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How Oppositions can better stave off repressive laws: A new paper by Nic Cheesman And Susan Dodsworth

Source: New Dawn

“Defending Civic Space: When are Campaigns against Repressive Laws Successful?” offers useful strategic advice on how under-resourced opposition parties and civil society agents of change can at least slow down efforts by autocratic governments to use “first mover” technology to stifle dissent and harass dissenters. Opposition International will look into specific examples that fit the recommendations.

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7026514448559325184?updateEntityUrn=urn%3Ali%3Afs_feedUpdate%3A%28V2%2Curn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A7026514448559325184%29

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NED Series on Urban-based Digital Surveillance and Authoritarian Control

The series came out on December 15, 2022 and did not cut through the end of the year rush. I finally found time to go through it. Far more substance than usual Internet scaremongering, “The Russians are Coming” and “”Beware of the Red Peril.” Some of it really is scary!

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As “smart city” projects bring emerging technologies to municipalities around the world, “democratic principles are colliding with a technocratic authoritarian vision built on data collection.” In the second report of the International Forum for Democratic Studies’ “Making Tech Transparent” series, expert contributors examine how the rise of “smart cities” is challenging democratic systems and present strategies for rapidly digitalizing societies to safeguard norms such as transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights.

Smart city projects can range from free public Wi-Fi to facial recognition cameras and sensors that monitor traffic flows. In many cases, they leverage technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to boost connectivity, streamline service provision, and make governance more accessible and efficient. But without firm democratic guardrails, they can also undermine privacy, erode good governance norms, and amplify the influence of authoritarian actors such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the introductory essay, Beth Kerley, a program officer at the International Forum, surveys these risks and considers how participatory models of digitalization can offer an alternative to authoritarian ambitions of predictive governance and mass surveillance.

The essays that follow examine how smart city projects are unfolding in Mauritius and Brazil, two among many countries affected by the global democratic recession.  They also show how civil society can and has organized to uphold democratic norms amid digital transformation.

Roukaya Kasenally of the University of Mauritius investigates the Mauritius Safe City Project, an ambitious public security initiative using Huawei equipment. Looking at the project in the broader arc of Mauritian digitalization, she analyzes surveillance risks; how the project has evaded standard transparency and oversight mechanisms; and the danger of malign foreign influence through digital infrastructure.

Bárbara Simão and Blenda Santos of InternetLab lay out Brazil’s exceptional efforts to articulate principles for democratic smart cities, including public engagement and respect for human rights. They also explain how opaque and irregular official practices have undercut these norms on the ground and offer recommendations for cities to ensure a more principled, open, and inclusive approach.

This collection is the second in the International Forum‘s “Making Tech Transparent” series, which focuses on crafting transparent and participatory processes around the use of emerging technologies in politics and governance.

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Proportional Representation in Myanmar? A View from In-Country by U Win

It is with gratitude that Opposition International welcomes U Win (a pseudonym for safety reasons) as a contributor. U Win is a researcher and human rights activist from Myanmar, with 10 years’ experience working and writing about politics, human rights and the criminal justice system of Myanmar. U Win’s research interests include access to justice and rule of law.

The submission deals with a little-known pledge by the Military government of Myanmar to replace the current First Past the Post (FPP)!voting method with some form of Proportional Representation (PR). According to one report, “Under the junta’s plan, seats in parliament would be given to parties based on the percentage of the vote they received nationwide. In both of the previous two elections, the NLD was awarded a percentage of seats that was higher than the percentage it secured of the national vote.”

As anyone who has cut his teeth on the Arrow Theorem and the mathematics of representation, it is difficult to predict the result from a PR system because of the alchemy of coalition politics.

***

A Shift from FPP to PR: What does it mean for Ethnic and Smaller parties in Myanmar

U Win

Myanmar had held five general elections since its dependence from the British in 1948. The most recent election was held in 2020. Throughout history, Myanmar used First Past the Post system (FPP). For the past few months, many news media have reported that Myanmar Junta is gearing up for the next general election in 2023. One of the most discussed topics has been the electoral system- a shift from FPP to Proportional Representation (PR). Since day one, the State Administrative Council led by military leader Min Aung Hlaing said that the country will adopt a PR system. Until today, the Ministry of Information has held 21 press conferences and there has never been a day passed without talking about irregularities and frauds allegedly committed by the winning party- National League for Democracy (NLD) and the change in the electoral system.

 

The PR system was first advocated by the International Crisis Group during U Thein Sein’s regime. The proposal was supported by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and a few ethnic minority parties. But there were political parties that suggested removing 25% of seats constitutionally held by the military to implement the PR system. This proposal was also coincidental with a landslide victory of NLD in the 2012 by-election. With the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity, the USDP sensed that the PR system was the more favoured system to beat its rival. 

 

USDP and military representatives argue that a move from FPP to PR will benefit ethnic minorities and smaller political parties because the system ensures their representatives in the parliament even if they win a small percentage. Thus, diverse groups of people would also be included in administration and government. 

 

From ethnic minorities’ perspective, it is not a good sign for several reasons. First, the 2008 constitution is not inclusive and fair. Apart from 25% of seat reservations, elected members do not have the power to elect their chief minister but only the president under the constitution. Thus, it would only increase the number of representatives from the USDP under the PR system, enabling the military’s monopoly on the election of the president. 

 

Secondly, even though the date of the election has not been announced, given the constitutional limit on the emergency declaration, it is expected that the next general election could be held between February to August 2023. The announcement of the election date is important for ethnic minority parties because the campaign period is only two months which is noticeably short for some ethnic political parties to strategize campaigns and voter education which requires a lot of time for preparation. In addition, the military junta has introduced a new election law which requires political parties to have 100,000 members within three months of registration, have offices in 330 townships, and have funds amounting to 100 million kyats. If these conditions are not met, small and ethnic parties would be automatically disqualified for upcoming elections.  

 

Finally, Myanmar’s political situation is already fragile with a long history of armed conflicts between ethnic armed groups and successive governments even before the coup of 2021. But this coup has worsened the socioeconomic and political crisis. The coup also produced another group of armed resistance known as the People’s Defence Force (PDF). Now, aided by some ethnic armed groups, PDF is fighting against the military, and it is likely to continue unless they can come to political compromises. It is more severe in ethnic areas such as Chin, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine State, and regions such as Sagaing and Magwe. Even the two most peaceful cities- Yangon and Naypyidaw are not immune from guerrilla attacks from PDF. Therefore, ethnic parties and smaller parties will have difficult tasks ahead to pick momentum they have built over the past years without sufficient preparation for the upcoming election if that happens. 

