Islamists ‘the biggest losers’ in Jordan poll

Preliminary results in Jordan‘s parliamentary elections indicate a sweeping victory for the ruling monarchy in a poll shunned by the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing.

“Jordan succeeded in passing the test of an electoral process that many doubted it could pass,” said analyst Daoud Kuttab.

“The biggest winner in the Jordanian legislative elections was the state. It bargained on the public and the international community ignoring the absence of the Islamists in the elections,” he said.

“Conversely, the Islamic Action Front and some of the small secular parties that joined the boycotters are the biggest losers.”

According to Al-Jazeera, King Abdullah II, whose throne is not seriously thought to be under threat, had touted Wednesday’s election as a focal point for his reforms, which he said should pave the way for parliamentary government.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) put the final turnout at 56.6 percent of the registered electorate of 2.3mn, but the Brotherhood disputed this figure, saying there had been widespread fraud and vote-buying.

“Analysts had expected a strong showing by traditional fixtures of a political system that is dominated by the king and the royal court,” Suuha Philip Ma’ayeh reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Those representatives tend to gather support from family or corporate loyalty, rather than political positions. “The elections did not bring about politicians. We have a parliament without any platforms,” said Oraib Rintawi, director of Al Quds Centre.

The regime could face a challenge to ensure the legitimacy of a parliament against the lack of consensus on the election law, some analysts said.

Two democracy assistance groups that observed the poll said that local affinities were hindering prospects for developing truly national politicians, challenging King Abdullah II’s plans for parliamentary government, AFP reports:

“The unequal size of districts and an electoral system that amplifies family, tribal and national cleavages limit the development of a truly national legislative body and challenge the king’s stated aim of encouraging ‘full parliamentary government’,” said the National Democratic Institute:

In particular, the “elections are a series of profoundly local contests where candidates are elected as service providers and representatives of parochial interests, rather than national legislators able to hold the executive branch to account or propose laws,” NDI said.

The king will need to work to “unite individuals and groups in pursuit of national policies and agendas and encourage the formation of like-minded coalitions,” if he is to involve parliament in naming a prime minister.

The International Republican Institute called Wednesday’s election “an important step toward building voters’ trust in election administration.”

But it noted that “the electoral framework continues to fall short,” saying “tribal allegiances continue to be the major factor in candidate selection and campaigning, with personality trumping platforms.”

The poll was a “dividing line,” said Jordan expert Sean Yom, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“If various opposition forces do not see the elections as credible, and the monarchy still insists on forming a parliament and a government after the elections, that’s when I think you will see a real sign of instability and a movement towards political disorder in Jordan,” he told the BBC.

Nabil al-Sharif, a political columnist for the Jordan Times and a former minister of media affairs, saw the elections as “a big step forward”.

“It doesn’t mean that we have reached the epitome of what we want, but we are headed in the right direction and we are achieving results,” Sharif told Al Jazeera. “Even the king said recently that the monarchy that his son will inherit will not be the same monarchy that the king has now.”

“The fact that the results of the Arab Spring did not bring out rosy results in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, has helped people in Jordan to say that maybe it’s better to maintain what we have and not rock the boat too much, because the alternative is not very exciting,” Sharif said. “Even the major political parties in Jordan, all of them have been calling for reform inside the regime – even the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The possibility of radical or violent change acted as a moderating force, say observers.

“We are worried. We can help Jordan not go the same way as Syria and Egypt,” lawyer Khalid Hammad told The New York Times:

In all, 1,425 candidates were running for 150 seats, up from 120, in the lower house — an election law modification that was intended to quiet complaints about a system that rewarded local power brokers. They were often members of powerful tribes rather than national parties. But the Brotherhood and other opposition groups complained that the new law did not go far enough.

“The government passed the test of voter turnout and managed to convince people the elections were free and fair. But it will face a difficult task in trying to persuade people that the next parliament is legitimate,” contended Basil Akour, owner and editor in chief of Jo24, a Jordanian website. “Parliament has the same faces, most of whom are loyal to the regime.”

