The following analysis makes clear that collaboration between the formal and informal institutions, movements and organizations that check and balance power is critical to thriving democracies and to creating openings for change in non-democracies.

Policy Recommen­dations

The following analysis makes clear that collaboration between the formal and informal institutions, movements and organizations that check and balance power is critical to thriving democracies and to creating openings for change in non-democracies. All stakeholders who have an interest in reinforcing the legitimacy of the democratic model of governance have a role to play in creating, maintaining and supporting such collaboration, as well as being innovative in shaping such cooperation. With that in mind, International IDEA recommends the following actions.

In order to safeguard the bedrock institutions of representative government:

  1. To counter declines in Credible Elections, governments and electoral management bodies must frame their work in the service of citizens. Elections are not a privilege; they are a right in democratic systems. As such, all stakeholders—and especially electoral management bodies, the media and the courts—must ensure that electoral activities are based on facilitating equal access to all phases of the electoral process. At a minimum, this includes equality of contestation, equality of participation, as well as certainty about the ‘rules of the game’ (James, Clark and Asplund 2023).

  2. Parliaments should focus on increasing public participation opportunities and transparency of legislative action. Parliamentary bodies should prioritize facilitating easy and inclusive public access to records, parliamentary questioning, as well as the proceedings of relevant committees. They should also disseminate and promote public access to any reporting on government performance (Open Government Partnership n.d.).

  3. Cross-regional and cross-sectoral partnerships—both between different parliaments and between parliaments and other CIs—can share a wealth of valuable lessons with participants. Donors and democracy support organizations should prioritize support for the creation and maintenance of such partnership networks, which may be useful for more effective parliaments.

In order to protect the rule of law, judiciaries and regulatory bodies that are finding themselves increasingly in the limelight for their work on checking power:

  1. Governments should consult with judiciaries and judicial services bodies to co-create mechanisms that allow for the reporting, investigation and punishment of actions that harm judicial integrity, with a focus on cases or individuals that have an impact on power groups or that are relevant to politically sensitive issues. When judges are the subjects of punitive measures, these measures must be transparent, impartial and oriented around the protection of the rights of those affected (OHCHR 2022b).

  2. Governments must ensure that prosecutors and their offices are independent and that their independence is protected by laws that are in line with the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors (UN 1990).

  3. Governments must protect and proactively enhance the independence of formal and informal regulatory and watchdog bodies by facilitating regular monitoring of these organizations’ ability to meaningfully fulfil their duties. Transparency International’s regular assessments of anti-corruption agencies and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s assessment framework for independent oversight institutions and regulatory agencies are strong examples of such assessment and monitoring mechanisms (TI 2023; De Vrieze 2019).

To counter continuing, serious deterioration in freedoms of expression, association and assembly and to defend the work of media and civil society:

  1. Governments must recommit to protecting the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, by updating their laws and ensuring that they are in line with international human rights standards. Key here is digital literacy and its role in combating violence, ensuring equitable knowledge societies and promoting self-protection. The 53rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council includes a session on the freedom of opinion and expression, and it is devoted specifically to digital, media and information literacy (UN General Assembly 2022b, 2023b).

  2. Civil society organizations should continue to lead in conducting assessments of states’ protection of these rights. Their efforts should include rigorous data collection that allows the world to clearly see progress or regression in state performance (UN General Assembly 2023a).

  3. Governments must ensure that there is a strong, independent and impartial mechanism that can receive and act on reports of violations of the rights of journalists and members of civil society organizations. This resource should be part of a network of mechanisms and norms within governments that integrate protection of civil society and the media into laws and training. Mexico’s Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which includes bodyguards, armoured cars, panic buttons and other assistance to journalists, provides the framework for such a mechanism. In recent years, however, the Mexican mechanism has suffered from serious budget cuts that have made its operation severely challenging (Vivanco 2020).


  1. Cooperate to consolidate democratic norms: African Union member states should engage in strategic agenda-setting to counter the negative influences of geopolitical dynamics that continue to undermine democratic governance and overall stability on the continent. In addition, through its Peace and Security Council and in collaboration and coordination with the Regional Economic Communities, the African Union should develop a carefully crafted sanctions regime to punish errant political and military elites who capture power unconstitutionally.

  2. Comply with continental and regional court rulings: Member states of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities must protect the democratic norms established by these bodies, by taking their support and enforcement mechanisms seriously. This means consistently complying with the rulings of continental and regional courts, such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the East African Court of Justice. National courts also have an important role in upholding the international instruments to which states have committed themselves, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG).