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Nigerian Election Results 2019: is the Past a Sure Guide to 2023?

Change from one year or one election from the one before is often exaggerated. We perceive changes more readily than how things stay the same. Politics in particular tends to advance by increments, at least for most generations. Nigeria may test the stasis hypothesis in the upcoming July 2023 election. However, the changes may be on the margin as ethnic, religious, trbal, and language loyalties continue to influence political choices.

I admit to a strange hobby of comparing Nigerian and Bangladesh voting patterns. The two countries have roughly the same population of 165 million people and the geographical distribution is similar in terms of rural vs urban. Bangladeshi loyalties appear grounded in party networks more than socio-cultural characteristics, yet that may be just casual empiricism.

If there exists a subtle international dialectic in post-colonial democracies, what happens in Lagos may affect results in Dhaka. A fun theory at least.

https://www.theafricareport.com/279233/nigeria-2023-will-the-election-follow-the-2019-poll-pattern/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=post_articles_facebook_30_01_2023&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR09IdVO1UG8r8Ad6zUCk-Iw_y5Oe_6M2iqACXZZWCVmZkAWdzHi0cZlcYA

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Cambodia’s Opposition Grassroots Not Pleased with Leadership “walk back” of protest against CPP harassment

The saga of the Government’s legal actions against Candlelight party leader Thach Setha takes an odd twist. After a flurry of threats from PM Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, some in the Candlelight leadership issued a statement “correcting” its accusations. The Candlelight grassroots are in no mood for kowtowing. They are the front line. They bear the brunt. Message to Candlelight leadership: you need us. The grassroots are right on their importance. If mobilized, the July 2023 General Election could be a tougher contest than usual. In horse race track lingo, who will be the “Bismarck?”

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Prof Nic Cheeseman and The Africa Report: required reading

Professor Cheeseman’s article on ideas and ideologies stands out as guide to the deeper currents of democracy and opposition in Africa. A professor at the University of Birmingham, he founded www.democracyinafrica.org To examine the role of ideas in Africa, a new research group has started.

Here’s a telling Cheeseman passage that suggests the role of opposition parties in Africa’s democracies will gain in legitimacy and influence.

“Ethnicity and clientelism are powerful forces, but their importance varies dramatically, and they are easier to mobilise for leaders who are seen to be credible and have a viable plan.

A well-known Ethiopian proverb runs: “When the great lord passes, the peasants bow and silently fart”. Voters in countries like Kenya, Malawi and Zambia have always critiqued those in power – and that critique is becoming more sophisticated with every passing election.

Failing to recognise the power of ideas and ideologies can therefore be fatal, both for political leaders trying to hold onto power and for researchers and journalists seeking to explain how politics works.”

Cheeseman is joined by other scholars in emphasizing that despite the challenges, the future of Africa is more not less democracy.

“The “supply” of democracy in Africa is under threat not only from the covid-19 pandemic, but also from rising insurgencies in parts of the continent, the growing influence of China with its indifference to democratic governance, and the internal challenges facing some Western democracies. Much of Africa remains caught up in a struggle between leaders who would circumscribe democracy and retreat from democratic openings and individuals who lay themselves on the line to defend and extend them. Data from recent Afrobarometer surveys confirm that most ordinary Africans remain unflinching in their preference for democracy and core democratic norms and institutions.”

Gyimah-Boadi, E., C. . Logan, and J. Sanny. “Africans’ Durable Demand for Democracy”. Journal of Democracy, vol. 32, no. 3, July 2021, pp. 136-51.

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ANFREL Calls on International Community to address Opposition Leader’s Setha’s Arrest. OI asks: Is the Summit of Democracies the Venue?

Thach Setha, Candllelight Party VP

Yesterday, the OI blog reported on the controversial arrest of Candlelight Party leader, Thach Setha, alleged of  passing bad cheques, in 2019 – over three years ago. The freer media noticed discrepancies such as the cheques’ not being signed. Others noted the timing in the lead-up to the July 2023 national elections and that Candlelight has become the number one opposition party after an impressive showing in local elections last year.  The Cambodia People’s Party, headed since 1993 by  Prime Minister Hun Sen, denied any political interference.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has issued an important statement calling for the attention of the international community. Sadly, such calls tend to get the answering service.

 

Our questions:

Is the world paying attention? 

The American-led Summit of Democracies will be held on March 29-30 in Costa Rica and the European-led Alliance of Democracies’ Copenhagen Democracy Summit on May 15-16. Will these summits make clear statements of support for opposition leaders, such as Thach Setha, facing irregular loss of freedom by their governments?

Will they name names and highlight the facts of opposition leaders who are the real frontline of democracy? There is no effective democracy without free opposition leaders.

It is not enough to swear allegiance to democracy. The call to duty requires helping those who make the deep sacrifices.

It’s not easy for the international community to help in every single specific case.  Unanimity is rare. Autocratic governments bristle at any outside  statement  about their “domestic affairs” or police actions   or legal  processes. To comment is not seen as diplomatic. There are too many cases to handle  usefully. Some are not well-documented and others ambiguous. The international media wants saints and heroes. Bigger issues can get lost by  focusing on victims.  Nuances get lost in the headlines. 

But as Nelson Mandela proved, individuals, even politicians, can rise to become symbols of great causes from anti-apartheid to genocide prevention to the right to cast a vote. People remember people better than the foreign communiques that supported their causes. But the foreign communiqués helped to keep these opposition leaders,  their aspirations and democracy alive. 

The world must take  these one step at a time. But we must speak out for one captive then another. 

So close to the national elections, jailing the Candlelight Party’ Thach Setha for pretrial detention, on charges that carry two to five years in prison look desperate on the part of Prime Minister Hun Sen, his party and his government. It stains reputation of Cambodia’s legal system.

Before these meeting in Costa-Rica and Copenhagen, let’s start bringing home democracy’s prisoners of war. The term POW may jar our ears. Listen to the autocrats’ language,  they speak with the tropes of war. 

Opposition International is compiling a list of opposition figures either in jail or facing  detention who deserve particular attention to their case.  It will be representative before it ever becomes  exhaustive, unfortunately.

Please send us any suggestions for individuals. All information will be handled confidentially. 

Meanwhile, we hope that we will not have to put Thach Setha’s name on that list. We call for the immediate release of Thach Setha of the Candlelight Party and fair proceedings in the Cambodia’s justice system.

