This section serves as a list of brief and important updates related to democracy. Content is collected via open sources, cross-checked and subsequently re-shared here. All content is handpicked by the Democracy Observatory Team.
Protests have erupted in Tbilisi, Georgia, for the second day in a row over a controversial “foreign agents” draft law. The bill passed its first reading in parliament on Tuesday, 4 March, triggering violent protests and the arrest of 66 people. The draft law requires disclosure of financial support received from overseas, but critics have suggested it could be used to silence opposition voices. The proposed legislation specifies that media outlets and other organizations can be labeled as “foreign agents” if over 20% of their funding comes from outside the country. Detractors have cited a similar law in Russia where those receiving financial aid from abroad are declared “foreign agents.” Opponents in Georgia claim the new legislation could suppress press freedom, a concern voiced by Ghia Nodia, the country’s former education minister. Critics have also pointed out that limiting funding opportunities for civil society groups would obstruct the country’s efforts to join the European Union. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has supported the bill, arguing that it will root out those working against the country and the Georgian Orthodox Church. The president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, addressed protesters, promising to veto the bill if it were passed by parliament. Protests resumed on Wednesday afternoon with a march for International Women’s Day, with demonstrators carrying Georgian and EU flags and shouting “No to the Russian law.” The draft law has also raised concerns among foreign officials, with the foreign ministers of the Baltic states issuing a joint statement expressing anxiety about the bill's potential consequences.
On 26 February, a vast crowd of protestors gathered in Mexico City's central square to voice their opposition to contentious electoral law revisions that some fear could undermine democracy. After contentious electoral reform plans by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador were enacted last week, protesters at Zocalo plaza asked the government not to "touch their vote," donning the white and pink of Mexico's National Electoral Institute, the country's elections body. The local administration estimates that 90,000 people participated in the march, although organizers claim that 500,000 people did. The plans, if adopted, would reduce pay, financing for local election offices, and training for personnel in charge of running and supervising polling places. The revisions "aim to reduce thousands of individuals who work every day to guarantee trustworthy elections, something that will, of course, pose a risk for future elections," according to Lorenzo Cordova, the director of the National Electoral Institute. The president of Mexico continued by saying that although he anticipates legal challenges, all of his ideas would be maintained since they were all "lawful." Several protesters on Sunday expressed the wish that, as with earlier presidential initiatives, the Supreme Court of Mexico will partially invalidate the change. López Obrador has regularly criticized Mexico's judicial system and asserted that judges are involved in a conservative plot against his government.
The increasing security concerns worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate catastrophe are all contributing to a new wave of uncertainty. Countries' failure to handle their corruption issues worsens the impact in a world that is already unstable. They also strengthen authoritarians and contribute to the demise of democracy. According to this year's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), 124 nations have static levels of corruption, while the number of nations seeing a drop is rising. Since global peace is deteriorating and corruption is a major factor in both its causes and effects, this has the most serious ramifications.
Both corruption and warfare pose a threat to long-term peace. On the one hand, armed conflict fosters corruption. Crimes like bribery and embezzlement are made possible by political instability, increasing demand on resources, and weakened oversight bodies. Predictably, the majority of the nations at the bottom of the CPI are presently involved in, or have recently been involved in, armed war. On the other hand, by stoking social resentments, corruption and impunity can nevertheless lead to violence even in cultures that are otherwise calm. Additionally, draining funds from security agencies makes it difficult for states to defend the public and respect the rule of law. Hence, larger organized crime rates and more security risks are more likely to be present in nations with higher levels of corruption.
Global security is also threatened by corruption, and CPI-high nations contribute to this. They have long embraced foreign filthy money, which has helped kleptocrats advance their geopolitical goals and increased their wealth, power, and influence. During Russia's extensive invasion of Ukraine, the disastrous effects of the developed economies' participation in transnational corruption became brutally obvious. To prevent additional conflict and maintain peace in this complex context, eliminating corruption, encouraging openness, and bolstering institutions are essential.
The value, fragility, and complexity of democracy were the main points of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' annual 2023 speech to the UN General Assembly, which came just a few weeks before the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In a stark warning that the clock is "closest it has ever stood to humanity's darkest hour," Guterres said that the value, fragility, and complexity of democracy were at the core of his message. Bypassing the veiled references to Sustainable Development Goal 16 and instead emphasizing the importance of democracy for a more sustainable, inclusive, and peaceful world, Guterres reminded the General Assembly that "freedom of expression and political participation constitute the essence of democracy," as well as inclusive societies and economies. He emphasized the "inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace," urging nations to "take inspiration from its spirit and its substance." He also reminded the Assembly of the "ambitious and audacious" nature of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary. In his remarks, he made reference to the necessity of self-correction and the need to put a stop to the menace of war, which democracies are intrinsically better at than non-democracies.
