Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, and Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, answered questions January 29 in a CO.NX webchat on exploring new ways to promote democracy and human rights.

Following is the transcript:
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Bureau of International Information
Programs CO.NX Webchat Transcript

Guest: Lorne Craner & Kenneth Wollack

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome to today’s CO.NX Global Forum! Beginning at 13:00GMT you will be able to participate in a live forum and share your questions and comments with others from around the world.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: At 14:00 GMT, we will be joined by Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, and Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute who have co-authored a paper on Democracy Assistance and will answer your questions.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Visit our community site on Facebook at  HYPERLINK “http://co-nx.state.gov/” http://co-nx.state.gov.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: I will launch up the “open forum” at the top of the hour. In the meantime please submit your questions for Lorne Craner and Kenneth Wollack here in this chat pod.

Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute: This is Ken Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, and I’m pleased to participate in this discussion on democracy worldwide. Support for democracy has been a bipartisan effort by the United States for many decades by successive Democratic and Republican administrations with the support of the Congress and nongovernmental organizations. This is not, however, solely an American enterprise.  Many other countries, nongovernmental groups from every region of the world and intergovernmental organizations are engaged in efforts to support and strengthen democratic institutions and processes.  Now, the democratic idiom in many places governs the discourse between and within nations.  This is not about imposition, but rather choice.

Lorne Craner, IRI: This is Lorne Craner.  Thanks for joining Ken and me.  IRI and NDI work closely together, befitting an issue that has had bipartisan support for over 30 years.  The questions you’ve sent are both important and incisive, and we look forward to answering them today.

Question [Lauren]: What is the single greatest difference between democracy promotion as it looked when your respective institutions were first created and how it now looks in the 21st century?
Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: In the last 25 years we have seen an increase in travel, the growth of cultural and educational exchanges, a communications revolution and new trade patterns, all indicative of interdependence, which has created an interest in systems permitting more freedom of choice for individuals and reinforces the theory that human nature ultimately seeks some form of free expression.  People’s desires to put food on the table and have a role in the political life of their countries are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing.  Oftentimes, however, new democratic governments inherit the legacies of their non-democratic predecessors – poverty, disease, corruption, political exclusion – and sometimes new democratic institutions have failed to deliver on quality of life issues for all citizens.  When these new institutions fail to deliver, then democratic systems are placed in jeopardy.

Lorne Craner, IRI: The biggest change I’ve seen from working here in the 1990s and returning in this decade is the multilateral nature of the work.  In the early days of IRI and NDI, only the UK and Germany joined us in our work; today, new democracies from Central Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa are assisting others in democracy building in democracy-building in other countries.  This helps not only in offering more examples, but also because their experiences are more recent – meaning those who actually brought about change are available to speak with.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: There are more than 40 participants from around the world.  If you would like to introduce yourself to the group, please tell us your first name and where you are joining us from.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: My name is Mark.  I am with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.  I’m here in Washington, D.C.

Comment [Elizabeth from Louisiana]: Our names are: Susan, Elizabeth and Zsofi, we are from Louisisana.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome! Eve Sandberg: Eve from Oberlin, Ohio, USA.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome Eve!

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Welcome, everyone. My name is Sarah and I am working with Mark in Washington, D.C.

Comment [RichG/Uz]: Richard from Uzbekistan

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome Richard.

Comment [Robert]: Robert from Washington, DC.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Hi Robert!

Comment [Scott Kearin]: Scott from Kyrgyzstan

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome Scott!

Comment [ran]: hello, Ran: I come from China

Comment [Elizabeth from Louisiana]: hello ran

Comment [JTronnes]: Jamie Tronnes joining from Rabat, Morocco

Comment [Esther Skelley Jordan]: Esther Skelley from Atlanta, GA (PhD student at the Univ. of Georgia).

Comment [Stephanie Lynn]: Hi. I’m Stephanie Lynn from NDI’s programs in Malaysia and regional advocacy support on Burma. I’m currently on the Thai-Burma border, linking in from Mae Sot.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Hello Stephanie and welcome!