  3. Sustain civic pressure: Government respect for democratic norms can be enhanced where sustained pressure from civil society is exerted on it to do so. Civil society organizations, including cultural, labour and civic organizations, should, in collaboration with the private sector, use their networks and expertise to shine a spotlight on government abuses and bring democratic norms to the forefront of society.

  4. Protect the independence of oversight institutions: As a means of constraining and balancing dominant executive branches, donors and democracy assistance providers should target the strengthening of the independent regulatory and oversight bodies known as fourth-branch institutions, alongside continued efforts to protect judicial independence and improve the capabilities of legislatures. Fourth-branch institutions, including electoral management bodies, ombuds offices, anti-corruption agencies and human rights commissions, must be protected from political interference, which continues to hamper their effectiveness. The design and functioning of South Africa’s Chapter 9 Institutions offer valuable lessons in this regard, particularly the role that the South African Constitutional Court has played in protecting their independence (Fombad 2016; Konstant 2016; Tushnet 2021).

  5. Protect civic space—online and on the street: Popular movements can have a role as a countervailing institution of last resort, but this requires positive steps on the part of both governments and the leaders of popular movements. Governments must respect the rights of the people to freely assemble and to organize on social media. They should desist from shutting down the Internet and ensure that, when policing protests, law enforcement officials deploy force against protesters only where it is necessary and proportionate (Kiai and Heyns 2016; UN General Assembly 2022a). At the same time, popular movements must not allow legitimate protests to fall into violence. Recent high-profile cases in Ghana, Kenya and Sierra Leone show that this remains a problem (Mensah 2022; Mersie 2023; Akinwotu 2022), and movements should take all available measures to prevent violence, including sticking to the protest route, ensuring participants are aware of prohibited conduct and maximizing communication with law enforcement officials (Right2Protest and Action Takers n.d.; Nassauer 2019).

Western Asia

  1. Provide greater support for civil society: Donors and assistance organizations should support the in-country individuals and institutions who possess the skill sets required by emergent civil society groups and activists. Even if there is no immediate opportunity for change, nascent groups can learn from professionals and grow over time. Assistance should also go to diaspora communities and regional networks working to promote democracy, who can help build support internationally for the work of those inside relevant countries. Multilateral organizations and donors should provide greater support to civil society and community leaders in the field of civic and political education. By engaging citizens in political processes and promoting holistic civic education, donors and others can help raise awareness about the role and potential of local, regional and international human rights mechanisms, bolstering public support and demand for these institutions and for democratic principles more widely (Sabatini et al. 2022).

  2. Revitalize public engagement with legislatures: Members of parliaments, civil society and members of the public should advocate for mechanisms of dialogue between legislatures and the public that facilitate communication and increased access to legislative proceedings and decisions. In the context of restricted civic space, it is difficult to disseminate public information, but incremental steps can increase public awareness and civil education, and they can lead to significant reform over time (IPU and UNDP 2017).


  1. Strengthen collaboration with countervailing institutions in security: Governments should focus on strategies that address crime and citizen security through a democratic lens, including by prioritizing the professionalization of civilian security and enforcement agencies and of anti-corruption mechanisms over the use of armed forces in policing. Legislatures should strengthen oversight of executive decrees that authorize the participation of armed forces in policing and, through dialogue with the relevant authorities, consider alternatives such as increased training of civilian security forces. Security agencies should seek out collaboration schemes with national human rights institutions (OHCHR 1990). The work of the International Committee of the Red Cross with Brazilian police in human rights training (ICRC 2022) is a strong example in this regard.

  2. Increase citizen engagement to rebuild trust: The executive branch, legislatures and judiciaries should maintain regular mechanisms for communication with the public and integrate civil society in this regard. Such dialogue is critical to maintaining the balance of power and to rebuilding citizens’ trust in democratic institutions. The Dominican Republic’s dialogue with multiple stakeholders throughout its discussions on government reform and digital priorities is good practice in this regard (Ricklefs 2022; Presidencia de la Republica Dominicana 2021).

  3. Ensure free and safe public debate in the context of elections: Legislatures and electoral management bodies should collaborate to ensure that provisions to prevent harassment and disinformation are in place, while protecting free speech, especially with regard to civil society and the media and in the context of elections. The cross-regional joint declaration issued by the United Nations, Organization of American States, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on freedom of expression, and more recent work by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression on online safety for journalists and on disinformation, should serve as guiding principles and international standards (OHCHR 2017, 2022a, 2021).