Without a strong opposition voice that are actually heard, Cambodia will have difficulty claiming to be a democracy where elections are fair.

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Cambodian Opposition Leader faces jail accused of bad cheques: Quiet Flows the Mekong

Thach Setha, a head figure in the Candlelight party, current leading opposition party, faces possible jail terms for bouncing cheques in 2019. No one will be surprised if poltical motives are behind charges. The current government for nearly 4o years has pursued through creative legal means any potential rival.

The curiosity is that millions of dollars have flowed into Cambodia for judicial and legal reform. What in the independence of the police and courts has changed when politics are involved? Which is just about everything in Cambodia.

As few answers are published, observers are excused if they form their own verdict.

www.thestar.com/amp/news/world/asia/2023/01/17/cambodian-opposition-politician-arrested-for-bounced-checks.html

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Politics Alive in Vietnam, Pressure for Democratic Liberalization to Increase?

Vietnam remains in the grasp of a war-hardened Communist Party. It has the second highest restrictive Internet censorship, only North Korea exceeds it. A free press and a free judiciary are not planned for any time soon.

Yet, it’s semi-capitalist economy is chugging along well with investment capital transferred out of China, a younger and better educated workforce than most, a large diaspora send remittances and renewed expectations, a freer labour movement, and there is history. Vietnam was a democracy of sorts for a generation between French colonial rule and the last helicopter off the U.S. Embassy roof on April 30, 1975.

The Diplomat ran an insightful piece in 2021 on the background to the hidden debate about democracy in Vietnam.

https://thediplomat.com/2021/04/vietnams-great-debate-over-democracy/

The Fulcrum, the journal of the Yusof Ishak Institute, recently published an article by Le Hong Hiep, their Vietnam analyst, about the political drama surrounding the replacement of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Politics in the Poliburo does not portend liberalization. It does show all-too-human disagreement and indecision. To quote the Leonard, himself, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

fulcrum.sg/red-card-for-the-president-vietnams-biggest-political-drama-in-decades/

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One Year of Opposition International

Corporations Canada sends an email today reminding that Opposition International has existed for one year now and a tax return needs filing by March 14, 2023. Notification of any changes to the Board of Directors or bylaws should also be sent. Changes incur a $200 fee.

Over the last year OI has developed a small ardent group of supporters and has established a foothold in social media. We have a website blog, a Substack account, a podcast account, and Mailchimp coupled to Woo Commerce to help with fundraising. Effort is needed to get all these wonderful programs working. For example, I am working on using Openai’s ChatGPT to do a daily news agregation on the state of opposition politics on select countries. Initial tests still point to a need for further calibration of the question posed.

Direct contact with people on the ground is vital. We have established conversations with a growing number of individuals engaged with opposition research and analysis: in Africa — Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, C.A.R., Tunisia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Mauritius. In Asia, India, Oakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesis, and Philippines. Our Kazakhstan and Hong Kong contacts are active but concerned. In South America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti,with Costa Rica being a base for Central American countries. Our focus on Europe is in the South and East. Many organizations are active there so our focus for now is on assessment on advanced opposition research.

We are a way still from functioning as full scale media and information resource for and about opposition parties. Engagement, training, and potentially opposition-specific election-monitoring needs more in-depth planning.

A lot hinges on the resources available. The decision was made to hold off on targeted individual fundraising until we had a clearer pitch to disseminate. Far more effort is needed to solicit major donations from individuals and foundations.

It needs to clear where we stand. Initial donor perceptions of OI stretch from a traditional educational NGO to a political advocacy initiative. We are solidly non-partisan in that we will liaise and assist opposition parties left, right, and centre and issue-based ones. They should profess to the Rule of Law and democratic principles.

OI’s mission is build support for opposition parties in their traditional role as the key to democratic accountability. That idea lost favour due to concerns about partisan polarization and the allure of corporatist representation of identities. The constitutional centrality of the Opposition needs restatement and on-the-ground reinforcement in evolving democracies.

Personally, the year began in the snows of Toronto and ends in a typhoon in the Philippines. I am back in Toronto in March. Planned trips ahead are the United States, Bangladesh, and, if possible, the V-Dem Institute in Gothenburg, Germany and the Institute for Opposition Studies, Bolton, U.K.

Is it really possible? Financial and personnel stability, the gathering and availability of useful information, and a robust and appreciated outreach to opposition parties. People helping out at least say so. Thank you Patrick, Jeann Probashi, George, Tatina, Alair, Alejandro, William, Soo, Kenneth, Ade, Henry, Agnes, Iqbal, Zahid, Mahoud, Nazmul, Sajid, Saad, Kamran, Shahmeem, Sohana, Dighol, Forrest, Tricia, Thy, Kenneth, Alonzo, Dimash, Lianne, Yu-ming, Franckie, and others.

Best to all in 2023!

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2022 Kenya Election: Kofi Annan Foundation Report – Stands Out as African Perspective

Kenya’s 2022 election attracted many observer teams from international agencies, large foundations, and a plethora of democracy groups. The Kofi Annan report stand out as among the best and critically as the leading African assessment.

https://www.kofiannanfoundation.org/publications/report-kenya-2022-post-election-review/

Several court cases continue and their verdicts, while unlikely to alter the results, may provide fresh insights. Opposition International takes a strong stand on the right of opposition candidates to access the courts to determine if an electoral law has been violated. Having commissions adjudicate disputes, in essence, themselves, does not provide adequate safeguards. The courts grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

Electoral integrity once a dusty, bureaucratic affair has come to dominate post-election discussion. The level of suspicion and belief in unseen forces has been called irrational by Harvard psychologist, Stephen Pinker, The Annan report addresses the challenge. Read the full report linked in text.

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New Movie about Alexei Navalny: Russian Opposition Leader’s Life in Peril

www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-navalny-russia-opposition/

Fast Facts About Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader, Navalny, is quickly becoming a household name in the world of politics. He has taken on the Russian government head-on, and has been arrested and convicted of fraud multiple times. Despite this, his popularity among the Russian people remains high.

Navalny’s history and background

Navalny was born in the USSR in 1976, in a small town called Kirov. His father was a factory worker and his mother was a seamstress. Navalny’s family was poor, and he did not have many opportunities to enjoy a childhood. However, he developed a strong passion for politics at an early age. In 1998, Navalny graduated from high school and began studying law at Moscow State University. As a lawyer, he became involved in the Russian opposition movement in 2006 after he witnessed widespread fraud during Russia’s presidential election. Navalny began his political career by organizing protests and showing solidarity with people who had been arrested or persecuted for their activism. In 2013, he founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which continues to be one of the most active Russian opposition groups.