Public discourse, a free press, a thriving civil society, and the renewal of political representatives through free and fair elections are all factors that, in comparison to other regime types, enable democracies to better self-correct and shift direction. Referring to the devastation caused by conflict, both in Ukraine and elsewhere, he also subtly foreshadowed the perils of authoritarianism for both democracy and the maintenance of world peace. Additionally, he stressed the significance of gender equality for long-term peace and progress, and he expressed worry about the difficult path ahead for achieving equality in all facets of life. According to data from International IDEA's Global State of Democracy report, a more democratic and gender equal world are both necessary to realize the goals of the 2030 Agenda. The significance of youth and future generations participating in defining the Summit of the Future in 2024 and for more equitable and inclusive governance was also emphasized.
Just months before the country's general elections, Hun Sen, the leader of Cambodia, shut down one of the remaining independent media outlets in the nation. Hun Sen said in a Facebook post on Sunday, 12 February, that the Voice of Democracy (VOD) had published a report last week that "damaged" the reputation of his government. He revoked the group's license on Monday, 11 February, because he would not accept the apologies. Advocates claim that VOD's collapse is a serious blow to the country's meager press. It was established that some internet service providers had banned access to older stories on VOD's English and Khmer websites.
Hun Sen announced that he was closing VOD after the publication of a piece regarding Cambodia's humanitarian response to the disaster in Turkey. His older son, Hun Manet, reportedly gave his approval to a $100,000 (£83,000) package, according to the story from February 9. Although Hun Manet is the deputy commander-in-chief of the Cambodian army, only the prime minister can sign off on relief deliveries from abroad. Hun Sen requested an apology, claiming that the article had hurt the standing of his government. The news site had quoted a government spokesman, according to a statement from the non-governmental Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), which also apologized for any confusion this may have caused.
VOD's aim was to "advance democratic governance, human rights, the development of all economic sectors, and an autonomous and sustainable environment for media," according to its website. After a significant crackdown on civic discourse in 2017 and 2018, several Cambodia watchers claimed that it was the main news organization still operating in the nation that produced hard-hitting journalism. The closure of VOD comes just months before the nation's July election, which Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party has long controlled. Hun Sen, 70, has been in power in Cambodia since 1985, making him one of the world's longest-serving autocrats. He has recently put some opposition members in jail or exile and is currently spending his sixth term as prime minister of what is essentially a one-party state.
On Monday, 6 February, some of the most well-known pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong faced trial in the largest case yet, under a statute that the Communist Party of China's ruling government enacted to stifle dissent. The 18 suspects may receive a life sentence if found guilty under the national security statute, which critics claim is undermining Hong Kong's autonomy and its reputation as a major international financial hub.
They were among the 47 pro-democracy activists that were detained in 2021 under the laws put into place as a result of events in 2019. In relation to a non-official 2020 primary election, they were accused. After activists were imprisoned or fled into exile, the pro-democracy movement generally died down. As Hong Kong's Western-style civil rights have been eroded, an increasing number of young professionals have fled to the United Kingdom, the United States, and other nations. Sanctions were levied by the United States on those it believed were responsible for the abuses. The goal of the 2020 primary was to select pro-democracy candidates who could take over the Legislative Council of the territory. They are charged with attempting to use their majority veto power to paralyze Hong Kong's government and remove the city's chief executive. "The purpose of the conspiracy is to subvert the state power," the prosecutor said in his opening statement. The prosecution involves many of the city's most prominent activists, including legal scholar Benny Tai, former student leader Joshua Wong and opposition party leaders Wu Chi-wai and Alvin Yeung. Tai and four others were the election organizers and had indispensable involvement, the prosecutor said.
In previous proceedings, the 18 activists had indicated they intended to plead not guilty. But two of them — former district councilor Ng Kin-wai and businessman Mike Lam — later changed their minds, joining the other 29 activists, including Tai, Wong, Yeung and Wu, who plan to admit the charges. Former MPs Raymond Chan and Helena Wong, who appeared in court on Monday, were among the minority who were granted bail based on stringent restrictions. The majority of the 47 activists who were charged with conspiracy to conduct subversion have been held without bail for nearly two years. The two and 14 other activists entered a not guilty plea before the judges, who had been appointed by the mayor of the city to preside over the case, before to the opening arguments. Ng and Lam admitted their guilt. After the trial, those who plan to enter guilty pleas will be sentenced. Some of them, including former district councilman Lester Shum and Joshua Wong, were present in the courtroom to see the trial.
Although the European Union has long been one of the most ardent supporters of democracy in the world, significant changes have recently occurred that have changed the face of democracy around the world. In order to inform the EU conversation on democracy during Sweden's 2023 EU Council Presidency, International IDEA led an analysis of the EU's external democracy policy in 2022 with assistance from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The research focuses particularly on the 2020–2024 EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy as a guiding framework as it examines issues pertaining to the relevance and coherence of the EU's external democracy strategy in a fast changing geopolitical environment. A desk study, internet polls, in-depth interviews with more than 40 significant EU democracy policy stakeholders, and regional consultations with more than 100 civil society members from around the world made up the research.
