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Introductory remarks at the New York launch of The Global State of Democracy 2019 Report - UNHQ

SPEECH DELIVERED:
12 December 2019
New York, USA
Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General at International IDEA. Launch of the Global State of Democracy 2019 Report in New York, UNHQ
Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General at International IDEA.
Launch of the Global State of Democracy 2019 Report in New York, USA.

 

 

Dear friends:

Good morning, welcome and thank you for being here.

I would like to start by thanking the representatives of UN Member States, as well as members of the diplomatic community and UN staff that have kindly accepted our invitation to come today.

Democracy is experiencing severe challenges all over the world. The sense of hope and inevitability that infused democracy’s remarkable expansion during the second half of the Twentieth Century is all but gone. Pessimism and hand-wringing about the health of democracy have become the norm.

Is democracy seriously ill? And if so, what are the remedies?

These are the questions that International IDEA is trying to answer with the Global State of Democracy Report that we are launching here today.

For those of you who may not be so familiar with International IDEA, it may be worth saying a few words about our institute and its work.

We are an inter-governmental organization, with 33 member states from all regions of the world, whose mission is supporting and advancing democracy worldwide.

How have we done that for the past 24 years?

Well, International IDEA is a peculiar institution. It has a dual nature and takes pride in calling itself a “think-and-do-tank”. We think, because for 24 years we have been producing produce high quality, evidence-based comparative knowledge on electoral systems, political reform, constitutional design, gender equality in politics, and democratic governance writ large. We do, because we apply that knowledge and expertise through technical assistance on the ground. Currently we are active, in different modalities, in over 70 countries around the world.

International IDEA embodies the notion that the struggle to advance democracy should not be a solitary endeavor; that there’s value in systematizing and facilitating comparative knowledge and experience about democratic processes to those that are on the trenches building democracy.

Our Global State of Democracy Initiative is grounded in this vocation to produce policy-oriented and impactful political research. And let me say that it is a unique initiative. It is currently the only global report on democracy developed by an inter-governmental organization.

This project started out in 2016 with the generous financial support from Sweden, our host country, and already yielded a first report, published in 2017. What you have in your hands is the second iteration of a global health check on democracy that we hope to continue publishing every 2 years as one of our flagship research products.

The report provides a comprehensive analysis on the state of democracy around the world, based on very robust data. The Global State of Democracy Indices that underpin our analysis have been developed through close collaboration with the Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem) at the University of Gothenburg. Indeed, I want to stress that we appreciate enormously the support of V-Dem, whose data is one of the primary inputs of our report. The Indices cover 97 indicators of political performance, for 158 countries, stretching back to 1975, and then year after year until 2018.

This is a very significant research effort whose timing is particularly important given the current opinion climate that surrounds democracy. The prevailing negative narrative is not devoid of consequences, and, in some cases, is peddled in a self-interested way. Before we accept its face value, at the very least we have the duty to pass it through the acid test of reality.

This is what we try to do here. The report is, in a way, an attempt to shift the current narrative about democracy –as seen in the media and global debate—to a more nuanced discussion, which showcases the challenges, but also the advances of democracy in the world.

The text we are launching here also helps to better understand and unpack complex global phenomena and their implications for democracy and for societies more broadly, for instance, the drivers and impact of populism; democratic backsliding; the risks connected to elections in challenging contexts; the corrosive impact of corruption and money in politics; and the ambiguous impact of Information and communication technologies on democracy.

And, moreover, we do this in a way that provides an empirically rigorous diagnosis as well as policy recommendations to address the challenges and harness the opportunities for democracy. These recommendations have been developed on the basis of lessons learned from our institute’s work over more than two decades of facilitating technical assistance for democratic reforms around the world.

The report is oriented and adapted to policy-makers as well as practitioners. The data can help multilateral and international organizations identify priority areas for reform and priority countries for support. But it also provides arguments and analytical tools for civil society organizations advocating for democracy. 

Crucially, the report also fills an important knowledge gap, looking at the links between democracy and sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda. Help countries track progress on reforms and on the achievement of the 2030 agenda is of the essence. The GSoD Indices help to track progress on 8 SDGs and in particular SDG 16 (on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and SDG 5.5 (on the political participation of women).

This is a line of work that we take very seriously, and that we have been engaged in for a while, through our New York Office. Let me give you one example of a successful partnership that IDEA has been supporting over the last four years in the field of using rights-based data and indicators for monitoring progress on the implementation of the SDGs.

The SDG16 Data Initiative launched in July 2016 by a consortium of 15 partner organizations seeks to make possible the open and holistic tracking of the commitments made by all 193 UN Member States captured in SDG16. The SDG16 Data Initiative was created to respond to the gap in terms of comprehensive data on SDG16 issues, especially civil society generated data, open global monitoring and improved availability of data for civil society actors.

This experience leads me to believe that, as a rule, non-official data sources should be included alongside official data sources in the global, regional and national monitoring of SDG16 implementation. Member states and UN custodian agencies ought to accept the role of civil society non-official innovative methodologies, data and resources, which should be integrated into monitoring processes. We certainly hope that the data that sustains our report will come to be seen as an important contribution to this effort.

All of this, we hope, is of interest to the UN community, and just generally to everyone concerned with understanding the role of democracy in the achievement of sustainable development.

Today’s launch hopes to provide you insights to some of the key findings of the report. It is merely a way to kick start a conversation. In fact, we hope that you will read the report, or at least some of the regional chapters that may be of your particular interest, and use this material as a reference for your work on democracy and governance issues.

Shedding light on both the predicament of democracy and the possible solutions is the intention that drives this effort. As all the work that International IDEA does globally, this research is infused with a sense of urgency, but also of possibility and hope. Through this report we want to provide actionable knowledge, tools, and advice to the actors working on democratic reform processes at the sub-national, national, and regional levels. We want to empower and enlighten, sustain and support, reinvigorate and relaunch the efforts to protect and advance democracy around the world. And we want to do this because we are convinced that sustainable democracy is, by far, the best way to build sustainable development.

Only through a vast collective effort, fired by passion and conviction but also grounded on facts, will we be able to ensure that we address democracy’s ills and revive its promise. 

 

Thank you all for being here.

 

 

About the Speaker

Secretary-General
Kevin Casas-Zamora

Kevin Casas-Zamora, PhD is the Secretary-General of International IDEA since 1 August 2019.