Navalny has been arrested and convicted of fraud multiple times, but remains popular with the Russian people. In a 2018 poll, he was declared the most popular politician in Russia. Navalny’s popularity is likely due to his undying dedication to fighting corruption and his unwavering belief that democracy can work even in a corrupt society.

His imprisonment and convictions

Navalny has been arrested and convicted of fraud multiple times. His convictions for these crimes have led to lengthy prison sentences. In some cases, he has even been sentenced to life imprisonment. Despite the long jail terms, Navalny remains popular with the Russian people.

His future political plans are unknown, but he is likely to continue to be an influential opposition leader in Russia.

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What Does An Opposition want in Bangladesh? A Paradox Revisited

“What made them defy the odds? What does the BNP want to achieve through such mass mobilisation? What message do they want to give to the Awami League? Answers to these questions are crucial to understanding the future course of Bangladesh politics.” so asks Mohammad Al-Masum Molla in The Daily Star, Dhaka’s leading English language newspaper, “Is BNP emerging as a worthy opposition?”

Reporter Molla’s questions are good ones. Here follow reflections to date gathered from many observers.

The “Bangladesh Paradox” describes A culture of confrontation that pervades politics among the major parties in Bangladesh coexisting with dramatic socio-economic improvement.

What is the Bangladesh Paradox? U.S. Ambassador and scholar, William Milam, wrote wisely:

“The paradox is that, in traditional development theory, Bangladesh should have become, over the past 25 years, a modernized democracy, knocking on the door of entry into the middle-income category of developing countries. Its economy has grown for most of the last two decades by around 5-6 % per year, and its social development indices have improved rapidly and now are better than most other South Asian countries except Sri Lanka. Instead, over those same two decades, Bangladesh has regressed along the democracy/authoritarian axis no matter which of the two major parties was in power.”

At the end of the Millennium Development Goals era, Bangladesh outranks several developing countries, including India and Pakistan. Gender and health indicators improved significantly by the early 2000s and the trend continues. “Contextual factors such as high population density facilitated the easy adoption of low-cost solutions and the quick spread of good practices.” (“Growth Governance and Corruption and Corruption in …”) Political commitments to social development ensured policy continuity across political regimes. The government of Sheikh Hasina in the last decade has made important reforms in power, indusrial growth, and in food production.

Political parties have a history of animosity and mistrust; parties often focus more on attacking their opponents than on addressing the needs of constituents. Bangladesh’s parties also tend to be hierarchical, internally undemocratic, and personality or family-based, creating minimal opportunity for party members and members of parliament to develop the innovative tools and skills needed to accurately represent their constituencies.

As individuals, political leaders in Bangladesh are exemplary, but it is a difficult environment.

Bangladesh keeps highly adaptable political economy arrangements driven by elite accommodation and informal rules of the game. The head of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Debapriya Bhattacharya, described the current situation elliptically. 

“The history of elite commitment to development reminds me of an anecdote. There was a time when governments changed, the policy changed, and projects were cancelled. Then a time came when governments changed, policy remained unchained, but projects got cancelled. Then governments changed, the policy did not change, and projects did not get cancelled. Then governments changed, neither policy changed, nor projects got cancelled but contractors changed. Then we saw governments change but policy, projects and contractors do not change, contractors change parties.” 

The dynamic of the Bangladesh Paradox lies in the demarcation of formal and informal “rules of conduct,” the difference between formal law and informal practices. What is not always appreciated is that weak enforcement of the Rule of Law, and its accountability, means informal rules take precedence, no matter the level of “black letter” reform.

Bangladesh has problems though it is a long way from a “failed state.” In the judgment of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Bangladesh scores rank Bangladesh as a “hybrid regime” between a “flawed democracy” and an “authoritarian state.” My view. Bangladesh is a vibrant democratic state, whether all its elected officials appreciate it or not.

The list of major stakeholders in policy formation would include the following:

  • The political parties,
  • The civil service,
  • The military
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (civil society),
  • Private sector,
  • The media as aggregators of public opinion, and
  • The donor community.

Stakeholders can be identified on several criteria. Policy influence derives from the potential attraction of ideas and analysis. Such persuasiveness does not necessarily equate with political importance. The two most influential poles of policy entrepreneurship in Bangladesh are Civil Society and the now banned Jamaat-I-Islami, yet neither possesses hugely significant political strength. Overall, the policy and political values of the two will come into conflict but be moderated, interpreted and to a degree implemented through the more dominant political rivalry between the Awami League and the BNP.

Table 3: Stakeholders

StakeholdersPolicy InfluencePolitical ImportanceUnique factsAgenda
The Awami LeagueHighHighCurrently, form a government and have a broad, secular, agendaFocused on social improvement and maintenance of its network
Bangladesh Nationalist PartyModerateHighForm the Opposition but have a potential veto through the ability to organize public opinionPolicy agenda perceived as more pro-business than others
Jatiya PartyLowLowA legacy party of General M. ErshadOn occasion produces interesting positions in foreign affairs
Jamaat-I-Islami (Banned but sub rosa)HighModerateHas an extensive network of supporters within the civil serviceA long-term strategy of “Islamic values”
The GOB civil serviceHighHighCan control the pace of implementationDoes not have an agenda of its own per se beyond the maintenance of its standing
The militaryModerateHighAs demonstrated in the recent CTG, it has the ultimate veto over the governmentNo specific agenda beyond maintaining order and its privileges
Non-Governmental Organizations (civil society),ModerateModerateExceptionally large, comprises a substantial section of the educated middle class, at least the secular componentHas varied and specific agendas in all policy areas
Private sectorOccasionalModerateConcentrated in a few key export sectorsSeeks tax and subsidy advantages and increasing government intervention to control worker unrest
The mediaModerateHighProvides a highly independent voice in an authoritarian societyGenerally aligned to the social expectations of Civil Society
The donor community.OccasionalModerately HighWhile its economic role has decreased, it remains the voice of the “outside” worldA sometimes too-varied agenda of social and economic improvement
IntelligentsiaLowLowAligned and subsumed by Civil SocietyA social welfare agenda

Political Parties

Political parties control the political discourse and subsequent policy decisions in Bangladesh to a degree far beyond the practice in the U.K. and most Commonwealth countries. They are capable of about any form of coalition, except in extreme circumstances between the two major parties. At one time or another, they have all been in coalition with each other. Core values often appear malleable.

There are four major political parties in Bangladesh.

