tunisian povertyTunisia stands as the only Arabian country to have undergone democratization as a result of the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in the 2010s. Fueled by widespread Tunisian poverty and a low standard of living, alongside many other factors, the nearly month-long campaign of civil disobedience led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, the installation of a functioning democracy has yet to alleviate all of the issues that Tunisians faced pre-revolution.

The Jasmine Revolution

In December of 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Sidi Bouzid fruit vendor whose goods had recently been confiscated by local authorities, self-immolated outside of the local governor’s office. His sentiments were echoed amongst many citizens frustrated with Tunisian poverty, corruption and suppression of freedoms. Leading up to the revolution, an increasing number of middle-class citizens expressed dissatisfaction with their standards of living. Despite an approximate 7% increase in GDP per capita from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of the country’s middle class that rated themselves satisfied with their current and future prospects dropped from 24% to 14%. Due to other factors such as government corruption, something that is not accurately reflected by metrics like GDP, Tunisians felt as if they had little to gain from their country’s economic growth. As a result of these factors, many Tunisians took to the streets soon after Bouazizi’s act of defiance.

As riots escalated, with protestors dying under live fire from police, President Ben Ali appeared on national television and made some concessions, including a reduction in food prices and in restrictions on internet usage. However, these remarks proved too little, and the protests continued. By Jan. 14 2011, state media reported the dissolution of the Ben Ali regime and the establishment of legislative elections. As unrest continued, Ben Ali fled the country. While new leadership took charge of the newly reformed government, protests continued, as much of this new leadership consisted of members of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally. Eventually, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the acting prime minister, announced the posting of several figures from other parties in the interim government. He also reemphasized the new government’s pledged efforts to maintain economic prosperity and freer speech. Eventually, the Democratic Constitutional Rally was dissolved in the face of continued protests over the inclusion of politicians from the old regime. These reforms within the Tunisian government stand as one of the major catalysts for the Arab Spring protests, a series of demonstrations across the Arab world that demanded alterations to many standing regimes.

Fundamental Changes in Tunisian Poverty?

While the Tunisian government changed drastically in the face of this civil uprising, Tunisian citizens still face some of the issues that plagued them before. Socially, there has been continued strife between Islamism and secularism in the country, with violence spreading throughout the country in 2012 over the interaction of religion and government. While secular parties have slightly outpaced Islamist parties, there have been problems with fundamentalist violence both domestically and abroad. Tunisians have joined terrorist organizations such as ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Lybia, making up large percentages of their foreign recruits. Additionally, terrorist groups have staged attacks on Tunisian soil, attacking institutions such as museums and resorts.

Economic troubles have also challenged Tunisians. Since 2011, nearly 100,000 highly skilled workers and professionals have left the country. Despite the changes in government, unemployment still stands as a grave issue. Nearly 23% of university graduates were unemployed right before the onset of the revolution. This number has since risen to 29%. Government corruption and protracted bureaucracy have done less than initially desired in helping the Tunisian middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, some Tunisians have started to doubt the effectiveness of the new government, with only 46% saying that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government” in 2018, dropping from 71% in 2013. However, there has been some support from the international community in alleviating these economic issues.

The International Labour Organization

A wing of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, has devoted resources toward alleviating Tunisian poverty and some other societal issues currently facing Tunisians. Some initiatives include construction projects, such as a covered market in Sidi Bouzid. This provides vendors with more favorable conditions to sell their goods while providing construction workers with employment. In Regueb, a village near Sidi Bouzid, the organization has implemented the Programme to Support the Development of Underprivileged Areas, providing around 100 individuals with agricultural skills. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, has endorsed the collaboration of local organizations and the International Labour Organization in improving the conditions of Tunisian citizens.

Tunisians face many challenges in the near future in alleviating the societal and economic issues that stand before the country. However, the success of Tunisians in standing for a reformed government has inspired generations across the world. With support from the international community and dedication within the country, a bright future may lie ahead in regard to Tunisian poverty and political stability.

Samuel Levine
Photo: Flickr

facts about parliamentary democracy
There are many structures by which countries can run a government, ranging from democracy to totalitarianism. Parliamentary democracy is a specific form of democracy that originated with the parliament and has been evolving ever since. In order to better understand this form of government that is different than the one the United States possesses, here are seven facts about parliamentary democracy.