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Welcome Jamie.

Comment [Mohieddine Abdellaoui]: Welcome I work for IRI in Rabat

Question [Antonia]: Has technology played in democracy promotion?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: Citizens, civil and non-governmental organizations, companies, civil servants, politicians, and large state and private-sector bureaucracies are employing technologies and the Internet to enhance communication, improve access to important information and increase their efficiency, resulting in strengthened democratic processes and more effective governance. Encouraging and improving the use of such technologies in democratic development has thus become an imperative spanning a broad range of programming areas for NDI. Recent innovations include assisting election monitors using text message reporting technologies to safeguard elections; strengthening women’s political participation through a global, multilingual web portal containing hundreds of useful political resources for aspiring candidates and activists; helping civic groups use the Internet to organize supporters in their advocacy efforts; assisting political parties to use sophisticated databases to target and turn out voters; or opening up legislatures with websites and technologies that help citizens to participate more meaningfully in the legislative process and members to better connect with their constituents.

Question [Jaime]: How can the democracy promotion community direct greater attention to the important efforts ongoing in Africa and Latin America?  In a climate where there is so much focus on the Middle East, the significance of other regions can often be underplayed.  How do your Institutes plan to work with the Congress and the Obama Administration to ensure sufficient funding levels to support democracy and governance on the African and Latin American continents?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: NDI is not a lobbying organization, but we have shared our views about the need to consolidate democratic gains in Latin America, where programs are woefully under-funded.  There is a pressing and urgent need for political parties in the hemisphere to reform and modernize so as to overcome the growing crisis of confidence in these institutions.  They need greater internal democracy and to institute greater opportunities for women, youth and traditionally marginalized communities.  Funding for democracy efforts has been greater in Africa, but there continues to be a particular need in places where democratic transitions have taken place and where citizens and elected leaders are striving against tremendous odds to build or rebuild political institutions. This is particularly true in post-conflict situations, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, where countries have emerged out of years of civil strife.  We, and others, have found, not surprisingly, that there are direct links between human development, economic progress and more open political systems where there is transparency, accountability and citizen engagement.

Question [alias]: What role does the media play in promoting democracy in a given society? And does either Institute work with this medium to promote accountability?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Alisa asked what role the media plays in developing democracy.  The answer is that in developing democracies, the media plays as important a role as it does in our democracy.  The media can be the guarantor of limits on government power, and on government accountability.  To accomplish these goals, it must be as objective as possible.  As a rule, IRI does not assist journalists directly, but some of our sister organizations like INTERNEWS and IWPR do a great job helping journalists.

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: On Alisa’s question about the role of media, the free flow of information is crucial to a well-functioning democracy.  Our work with political parties, governments and civic organizations often includes programs that focus on the role of the media in democratic societies and how best to interact with them.  A good source of information on this topic is the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy,  HYPERLINK “http://cima.ned.org/index.php” http://cima.ned.org/index.php.

Question [Ghassan Alsarraf]: As an ex NDI staff who left in April 2007, I as everyone wants to know what has the millions of US dollars spent to promote democracy in Iraq tangibly achieved?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: Bringing democracy to Iraq was not a core objective of the U.S. government and coalition partners until some time after the war started.  In fact, the lion’s share of funding for democracy programs in Iraq has been provided not by the previous administration but as a result of a bipartisan initiative of the Congress, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, a strong opponent of the Iraq war. The work of democracy-building has received relatively little attention and funding compared to the expense of keeping troops in the country and the cost of reconstruction projects. It should also be noted that genuine democracy will take many years, even decades, to develop in Iraq and no one should pronounce democracy either a success or failure after only five years or a handful of elections.
Nevertheless, there have been tangible democratic advances, including the 2005 elections and referendum; the establishment of the Council of Representatives and its improved performance over the past year; the establishment of hundreds of citizen organizations working to improve local communities and advocate for better government policies; the development of political parties that represent diverse interests; and a vibrant media sector featuring different points of view. Much remains to be done. Some political parties have affiliated militias. Women’s rights are often undermined. Sectarianism, regionalism and tribalism remain, and the country must continue to tackle insecurity, corruption and organized crime before citizens will feel that their lives have improved and they can enjoy the fruits of democracy.