  • The Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina,
  • The Bangladesh Nationalist Party headed by Khaleda Zia,
  • The Jatiya Party formerly headed by Mohammad Ershad, and
  • Jamaat-E-Islami headed by Emir Nizami. (Banned but sub rosa).    

 In short, the Awami League is the inheritor of the pre-independence Muslim League affiliated with the Congress Party of India. While originally a broad-based coalition party supporting an agenda, it has gradually evolved into a family-based party focused on the family of Sheikh Mujib Rahman represented by Sheikh Hasina.

The BNP is a “cantonment” party started by General Zia Rahman after he had come to power in a military coup. It has enjoyed broad support from nationalist elements within the military, businesspeople who disliked the socialism of the original Awaji League government and intellectuals alienated by the Baksal one-party movement of Sheik Mujib.

The Jatiya Party is the original “cantonment” party started by General Ershad after he seized power in a military coup in 1991. The party retains a following but has not undergone any major renewal since it left office in 2000.

(Banned but sub rosa) Jamaat-E-Islami is a cadre party rather than a coalition. It does not seek a mass membership but a dedicated group of followers. It is a fundamentalist Islamic party but also one that practices internal democracy. It does not seek an overall majority but to influence policy through strategic coalitions.

Legitimacy unresolved

The central political issue seems policy, but the continuing fierce battle over the history of who has the legitimate right to rule the country. Sheikh Hasina claims residual legitimacy (as well as her election victories) in her father’s name. Khaleda Zia claims the same in the name of her husband whom it is asserted truly declared Bangladesh independent. The two major parties have yet to reach an accommodation.

If the political contest follows along the axis of legitimacy, neither the performance of the government nor the policy alternatives of the Opposition have great relevance. Mythmaking and symbols assume greater political significance than policy action or inaction and its consequences. This may explain why successive governments have paid greater attention to the content of textbooks than to the dropout rate. If parties cannot agree on a single version of the founding of the nation, it bodes ill.

Bangladesh’s political leaders strive to move beyond the question of legitimacy to questions of performance and policy. It is a paradox that there appears only a small political price for not dealing with policy and its implementation. To borrow a metaphor from Game Theory economics, the political leadership in Bangladesh has found a stable institutional equilibrium in non-cooperation.   If one party cooperated with the other then it risks appearing to concede the opponent’s legitimacy and, therefore, calling into question its own.   Institutional survival demands the denial of any political space to the other side.

Political Debate is Largely Extra-parliamentary

The most visible symptom of the failure to move beyond the existential struggle for legitimacy has been the minor role of the Parliament as a forum either to debate policy choices or to enforce the accountability of the government to the public. While many countries have witnessed the growing power of the executive over the legislative branch, the symptom is most pronounced in Bangladesh.

However, just because the Parliament does not function well does not mean the institution is unimportant. On the contrary, election to the Parliament continues to bestow the primary sign of political authority. Party officials and advisors may have an important influence on the leaders, but they cannot act upon the fundamental political equation of power – a majority in the parliament. Though, to be sure, the Bangladeshi Constitution unwisely curtails the scope of independent parliamentary voices through Article 70 which prohibits MPs from voting against their party even on minor non-confidence issues.

Over-centralization

An observation is that Bangladesh has an extraordinarily centralized policy process focused entirely on the party leader and her shifting coterie of top advisors. In short, only one coalition partner is needed for success thus vitiating the role and influence of other potential more socially constructive partnerships. The party leader decides everything from major budget issues to minor disputes among youth activists in district towns.

The high degree of centralization both slows down and speeds up the policy process. Every policy initiative remains in limbo until the party leader can get around to examining it. Yet, once she has decided the issue is settled irrevocably. Eceptions occur on technical matters. 

Far too many policy decisions are taken within the Prime Minister’s Office based on delegated authority from obsolete legislation. There is a fundamental problem of accountability when colonial-era legislation still provides the basis for the regulation of large swaths of Bangladesh’s economy and society. 

The Westminster ideal of collective decision-making and collective responsibility of the cabinet has limited traction in Bangladesh.  The former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, rarely met with her cabinet ministers and never, according to a press search, with her entire cabinet outside of party functions where she would give a speech and then leave. More important than the cabinet is, of course, the Prime Minister’s Office, but beyond that, the only substantive collective policy discussion takes place within the senior councils of the party. In this regard, the Awami League and the BNP are similar.

Role of Parliament

The role of the Parliament in the policy process is peripheral, yet still inherently important. Issues are rarely discussed in Parliament. The Committees if they meet at all are routinely ignored by the ministers who curiously hold the position of chair. The delinking of the ministers from the parliamentary committees has been an oft-raised potential reform. Opposition members, whether Awami League or BNP, boycott the chamber on a variety of pretexts. Question periods either is either a form of bitter invective if the Opposition is present or of near sycophancy if they are not.

Weakness in the Accountability

A weakness in Bangladesh’s political structures is that few oversight and accountability instruments exist. Compounding this is that the civil service by being removed from the policy process has little knowledge sometimes about the policies they are to implement and consequently has minimal commitment. A further weakness is that public opinion is only weakly heard through the media. Public consultations are rarely used, and public opinion surveys are rarely conducted or kept completely secret.

The Key is political accountability to constituents. Government safeguards fail because political safeguards fail. No more important safeguard exists than a credible and engaged Opposition. To answer the original questions by reporter Molla.

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Wikipedia: disinformation campaigns against Opposition parties; error correction=digital survival

The linked Wired story about Wikipedia’s 21-year-old struggle against state-sponsored disinformation provides valuable background to the question of campaigns against opposition parties, though not addressing it directly. Most disinformation campaigns are what an informed person would expect. Russian trolls fighting internecine ex-Soviet era battles against upstart nationalists. Chinese army battalions of computer hackers trying to whitewash the web on any criticism of the CCP. After a decade of this chicanery, few takes anything on the web as gospel: even gullibility has limits. Still, the Wikipedia organization has gone to great effort to maintain balance. Opposition parties do not have a large presence on Wikipedia by my research. They could and should. As with all things it requires people, training, and time. Opposition International specializes in Forensic Opposition Research – many of us are caucus research alumni. Wikipedia has an established process for data entry and correction. Their volunteers are superb. Make a donation to the Wiki Foundation and have volunteers spend a couple of days to check enter, edit, or correct your party’s profile and mentions.

www.wired.com/story/wikipedia-state-sponsored-disinformation/

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Truss resigns, 1922 Committee saved, BB BoJo

Editorial by Owen Lippert

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has resigned. Pundits are busy parsing what it all means.

