Browsing articles from "June, 2011"
Jun 26, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

The Importance of Civic Education

Schoolhouse Rock: I'm just a bill

In many ways the difficulties of American education system, compounded by scapegoating of educators and resistance to changing dated standards present a rather bleak future for the future of the US.  Sadly regardless of the sea of rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle and constant concern about how the kids of today will support the elderly of tomorrow, politicians seem almost universally uninterested in investing in education.  Yet contrary to our oft lamented failings in math and science, I feel there is no subject young Americans are done more of a disservice on than the loss of civic education.
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Jun 24, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democracy, Military Influence & International Conflict

Security and defense are of course critical concerns for any nation.  A nation unable to defend its borders and interests is bound after all to eventually find itself in rather dire straits, yet at the same time the issue of military power and its impact on governance has been a subject of modern political discussion since at least the days of Machiavelli.  Now as Democracy spreads around the world as a viable option for a nation’s approach to governance, new and old issues of the role of the military rise to be addressed.  It is comforting to think that challenges of this nature are specific to authoritarian regimes or nations without deeply rooted democratic traditions, yet I would argue that concentrations of power are challenges faced by all systems of governance.
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Jun 23, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Ukraine moving forward with changes to electoral system

Party of Regions performance in 2007. It's really only the Party of certain Regions (Photo property of DemocracyATwork).

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is forwarding the new draft law on elections to the Venice Commission, the next step in formally changing the country’s electoral system. Ukraine currently uses a closed list PR system, and the proposed reforms will add a tier of single member district seats. This will essentially revert Ukraine to a parallel system, which it had before the Orange Revolution in 2005.  Among the other proposed chanegs include:

  • Increasing the threshold from three percent to five;
  • Banning “Blocs,” defined as a group of politicians who share the same or nearly the same political goals;
  • Eliminating the option on ballots to “not endorse any candidate.”

The elimination of Blocs is a clear move to hurt Yulia Tymoshenko’s coalition (BYuT) although the official argument is that they produce unstable governments.  Reinstating the nominal tier is, likewise, considered an advantage for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PoR).  None of these are bad changes per se, but given the context, it has caused critics to cry fowl.   Yanukovych did manage to push through similar reforms at the local level last year so it is unlikely he will be unsuccessful this time around.

Jun 22, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Wafd and Brotherhood form electoral alliance

From my friend Heba Fahmy, comes this story of the neo-liberal al-Wafd Party forming an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. Naturally, this has drawn some heavy criticism.

The FEP, headed by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it didn’t want to turn the upcoming People’s Assembly elections into “second class” elections, where political powers force their guardianship over the people through a unified list, instead of having free direct elections.

Al-Wafd and the MB have actually formed an alliance before, in the 1984 parliamentary elections.  At that time, Egypt used a Closed-list PR system with an extremely high threshold; a party or alliance needed eight percent of the national vote in order to enter parliament.   This caused all non-NDP parties to form strange alliances in an effort to simply meet that number and gain any seats at all.   At that time, Wafd was mostly free-riding off of the MB’s grassroots support and the Brotherhood was willing to tell its supporters to cast votes for a disproportionate amount of Wafd candidates.  Given that they were formally banned as a party, I guess they felt this was their best option.

Present day, however, the MB is running under their newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, and will have considerably more leverage in the relationship.   For the life of me, I can’t understand why Wafd would do this.  They are technically one of the most popular parties, but that’s only because support for parties is so low.  (The recent IRI survey placed Wafd in first place with just six percent of respondents claiming it’s their preferred organization) This certainly isn’t the action of a party that, as its leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawy claimed, are the most powerful in the country.  Wafd had already damaged its creditably with its willingness to serve as the NDP’s chooses opposition in the 2010 election.  I’m guessing this will not win them many more supporters.

Jun 20, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

President Assad’s Speech

I’m a huge fan of innovative ways to visualize information but I have mixed feelings on Word Clouds, also known as Wordles. On a few occasions I’ve seen them put to good use, but most of the time they seem to be used to show something without really showing anything. Given that President Assad recently became the latest Arab autocrat to give a long-winded, out of touch speech to his people that completely missed the point of why people might hate him, I thought it would be a good time to see if a Wordle could help us understand the main points of his message. The images seem too large to format to this page correctly but you can see my efforts here:

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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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