As of February 7, Jacinda Ardern will no longer serve as New Zealand's prime minister. Her departure with dignity and integrity strikes a surprisingly poignant note, particularly in light of the violent and unrest-plagued political transitions that have afflicted democracies from the United States to Brazil. Jacinda Ardern's retirement, and the courteous way she announced it, caps her political achievements for her nation and solidifies her status as the face of contemporary democracy in the West and beyond. Although her political influence is waning, she will always be remembered as a symbol of democratic leadership. Ardern's uncommon leadership style was described as "authentic, empathetic, and bold" by the Harvard Political Review, and as a "strong mash-up of political traits traditionally understood in gendered terms." It explained the sexist paradigm Ardern successfully overturned with wit: “Throughout the 20th century, leaders rose to power by projecting traditionally masculine qualities like aggression and stubbornness to dominate their opposition". Images of Ardern at home with her partner and child, venting her frustrations about the strict lockdown regulations—even though it was her own directive that imposed them—were so potent that even many Australians decided to pay attention to them rather than the remarks made by the leadership in New Zealand.
First, she reaffirmed a typical western Labour style of pragmatist, orderly empathy that remained unnerving and undemonized despite the greatest attempts of her enemies. Her unmistakable example of how women can lead with courage and tenacity dispelled long-held myths that claimed women's power was weak or feeble. Using "Jacindamania" to raise the Labour vote in 2017 into a deft coalition with smaller parties, she brought back to power a Labour party that many believed was doomed to a life of political wilderness. Even after giving her party a crushing outright majority in the "Jacindaslide" of 2020, she managed to keep some of that alliance intact.
During her five years in office, she led New Zealanders through the sorrow and fallout of the Christchurch shooting, oversaw a pandemic that not only endangered lives but also decimated vital local sectors, and dealt with the climate catastrophe in a nation predisposed to natural disasters. Her administration had to deal with a housing shortage, the need to repair a broken labor-management relationship, deteriorating services, and post-pandemic inflationary pressure at home. While in office, she also gave birth to a child. Ardern claimed to have "nothing left in the tank" in her resignation letter.
Any leader's political career is characterized by its impending ending. Even the most realistic expectations of the future are surpassed by the realities of unforeseeable events as the times and people's desires change. The robustness of our systems comes from the gracious realization that power will, can, must, and actually should be relinquished. The ruthlessness necessary to rise to power anywhere was on rare display when a health minister from her own cabinet disobeyed their government's own pandemic restrictions during lockdown to go for a bicycle ride. She may have overseen New Zealand's renowned "wellbeing budgets" and praised kindness as a policy virtue.
Although Peru is currently seeing some of the worst political violence in recent memory, the demonstrators' complaints are anything but unusual to the country; they are a reflection of a system that has been ineffective for more than 20 years. Some of Peru's most violent protests, which were sparked by the removal of former President Pedro Castillo last month, have been occurring in the south of the nation, where several people have lost their lives in the recent weeks after brutal clashes with security forces. The Andean Mountain region is also one of the poorest regions in the nation.
In recent days, protestors from these and other rural areas of Peru have begun making long journeys to Lima, the nation's capital, to voice their discontent with the government and call for the resignation of the president, Dina Boluarte. Their rage serves as a beacon for a greater democratic dilemma. Peru has lost interest in democracy as a result of years of political chaos; both the president and congress are largely regarded as corrupt institutions. Only 21% of Peruvians claimed they are content with democratic leadership, the lowest percentage of any nation in Latin America and the Caribbean (apart from Haiti), according to a 2021 survey conducted by LABOP, a survey research laboratory at Vanderbilt University. Unsettlingly, a majority of Peruvians who took part in the survey said that a high level of corruption would justify a military takeover of the nation. Demands for better living conditions, which have not been met in the 20 years after democratic government was reinstated in the nation, are at the heart of the crisis. One of the newest democracies in the Americas, Peru just had free and fair elections again in 2001 following the overthrow of right-wing despot Alberto Fujimori.
Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government's plans to alter the legal system and undermine the Supreme Court on Saturday night in central Tel Aviv. Critics claim that this move will damage the country's democratic system of checks and balances. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu's ultranationalist national security minister, who has instructed police to repress demonstrators who block streets or fly Palestinian flags, saw the rally as an early test. Despite the cool, rainy weather, the gathering at Tel Aviv's Habima Square grew to at least 80,000 people, according to Israeli media citing police. Israeli flags and posters reading "Criminal Government," "The End of Democracy," and other slogans were carried by protesters, many of whom were sheltered by umbrellas.
Reforming the judicial system of the nation has been a top priority for Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges. His government, which is made up of ultra-Orthodox and far-right nationalist groups and has been in power for less than two weeks, has introduced proposals to undermine the Supreme Court by granting parliament the authority to overrule court rulings with a simple majority vote. It also aims to lessen the independence of legal advisors and give parliament power over judge selection. Justice Minister Netanyahu claims that judges who are not elected have excessive power. However, others opposed to the plans claim that if they go through as is, Israel's democracy will suffer and the judiciary's independence will be taken away. Former attorney generals, Supreme Court presidents, and members of Israel's opposition have all spoken out against the proposal. The legal modifications may enable Netanyahu, who is facing a corruption prosecution, to avoid conviction or possibly have his case dismissed outright. Netanyahu has claimed that the legal system is prejudiced against him ever since he was charged in 2019.