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Reflections from the new Secretary-General

September 12, 2014 • By Yves Leterme

It is a great privilege to have been selected by the Member States of International IDEA as the organization’s new Secretary-General. I am grateful to my predecessor, Vidar Helgesen, for his remarkable work in furthering the mandate of International IDEA in supporting sustainable democracy, and to Joan Sawe, who has held the reins in the interim period since Vidar’s departure.

Since taking up my position in June this year, I have started to see international politics and developments through the democracy support perspective of International IDEA, and a number of things have struck me.

Firstly, the work that International IDEA does in democracy support has perhaps never been as vital as it is today. Next year, the organization celebrates its 20th anniversary and it is opportune to reflect that many of the challenges facing democracy from the 1990s unfortunately remain unresolved. Notwithstanding the remarkable progress made in some countries, the world still faces authoritarian regimes, governments with lack of legitimacy and lack of real participation and representation by people in politics and policy-making.

Secondly, the recurrent crises around the world demonstrate that democracy needs to adapt and change in order to remain relevant. Conflicts and tensions in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Libya, Syria and elsewhere all show that complex questions of multi-ethnic societies, religious tolerance, failed states and historic borders need to be resolved in order for political institutions to bring peace and stability. In the area of constitution building, for example, innovative solutions will be required to ensure that new constitutions can form the genuine basis for sustainable peace and security, as well as for long-term democratic progress.

And thirdly, as a former prime minister of a mature European democracy, it is clear to me that established democracies also face unprecedented challenges. There is declining voter trust in political systems and in their capacity to resolve the current economic crisis. There is declining engagement in political parties, and declining voter turnout. This is particularly true for young people, which points to a very worrying trend for the future. Democratic institutions and actors in mature democracies therefore need to adapt and change to ensure that they remain relevant, and International IDEA is working to be able to partner with them in that change. Earlier this year, International IDEA released a guide on how electoral management bodies can use social media in order to connect better with citizens. We also work with political parties on how to develop policies and programmes, including through our guide on Programmatic Parties. And just last month, International IDEA’s ground-breaking handbook on how to regulate political finance was published. In my view, these issues — better communication, better political party programmes and better regulation of political finance — are critical for governments to connect with, and regain the trust of, their citizens.

Finally, this edition of our newsletter marks International Democracy Day — an important celebration of democracy around the world, and not least for the United Nations. Today, International IDEA is partnering in an event in New York on engaging young people more in democracy. We are also continuing our important work within the UN system on ensuring that democracy has a place in the post-2015 development agenda. You can read more about these and other developments in this latest edition of the newsletter. Enjoy!

Yves Leterme's Signature

Yves Leterme,
Secretary-General, International IDEA

About the authors

Former staff member - Yves Leterme
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