The voting process deteriorated towards the close of polling, which may have affected the final results in some districts, said the Integrity Coalition for Election Observation, a consortium of 50 nongovernmental groups.

While the electoral process was generally “well managed from a procedural perspective,” the group said, “serious problems remain with the legal framework and aspects of its implementation.”

“Whilst observers were overall able to follow the polling process, the coalition regrets that the majority of polling official refused to give information on voter participation figures, raising further concerns,” it said in a statement.

The key issues in the election were fighting corruption and favoritism, said opposition lawyer Muhammed al-Bourini, but he opposed the Islamists’ election boycott and charged the IAF with hypocrisy:

“They are trying to prevent people from participating in the election,” he said, in order to weaken the legitimacy of the government. “They want to show to the whole world that the system [in Jordan] is illegitimate.”

“They pretend to reject the electoral law despite the fact that they contested elections [in 2007] … under a worse law than the one today”.

The establishment was also able to mobilize the traditionally pro-monarchy tribes in order to boost electoral turnout.

“If it had not been for tribal affiliations, no one would have come,” said Ahmad Salman. “The absence of the biggest and most effective party has cost the election a lot of legitimacy.”

The tribal establishment is keen to maintain its access to power and patronage, Reuters reports, drawing resentment from the urban poor and the middle classes of Palestinian origin, frozen out of the top army, security and government jobs.

It has stymied free market reforms designed to cut back welfare and a bureaucracy dominated by native Jordanians, who form the backbone of support for the monarch.

A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said Jordan’s “bloated civil service and military patronage system” soaked up 83 percent of Jordan’s 2010 budget.

“Although the changes in the election system were touted by the Jordanian government as major progress toward democratic reform, some factions within the country feel the new law is not a step forward,” said the Project for Middle East Democracy:

Critics argue that the small number of seats filled through the party list does not allow for organized parties to gain significant power and instead creates disincentives for party organization. In a pre-election assessment, the National Democratic Institute also expressed concern that the heavily gerrymandered districts gave disproportionately high weight to rural districts, placing urban and Palestinian-origin populations at a disadvantage. 

The Islamic Action Front said the vote justified its decision to boycott the poll.

“They are a sham, from the election law to voter turnout and results,” said Murad Adayleh, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”We will continue with our protests until our demands are heard.”

But some analysts believe the Brotherhood made a strategic miscalculation.

“By calling for a boycott without being able to make it the main story of the elections, the Islamists overreached and failed,” writes Kuttab (right), the director general of the Community Media Network NGO that runs the news web site, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Nevertheless, “having won the current round with the Islamists should not give the other political actors an exaggerated sense of power and strength,” he cautions:

The most important goal in the coming months or years will be to heal the divide that exists in the country, even if that may have been overlooked in the existing Elections Law…..Similarly, the Islamists must recognize that they have overreached with their demands and show willingness to reach compromises that will allow for the nation to heal the political wounds of the last two years. Those looking for signs of national unity will be looking at what the 17th Parliament in Jordan will do about the Elections Law and any constitutional changes that might be necessary to produce the desired results.

To some Jordanians, Abdullah’s reluctance to cede key powers poses the greatest obstacle to efforts to bring about the kind of democratic changes that have swept the region,” writes The Washington Post’s Taylor Luck:

“How can we ever change the status quo when we are constantly electing a parliament that has no power, no authority and no legitimacy?” said Ahmed Majali, a resident of the city of Karak who serves as a campaign adviser to his cousin.

The elections even drew criticism from Bedouins, a longtime pillar of the regime traditionally viewed as resistant to change, with many voicing disenchantment with a political system that encourages citizens to vote along regional rather than ideological lines.

“All Jordanians want real, experienced parliamentarians who can tackle corruption and stand up to executive authority and actually craft laws,” said Mamdouh al-Jazi, a candidate from the influential Hweitat Bedouin tribe. “But decision-makers are preventing us from moving forward.”

Some observers have suggested that Jordan’s could be the first monarchy to fall to the popular unrest of the Arab Spring.