Question [Lauren]: What is the relationship between democracy assistance and economic development?  Does a certain level of economic prosperity need to be reached before a functioning democracy can emerge?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Lauren asks about the relationship between democratic and economic development.  The answer is that we have learned that they are closely intertwined.  People have an expectation that democracy will lead to social and economic betterment (I think in part because they have seen that established democracies are well-developed economically – though not without ups and downs).  We have responded to this expectation by developing “governance” programs that help newly elected democrats at the national and local level better run their services, making the areas more attractive to domestic and foreign investment.  Countries from Mongolia to Mali have disproved the 1950s era thesis that economic development is a necessary precursor to democracy.

Webchat Moderator [Tim]: Please visit our Facebook site at  HYPERLINK “http://co-nx.state.gov/” http://co-nx.state.gov/ for a list of all upcoming online discussions.

Comment [Paul Scott Thacker]: Greetings from NDI in Washington.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome!

Question [Susan]: What do you say to critics who accuse you of exporting American democracy?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: NDI is an international organization in that its staff members and volunteer political practitioners come from more than 100 countries.  In addition to the funding it receives from the U.S. government, the Institute receives support from, and works cooperatively with 35 countries and many intergovernmental institutions and nongovernmental organizations from every region of the world.  Everything NDI does takes a multinational approach to sharing experiences and expertise from and with a variety of countries – new democracies, traditional democracies and countries in transition.  Our role is to share diverse experiences and expertise and not to promote one type of system.

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Responding further to Susan’s question on “exporting” US democracy, IRI also has a multinational staff, and our international roster of trainers ensures that we are able to bring diverse examples of new and old democratic development from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.  We also work closely with the burgeoning number of democracy development organizations from other new and old democracies.  I think this critique had some resonance and even validity 20 years ago when only the US.  The UK and Germany did this kind of work, but when scores of organizations from around the globe are engaged, it’s a little more difficult to make the argument.

Question [harris]: What type of work are you currently doing in China and what future steps can organizations like IRI and NDI take to advance democracy in China?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Harris asks what kind of work we’re doing in China.  IRI has been engaged there for about 15 years, originally on village elections (we were the first western organization to observe one), then working with the NPC to strengthen its capacity.  That work led us into legal reform – originally commercial and economic issues, but then civil and criminal law.  Currently our efforts are focused on assisting Chinese NGOs, which have only come into existence in the last five years.  We see this development of civil society reflecting growing Chinese expectations of justice and dignity – and not just economic betterment — from their leaders.   IRI is now one of many organizations assisting China’s development.
Webchat Moderator [Tim]: The link for the speakers’ paper is: http://tinyurl.com/cmfte8.  Here is another link to the paper co-authored by today’s speakers:  http://www.ndi.org/file /2344_newdirections_engpdf_07242008.pdf

Comment [rahim]: ba slam

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome Rahim!

Comment [yusuf]: hello good evening

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Hello!

Comment [anjana]: Im Anjana from Sri Lanka

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome Anjana in Sri Lanka!

Comment [bobbybatatina]: hi

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Welcome Bobby.

Question [Guest]: It seems to me that within the U.S. Government, democracy related work is not seen as an integral function and also is not seen as a way for career officials to advance their careers; do you believe changes need to be made to change this culture, and if so, how do you think this could be done?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Guest, as someone who came out of government in 2004, this is a great question.  I found many at the State Department who believed in this work (certainly more than when I served there in the early 1990s) but many did not.  I think better training at the Foreign Service Institute would help “demystify” what democracy assistance is and isn’t.  I also think it’s important that word come from the top, as it did from the Carter to Bush 43 administrations, that democracy assistance is valued, and will be a factor in judging career.