I report here only the good news. Her resignation saves the 1922 Committee from having to review its rule that a new Conservative leader has a year’s grace from backbench discontent.

Esther Webber in Politico’s delicious London Playbook reports the 1922 Committee met on October 19th at the Carlton Club for its centenary. “With exquisite timing, members of the 1922 executive met for dinner at the Carlton Club last night to mark 100 years since Conservative MPs assembled to demand withdrawal from the Tory-Liberal coalition, resulting in the resignation of David Lloyd George.” The Carlton Club is the SW1 canteen for the Conservative MPs. The 1922 Committee is the Tory caucus watchdog over its leader.

In the post-WWI 1918 election, the first mass electorate returned the coalition of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his Liberal MP followers (not included were H. Asquith-led Liberals), the Conservative Party headed by New Brunswick-born Arthur Bonar Law, and the Labour Party led by Arthur Henderson (Ramsay MacDonald Labourites in Opposition). See the dissertation on the 1918 election by Dr. O.P. Lippert. Some backbench Tories wanted to ditch Lloyd George, figuring they could win on their own. The Red Tory leadership of Bonar Law and Austen Chamberlain were cautious as to appearing as conspirators.

By 1922, unhappy Tory backbenchers had devised a committee, to be headed by an MP so unlikely for high office as to be un-bribable, that would secretly canvass members as to leaving the coalition. A vote of confidence in the leader would be triggered if a “certain amount” of letters of no confidence were received. The leader might stay in the coalition, but without a party.

The 1922 Committee in time became the Test Selector of the party leader. Sir Graham Brady is the current chair. Committee rules state that the leader of the party can only face a vote of confidence once a year.

The once-a-year rule also applies to a newly elected leader for whom the initial election is deemed a ‘vote of confidence.’ According to this rule, Truss could have avoided a backbench vote of confidence until September 2023. She could remain Prime Minister, even without a party, until a money bill came to a vote. That is unless the 1922 Committee changed its rules, which a not insignificant number of MPs wanted.

The danger in changing the rules: all Tory leaders fear and loathe the 1922 Committee. A chance to defang that thorn in the side would be seized upon. In Canada, when reform-minded MP Michael Chong tried to squeeze a pale shadow of the 1922 Committee into his Reform Act, the leaders’ office was having none of it. The topic returned during Erin O’Toole’s exit. Any party leader would scheme to deny such power to whom P.E. Trudeau called “just nobodies” 50 feet off the Hill. True in Canada: true in the UK.

Liz Truss’s resignation ends the idle talk of “reforming” the 1922 Committee. Her sacrifice strengthens accountability in the Conservative Party and the UK Parliament. She deserves high praise.

For the record, if BB BoJo (bring back Boris Johnson) succeeds, he would start his second premiership with a year’s grace.

A year could see a more stable state of being. Today, Labour is serious but unready. Liberal Democrats are earnest but unwanted. Tories are dazed and unsteady. Some down-time free from crisis mis-management is needed to return the Commons to its higher purpose.

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Canada and International Day of Democracy 2022: “If not now, when?”

Owen Lippert (Ph.D.) Director, Opposition International

Since a United Nations Assembly Declaration in 2007, the world has celebrated September 15th as International Day of Democracy. Canada, one of the oldest full franchise democracies, has just cause to celebrate and take a bow. It is also time to ask what Canada is doing to promote democracy worldwide. Grant Kippen, a distinguished Canadian advocate, once asked of Canada’s possible formal role, If not now, when?”

The essay that follows is a re-working of a 2021 article I wrote giving the back story to Grant’s question. In the year since, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, delivered a statement on behalf of Canada to President Joe Biden’s Summit of Democracies in December 2021. It is an impressive document of Canada’s contributions. Still, more effort is necessary if as many suggest the world is in a democratic recession. The Prime Minister reiterated the ongoing discussion of a Canadian democracy agency. While that goes on, the Parliamentary Centre of Canada headed by Tom Cormier has truly emerged as leader. Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans. Canadians truly want to be involved in strengthening democracy.

A special remembrance is due this day to the departed Queen Elizabeth who, for holding a very non-democratic position, had a keener and deeper understanding of democracy than any of us.

***

Canada has nurtured one of the world’s founding democracies. Among major nations, only the United States established a democratic government earlier. Modern democracy is a North American creation. The grant of a universal (or close to it) voting franchise existed in Canada before the United Kingdom. Given Canada’s history, why have we not taken a more active role in promoting the practice of democratic government globally?  Through aid and diplomacy, the US government has taken the dominant lead in part because of its revolutionary heritage. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness invoke action and reform. Peace, order and good government promise stability through cooperation.

Yet, as individuals, many Canadians have participated directly in America’s instruments of technical democratic promotion. This list is hardily complete: Bob Raw, Joe Clark. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Eric Duhaime, Ross Reid, Craig Chandler, David Welsh, Bob King, Peter Dimitroff, Dominic Carty, Robin Sears, Sheila Fruman, Stephanie Lynn, Emma Walford, Francesca Binda, Jeffrey Kroker, Rishi Datta, Paul Rowland, and others.  I am willing to stake that if Canada were a state, it has sent the single most participants into the US’s offshore democratic organizations. Former colleagues (Canadians) from the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, Democracy International, and others ask me what Canada is doing about its democracy promotion role?  What follows may sound like “inside baseball,” but here is an informal update.

The contemporary history of international democracy promotion begins with President Ronald Reagan’s June 1982 Westminster speech to the UK’s Houses of Parliament. https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/address-members-british-parliament   At the time, the West seemed weak and vulnerable, caught in a loss of economic and political faith. Abroad the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan.  President Reagan turned the tables on that day. He declared that the great crisis would be in the East, not in the West. He predicted that as the Berlin Wall would soon fall, so too would communism.  The moment demanded was that the Western states should openly promote democracy — free elections, free unions, and free markets. Reagan’s Westminster speech laid the intellectual and policy planks for the emergence of one of the most important international institutions, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), in the following year.

