Democracy ‘is on the ropes’: Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World


The U.S. should do more to boost the struggling state of democracy in countries around the world, lawmakers from both parties said at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday, the Washington Times reports:

Several expressed alarm that promoting democracy and political liberties was no longer a U.S. priority, and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce (above) saying democracy was on the retreat in too many parts of the world.

“There is no doubt: democracy is on the ropes,” the California Republican said. The watchdog group Freedom House “reports that democracy has declined worldwide over the last decade. The question for us is: Do we care? And if so, what should we do about it?”

Authoritarian leaders have accelerated their efforts to penetrate and corrupt fragile states through aggressive political, economic and cultural mechanisms with the goal of purchasing political influence and securing strategic ports and resources, said National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman.

In this new era of contestation, China has claimed a larger role on the global stage and has sought to promote its own preferred ideas, norms, and models of governance, he told the Congressional hearing on Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World:

“Sharp Power,” as described in a December 2017 report by NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, seeks to pierce and penetrate targeted populations by manipulating and distorting the information that reaches them. While there are differences in the shape and tone of the Chinese and Russian approaches, both stem from an ideological model that privileges state power over individual liberty and is fundamentally hostile to free expression, open debate, and independent thought.

Nor should we assume that strongmen always win, Gershman added.

“I don’t know if a fourth wave of democratization is now gathering strength, but we shouldn’t discount that possibility,” he told the committee:

I would call your attention to some encouraging recent events – among them the remarkable democratic transition in The Gambia, the fall of the corrupt Zuma government in South Africa, the stunning victory of democracy in Malaysia and the freeing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the equally stunning triumph in Armenia of the democratic opposition, and the successful local elections in Tunisia that are a decisive step forward in the Arab world’s first democracy. [Full text of statement]

The hearing also heard testimony from Mr. Daniel Twining, President of the International Republican Institute [full text of statement] and Mr. Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute [full text of statement].

Wollack declined to critique the foreign policy of the current administration.

“I will tell you that overseas, what people admire most about the United States is not a single individual, but rather the institutions of this country,” he said.

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