7 Facts About Parliamentary Democracy

  1. The structure differs from a presidential democracy. In a presidential democracy (such as the one the United States operates under), the chief executive (president) and legislature (congress) undergo separate elections. Conversely, in a parliamentary democracy, the elected legislature (parliament) chooses the chief executive (prime minister). The parliament can remove the prime minister at any time by a “vote of no confidence,” which is a less laborious task than removing a president.
  2. People refer to the British Parliament as the “Mother of Parliament.” This is because Britain developed the Westminster System of parliamentary democracy: a specific system founded on centuries of traditions. Other colonial states adopted the system, such as Australia, and many of them still operate under some variation of the Westminster System today.
  3. Fifty-one countries currently operate under a parliamentary system. Among these countries are Canada, India, Japan and Spain. Most of these countries function in combination with other systems, such as a constitutional monarchy, in which a monarch may share political power with the parliament.
  4. Prime ministers’ powers vary. There are variations in a lot of the parliamentary systems around the world. A prime minister’s power can change depending on the country and allocated duties in the constitutions. The strong prime minister model exists in the United Kingdom and most other countries that were once part of the British Empire. Some of the prime minister’s powers in these countries include the power to change the structure of ministries and the ability to call for elections at any time. Countries in which several political parties must work together to maintain a legislative majority, such as Australia, Italy and Belgium, usually possess weak prime ministers.
  5. There are a few semi-presidential systems. These are systems in which a president and prime minister rule together. The powers between the two seats can vary, with one having more power than the other or both having equal influence. Most countries that operate under this system do so to put checks in place to avoid presidential dictatorships. Examples of countries with this system include Ireland, Portugal and Russia.
  6. There is often less gridlock. Along with the facts about parliamentary democracy, there are some pros and cons. Because the parliament elects the prime minister, people often observe that these two branches function better together than in a presidential democracy in which the public elects the president. Oftentimes legislation passes with less resistance, whereas the United States has faced government shutdowns when legislation was at a standstill.
  7. There can be a quick overturning of leaders and inconsistency. While legislation can pass more efficiently, a negative consequence of the parliamentary structure is the rapidity with which things can change. Because the parliament can remove the prime minister anytime he or she falls out of favor, this can lead to a lot of restructuring and inconsistent leadership. This happened during the Brexit process, in which three separate prime ministers received the appointment to deal with the aftermath of the vote.
Many believe it is important to know about the different forms of government structures so that one can examine their own country and evaluate its relative effectiveness. Hopefully, these basic facts about parliamentary democracy have provided a foundation to understand the structure and some of the pros and cons of the system.

 – Lindsey Shinkle
Photo: Pixabay

 

Parliamentary System
Many nations around the world use a parliamentary system, a type of representative government that shapes the way the nation functions. While many know the U.S. for its presidential system, most European nations tend to use a parliamentary system, in which citizens vote for a specific party to allocate seats based on the vote percentages. Parliamentary systems are all around the world, each one with its own unique form and institutions. These unique characteristics shape the way countries run and develop. Here is some information about how a parliamentary system works.

Features of a Parliamentary System

The main characteristic of how a parliamentary system works is the “supremacy of the legislative branch,” which runs through a unicameral (one-chamber) or bicameral (two-chamber) parliament. The parliament consists of members who each represent the constituents. The legislative body votes for laws and the head of state can either sign a bill or return it to legislation, showing their agreement or disagreement with the bill. However, parliament can still override the head of state’s veto with a vote.

The Prime Minister leads the executive branch as the head of government. Often in a parliamentary system, the roles of the legislative branch and the executive branch are either “blurred or merged,” because the two branches do not exist to check each other’s power like in the presidential system of the U.S.

Many parliamentary systems also consist of a special constitutional court, which has the right to judicial review and may state a law as unconstitutional if it violates the law of the land or the constitution.

Political Parties, Elections and Voting

In a parliamentary system, the people do not choose the head of government or the Prime Minister. Instead, the members of the legislative branch choose their leader. Voters vote for the party that they want to represent them in parliament. Typically, the majority party chooses an individual to be the Prime Minister. The legislative branch also chooses members to be a part of the executive cabinet. When voting does not give a party a majority, parties tend to form coalitions.

