New GSoD in Focus: Supporting Ukraine's Democracy after the War
Russia’s war of choice has wrought enormous infrastructural and human damage across Ukraine. The international community broadly accepts the necessity of providing significant financial and technical assistance for reconstruction in Ukraine. But equally vital is the provision of concomitant support for Ukraine’s work to preserve and reconstruct its democracy and democratic institutions on its own terms. Grounded in the political history of independent Ukraine, international comparative experience, and expert input from Ukrainian partners and other specialists, this GSoD In Focus lays out the key questions Ukrainians will face as they restart the regular work of their democratic institutions in the aftermath of the war—or, depending on future circumstances, a significant stepdown of hostilities—taking into account the country’s European Union Candidate Status. For international partners who are seeking to support Ukraine, the core points are: • All support must be provided via real partnerships, where Ukrainians are either driving or equal partners in all decision-making processes. • Ukraine has robust democratic institutions, and a key task is assisting in their preservation. • In some areas, including the conduct of the next election, international support is likely to be a necessity. • Ukrainian civil society, as an efficient driver of national progress in human rights and other democratic fields, should be involved in decision-making, subject-matter expertise and service delivery questions. Ukraine has been a democracy since 1994, although its democratic performance has varied greatly over time. The two most intense periods of reforms in Ukraine’s democratic history began with the Orange Revolution (2004–2005) and the Revolution of Dignity or ‘Maidan Revolution’ (February 2014), respectively. From 2009 to 2015, Ukraine suffered an episode of democratic backsliding under President Viktor Yanukovych. The most recent period of reform, which has included major decentralization and direction of resources to the regions, has coincided with a significantly larger share of Ukrainians agreeing that democracy is the preferable form of government in public opinion surveys. The Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, reflects the vitality and complexity of Ukrainian democratic politics. A consistent site of vibrant debate, it has not been historically free from the influence of overt and covert special interests. However, committed internal and external reformers have led it to become more transparent and responsive. Since 2014, European integration has been a driving force for reform, and the Verkhovna Rada has developed a close relationship with the European Parliament (EP). Future international support and peer-to-peer dialogues will be greatly appreciated. Although Russia and Ukraine are not currently in active negotiations to end the war, a negotiated end of hostilities is an ever-present possibility in any armed conflict. Thus, if a negotiation were to take place, the constitutional implications of any type of settlement need to be considered. Should an outcome of the war, including an unambiguous Russian defeat or a peace agreement, require considering changes to Ukraine’s Constitution, all of Ukraine’s established procedural requirements and constraints must be properly considered. Ukraine may consider a purely consultative referendum on any peace deal or settlement in line with its constitutional provisions, the risks and advantages of which should be carefully weighed in line with comparative experience. The next Ukrainian election, whenever it may be held, will be critical for the nation’s democratic trajectory. The movement of people and the aftermath of war will have massive logistical, institutional and legal implications for administering elections. Out-of-country and internally displaced people (IDPs) voting will demand special voting arrangements (SVAs) at an unprecedented scale, which in turn will have medium- and long-term implications for the financing and structuring of electoral processes. Protecting Ukraine’s cyber and information environment around elections will require cooperation across multiple agencies and stakeholders. The international community’s assistance to elections in Ukraine should seek to support requests from electoral authorities in a sustainable manner and with a long-term perspective. The defence of human rights is critical for any democracy. The Ukrainian judiciary still requires significant reform in order to ensure access to justice, and international cooperation and institutional support will likely be required to credibly adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity. In terms of media and civil liberties, balancing the protection of freedom of expression and protection against harmful propaganda will be a key challenge for post-war Ukraine. Ukrainian civil society will also likely require significant assistance in order to return to its pre-war efficacy. Given the decimation of the Ukrainian economy by the war, protecting existing labour rights and ensuring Ukraine meets international standards will be key to returning economic life to the country. Vulnerable minority groups, most notably Roma and LGBT+ people, could be at risk of seeing recent human rights gains erased without concerted support and attention. This GSoD In Focus highlights some of the critical issues that the post-war economic, social and political recovery in Ukraine should consider regarding the future of its democracy. The daunting task of addressing the consequences of the aggression, rebuilding physical infrastructure, and restoring basic services should place such issues at the core of the reconstruction effort. The full report is available online here.