  4. Increase international cooperation on electoral management bodies’ independence: Given the crucial role of electoral management bodies (EMBs) in ensuring credible elections and safeguarding citizen trust in elected officials, International IDEA reiterates its previous recommendation that international bodies and their member states, particularly in the context of the inter-American human rights system ‘consider creating a Special Rapporteur on the independence of EMBs, similar to current initiatives supporting the independence of judges or freedom of opinion or expression’ (International IDEA 2022a).

Asia & the Pacific

  1. Build regional cooperation: In the face of enhanced competition between great powers, states across Asia and the Pacific should strengthen multilateral cooperation to protect regional democracy, domestic policy autonomy and states’ capacity to provide for the well-being of their citizens. The Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights offer mechanisms for promoting mutual accountability in other contexts, which are useful models. While forums like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) do exist, stronger international cooperation is needed to deal with an array of challenges. These range from security and rights concerns, such as the junta in Myanmar, to global collective action issues, such as the need to push global creditors to constructively participate in sovereign debt management and reconstruction practices.

  2. Maintain complementary countervailing institutions: Given the mixed track record of judiciaries and technocratic institutions like anti-corruption bureaus, democratic governments in Asia and the Pacific should strengthen disparate, mutually reinforcing, complementary countervailing institutions. Institutional protections against authoritarian overreach should not be so strong that they undermine democratic institutions from an unexpected direction, like ‘paper tiger’ anti-corruption commissions or politicized judiciaries. Donor governments can provide support to the co-development of mutually supporting electoral management bodies, anti-corruption bodies and judiciaries.

  3. Strengthen parliamentary oversight: Parliaments should improve oversight mechanisms to enhance public confidence and strengthen the legitimacy of their countries’ political institutions. Parliamentarians should leverage the expertise and the scrutinizing power of civil society and the media to harmonize competing interests when holding the government to account, while also providing the opposition, minority parties and the general public with opportunities to engage in oversight activities. The public consultations on electoral bills conducted by the Fijian Parliament, as well as the engagement between parliament and civil society organizations in Malaysia driving the government to introduce gender impact assessments to all bills in the country as a gender-sensitive scrutiny tool, provide useful examples (Parliament of the Republic of Fiji 2021; INTER PARES n.d.).

  4. Support media freedom and pluralism: Donors and democracy assistance providers should scale up efforts in providing technical and financial assistance to independent media initiatives, while at the same time advocating for robust legal protections for journalists. Given the inconsistent sustainability of historical subscription or ad-based funding models, donors should prioritize long-term core funding as much as possible.


  1. Continue unwavering support for Ukraine: European governments must consider the war in Ukraine through a democratic, not geopolitical lens. Supporting Ukraine and its people requires unwavering dedication and a commitment to strengthening Ukraine’s democratic institutions. In addition to providing support for European Union accession processes, this also entails assisting Ukraine’s efforts to build international support and solidarity for its resistance to Russian imperialism across the Global South (International IDEA 2022b; Nguyen 2023).

  2. Ensure EU enlargement processes are consistent and focus on deep-reaching reforms: The EU should continue to make full use of its mechanisms, including the EU enlargement process and funds, to penalize authoritarian-leaning leaders and reward and incentivize countries that demonstrate progress in democratic performance. Further democratization in the Eastern Partnership and in the Western Balkans regions will depend partially on the EU’s ability to present a credible and feasible enlargement and technical assistance approach, and particularly in strengthening collaboration between national parliaments and mutually supportive domestic countervailing institutions. Processes must be seen as fair and rigorous by all sides and citizens in applicant countries must be able to trust that accession decisions are being made on the merits of the country’s democratic reforms.

  3. Promote judicious regional cooperation in Central Europe: Democracy activists in Central Europe should promote the judicious use of regional cooperation mechanisms and political alliances in support of recent promising democratic developments. This can extend to the Visegrad Group, ensuring that it maintains its focus on supporting grassroots initiatives, and monitoring and defending it from being co-opted to amplify the voices of populist governments at a time of rapidly shifting dynamics in the Group (Inotai 2023). Central European parliaments should consider the example of the Swedish Committee of Inquiry on the Constitution, an all-party parliamentary committee which researched and proposed constitutional reforms for safeguarding democracy and protecting political institutions against democratic decline (Ruotsi 2023).

  4. Build a rights-based approach to tackling foreign interference: European governments should solicit public expert legal advice on how to protect their elections and political institutions from foreign interference through a rights-based approach, especially heeding relevant advice from international institutions. The importance of a rights-based approach becomes all the more salient as recent actions related to tackling foreign interference—including ‘Tusk Law’ in Poland, and the proliferation of legislation targeting ‘foreign agents’ such as in Russia and Hungary—have tapped into concerns around national security and may be used to infringe on the rights of critics and political opponents.