In terms of the electoral system, most parliamentary systems use proportional representation. A proportional representation (PR) system creates a representative body that “reflects the overall distribution” of the voters for each party. It ensures that minority groups still have representation, but only so long as they participate in elections. A PR electoral system has two varieties, a party-list and a mixed-member PR.

Denmark is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates PR into its electoral system. People know its parliament as the Folketing, and the PR system elects its members. Like the United Kingdom, Denmark is also a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government.

On the other hand, many countries use a plurality system, which places power in the hands of an individual from a strong party. Within a plurality system, there are different variations, such as a single-member district plurality system or first-past-the-post system, typically known as a “winner-take-all” system. In this system, voters vote for a candidate whose party they support and want to represent them. India, Canada and the United Kingdom are great examples of parliamentary systems that incorporate a plurality electoral system.

Canada is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates a plurality electoral system. Canada has a unique governmental structure, as it follows the context of the British constitutional monarchy, despite the U.K. and Canada being two separate nations. Its parliament consists of members that receive election through a plurality system in each electoral district. The party that obtains the most votes wins the majority of seats in parliament.

Advantages of a Parliamentary System

The major advantage of how a parliamentary system works is the fact that it allows all parties, large and small, majority and minority, to receive representation and have a voice in the policy-making process. In a presidential system, all power of the executive branch goes into the hands of an individual of the majority party. This can ignore the minority groups, thus creating social and political tensions. The ability of a parliamentary system to form coalitions allows all parties, including the minorities, to have representation. As a result, it minimizes tensions that develop among societies.

– Krishna Panchal
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in GhanaGhana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was Sub-Saharan Africa’s first nation to declare the end of British colonial rule. Kwame Nkrumah led the country into independence in 1957. The newly formed country became a catalyst for independence movements across the continent. Ghana was seen as a stronghold for a well-functioning democracy that few other nations have established since garnering their independence. Since holding its first elections in 1992 under Jerry Rawlings, democracy in Ghana has had a strong influence on the standard of living in the country and on its political and economic institutions.

Country Profile: Then and Now

When Jerry Rawlings won the 1992 election with the National Democratic Congress, it the beginning of a road to change in Ghana. A referendum pushing for a new constitution passed in April of 1992 that allowed for the reintroduction of a multiparty system. The first democratic elections were representative of the future development the country would undergo in the coming years. Previously, the nation underwent a series of military-led coups that ultimately undermined efforts to create a unified nation after independence. Ghana struggled, as most countries have, after the throws of colonial rule and the quick, jarring shift from little independence to that in full.

Under Jerry Rawlings and his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), Ghana created “a structural adjustments economic reform” in 1983 that carried them into a new democratic regime and greatly affected the economic development of the country. Empirical data concerning factors such as GDP, life expectancy and primary school enrollment rates can give valuable opportunities for analysis of the upward trajectory that Ghana experienced after 1992.

In 2018, Ghana’s GDP was $65.56 billion while, in 1992, it was almost 10 times lower at $6.4 billion. Life expectancy has risen from 57.4 years to more than 63. The infant mortality rate, a common indicator of development and the degree of public service provisions in developing countries, has dropped drastically from 75.6 percent to 35 percent. Furthermore, primary school enrollment has undergone a 24 percent increase.

Influence of Democracy

When Jerry Rawlings ended his two terms as president in 2000, the handover of government to John Kufuor was peaceful and without incident. In the 2008 election between former Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and former Vice-President John Atta-Mills, the Electoral Commission did as they had done for previous elections and invited foreign observers to oversee the production of the election. Again, the transition was smooth and transparent.

Advancements in democracy in Ghana are due, in part, to the fact that it puts politicians in a position to appeal to the needs of their constituents. The 1992 election is a prime example of this. The PNDC became popular with rural Ghanaians because of its role in the allocation of government funds to development projects in rural areas that were headed by local District Assemblies. The rural sector represents a large majority of Ghanaians, a majority that previous administrations had long since neglected.

The representation of all Ghanaians strikes at the core of the importance of providing democratic practices to transfer power to those who have traditionally and historically had none. Political incentives for leaders to invest in the needs of their people allow for the decentralization of economic power so citizens can keep their governmental institutions accountable.