Xi Jinping has changed China profoundly since he became the country’s premier in 2013. The Communist Party of China (CPC) argues that China is wealthier, with significantly less poverty and is a advancing in technological innovation, which are all objectively true. Yet, China is also more authoritarian and more inward looking; digital surveillance is ubiquitous, and the regime has become more assertive in pushing its foreign policy interests, usually to the detriment of global democratic values at national and multilateral levels. China’s scores in the Global State of Democracy Indices have reflected this increasing authoritarianism, with no improvements in any subattribute since 2013 and negative trends manifesting especially in Civil Liberties and Judicial Independence. Now, breaking with a long tradition, Xi Jinping has sidelined all possible internal opposition and walks unabated towards a third term. As a result, the world can expect a more authoritarian China in three fundamental ways. Total control of the party Xi has stifled dissent inside the Party, ending decades of collective leadership. Designed by Deng Xiaoping, collective leadership sought to prevent dictatorial tendencies and has gradually and consistently decentralized power, a trend that Xi has reverted. Although the CPC runs China as an uncontested one-party state, collective leadership has historically prompted internal discussion among different factions. Although the discussion was sometimes more about access to power than policy, it facilitated the arrival of fresh ideas to the Politburo. Xi Jinping has ended nearly three decades of power-sharing between the Shanghai Gang and the Youth League Gang, the two most prominent factions within the party. This consolidation of power means that Xi’s unprecedented third term—and even potential future terms—faces no opposition. Making China look like the party, instead of making the party look like China Secondly, Xi has reversed the adaptation of the Communist Party to Chinese society and economic evolution and has instead brought society and the economy in line with the party’s priorities, for instance by cracking down on technology companies. This has been done by increasing the presence of the party in society, by closing civic space even further and by building a digital surveillance system that gives the party eyes and ears on the people’s private lives. The Global State of Democracy Indices have recorded gradual decreases in civil liberties in China during Xi’s tenure. A more assertive China globally Under Xi, China is taking a new, more assertive, and nationalistic role at the global level, both in its bilateral and its multilateral relations. China has unabashedly defended its policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, even amid reports of human rights violations in both places. It has ramped up efforts at the multilateral level to alter the international order by pushing a global vision of sovereign nations that do not meddle in other nation's internal issues. Its influence in Asian countries has grown steadily through a combination of like-minded alliances, such as with Cambodia, and the fact that most countries cannot afford to economically ignore China. Its footprint is now a key political concern in countries from Angola to Vietnam and its Belt and Road initiative has being used to create unsustainable national debts in many countries such as Sri Lanka or Laos. This power has been used by China to increase its claim on the South China Sea and expand its influence in Southeast Asia despite of most countries in the region. The 20th Communist Party Congress has only made clear that Xi’s grip on power is uncontested and unquestionable. A more open China is further away than it has ever been in the last decades, and Xi’s seemingly indefinite reign has all but sealed any possible window of opportunity for it. This is the China that Xi has designed; this is the China that Xi will lead.
Supporting Myanmar’s Democratic Resistance Forces: Can the International Community Step Up?
Twenty months after its generals seized power in a coup, Myanmar’s struggle for democracy is caught between two camps of support: authoritarian regimes like China and Russia, which have supplied the military junta with arms and aid, sometimes in collaboration with other proxies, and democratic regimes, which have supplied Myanmar’s anti-coup resistance with the diplomatic equivalent of “thoughts and prayers” in a bid to maintain their embassies in the country. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has called for a halt to the flow of arms, yet no strict arms embargo is in place. International Support in Gridlock Whereas the European Parliament and the Interparliamentary Union have taken steps towards officially recognizing the National Unity Government (NUG) and the 2020 elected parliament, other international bodies have been inconsistent in their support. At the UNGA, the NUG continues to hold the seat, but on the ground, UN agencies felt compelled to enter formal agreements with the junta, who have exploited such moves for its own propaganda. Similarly, while several democracies have invited the NUG to establish representative offices, they have not legally recognized them as NUG embassies—impeding their ability to serve Myanmar citizens. Many Western governments have taken an ineffectual wait-and-see approach, following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A so-called five-point consensus, which never had the buy-in of an uncooperative military junta, has so far achieved none of its objectives. This ineffective diplomacy risks legitimizing the coup regime. Within ASEAN, only the Philippines and Malaysia have led calls for a tougher approach, with the latter’s Foreign Minister advocating for ASEAN to engage openly with the NUG. Indeed, it seems short-sighted to expect ASEAN to resolve the crisis, considering its track record and its non-interference approach. Several ASEAN regimes are wary of a more robust stance on democracy, as they feel themselves threatened by growing dissent. International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy 2021 data shows that in recent years, democracy in the sub-region has stagnated. Key actors to support On a more hopeful note, the NUG and the democratic coalition, uniting through the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), have the overwhelming support of the people. Embracing human rights and diversity, the interim institutions are working to create an inclusive federal democracy under the Federal Democracy Charter. Locally, and in alliance with ethnic resistance organizations (EROs), they have effective control in 52% of the territory, while the junta has effective direct authority in only 17%. The NUG and EROs provide education, healthcare and humanitarian assistance to the extent possible. The NUG also manages public resources and is increasingly engaging with foreign governments. For the people of Myanmar to win this democratic revolution, the international community must be bolder in stepping up support. Ultimately, inaction only serves to strengthen the junta’s resolve in continuing its atrocities while failing to stabilize the situation. The only path forward is to return the legitimate, representative government to power.