‘Seismic’ economic shifts challenging democracy assistance

‘Seismic’ economic shifts challenging democracy assistance

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently highlighted the possibility of the global financial crisis undermining democracy and democracy assistance

Richard Youngs notes that even before the economic downturn, many commentators had drawn attention to the declining appeal of ‘Western’ democratic and human rights.  But the key, he argues in a new analysis for FRIDE, the Madrid-based think-tank, is how democracies deal with the crisis:

If they succeed better than non-democratic states then pluralism’s appeal could actually rise.  If they demonstrate that – in the spirit of Amyrta Sen – openness and robust democratic debate can help mitigate crises better than autocratic guidance it is not inevitable that the crisis will be entirely negative for democratisation. 

“Current seismic shifts in the world economy will need to be factored in by national and international democracy-building actors when assessing their future strategies,” writes Vidar Helgesen, Secretary-General of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). Democracy assistance practitioners have learnt many lessons, including the importance of “domestically-driven and nationally-owned democratisation processes” and an appreciation that democracy assistance should be “holistic, long-term and carefully contextualised.”

But, he suggests, a changing environment and political challenges merit a fresh look at established institutions and practices:

In an environment characterised by high levels of uncertainty and volatility, distrust, polarisation and the meltdown of global frameworks of economic governance, democracy-building efforts cannot and should not remain static and conditioned by old assumptions. Rather, they are increasingly in need of fresh questioning and testing.