Enhancing the Lives of Ghana’s Citizens

Democracy in Ghana has provided more than a baseline of free and fair elections. The day to day aspects of people’s lives change when they are accurately represented in their leadership. According to a transformation index set by a project by Bertelsmann Stiftung, which aims to understand the transition from authoritarianism to democracy in various countries, Ghana stands at 32 in a list of 129.

Indicators are measured on a scale from 1-10 and demonstrate the degree to which the country has made advancements in their transformation to inclusive institutions. Political participation and the stability of their democratic institutions are 8.5. International cooperation comes in at 8.3 while political and social integration is 7.8. These measurements provide evidence that democracy in Ghana has extended beyond promises on paper to protect civil liberties and the wellbeing of its citizens.

Perhaps the most important change that has come out of Ghana’s transition to democracy is the shift in reality for the millions of citizens who depend on their governmental institutions to provide inclusion and transparency. The implications of democracy run through their daily lives, specifically through increased attention by their leaders to the protection of human rights, civil liberties and the provision of public services. Democracy in Ghana has granted opportunities for representation and participation. Ghana’s economic, societal and political future beam with promise as the nation continues to make its way as an example of democratic rule in a developing country.

Jessica Ball
Photo: Flickr

10 Biggest Problems in the World 
There is no better time to focus on the biggest problems in the world. The everlasting tightened world economy, war threats and lingering diseases all ubiquitously affect human lives in every corner of the world. The United Nations (U.N.) has compiled a list of the current 10 biggest problems in the world.

 10 Biggest Problems in the World

  1. Peace and Security: Civil conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen, Russian aggression over Ukraine and its neighbors and tensions in the South China Sea are some global peace and security threats that are in existence today. These threats cost many lives due to terrorist acts and population displacement. The U.N. has 16 peacekeeping operations currently underway with nine in Africa, three in the Middle East, two in Europe and one in the Americas. With a peacekeeping budget of approximately $8.2 million, it keeps over 125,000 military personnel, police and civilians grounded and armed. The U.N. has made some progress with success stories coming from Burundi and Sierra Leone. U.N. forces eliminated more than 42,000 weapons and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition. It also demilitarized 75,000 fighters, including children, in Sierra Leone.
  2. AIDS: Among these 10 biggest problems in the world, AIDS is still a global health issue with 37.9 million people living with HIV. HIV newly infected around 1.7 million people and 770,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2018. Many global initiatives have emerged to lower the number of HIV cases including the GMT Initiative and TREAT Asia. The Foundation for AIDS Research, amfAR, lowers the number of AIDS cases with its GMT Initiative by supporting HIV organizations in developing countries to provide better education about HIV, expand prevention services and advocate for more HIV treatment and prevention funding. The TREAT Asia initiative links a network of clinics, hospitals and research institutions to perform research on HIV and AIDS treatments within the Asia-Pacific region. Many people (23.3 million) living with HIV in 2018 were undergoing antiretroviral therapy. New HIV infections have fallen by 16 percent since 2010 and AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 55 percent since the peak in 2004.
  3. Children in Poverty: Children around the world regularly do not have a fair chance for health, education and protection due to armed conflicts, violence and poverty. Millions of young children in 2019 did not have basic health care and proper nutrition resulting in stunted growth. The Millennium Development Goals have been in place for the past 15 years to help address the above issues affecting children. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been working with governments, the U.N., other NGOs and the private sector to broaden the impact on addressing child poverty with a particular focus on child malnutrition.
  4. Climate and Agriculture: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report stated that human activities cause climate change and that the impacts are adverse. Climate change ties to world poverty by negatively impacting agriculture with increasing energy use, decreasing food production and increasing food prices. Many say that more water is necessary to grow crops due to high temperatures and drought, downpour rain in other areas causes sea level rises and that people require more lands with favorable climates. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan had low yield on their crops in the summer of 2010 due to excessive heat that led to very high food prices, starvation, malnutrition and poverty. Some agricultural areas around the world have made improvements to their agricultural practices such as scaling sowing time, using different cultivation techniques and testing different cultivars.
  5. Democracy: Countries around the world often experience democracy deficit, weak institutions and poor governance. The U.N. is working to bring democracy to countries around the world by working with each country’s government to promote fair and exemplary governing practices, facilitate transparency and accountability and advise on new constitutions. The United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) is funding projects that promote human rights, civil society and democratic inclusion. UNDEF is funding projects to include youths in elections in Cote d’Ivoire, promote gender equality in Palestine and support citizens in elections in Brazil.
  6. Poverty: The United Nations poverty facts and figures show that approximately 8 percent of the world’s workforce and their families live off of less than $1.90 daily. High poverty rates exist in small and deserted regions with armed conflicts, and approximately 55 percent of the world’s population has no social protection such as cash or food benefits. The condition of those living in poverty is improving following the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In fact, the percentage of the world’s population living off of $1.90 or less per day in 2015 is down to 10 percent from 16 percent in 2010.
  7. Hunger: Statistics have identified that 821 million people around the world suffered undernourishment in 2017, 149 million children had stunted growth and 49 million children under 5 years old experienced wasting due to malnourishment. The World Food Programme, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development are working together toward the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger, maintain food security, improve nutrition and promote excellent agricultural practices. The World Bank Group is working with partners to promote farming practices, improve land use, grow high-yield and nutritious crops and instruct on storage and chain supply to prevent food loss.
  8. Gender Equality: Women in more than 60 countries cannot get citizenship. Sixty percent of people lacking basic literacy skills are women and one-third of women experience sexual violence, according to U.N. Women. The United Population Fund supports the protection of women’s rights through the law. They helped fight for women’s access to reproductive health care in Ecuador and Guatemala. The United Population Fund also helps to build shelters for trafficked women in Moldova and girls fleeing mutilation in Tanzania.
  9. Health: Half of the 7.3 billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate health services, according to the world health statistics of 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the efforts in addressing world health issues which include malaria, women’s health and tuberculosis. For the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014, WHO deployed experts, medical equipment and medical teams to set up and run mobile laboratories and treatment clinics.
  10. Water: In 2019, 2.2 billion people did not have access to safe drinking water and 297,000 children under 5 years old died from diarrheal diseases. Eighty percent of wastewater went back into the ecosystem without prior treatment in 2017. The U.N. is promoting agreements among countries to ensure better usage of water. The 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda includes policies and measures that incorporate finance, technology, innovation, trade, debt and data to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals including water sanitation and water usage.