But the region’s monarchies have fared better than their republican counterparts in withstanding democratic demands, says analyst Mokhtar Benabdallaoui. They have done so in large part through a blend of institutional flexibility and political dexterity that enables monarchs to enjoy power without responsibility while deflecting pressure onto intermediate institutions that have responsibility without power.

“Despite a promise of rapid reform in early 2011 and subsequent tinkering of the legislative system, the King [Abdullah] has nonetheless resisted meaningful change that would loosen his absolute hold on power,” according to a recent report from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The Project for Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. The National Democratic Institute is one of the NED’s core institutes.

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US foreign assistance – ‘coping with uncertainty’

What is the likely impact of the current budget negotiations on US government funding for International Affairs? In the latest installment of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s must-read Budget Watch, Tod Preston, the group’s Government Relations Director, outlines four scenarios of how developments might unfold. Sequestration would be the worst outcome for International Affairs and discretionary spending.

Scenario #1: Current FY13 Continuing Resolution is Extended

Under this scenario, the FY13 appropriations for International Affairs would total $54.7 billion — $43.5 billion in the “base” and another $11.2 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, a category that is not subject to the spending caps. This amount for International Affairs would be slightly less than the temporary CR and FY12 levels (1% and 0.4%, respectively)…..

The wild card for this scenario is that an extension of a full-year CR is expected to include a number of alterations (referred to as “anomalies”) to the current formula and will, therefore, change somewhat from these projections.

Scenario #2: Congress enacts FY13 Omnibus

…..If Congress enacted an omnibus appropriation, the overall package would be cut by $4 billion – divided evenly between security and non-security programs – due to reductions made to the FY13 discretionary spending cap in the recent “mini deal.”  Once again under this scenario, the International Affairs Budget would be considered part of the “security” cap.  Assuming that the omnibus generally tracked what Appropriators agreed to in December, this scenario would result in a 0.3% reduction for International Affairs from FY13 levels used by appropriators last year….

Scenario #3: Sequestration

In scenario #3, the International Affairs Budget would in reality be part of the non-defense category because the definition of “security” spending is amended and limited to Defense programs only.  If sequestration becomes a reality, it appears to be the worst outcome for International Affairs, as well as for all discretionary spending.  Without a comprehensive deficit reduction plan in place on March 1, OMB will enforce an across-the-board of roughly 7% (or perhaps less) for all non-defense appropriation accounts.  Under the sequestration process, Defense spending absorbs half of the necessary cuts, with all other spending programs, including International Affairs taking the other half.  ……If sequestration is applied as illustrated above, International Affairs would fall nearly $3 billion (6.4%) below FY12 levels and $3.1 billion (7%) below the current CR.  It would be by far the low water mark of any previously recommended amounts for base International Affairs levels in FY13 and a full $10.7 billion (20.7%) less than the $51.5 billion base FY10 International Affairs Budget.

Scenario #4: Grand Bargain Reached

A final scenario is that Congress and the President resolve their big differences over revenue increases, cuts to entitlements and discretionary spending, and how to raise the debt ceiling.  Coupled with this could be the cancellation of sequestration, significantly revised spending caps over the next decade, and a new framework for FY13 appropriations.  While this scenario is highly unlikely, there is no way to tell what this might mean for the International Affairs Budget.  With a grand bargain, however, it is hard to imagine a scenario without additional discretionary spending cuts across all accounts.

How are agencies coping with the uncertainty? the USGLC asks:

Program managers at all U.S. foreign affairs agencies are taking precautions to allow for adjustments when final decisions are reached.  In some cases, where International Affairs accounts have multi-year spending authority – Embassy Security, National Endowment for Democracy, USAID Development Assistance, Global Health, and Economic Support Fund, to name a few – the challenges are less.  Limited amounts of funds are being obligated at this point, but when lawmakers settle on final appropriations, program managers will have until September 30, 2014 or beyond to make allocations and obligate funds.

The greatest concern rests with International Affairs accounts in three other areas: operating expense accounts for the State Department and USAID, humanitarian assistance and those with single year authority to obligate (such as Foreign Military Financing and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, and De-mining).  Humanitarian programs probably face the most uncertainty, not only from over their final funding levels but also the demands that will arise in the coming months, such as the ongoing crisis in Syria and the growing concern in Mali.