It is worth noting an October 1982 interview, which Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau gave to James Reston of the New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/03/magazine/new-york-times-magazine-october-3-1982.html   Their discussion primarily dealt with affairs of the day. Trudeau was quick to correct Reston’s impression that Canada in the Quebec debate faced a “states’ rights” resurgence, like that of the former Confederate South. It sounds quaint today. After warm praise, Trudeau complained about the US’s unilateral cancelling of the Alaska pipeline and its efforts to restrict American subsidiaries in Canada from doing business with China. Trudeau knew of Reagan’s Westminster speech — and appears to steer well clear of discussing titanic struggles of ‘isms. He sounded more concerned about the political malaise in Western Europe. Trudeau did strongly affirm the need to advance free and open markets and societies. If he foresaw the collapse of Soviet communism, he gave no indication. Trudeau did lament the loss of great voices for democracy De Gaulle, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Nehru and added, sincerely, that Reagan stood to reach their level. 

The NED is less of an operational Institution and more a granting body. https://www.ned.org/about/   Formally, it is a private nonprofit foundation. Working with the leadership of the two major parties, the NED incubated and funded the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. The NED also created three smaller organizations: the Solidarity Center (with the AFL-CIO), CIPE, the Center for International Private Enterprise (with the US Chamber of Commerce) and the International Federation of Electoral Systems (IFES). Canada’s former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, served once as head of IFES. It published The Journal of Democracy and supported the Reagan-Fascell Fellowships. Its budget has grown from $18 million to $200 million annually and currently makes about 1600 grants a year. It has had a presence in over 90 countries.

Several other countries have started their democracy promotion initiatives. The UK’s Westminster Foundation has reinvigorated of late. The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty democracy has stood out for its innovation. The German Stiftungs, Konrad Adenauer, Rosa Luxembourg, Frederich Naumann, and Robert Bosch are active. Swedish IDEA organizes some of the Nordic efforts. The Swiss, the Italian, and the Czech governments have interesting regional programs, as do the Australians through their universities. The UNDP has an electoral program, which, while it does not strictly promote democracy it is a technical enabler.

The reduction of democracy promotion to be valueless technical assistance is a concern.  Berkeley professor Susan D. Hyde has written insightfully how pseudo-democratic technical practices have vitiated electoral observation.  https://susan.hyde.co/  Yet, for every president who gets up to say democracy is not an Asian value, a Bolivarian value, or a nationalist value, and the restriction of foreign influence is the priority, there exist plenty of local volunteers and NGOs who disagree. They take risks to advance their freedoms: supporting them does not violate the sovereignty of a law-seeking society.

In Canada, the idea of a northern NED or NDI only began to form as the domestic political situation started to shift, and new ideas percolated.   (The Rights and Democracy Institute had commenced in 1988 in Montreal primarily concerned with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with an elliptical reference to democracy, just enough to confuse later.  An able summary of Canada’s efforts in international democracy assistance is by Gerald Schmitz in his “Canada and International Democracy Assistance: What Directions for the Harper Government’s Foreign Policy”, August 2013, Occasional Paper Series, Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University.

In the democracy promotion debate, a key figure has consistently been Tom Axworthy, a former Principal Secretary for the first Trudeau PM. He, Les Campbell, and David Donovan in 2005 wrote a piece for IRPP’s  Policy Options entitled “The Democracy Canada Institute: A Blueprint.”  http://irpp.org/fr/research-studies/the-democracy-canada-institute-ablueprint/   Les Campbell, a former Executive Director of the New Democratic Party, was head of NDI’s Middle East and Northern Africa branch.

 That is where I met him. In 2003, I had joined NDI as the Country Director for Bangladesh. At the time, I was a foreign policy researcher and speechwriter for Stephen Harper, the Leader of the Opposition. Harper was aware of the Westminster speech and the movement which had started in its wake, as was former PM Joe Clark, who had assisted NDI.

While in Dhaka, I often met with Grant Kippen, former Executive Director for the Liberal Party and the local head of IFES. Grant is now the UNDP election commissioner in Afghanistan, one of many Canadians with UNDP, particularly in Africa, such as Marc Lemieux in Uganda.  

In 2006, I took leave to work on the federal Conservative campaign; I discussed with Tom Flanagan, the campaign keeper of the pen, a Canadian democracy institute as a line in the platform., He allowed it into the policy hamper, and it made the cut. The funny thing about platform promises is that nobody expects all of them to pass in a single term, yet the parties mean them seriously.

Subsequently, in 2006, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development took up hearings and all-party deliberations. The committee chair, Kevin Sorenson,  received much good counsel from Senator Hugh Seagal of the Senate counterpart committee and recently deceased MP Deepak Obhrai. The House’s Committee’s 2007 report, Advancing Canada’s Role in International Democratic Support, made the case that “Democratization is a long, difficult and indigenous process and that should be supported not imported from abroad.” https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/committee/391/faae/reports/rp3066139/391_FAAE_Rpt08_PDF/391_FAAE_Rpt08-e.pdf    The Minister for Democratic Reform, Stephen Fletcher, received the report, and the dissensions by the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP, and consulted with his cabinet colleagues.

The house committee then called for and formed an external advisory panel “on the Creation of a Canadian Democracy Promotion Agency.” Tom Axworthy was appointed the chair with Les Campbell, Senator Pamela Wallin, and Eric Duhaime. Art Milnes, an able biographer and historian, was the lead writer, and I provided research.   With assistance from Queen’s University, the members conducted a thorough review of the issues involved and the possible models upon to draw.

The Axworthy Commission delivered the final report to the Standing Committee in Fall 2009. It recommended a stand-alone agency that would work quietly behind the scenes through a limited number of offices in high priority countries. The overall budget would be in the range of $50 million with individual offices between $3 to $5 million. ( All figures unadjusted). Privy Council Office, Advisory Panel Report on the Creation of a Canadian Democracy Promotion Agency, November 2009. The panel members were Thomas S. Axworthy (chair), Leslie Campbell, Senator Pamela Wallin and Eric Duhaime. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2015/bcp-pco/CP22-103-2009-eng.pdf  

The Harper government reaffirmed the long-held view that if a new agency started, then the Rights and Democracy Institute was redundant. It had had fiscal issues and relied on CIDA money for new initiatives. It had an unclear mandate and limited capacity.

( I had advised the CIDA minister, Bev Oda, 2007-2008: CIDA was no small player in Canada democracy promotion, having spent $1.5 billion over 15 years on everything from election missions to local training. NDI, IRI, IFES, and CIPE receive little funding directly from NED. USAID, the American development agency, and the Democratic Rights and Labor branch of the Department of State (DOS) fund just about all overseas and thematic programs.)

The board of Rights and Democracy reacted and sought allies, a new director brought in to straighten matters, died of a stroke, and the Asian financial crisis reached Canada. Time and energy for the democracy file just ran out.