These 10 biggest problems in the world may bring uncertainty and worry, however, many organizations are planning and implementing initiatives to solve these issues. People can provide support to these organizations either financially or through direct involvement to aid in eliminating these challenges.

Hung Minh Le
Photo: Pixabay

 

 

refugee crisisThe question regarding what should be done about the refugee crisis is currently one of the most heated debates in Congress. But, where does each Democratic Candidate stand on the refugee crisis? Here are the Democratic candidates on immigration.

Joe Biden

Former U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, is primarily focused on addressing the Southern border crisis by admitting more refugees and asylum-seekers, particularly from Central America. When referring to refugees and immigrants Biden stated, “We could afford to take in a heartbeat another two million. The idea that a country of 330 million cannot afford people who are in desperate need and who are justifiably weak and fleeing depression is absolutely bizarre.”

Cory Booker

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey similarly plans to expand pathways for refugees and asylum-seekers as well as to address the root causes of migration and the refugee crisis. Not only does Booker hope to increase the cap on refugees but also staffing at the border to assist with interviews and to improve in-country refugee processing. Additionally, Booker plans to investigate the root causes of migration through the lens of corruption, violence, poverty and climate change by creating a role in the State Department. He is committed to spending foreign aid in order to address the root causes of the refugee crisis.

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana hopes to return the refugee admissions target to 110,000 or potentially more. Buttigieg believes letting in more refugees will “help grow our tax base and plug labor gaps as Americans age.” Buttigieg also wants to help other countries resettle refugees and integrate them into society so that resettlement will be mutually beneficial. Ultimately, Buttigieg hopes to change the discussion around immigrants and refugees. He stated on Twitter, “Immigrants and refugees are not a problem that we need to handle; they are an asset to our nation and an essential part of the fabric of this country—our policies must reflect that.”