How will sequestration work?

If OMB orders sequestration, it will apply the cuts to each “Program, Project, and Activity,” (PPA) an arcane budgetary term with different definitions for each appropriations bill.  While foreign affairs agency budget managers are still considering how the sequestration cuts will be applied, it appears there will likely be ….. Read the rest.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) is a broad-based influential network of 400 businesses and NGOs; national security and foreign policy experts; and business, faith-based, academic and community leaders in all 50 states who support a smart power approach of elevating diplomacy and development alongside defense in order to build a better, safer world.

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Chinese dissident Gao Zhisheng seen by family

“Family members of one of China’s most prominent dissidents visited him in a prison in the western region of Xinjiang this month,” The New York Times reports:

The group, Human Rights in China, based in New York, said in a statement late on Tuesday that Gao Zhisheng’s younger brother and his father-in-law visited him on Jan. 12, citing Mr. Gao’s wife. …Foreign human rights advocates say they fear for Mr. Gao’s life because there is no word on his well-being or whereabouts for long stretches of time. Foreign governments have condemned China for its harsh treatment of Mr. Gao over the years.

Mr. Gao [left] is a rights lawyer and a Christian who was subjected to long periods of detention and what he called torture by security forces after he took on politically delicate cases. Those cases included defending Chinese whose land had been taken from them and given to developers, as well as persecuted members of Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement. Mr. Gao was once a celebrated lawyer praised by the state and the governing Communist Party. He renounced his membership in the party in 2005 and denounced the government.

Human Rights in China is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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How to Finish a Revolution? Go beyond ‘avant-garde NGO elite’

Georgia’s new government “could still go the way of …… previous ones,” The Economist cautions, noting that the Caucasian republic “needs more effective checks on state power than it has had in previous years, in the form of political opposition and civil society.”

The paper cites a recent paper from Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think-tank, which finds that Georgia’s civil society is too weak to influence politics “as citizens have little capacity to influence political developments owing to lack of engagement, clientelist networks and corruption.”

Citizens rarely participate in public policy debates and barely recognize, let alone engage with NGOs, which are the least understood of Georgia’s public institutions.

Surveying civil society in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, the report notes that many Western-funded NGOs are “not anchored in society and constitute a form of ‘NGO-cracy’: a system where professional NGO leaders use access to domestic policy-makers and Western donors to influence public policies without having a constituency in society.”

“Despite the growing numbers of registered NGOs, very few citizens participate, volunteer their time or make donations to NGOs. The low figures for citizen engagement – 5 per cent of the population in Ukraine, 4 per cent in Moldova and 4.8 per cent in Georgia – have remained unchanged for the last twenty years,” writes Orysia Lutsevych, the report’s author and a consultant for the EU-Russia Centre.

NGOs are populated by Tbilisi-based intellectuals and experts who more often engage “with embassies and Western foundations” than ordinary citizens. Consequently, Georgian NGOs are “passive consumers of democracy development aid instead of the driving force behind democratic change,” she argues:

Much evidence today suggests that in the course of the post-Soviet transitions, a rather elitist non-profit-organization sector emerged, which focused on professional consulting and service provision….Many large Western donors, who invest substantial resources in strengthening civil society, often support NGOs patronage networks and sustain a gap between a few well-established groups and active citizens….In Georgia, 83 per cent of NGOs report that they have never received an individual donation. The low levels of NGO membership are reflected in the volunteering numbers: only a third of NGOs in Georgia report having even one or two volunteers.

Avant-garde NGO elite

The findings of a short online survey of the perceptions of NGO leaders in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine reveal a belief that “they play an avant-garde role in transition, where they know better than the average citizen, and discount the importance of mass movements as a driver of social change,” Lutsevych writes, in How to Finish a Revolution: Civil Society and Democracy in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine:

More than 66 per cent of the NGO leaders surveyed said that the most important function of civil society in a democratic system was to influence public policy; 50 per cent said they aimed to promote accountability in politics; and 52 per cent said that the strength of their NGO was driven by access to decision-makers in government and various administrative agencies. The impact of this effort is weak, however, especially in policy areas that challenge the state’s political and economic power. Over 70 per cent of Georgian NGO leaders said that their policy impact was minimal.

