Browsing articles from "November, 2010"
Nov 10, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Obama’s Asia Tour & Public Diplomacy

Continuing the trend from my previous post on President Obama’s Asia trip, I find myself pleasantly surprised that democracy promotion continues to be a public subject of this tour.  Most recently the President spoke in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim state, and a center of democracy in South East Asia.  While in Indonesia, Obama praised the country as an example of how developing nations could improve the lives of citizenry by embracing the principles of democracy and diversity.

Contrary to the focus on trade and economics during his trip to India, the President’s speech in Jakarta focused primarily on the subjects of democracy, development and religious tolerance.  Not only did his speech bring the subject of democracy in development to the forefront, but of at least equal importance, it returned to past efforts by the administration to strengthen the US relationship with the “Muslim world”.  Who can say for certain if there’s much tangible worth to these latest comments on the role of religious tolerance in foreign policy? I would argue that there is value,  but that’s an easy conclusion to reach given my appreciation for public diplomacy.

As in the President’s call for a new beginning between the US and Muslim communities last year in Cairo, the Jakarta speech displayed the innate value of public diplomacy.  Often we who study this field argue that public diplomacy and rhetoric without substantial change to support it is effectively meaningless, but I disagree, particularly in situations of ideological struggle.  I would assert that the promotion of democracy and religious freedom is worthwhile regardless of tangible changes to policy, due to its ability to influence the populace, if not the policy makers.  There is substantial value to discussion of these subjects, and to the continued support of our allies abroad who uphold religious freedom.  Further, in light of our own issues with religion and freedom of expression, it is important that policy makers continue to make clear that the US led struggles in the Middle East are not struggles against Islam.

Regardless of its relative successes, Indonesia’s history of tolerance and human rights is far from spotless. As such I’d hardly be surprised to see criticism of Obama’s words in praise of the country, either by his domestic and international political opponents, or human rights activists.  Many of the criticisms of Indonesia’s history of tolerance will be valid, a weakness of public diplomacy, which necessitates strong often hyperbolic statements contrary to the minutia of realities on the ground.

Nov 9, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

DIY foreign aid

DIY (do it yourself) foreign aid or MONGOs (My Own NGO) efforts receive a fair amount of praise. Any why should they not? Nicholas Kristof’s recent article in the New York Times magazine, for example, is pretty inspiring. Well, there’s a backlash against DIY foreign aid for doing more harm than good. Actually, this makes some sense to me. Voluntourism, in particular, seems much less useful than donating to organizations so they can hire full-time staff.

Nov 8, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democracy & Transparency in Asia

A week after his political party suffered some heavy losses in midterm elections; US President Barak Obama is abroad promoting the merits of democracy in Asia.  Though the crux of this “Asia tour” is likely the issue of trade, democracy seems a close second, and really what better time could there be to promote the principles of democracy than right after your political allies were trounced.  Given the international tendency for incumbents to stay in power regardless of what elections might say, the presentation of the democratic party’s  losses as “a healthy thing” might be a helpful message throughout the region particularly when delivered to college-age students in effort to influence future relationships.

Many things can be said about the years of Obama’s presidency so far, if interested one can catch up on the most recent summaries of his successes and failures as interpreted by political pundits at pretty much any time of the day.  Perhaps I’m a bit naïve in thinking this but it seems to me that regardless of what side of the political fence one stands on, the current administration’s efforts toward government transparency have been laudable and something that could leave a lasting impact on our nation regardless of how everything else works out.  Thus even more than the promotion of democracy (which unfortunately has become quite the loaded political term) I appreciate the administration’s current promotion of transparency and open government.  Regardless of what system of government one lives under, it’s a good thing to have access to credible information about the activities of one’s government.

Nov 5, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Our long national nightmare is over

I’m referring of course to Nauru, if that wasn’t obvious.

Nauru is a pretty interesting country.  In fact, unlike America, it actually is exceptional in a number of ways.  For one it’s the only country to use a Borda count system for electing its parliament. (Slovenia uses a Borda count for two reserved seats for minorities, but  PR for everybody else).   It’s also one of the few nations to recognize the “states” of Abkhazia, Transnistria and South Ossetia.  Why Nauru has such sympathies for misplaced Russian speaking populations is a puzzle to me, (Stay strong Abkhazians, Nauru stands with you!) but what’s even more amusing is it’s past year in political life.

Nauru’s state of emergency, designed to keep government services operating during a political deadlock, was lifted on Monday with the re-election of Marcus Stephen as president. President’s are indirectly elected by the parliament in Nauru, but for the past eight months, no coalition has been able to form a majority in the eighteen-member parliament.   Stephen attempted to break the 9 to 9 split by calling snap election twice, in April and June, but both failed to give either side a majority.  There are no formal political parties in Nauru, but Parliament has been evenly divided between supporters and opponents of Stephen.  The stalemate was finally broken this week in a deal that made opposition lawmaker, and former president, Ludwig Scotty, Speaker of the House.

If the whole “two snap elections fail to give any side in parliament enough votes to elect a president resulting in a year-long deadlock that devastates the country financially” thing sounds familiar, it’s because Moldova has had the same problem.   I think two such examples of this in one year should be enough to tell us that having one branch of government elect a separate branch is a bad idea.  Luckily for Nauru, they appear to be moving out of theirs, while Moldovans must go to the polls again this month for round four, five… eh, I’m not sure actually.  So I guess we can no longer call Nauru, “the Moldova of Oceania,” which is a shame because it’s funny.

Nov 5, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Connecticut, friend of democracy

I don’t know what to say about this, other than this would have never happened in a real democracy.

Bridgeport ordered 21,000 printed ballots for its 69,000 registered voters and a fiasco ensued when the ballots ran out. Some voters complained of being turned away, or wondered to reporters whether their photocopied ballots would be counted. Following the shortfall that hit a reported 24 of that city’s 25 voting precincts, state political players have reserved their right to legal challenges. On one morning talk radio show, a pundit from Florida chortled that such a debacle would “never” happen in her Sunshine State. How quickly the memory of the 2000 presidential election fades.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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