Amy Klobuchar

The two primary plans Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has for addressing the refugee crisis are reinstating the 110,000 refugees cap while simultaneously increasing spending on foreign aid. In order to process this number of refugees, Klobuchar would reopen the International U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices. Klobuchar would also accept more Muslim refugees into the country because she adamantly opposes the “Muslim Ban.” Klobuchar believes that a strengthened vetting process for visitors and refugees would eliminate any need for this ban. Additionally, Klobuchar plans to increase foreign aid and the State Department’s budget to address the current crisis and deter future crises by promoting global stability.

Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has a platform of immigration reform that is “grounded in civil and human rights.” He plans to achieve these values by changing the treatment of individuals at the border, such as ending family separation, the detention of children at the border and the detention of asylum seekers while their applications are being processed. Sanders plans to end the United States’ for-profit detention centers entirely. Additionally, Sanders wants to support refugees globally by providing foreign aid to other host countries to create an international community committed to resettling refugees and ending the refugee crisis it created.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has the most progressive target for resettlement. If elected, Warren aims to resettle 125,000 refugees in the U.S. in her first year in office and then at least 175,000 by the end of her first presidential term. She hopes to address the refugee crisis by providing foreign aid in Central America in order to stabilize this region. Warren plans to implement a system that would make it easier for asylum seekers to get a day in court. She has also stated she will reduce immigration detention for all immigrants crossing the border.

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is most concerned with the crisis occurring in Venezuela. Yang wants to both support the Venezuelan people through humanitarian aid and through distributing foreign aid to the countries that are admitting massive numbers of Venezuelan refugees. Although Venezuela is Yang’s primary concern, he also plans to work with the entire international community in order to address the global refugee crisis. Yang believes that the U.S. should disengage in military efforts abroad attempting to promote peacekeeping because these efforts are causing more destabilization than peace.

There is a lot to consider when choosing who to vote for in the 2020 Presidential Election. However, the refugee crisis has certainly been a priority. There are currently 25.9 million refugees and 41.3 million internally displaced people throughout the world. The need for a president that understands the importance of diplomacy and foreign aid spending when it comes to addressing the refugee crisis is, therefore, imperative.

– Ariana Howard
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that has struggled to maintain a robust democracy for nearly its entire history. For decades, military coups and civil war have made democracy difficult to implement in Cambodia. Generally, the international community has struggled to find a way to successfully institutionalize democracy within the country. Back in January 2019, U.S. congressman Ted Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 in order to deal with this problem. However, before delving into the details of the legislation, it is important to understand that democracy in Cambodia has a troubled history.  Furthermore, it is essential to understand how those troubles have prompted a response from U.S. lawmakers.

History of Democracy in Cambodia

Prime minister Hun Sen is a key piece in understanding why democracy has struggled to firmly take hold in Cambodia. He became prime minister of Cambodia in 1985. At the time, various armed factions had plunged the country into civil war.

In the early 1990s, a massive United Nations peacekeeping force attempted to disarm and bring ceasefire between the various factions, run national elections and promote democracy in Cambodia. Nearly 20,000 military, police and other personnel made up the force.

In 1991, the Paris Peace Accords officially brought the conflict to an end, which outlined basic protections for human rights. The agreement also promoted free and fair elections within the country.

The 1991 agreements led to the creation of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The UNTAC facilitated national elections in 1993. During these elections, guerillas carried out violent attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. The Hun Sen-led Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) engaged in a massive campaign of violent intimidation against people who might vote against them.

The royalist Funcinpec party won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Norodom Ranariddh, the son of the former Cambodian King Sihanouk, led the party. Hun Sen and the CPP did not accept the results of the election. As such, they were able to force their way into a power-sharing agreement. This ultimately allowed Sen to serve as deputy prime minister alongside Ranariddh.

However, this agreement broke down in 1997 when Hun Sen seized power from Ranariddh in a coup. Cambodia then elected him prime minister in the following elections. The CPP would go on to win elections in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018. In order to preserve his grip on the country, Hun Sen has wielded increasingly autocratic power to crush the opposition. In 2017, authorities arrested the leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the leading opposition party to the CPP, on trumped-up charges of treason. Two months later, the Supreme Court suspended the CNRP entirely. In the 2018 elections, which international observers considered illegitimate, the CPP won more than 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly.

The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019

Following Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent prior to the 2018 elections, U.S. lawmakers became increasingly vocal about promoting democracy in Cambodia. Ted Yoho has been chief among these lawmakers. He is a Republican congressman representing Florida’s 3rd congressional district.

Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 during the 115th Congress. The bill managed to pass in the House, but the Senate did not pass it. Yoho re-introduced the bill during the 116th Congress as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. Five Democrats and four Republicans co-sponsored the bill.

According to its description on GovTrack, the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 aims to “promote free and fair elections, political freedoms, and human rights in Cambodia.” Specifically, the bill would authorize the president to impose various sanctions on Cambodia’s security, military and government senior officials. It would also authorize sanctions on those who might be undermining democracy in Cambodia and controlled by said individuals. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act outlined these sanctions. It includes economic sanctions such as asset freezes and visa restrictions. Penalties for undermining democracy would be the same as those under the IEEPA, which can reach fines of up to $1 million.

There is a 4 percent chance that Cambodia will enact the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. This is an estimate according to Skopos Labs. However, Congressman Yoho is still confident about the bill’s prospects. In a phone interview with VOA Khmer, Yoho said, “We had a lot of bipartisan support last year and I think you’ll see the same amount this year…”

U.S. Support of Democracy in Cambodia

Overall, the fact that the legislation is drawing support from across party lines is an encouraging sign that the U.S. is willing to promote democracy in Cambodia. Additionally, there is a possibility that the U.S. could pressure the Hun Sen regime to put an end to its autocratic abuses of power.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Nigeria
After 20 years, Democracy in Nigeria remains true to its goals of sustaining a strong political authority for socioeconomic growth. Home to Africa’s largest economy, 65 percent of Nigeria’s wealth derives from its oil and gas production. The country itself continues to recover from a recession in 2016. However, it also suffers from its recent unemployment rate increasing to 23.1 percent in 2017. A study from the World Data Lab revealed that an estimated 90 million Nigerian people continue to live in poverty.

Government Efforts to Reduce the Wealth Gap

Fortunately, the Nigerian government’s implementation of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill seeks to change these conditions. The bill functions as an investment to promote Nigeria as a future leader in the oil production industry. Research from the International Monetary Fund indicates that between 2019 and 2020 Nigeria’s economy should grow by at least 2.2 percent.

Amid strides towards economic development, many Nigerian people find it hard to put their trust into newly-elected leaders. After gaining independence from the British in 1960, Nigeria’s government endured corruption from previous leaders that led to polarization both politically and economically.

Nigerian legislators earn the most globally, with salaries starting at $48 million a year for senators. With the average Nigerian salary at $1,294, most Nigerians feel disconnected from their leaders because of this wealth gap. In most cases, optimal advocacy for Nigerian citizens translates to decentralizing power to more local government representatives. Consequently, this would ensure more groups of people receive equal access to policy implementation. The decentralization of government in Nigeria corresponding with democracy in Nigeria elevates the power of the population.

Reelection of President Buhari

The current democratic government, known as the Fourth Republic, attempts to restore hope to the Nigerian people. In February 2019, Nigeria re-elected its President, Muhammadu Buhari, for a second term. Only 28 million of the 80 million registered voters in Nigeria voted in the election. The majority of the four million votes that allowed President Buhari to win the election emerged from his popularity with the poor population in the north.

Democracy in Nigeria succeeds in giving a voice to the voiceless, as opposed to utilizing mass poverty to exclude impoverished people from the political process. In the end, the essence of democracy encompasses a nation that can elect its own representatives.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) helps to:

  • Establish civic organizations.
  • Strengthen political leadership.
  • Promote accountability and openness in governments around the world.

For over 35 years, NDI has partnered with more than 156 countries to advance democratic progress globally. By getting citizens to recognize elections as a fundamental human right, the NDI strengthens the political power of that country, which solidifies the idea of accountable democratic governance. The NDI also understands the importance of inclusion in policymaking and works to increase democratic participation from marginalized groups by addressing laws that target them.

As a result of this organization, Nigerians with visual impairments had the opportunity to vote for the first time in the 2019 election. Democracy in Nigeria exemplifies that growing global efforts to impose effective societal change starts with a government that truly reflects and endorses the interest of its citizens.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr

Ten Features of the Parliamentary System

Despite the fact that numerous nations around the world follow the parliamentary system of government, many Americans do not understand what it is. The parliamentary system is a democratic government. In this government, a coalition of political parties with the greatest representation in Parliament form the nation’s governing body. Below are ten features of the parliamentary system that describe this popular form of democracy.