“The fundamental problem with Western assistance to civil society in the post-Soviet space is that it leaves much of society untouched,” Lutsevych argues:

Viewing civil society through the narrow lens of NGOs excludes informal youth groups, intellectuals, faith-based associations, local citizens’ initiative groups and business associations. Despite efforts to improve NGO capacity, create a more enabling legal environment and increase policy impact, local NGOs are not getting stronger.

NGOs need to become more transparent, increase their media outreach and build more domestic and international networks. … Most well-established groups direct their advocacy towards human rights and monitoring state policies, paying no attention to inequality, education, access to public utilities and the poor delivery of public services.

But Lutsevych is perhaps guilty of neglecting the many foreign-funded civil society groups that are engaging more diverse constituencies away from the metropolitan comforts of Tbilisi.

For example, the Caucasus Centre for Civil Hearings has conducted mock public hearings in Lagodekhi, Marnauli, and Akhalikalaki on such issues as youth involvement in civil society and the treatment of ethnic minorities. The center also partnered with the Azerbaijani Alliance of Women for Civil Society to host four hearings in Georgia to promote cross-cultural exchanges between all three South Caucasus countries on regional conflict, religion, unemployment and labor migration, and political apathy.

Similarly, the Sukhumi Cultural-Humanitarian Fund promotes women’s political engagement by training activists in advocacy techniques and lobbying municipal authorities on issues affecting women in the regions.

Western donors aren’t entirely to blame, The Economist notes:

Part of the problem lies with Georgians themselves. If they “want true democracy, transparency and personal freedom, they also need to engage in public debate and build social trust”. Yet few ordinary Georgians feel confident to talk about politics outside of the home, according to public opinion surveys. Changing that will take years. These days, Georgian public life inspires more fear and loathing than love.

In a celebrated 2002 article – ‘The End of the Transition Paradigm’ in the Journal of Democracy, she recalls, Thomas Carothers challenged the assumption that post-Soviet states were ineluctably transitioning from communism to liberal democracy, and counseled donors of the need to retain a capacity to adapt and adjust to the vicissitudes of transition and take account of the underlying, country-specific historical and social constraints.

And yet…

“Today there are hardly any new approaches to strengthening civil society in the region. …There is little innovation in the ways in which additional funds for civil society are invested,” Lutsevych concludes.

On the plus side, she says:

New civil voices use more mass mobilization strategies and social media, and are visible in public spaces. They are more effective in influencing the state and political society than Western-funded NGOs. Wider civic engagement would help build the power of the middle class to work together for enabling citizens to influence policy and further advance democracy in these countries.

In order to ‘finish’ the colour revolutions, democracy promoters and local activists need to focus on society itself. Active and empowered citizens, not the expertise and capacity of a few NGOs, are the indicator of civil society’s strength.


Orysia Lutsevych was 2012 Robert Bosch Fellow at Chatham House. She is currently a consultant for the EU-Russia Centre to develop the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and advises the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on citizen engagement in Ukraine.

The Journal of Democracy is published by the National Endowment for Democracy. NDI and the Solidarity Center are core institutes of the NED.

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‘Fourth time lucky’ for Georgia’s democracy?

“Something amazing happened in Georgia’s 1 October 2012 parliamentary elections. The government lost and it gave up power, aside from the now-weakened presidency that it will hold for another year,” say two leading analysts:

A new coalition known as Georgian Dream ran under the leadership of Georgia’s richest man, the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili (right), and won 85 seats in the unicameral, 150-member Parliament. Georgia’s post-Soviet background and circumstances make the 2012 opposition win and subsequent orderly handover of power truly remarkable. Indeed, among the “competitive authoritarian” regimes found in what used to be the USSR, it is nearly unheard of.

