chinese economies. [1] Mercantilism, however, misses the crude element of cronyism that is central to Putin’s economic model and to the Communist Party of China as well. 

There are of course significant differences between the Chinese and Russian variants of authoritarian capitalism. In the Chinese model, the party retains its monopoly role, and while there are managed elections at the village level, no pretense is offered that the system is democratic. Russia pretends to be democratic: there are formal constitutional guarantees and elections, but no one doubts that ultimate control rests with the Soviet nomenklatura and the secret police.

In the medium term, what unites them, of course, is a shared hostility to what John Ikenberry has called ‘the liberal leviathan’, the United States and its global web of encircling alliances. So far, the two authoritarians have few friends, but their model is attractive. For corrupt elites in Africa and Latin America, China and Russia offer a model that allows them to continue extractive development.

Unique combination

“This unique combination of private liberty and public despotism separates the new authoritarianism from its Soviet and Maoist past and probably guarantees the long-term stability of both regimes,” Ignatieff contends:

To be sure, this new form of rule has little outward ideological appeal. Europe and the United States continue to attract immigrants from all corners of the globe, drawn by a freedom that is both private and public. No one is migrating to Russia – or China for that matter. They are out-migration countries. But the fact that their authoritarian capitalism does not appeal to outsiders does not mean it lacks internal legitimacy or support.….

The authoritarian apologetics of both Russia and China may not be appealing, but they are not ideologically aggressive. They make a national claim to legitimacy, not a universal one. Chinese rulers may believe in China’s civilizational superiority, but they have not embarked upon a civilizing mission for the whole world. Mao may have encouraged Maoists from Peru to Paris, but the current regime has no such ambitions. It may want global power but it does not seek global hegemony. The same is true of Russia. Unlike Stalin, Putin will never claim that his country is the universal home of all those seeking emancipation from the capitalist yoke.

“In the absence of a universalizing ideology, therefore, the new authoritarian states may be aggressive and nationalist in rhetoric, but they are unlikely to be expansionist,” he suggests.

Two over-riding questions

There are two over-riding questions that arise with the emergence of authoritarian capitalism as the chief strategic and ideological competitor to liberal democracy. The first is: are they stable? The second is: are they aggressive? Igantieff adds:

Authoritarian societies have powerful advantages over democratic ones. They can make decisions more rapidly, marshal resources of labor and capital by executive decision while democratic societies must first overcome the veto points in their own systems. Since authoritarian societies suppress dissent and plural opinion, they can also channel nationalist emotions into powerful justification for overseas adventurism, especially intervening to protect co-nationals in neighboring countries. China’s Asian neighbors must be wondering when the regime starts using ‘the protection’ of the Chinese as a justification for meddling in their internal affairs.

Authoritarian oligarchies, however, are also brittle. Their rulers believe they must control everything or soon they will control nothing.  Their chief dilemma is how to manage the political aspirations unleashed by their own rapid growth. Under Stalin and Mao, rising aspirations for voice could be crushed by force. Under the new authoritarianism, some private freedom has to be allowed since it is the condition of capitalist progress itself.

“China’s new assertiveness in Asia is driven by many factors – including the need to find energy supplies in the seas off its shores – but also by a desire to rally its rising middle classes around an assertive vision of what Xi Jinping calls the ‘China Dream”, in which China becomes a global power, not just a regional hegemon,” Ignatieff argues:

In the Russian case, the strategic dilemmas are similar: legitimizing extractive rule to a brittle and discontented middle class at home while meeting the challenge of American alliance encirclement on its frontiers. Putin’s response to these challenges has been similar to China’s but has to take into account a weaker economic position.

We should, however, beware of exaggerating these weaknesses. The conventional view about Putin’s regime is that he is perched atop a society in demographic and economic decline, with decaying infrastructure and weak health care and social protection. This is wishful thinking, a false narrative that continues, in essence, the Cold War view that the Soviet Union was “Upper Volta with rockets.”  On the contrary, Russia’s natural resource wealth gives it a certain source of state revenue throughout the 21st century, while its limited regime of private freedom creates a safety valve that allows the regime to contain democratic discontent. For millions of Russians, the freedom to travel, to emigrate, to save and invest more than compensate for the occasional brutality the regime displays towards the brave minority who continue to demand an end to authoritarian rule.  

