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The Deepening Democracy report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Securitydiscusses the importance of improving the integrity of elections. While fairness, funding and conduct of elections undoubtedly is a concern that citizens espouse worldwide, that in itself may not be a panacea to fulfil the function of representative democracy. Sometimes democracy itself is undermined in democratically elected Parliaments due to rules biased towards the elected government, and not giving sufficient power to opposition members and independent members of Parliament to voice their concerns.

As modern workers, we have much to learn from the rich tradition of labour republicanism in America. The second piece in our Democratic Wealth series, hosted with OurKingdom. In 1828, William Heighton, a radical shoemaker, announced to a group of Philadelphia labourers that the wage-labour system “is…an iron chain of bondage. A system of unjust abstraction, oppression, and legal fraud, by which the most useful classes of society are drained of their wealth, and consigned over to eternal toil and never-ending slavery.” Heighton had just created the first formal political party of workers in modern history, the Working Men’s Party of Philadelphia.

We must remember that democracies are not self-executing systems; they stand on complex political institutions that reflect the political power of the citizenry. For many countries, then, the challenge is keeping the population constructively engaged in the democratic process following successful free and fair elections.

A report on deepening democracy released by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security recognised that the enfranchisement of displaced populations, including refugees, ‘is critical for ensuring the integrity of elections and the establishment of democracy’. But this statement belies a deeper interaction, and even conflict, between the international refugee regime and democracy. What would ‘deepening democracy’ mean for the refugee regime? I suggest that strengthening democratic institutions could deepen divides between refugees and host communities. To ensure that the international refugee regime and democracy can successfully co-exist, we must think not just of deepening democracy, but of also balancing it with the rights of refugees.

What could Hong Kong, Liberia, and Kosovo teach us? Perhaps, rather unexpectedly, about successful ways of dealing with public corruption. Corruption is effectively a hidden tax on living and doing business in many emerging democracies and, as a result, is one of the most serious obstacles to deepening democracy and economic development. It is particularly dangerous when corruption turns into a culturally accepted practice.

One of the big questions in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election was what the turnout would be. Would the supposed “enthusiasm gap” lead to lower turnout amongst some of the key demographics behind Obama’s 2008 victory, like African-Americans and college students? Would the absence of the extraordinary volunteer mobilization seen around the Presidents’ first campaign leave his re-election effort without the capacity to expand the electorate through large-scale voter registration efforts and an extensive and intense effort to get out the vote?
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Could republicanism provide the model for a political economy that belongs to us all and works for the common good? OurKingdom and Politics in Spires’ new series explores this question, introduced here by its editor. The past two decades or so have seen a renewal of interest within academic political theory in something, or some things, called ‘republicanism’. As a tradition (or set of traditions) within political theory, republicanism is not going to give us a direct handle on, say, the details of monetary and fiscal policy. But it can perhaps provide a constructive basis for thinking about what we fundamentally want from an economic order and about some of the institutions or approaches that will promote these goals.

While the Global Commission report on Deepening Democracy provides insightful recommendations on strategies for improving electoral integrity, we must remember that elections are just one step in the democratic process. Certain precursors need to be made right in order to make the report’s recommended strategies achievable. Having lived in Nigeria and experienced the democratic process there, I am of the opinion that one vital measure needed to strengthen its nascent democracy is to drastically reduce the excessive financial incentives that accompany political positions. The quest for political leadership must be guided by a passion to lead and make changes. Sadly, these are noble incentives overshadowed by the “what is in for me?” mentality of personal gratification that has eaten deep into the fabric of the country’s political space.