The Rights and Democracy issue raised the question of what form of organization had the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (and presumably the government) sought to establish. A question relevant still today. The Committee, in my interpretation, had deviated from an arms-length stand-alone agency model. The intended agency would reflect and refine Canadian values and specific policies towards international democracy. Agency officials could speak with and receive statements from parties to report back to the foreign affairs department and the Parliament. Their role would extend beyond the academic or think-tank field trip but remain short of an official mission.  It was not just to act as a technical service provider of the blunt instruments of democracy.  It would also stay out of trouble.

The idea of a Canadian democracy promotion agency remained intact if yet to be achieved. Importantly, by the arcana of parliamentary practice, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs still holds a mandate to deliver a proposal for an agency. Committees are political and partisan bodies. They follow the chain of command, if indirectly, as bodies of the Parliament.

The government of PM Justin Trudeau has taken up the idea. Appropriately, the politicians went back to seek a public mandate. The 2011 and 2019 Liberal platform gave an endorsement of the concept of a Canadian democracy agency. In 2019, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs took up hearings again. Tom Axworthy presented a submission that gave a detailed overview of the events mentioned here. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/FAAE/Brief/BR10323147/br-external/AxworthyThomas-e.pdf  

An informal committee has formed to provide as-requested comment to the Commons Committee and the government. Tom Axworthy, Margaret Biggs (Chair of IDRC), Robert Greenhill (Former DM CIDA) and Ben Rowswell of the Canadian International Council are consulting academics, practitioners, and experts. (I participate on occasion.)  A tentative name has emerged, the Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government.

Interest in Canada’s direction in democracy promotion has perked up with the election of President Joe Biden.  Commentators and colleagues look to Biden’s to re-energize America’s democracy promotion role. Samantha Powers, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations and now appointed head of USAID and its $50 billion a year budget knows the file and has taken activist positions previously.  The just-launched revamp of the NED has brought to the fore a change in focus from specific countries to broader topics. They include authoritarianism, freedom of the media, disinformation, the role of women, and democratic voice.  Regional and subject challenges will receive more attention in the future to leverage technology possibilities and avoid the risks of the ongoing pandemic.

Those interested in the view from the Hill should watch the new Zoom talks sponsored by The Parliamentary Centre, an organization funded by the Parliament’s Board of Internal Economy. The program, funded in part by the US Embassy’s speaker series, deal with Canada-US democracy promotion. American participants include Thomas Carothers, Interim President of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace — the doyen of democracy scholars — Chris Sands, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center, and Sara Repucci, Vice President for Research, Freedom House. The Parliamentary Centre has a new CEO in Tom Cormier, a long-time practitioner with NDI, DI, and the Westminster Foundation.  

From Newfoundland to British Columbia, Canadians have committed to making democratic values and practices a global reality. Though 2022 may look like democracy is slipping, it felt like that too in 1982. Reagan saw the struggle as measured in decades, not just the nightly news. The discussion has engaged individuals, academics, and volunteers, various officials, and parliamentarians in Canada.

Let us encourage all Canadians to celebrate the International Day of Democracy.

A Tour d’Horizon of Opposition Politics in South Asia

The South Asia program of the Carnegie Endowment has just published a series of articles on the State of Opposition. Congratulations to Paul Staniland and Milan Vaishnav.

“The dominance of powerful regime incumbents in South Asia, from the BJP in India to the Awami League in Bangladesh and the military in Pakistan, should not obscure the reality that the opposition space in the region is dynamic, fluid, and highly consequential.”

https://carnegieendowment.org/2023/01/24/state-of-opposition-in-south-asia-pub-88835

Opposition International

The light switch logo

Another stab at a mission statement. Clarity and accuracy rarely mix well. Alex Chaufen in his Forbes magazine column on nonprofits recommends to keep revising until you find your Minimal Viable Product (MVP). Comments and corrections welcome. I will post in our highly secure Element chat app on Matrix.org. Invitation — “Hey, talk to me on Element:” (space: Opposition.International) (room: #OIblog). It can be tricky. Mail me directly for invite at Owen.lippert@gmail.com

Toronto based, Opposition International has as a goal to follow the Government and Opposition relationship worldwide. Staff and volunteers analyze and report on what helps or not to improve democratic accountability.

Specifically,

  • We highlight the roles and responsibilities of Opposition leaders and parties, and the safeguards needed for them to do their job safely and effectively.
  • We hold that forensic opposition research, and a working, if neutral, partnership with civil society (e.g.,open data advocates) will improve policy debate both on the facts at hand and the underlying principles.
  • We advocate for impartial national and international regulations on political activities — for example, on diaspora fundraising and voting abroad. Politics is local. Democracy is a customizable universal value.

Our volunteers come from many parties. We are non-partisan: we engage any opposition party, whether of the left, right, or centre, which adheres to the rules of democracy. We support the diversity and renewal of policies and practices.

An Opposition to be Effective Needs Money. Read the Economist’s Bagehot as to Why

Making the case for money in politics ain’t easy. Still, Opposition International agrees with the esteemed Bagehot proper funding improves the quality of the workforce of democracy. A prime directive: we advocate for increased funding of opposition parties with less unrealistic regulations and with substantial yet secure transparency.

The past 30 years is littered with attempts to get money out of politics by waves of law saying who can and who cannot give me money to political parties and candidates and how much, all to be published. Heavy penalties are stipulated for even minor infractions.

The massive weight of regulations has created the classic bootlegger/Baptist paralysis. The latter demand higher and higher levels of purity and virtue in political donations. The bootleggers do very well in finding ways with high transaction costs and low transparency to fill the needs. Incumbent parties able to get government jobs and contracts have a motive to curtail donations to opponent parties. For all its good work, Transparency International rarely looks into the cost of virtue on competitive fairness in politics.

Opposition International is currently running a research project on the treatment of diaspora donations to homeland parties. IDEA International and the affiliated V-Dem Institute have cataloged some of the regulations across nations, which range from no regulation to outright criminality. They both state the need for more work in the field. Our purpose is to prod bigger better-enabled international legal organizations to convene an initiative to propose model legislation to regularize diaspora donations uniformly and transparently at a level to truly level the field of political finance.

Duncan “Bagehot” Robinson’s article points to the urgency of a sensible rebalancing of political party access to working capital in Britain. The same dynamic holds for almost all democratic nations. The outlier is the United States. The American sui generis interaction of money and politics should not deter the rest of the democratic world from taking action for themselves.

The adequate funding of what goes into the democratic process is the cost of an empowered citizenry and an accountable government. Included in the deal is allowing opposition parties to receive contributions from their supporters.