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Summit for Democracy – the future: how to sustain international support

Wednesday 7 – Friday 9 February 2024 | WP3355

Summit for Democracy – potential images

A revitalised democracy

  1. Talk of democratic decline feeds the authoritarian narrative. The idea of a trade-off between democracy and security is a narrative trap that is being laid by anti-democratic actors. People are being manipulated by mis and disinformation and autocracies manipulate their own information and data, obstruct criticism, and actively misrepresent democracies.
  2. While paying due attention to democratic decline and its driving forces, an affirmative narrative that underscores the benefits and value of democracy and is convincing about why democracy is the best system must be part of the way forward.
  3. Upholding stories of success will be critical for both current and future generations’ belief and commitment to democratic values and the security that democracy offers. Democratic bright spots can be highlighted, showcasing what works.
  4. The fact that democracy is a global value, not a Western one, occupies a centrally important part of this narrative. The evidence suggests that demand for democracy and support for democratic values is strong the world over.
  5. But the narrative cannot just be empty rhetoric. Democratic governments must actually address the problems that people face and do more to justify trust – inclusion and political participation are key to this. Political trust and perceptions of officials are critical ground in the narrative battle: integrity itself has a powerful influence on citizen attitudes and behaviours.
  6. Donor countries should work closely with their partners to better understand their priorities for democratic development and where international support could better support localised agendas.

United, democratic alliances that act quickly

  1. Responses to challenges to democracy need to be tailored to the country context, recognising both the primacy of local leadership and the range of challenges, from deepening autocracy through to consolidating democracies. In general, the strategies for responding to democracy challenges need to be broad-based and coherent, sending consistent signals about democratic values and reinforcing the importance of accountability, inclusion, media freedom and the rule of law. Diagnostic tools can support this work.
  2. Rapid, united action as soon as the proven symptoms of democratic backsliding emerge can be decisive. When the weakening of the independent judiciary, crackdowns on freedom of the press, closing civic space, or attacks on election management bodies happen, democratic forces inside a particular country need to coordinate and act with a sense of urgency. Delay risks missing windows of opportunity to respond and influence change.
  3. While external leverage is limited it can nevertheless be very valuable and states can both use their own individual leverage and engage collectively via multilateral forums.
  4. There is a rich menu of actions that can support the quality of democracy over the long-term, including working with independent public-interest media, pro-democracy activists, and democratic institutions. However, it is also worth remembering that elections – even flawed ones – can be critical catalysts for change. Alongside supporting electoral integrity, working before, during and after elections to respond to shifting dynamics in weak democracies is often important.

Regional action

  1. Whilst we see trends in the challenges to democracy and democracies around the world, some of the context affecting individual countries can have a regional dynamic. That can be because of ripple effects across neighbouring countries and borders – instability in one nation can impact sociopolitical trends, investment, and growth across a region. Conversely, regional stability and prosperity can also be effective in countering false narratives of democratic failings.
  2. Regional dynamics can also arise because of shared or interlinked cultural traditions or political histories – these can improve understanding of the challenges and give neighbouring leaders leverage in responding to events.
  3. Regional responses and support mechanisms can also be important. Democracies within a region can coordinate, consider their collective and shared challenges, and build up the necessary architecture to protect and strengthen democracy.

Upholding and enhancing electoral integrity

  1. Donors and democratic allies must renew efforts to promote and enhance electoral integrity and the institutions that underpin it. Evidence shows that by upholding elections and unifying democratic purpose we have an opportunity to turn the tide against and reverse autocratisation. Donors and democratic allies must continue to prioritise the unobstructed occurrence of free, fair, and inclusive elections.
  2. While there are longstanding mechanisms for election observation, the rapidly evolving capacity to subvert electoral processes through disinformation and other digital tools and to tilt the playing field unfairly in between elections means that a rethink and/or intensified collaboration might be needed.
  3. A range of actors have been important in working to build and maintain credibility of electoral processes themselves, with recent examples of brave judicial actions inspiring robust actions by counterparts in other countries, and of election management bodies standing up to political pressure.  It is vital to continue to provide support to key electoral institutions, and to consider expanding collaboration with and between judiciaries, who have proven indispensable for resisting and reversing backsliding. This support has to be sustained throughout the pre-election period as reactive post-election strategies alone risk failure.
  4. Democracies should consider calling for the introduction of a rapporteur for electoral integrity who can best advise on and support the vital role of electoral management bodies. Other rapporteurs, such as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, have proven effective in rallying cause and strategic direction which may help to solidify support among democratic allies. A rapporteur could be tasked with advising on responses during specific windows of opportunity in a way that is structured and less ad-hoc.

Young people

  1. The limited extent and relatively shallow engagement of many young people in democratic politics is concerning. Demographic profiles in a large part of the world should be putting youth at the centre of work to increase political participation and to deepen understanding of the importance of democratic safeguards. One aspect of the challenge is the changing expectations of young people in relation to democratic institutions that have a relatively slow pace and procedures that are largely rooted in 19th century practices. However, there are opportunities for engagement in wider aspects of political activity and using a range of innovative techniques

Patient, politically-informed, adaptive international support

  1. Democratic renewal must remain an international priority but international support must be context specific and adapt to rapidly evolving risks. The contexts vary between establishing new democracies, consolidating existing democracies, reversing backsliding, and resisting aggressive authoritarians.
  2. In all cases, deepening democracy takes perseverance and local leadership. Quick fixes do not exist; it’s a long-term commitment. Progress should be valued over perfection, recognising that democracy is a continuous journey that itself requires evolutions to respond to ever-changing societies and challenges.
  3. Everywhere, though especially in post-conflict settings, it is critical to work with key drivers of reform in countries that own change and change processes locally. This is important as democratic change can often encounter blunders, so prioritising politically feasible, locally-owned solutions that accept the complexity of working in this area must be the default.
  4. Multiple entry points are needed to support democracy effectively. Both purpose-driven public and private engagement are essential. Democracy extends beyond politics into various sectors that are often overlooked – we need to identify and use these entry points across sectors.
  5. Disengaging from authoritarian states is not a realistic course of action. However, any costs of engagement must be recognised, articulated, and navigated with purpose or else they risk remaining salient and unchallenged.
  6. Development assistance will sometimes be needed in middle-income states that require support to build resilient institutions and respond to threats. For example, transnational terror and security threats are often aimed at countries at this middle-income threshold with limited capacity to prepare and respond to institutional shocks.
  7. A whole-of-government approach is needed. The United Nations, NATO, and G7, among other international fora, can provide an avenue for consistent mainstreaming of democratic principles into foreign, security, and trade policy. The fact that the amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) flowing to autocracies is rising is evidence of incoherence in international efforts to support democratic renewal. New analytical tools that provide a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of international actors on the democratic development of partner countries are welcome and could increase effectiveness of the international democratic agenda for peace and prosperity.


Summit for Democracy – the future: how to sustain international support


The value and role of the Summit for Democracy

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