Question [Duncan Henry Sisya]: Why do African leaders cling to power? Can they learn from American presidents?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: There is a changing face of Africa. Between 1960 and 1990, there were only two or three African leaders who stepped down from office voluntarily. Since 1990, that number has soared to about 40. This reflects a new generation of leadership on the continent. Some African leaders clung to power because they were able to reap personal rewards and benefits from their position. One challenge is that African heads of state have not seen options or alternatives in life after the presidency.
In response, NDI organized the African Statesmen’s Initiative (ASI) five years ago, bringing together over 15 former heads of state who were democratically elected and left office democratically. During the initial ASI meeting in Bamako, Mali, these former heads of state discussed constructive roles that they can play to address problems such as health care, education and economic development across Africa. In addition, they decided that they could take a constructive role in supporting democracy and mediating and resolving conflict. Over the last five years, they have formed the African Forum, organized by former President Chissano of Mozambique. Now many of them, including former President Obasanjo of Nigeria, former President Mkapa of Tanzania, and Chissano, have played critical roles in addressing conflict in Sudan, northern Uganda, and the DRC.

Question [JJ]: Is Democracy on the rise or on the fall?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Democracy has been on the rise for some decades, and I believe it will continue.  Some have pointed to a diminution in the rate of countries making the transition since the early part of this decade.  I believe that the economic dislocation we’re seeing around the world will lead to dissatisfaction in some countries that have offered their people material but little political betterment (such as Belarus and Iran).  I also think it’s important to watch newly democratized countries and how they fare – the New York Times had a good article on this this week, focusing on Central Europe.  This points out the need, as I noted earlier, to follow up political democracy assistance with “governance” work, focusing on making democracy deliver in countries just making the transition.  But overall, as I travel around the world, I see more people wanting more control over their lives – not less.

Webchat Moderator [Tim]: Just a reminder. You can visit our Facebook site at http://co-nx.state.gov/ for a list of all upcoming online discussions.

Question [Jeff Lilley]: Some in the democracy community talk about an evolution regarding working with one side or all sides in a country with a developing democracy. Can you describe the thinking behind supporting one party in a country with USG assistance as opposed to extending help to multiple parties? When would this occur? Does it still occur?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: NDI works with all parties across the democratic spectrum.  Our goal is not to seek the outcome of democratic processes but to support processes that reflect and support the will of the people.  In fact, NDI is the only organization that has official standing in the three largest international groupings of political parties representing Social Democratic, Liberal and centrist ideologies.  Together these internationals from left of center to right of center represent more than 350 parties in 150 countries.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: We’re approaching the end of our scheduled 60-minute chat.  We hope you will understand that our speakers are not able to answer each and every one of the 100+ remaining questions.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: I’m going to open up the “Global Open Forum” pod following the conclusion of the Q/A session.  We want to hear from you–Topics for future webchats?  Media we should explore?  Technology you are using in the field?  Your thoughts are welcome!

Question [Robert]: Indonesian elections are in April — what challenges do you see for this rather new democracy?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: Indonesia has made much progress since the Suharto era and has managed to overcome many challenges to its nascent democratic system.  The task that lies ahead is to consolidate the gains that have been made in establishing democratic institutions. We have learned from experiences in the Philippines and Thailand that early democratic advances can be jeopardized if underlying problems are neglected. In Indonesia, several challenges to democratic development remain. These include: under-developed political parties with little experience in governance, corruption, and weak institutions, such as the judiciary and election commission. In addition, tensions in Aceh and Papua remain unresolved. Indonesia’s fledgling democracy still must demonstrate that it can improve the daily lives of the nation’s citizens.

Question [Marlene Spoerri]: What steps do NDI and IRI take to offset allegations of partisanship in the dissemination of party aid? Are there conditions under which you will excuse partisanship if you believe this will further democracy’s onset (I’m thinking here of Milosevic’s Serbia)?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Speaking for IRI, we aid all democratic political parties in a country, without regard to whether they are “conservative” or “liberal” (labels which often in the countries we work have little meaning).  For example, in Slovakia in 1998 we worked with the Green Party, and currently we’re working with the Communist Party in Belarus.  We frequently work with coalitions that include many parties of varying views.  We will not aid parties advocating violence, and we were not founded to help dictatorial parties.