RTWT

Michael Ignatieff is a Canadian writer, teacher and former politician. He holds a doctorate in history from Harvard University and has held academic posts at King’s College, Cambridge and at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  He served in the Parliament of Canada and was Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. His books include The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Blood and Belonging (1993), The Warrior’s Honour (1997) Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004) and Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013). 

He is the Centennial Chair at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York and the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Practice of Politics and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


 

[1] Lawrence Summers   Financial Times, July 8, 2014

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Gaza public rejects Hamas, seeks unity govt, poll finds

Gazahamas-pollIs Hamas the true voice of the Palestinian people and do Gazans have the same zeal for the struggle as the organization that claims to be carrying it out on their behalf? The National Post’s Joe O’Connor asks:

This question was asked in a poll conducted by a “highly respected” Palestinian pollster for David Pollock, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The results, released last month, found the average Palestinian wanted peace, along with an end to government corruption, crime and the terrorist group’s influence on daily life. But, most of all, he wanted a steady job — in Israel — not a fresh round of Hamas rocket fire, followed by Israeli retaliation.

“I was quite surprised by the findings,” Dr. Pollock said.

Seventy percent of the 450 respondents agreed Hamas should “maintain a cease-fire.” More than 70% said non-violent resistance had a “positive impact” and wished Israel would open up its borders so they could go there to work.

“It is counterintuitive, at first glance,” Dr. Pollock said. “But, if you think about the results of the poll, on reflection, they make perfect sense.

“These are people who have lived under Hamas rule for the last seven years and they don’t like it. [G]iven the nature of the economic problems in Gaza, the corruption, the repressive nature of Hamas rule and, on top of that, of civilians being subjected to danger because they are caught in the middle of Hamas launching rockets and Israel retaliating, you put all that together and it makes perfect sense why Hamas is so unpopular in Gaza.”

57.3% support a national unity government which renounced violence and recognized Israel.  

The poll also demonstrates that Gazans are unhappy with Hamas governance — on multiple levels, WINEP adds:

A large majority (71 percent) considered crime to be a “significant” problem. Two-thirds said that another significant problem was official corruption. Moreover, a large majority (78 percent) found the “presence of Palestinian militias that are not organized under the formal security structure” to be at least a “moderate” problem.

In light of this dissatisfaction with Hamas security forces and administration, most respondents favored the prospect of the PA taking over Gaza. A remarkable 88 percent agreed with the statement “The PA should send officials and security officers to Gaza to take over administration there” — including two-thirds who “strongly” agreed.

RTWT

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Russia, MH17 and the West: A web of lies

russiaputinterrorIN 1991, when Soviet Communism collapsed, it seemed as if the Russian people might at last have the chance to become citizens of a normal Western democracy. Vladimir Putin’s disastrous contribution to Russia’s history has been to set his country on a different path. And yet many around the world, through self-interest or self-deception, have been unwilling to see Mr Putin as he really is, says The Economist:

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the killing of 298 innocent people and the desecration of their bodies in the sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine, is above all a tragedy of lives cut short and of those left behind to mourn. But it is also a measure of the harm Mr Putin has done. Under him Russia has again become a place in which truth and falsehood are no longer distinct and facts are put into the service of the government. Mr Putin sets himself up as a patriot, but he is a threat—to international norms, to his neighbours and to the Russians themselves, who are intoxicated by his hysterical brand of anti-Western propaganda.

Since the murders of the passengers of MH17 the responses of the Western democracies has been limp, it adds:

Enough. The West should face the uncomfortable truth that Mr Putin’s Russia is fundamentally antagonistic. Bridge-building and resets will not persuade him to behave as a normal leader. The West should impose tough sanctions now, pursue his corrupt friends and throw him out of every international talking shop that relies on telling the truth. Anything else is appeasement—and an insult to the innocents on MH17.

RTWT

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