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Op-Ed: Democracy and Poverty: A Missing Link?


Democracy and Poverty: A Missing Link?
Published in UNDP's CHOICES, September 2000

Democracy assistance and poverty reduction are rightly becoming two focal-and related-issues for development assistance. Increasingly, many organizations-including inter-governmental, national and civil society-based-are focusing their work on these two areas. Although the emphasis is on countries of the South and the post-communist world, an approach to the twin problems of limited democracy and poverty is not and should not be restricted to these parts of the world alone. In many developed countries the same issues are alive and in need of attention. Furthermore, the relationship between them is complex and ever changing. There is thus a need to develop methodologies for linking democracy assistance and poverty reduction at both the policy and programme levels.

International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) in cooperation with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, is developing concrete strategies that address these two objectives in a mutually reinforcing way. Through an overall situation analysis followed by regional meetings in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Latin America, the Caucasus and the Arab region, the Institute has marshalled evidence of some of the key problems that affect democracy consolidation and poverty reduction around the world:

  • Pervasive corruption and its undermining effect on popular confidence in public institutions.

  • Continuing economic instability coupled with the lack of strategies for addressing the twin challenges of poverty and increasing popular participation in its alleviation.

  • Despite the spread of formal democratic institutions, the extremely limited nature of citizen's influence on overall policy and decision-making processes.

  • In many post-communist states, a trend towards viewing growing poverty as a direct consequence of moves towards democracy.

In short, the evidence is not very encouraging for the prospects for democracy consolidation and poverty reduction. The critical step International IDEA advocates is the development of an approach that not only seeks to put democracy assistance and poverty reduction on top of the development assistance agenda, but also to encourage all involved to treat them as twin elements of an integrated programme of action.

Through a focus on accountable governance, promotion and protection of citizenship and rights and increased popular participation International IDEA believes that both democracy and poverty reduction can be addressed simultaneously. Policy recommendations are being developed and will be shared in the course of this year with governments, international organizations and civil society bodies.

International IDEA believes that democracy promotion can be used as a tool for fulfilling a variety of objectives. Democracy matters because it protects human rights and preserves human dignity. But democracy also matters because it helps to address some of the most critical challenges facing states today: peace, development, economic growth and stability.

Democracy does not guarantee any one of these, but increasingly it seems to be a precondition for them in the long-term. Thus, advocating democracy goes beyond being a moral issue; it becomes fundamental to advancing the well being of people and the stability of states. International IDEA will continue to try and understand the link between democracy and the major issues facing society today - and continue to argue the case for democracy.

By Bengt Säve-Söderbergh, Secretary-General of International IDEA.


Press contacts:

Mark Salter
Senior Press and Information Officer
m.salter@idea.int
International IDEA
Strömsborg
103 34 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: +46-8-698 3700
Fax: +46-8-20 24 22
Monika Ericson
Assistant Press and Information Officer
m.ericson@idea.int
International IDEA
Strömsborg
103 34 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: +46-8-698 3700
Fax: +46-8-20 24 22

 

 
  
 

International IDEA
Tel: +46 8 698 3700, Fax: +46 8 20 24 22
E-mail:
info@idea.int
International IDEA, Strömsborg, S-103 34 Stockholm, Sweden