Comment [Mohieddine Abdellaoui]: Thanks to Mr. Lorne Craner and Mr. Kenneth Wollack.

Question [Gretchen Birkle]: In many countries of the world, particularly in some countries of the Middle East, there is little political space in which women can operate.  What types of programs are effective in empowering women when there is little ability for them to be involved directly in politics?

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: There is a twofold challenge. The gateway to political power for women is primarily through political parties. Parties themselves have to reform by providing real avenues for women’s political participation and leadership within their organizations. This means more than establishing a “women’s wing,” or putting women on the lower end of parliamentary lists. This can be achieved by working directly with political parties and their male leadership to help them understand the benefits of inclusion. At the same time, women’s skills must be enhanced and behavioral changes must take place so they can compete professionally and effectively. If this behavioral change takes place, their participation in politics will eventually be unremarkable. In order to encourage this behavioral change, NDI trains women in time management, public speaking, political networking and other essential skills. Another important element is networking with other women in more open societies to overcome these challenges. NDI, along with the UNDP, IPU, UNIFEM and International IDEA, has established an online knowledge exchange called iKNOW Politics ( HYPERLINK “http://www.iknowpolitics.org/” http://www.iknowpolitics.org/) to support such networking. Since its establishment, the website has received more than 30 million hits and today receives more than 100,000 per day.

Question [Sam]: My name is Sam Turano and I’m in DC. It seems that the lion’s share of funding for democratization programming goes to “top-down” approaches to democracy promotion and good governance – building institutions within parliaments, working with political parties, election assistance and observation, etc. – and little on “bottom up” methods. Since democracy is fundamentally a demand-driven model of governance, what are NDI and IRI doing to educate and energize the electorate in emerging and consolidating democracies about their responsibilities as well as their rights, so that they can demand proper conduct of their leaders?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Sam, both organizations do work from the bottom up, as well as top down.  We spend much effort on aiding civil society and civic education as well as working with political parties and parliaments.  We believe that the “demand side” of democracy and good government is important, but we also believe that the “supply side” needs to be tended, or there will be a great and unproductive dissatisfaction at the lack of democracy in a country.  Sam, both organizations do work from the bottom up, as well as top down.  We spend much effort on aiding civil society and civic education as well as working with political parties and parliaments.  We believe that the “demand side” of democracy and good government is important, but we also believe that the “supply side” needs to be tended, or there will be a great and unproductive dissatisfaction at the lack of democracy in a country.

Answer [Ken Wollack, National Democratic Institute]: It’s been a pleasure to participate in today’s chat and thanks to all who signed on.  We’re sorry we could not answer all of your questions given the time constraints. We regret this and greatly appreciate your continued interest in this important subject area.  We hope you will visit NDI’s website, www.ndi.org, and continue to communicate with NDI and IRI.

Question [Mohieddine Abdellaoui]: In one of your recommendations you said”…. The U.S. should also support the democratic promotion efforts of other regional intergovernmental bodies, such as the African Union. Do you mean the organization in itself or in the countries that are members?

Answer [Lorne Craner, IRI]: Our recommendation was that regional organizations such as the AU, the OSCE, the OAS , ASEAN and others (as well as the UN itself) should emphasize their role in assisting member countries develop their democracies.  The assistance rendered has proven particularly valuable in many countries. I’m signing off now.  Thank you for your participation, and please be sure to visit our website, www.iri.org, to learn more about IRI.  Thank you again!

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Thank you to Lorne Craner and Kenneth Wollack.  We will open up the Global Forum now.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: The Q/A Webchat is now closed.  We wish to thank Lorne Craner and Kenneth Wollack for joining us today.  A transcript of today’s webchat will be posted to http://co-nx.state.gov and to  http://www.america.gov within one business day.  Speakers are chosen for their expertise and may not reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State.

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