“Georgia is lucky to be getting a fourth chance at democracy, after the opportunities under Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1990–92), Eduard Shevardnadze (1992–2003), and Mikhail Saakashvili faded. But this chance remains a fragile one,” Charles Fairbanks and Alexi Gugushvili write in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy:

It is true that Saakashvili and his government respected the forms of democracy to a degree unusual in the former Soviet Union, and that this respect gradually went up over time. Yet the president and his camp also engaged in endless maneuvering designed to isolate, marginalize, and penetrate any sort of political opposition.….. When such tactics fell short, the National Movement resorted to ballot fraud. Media freedom declined progressively after 2007, when the government closed and later seized Imedi, the only independent television channel seen across the whole country. As OSCE Parliamentary Assembly president Riccardo Migliori put it, the National Movement showed “a little [bit] of Leninism . . . trying to destroy their enemies.”

The JOD article “puts the current state of Georgian politics in a broader context,” The Economist notes:

In the authors’ view, only the emergence of Mr Ivanishvili stopped the UNM’s slide towards autocracy. His considerable wealth bound together a disparate coalition, tapped into deep public disaffection with the UNM, and enabled his Georgian Dream movement to withstand the UNM’s hard-line response. Indeed, the authors argue, likely evidence of inflated voter lists suggests that the UNM was ready to falsify the vote. But high voter turnout and extensive international scrutiny helped persuade Mr Saakashvili to cede defeat, paving the way for Georgia’s first constitutional transfer of power.

Ivanishvili’s successful challenge confirms Lucan Way’s argument that economic “oligarchs” are a threat to competitive authoritarian regimes,5 write Fairbanks, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor at Georgia’s Ilia State University, and Gugushvili is a researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, and an affiliated fellow at the Center for Social Sciences in Tbilisi:

For the bulk of the campaign, the government met Georgian Dream’s electoral challenge with costly public works and padded public payrolls, with boasts about the modern architecture with which it had graced the country, and with constant threats to fire any state employees who failed to support their elected masters. Previous actions suggested that the threats were not empty. “Do you personally know someone whom you believe was fired from a state/public job because of their political beliefs?” asked the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) in its August poll. Almost a fifth of respondents in Tbilisi (19 percent) said yes, while the figure across the country as a whole was 14 percent.7 These numbers are extraordinarily high. The government made no distinction between the state and the government in power: At the Rose Revolution, the National Movement’s party flag had become the flag of the country. The government identified the state with a political party in the Soviet manner.

In a further indicator of Georgia’s illiberal democracy, labor unions complained that Saakashvili undermined freedom of association.

“Alone among former Soviet Union member nations, only Georgia has seen its ex-official union federation democratically reform and emerge as the biggest civil-society voice in the country,” said the Washington-based Solidarity Center. “However, its efforts to promote worker rights and democracy have apparently rubbed the Georgian government the wrong way. Since 2008, the government has viciously attacked the Georgian Trade Union Confederation and its affiliates.”

While Soviet-era unions lacked genuine independence and collective bargaining rights, functioning as transmission belts for the ruling Communist parties and providers of members’ welfare facilities, Georgia’s unions have striven to remain autonomous.

“Georgian unions are politically involved but neutral toward both the ruling party and the opposition. This position is a break from past Soviet and post-Soviet practice, when unions were an extension of the ruling political party,” the Solidarity Center notes.  “Georgia’s 2006 labor code was in many respects a step backward for workers, as it diminished unions’ bargaining rights and introduced a hire and fire policy that enables a worker’s dismissal without a valid reason.”

Saakashvili’s hostility to independent labor unions may be a reflection of the post-Soviet legacy in which, Fairbanks and Gugushvili observe, “there is still not much life in the yawning social space between the family and the government in Georgia”:

Citizens distrust one another, and even activists have an aversion to the realities of organization, leadership, planning, and funding. There are NGOs that have played brave and useful roles in the opening to democracy, but they depend on Western money and normally shun politics. Now, the urgent need is to nourish activism that explicitly presses demands on government. The Orthodox Church and the business community outweigh the slender NGO sector, but each is deeply flawed and some would say that neither should count as part of legitimate civil society.


The Journal of Democracy is published by the National Endowment for Democracy. NDI and the Solidarity Center are core institutes of the NED.

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