Ten Features of the Parliamentary System

  1. The first of the ten features of the parliamentary system of government is the supremacy of its legislative branch. This is its defining feature. The legislative branch conducts its business through a unicameral (one house) or bicameral (two houses) Parliament. This group is composed of representatives or members that are elected by citizens of the country. The primary job of members of Parliament is to create and pass laws.
  2. The parliamentary system of government, unlike the presidential system, creates a divide between the roles of Head of Government and Head of State. Rather than citizens, members of Parliament elect the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government. The Prime Minister oversees Parliament. This creates an overlap between the legislative and executive branches of government. The Head of State in a parliamentary systam is largely a symbolic role. Hereditary monarchs typically have this role reserved.
  3. The Prime Minister has no official term length. Thus, so long as Parliament is satisfied, the Prime Minister remains in position. Should it ever be called for, members of parliament will use a majority vote known as a “vote of no-confidence” in order to remove a Prime Minister from office.
  4. Majority vote of Parliament passes laws. Then, they are then signed into legislation by the Prime Minister, who does not have veto power. This is contrary to the presidential system. In the case of disagreement, the Prime Minister can return a bill to Parliament. However, a majority vote by Parliament can veto that return.
  5. In most parliamentary systems of government, there is a Supreme Court that can declare a law as unconstitutional. This would be done if it were to pose violations against the nation’s constitution. However, some countries, such as Great Britain and New Zealand, lack provisions for judicial review. In these countries, the only check against the legislature is the results of the next election season.
  6. Though uncommon, some parliamentary systems have an elected president who exercises foreign powers. An example of some foreign powers would be national defense and military command. The elected president exercises these powers. Some countries that follow this system are Lithuania, Bangladesh and France.
  7. Though members of Parliament hold their positions in office by each election season, they can be turned out of office. If one respective party loses majority holdover members of Parliament, they can be removed. Other members of Parliament, as well as the Prime Minister, are then able to vote out a member of Parliament. A no-confidence vote accomplishes this.
  8. Parliamentary systems lack what presidential systems call “Checks and Balances.” Therefore, the parliamentary system tends to be more efficient. This is because political gridlocks cannot delay them.
  9. A parliamentary system of government consists of members serving various political parties. Therefore, coalitions are a very popular type of agreement in parliamentary governments. Members of opposing political parties will often form a coalition, otherwise known as a temporary union. This alliance utilizes its combined resources to accomplish a common goal.
  10. Depending on the rules of voting within a country, the political representation within members of Parliament may consist of one party. It may also be proportionally representative of the nation. If a country follows a “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) principle, Parliament will most likely consist of one or two majority political parties. An FPTP is a principle in which candidates with the most ballots win a seat. However, some countries follow a rule of proportional representation. This means that the political makeup of Parliament members is appropriate to that of the nation.

With so many types of government around the world, it can be difficult to understand how each works. These are ten features of the parliamentary system that can help citizens around the world have a better understanding of this popular form of government.

-Shreya Gaddipati
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Global MetricsWhile there are many websites that offer a detailed analysis of the problems facing the world’s poor and their solutions, a deeper understanding of global metrics and indexes will help curious supporters conduct their own research and make informed decisions on the economic, political and social statuses of impoverished countries around the world. Often times, a combination of multiple indicators from multiple governmental and NGO bodies is necessary to form a full picture of a country’s attitudes towards impoverished populations, the economy and governance.

The Three Main Global Metrics

To understand the economy of a country, researchers will look at global metrics such as gross domestic product (GDP), Gini index and the unemployment rate. The GDP is a broad metric measuring the total value of goods produced in the domestic market of the economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) cites the GDP as “the most popular indicator of [a] nation’s overall economic health.” What the BEA fails to mention is that GDP ignores wealth inequality, quality of life and overall happiness of the labor force.

The Gini index, on the other hand, measures only income inequality. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the Gini index as “the extent to which income…among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.” Scores closer to 100 indicate a more unequal society while a score closer to zero indicates a more equal society.

The unemployment rate measures more than just the amount of population able to work but not working. More specifically, it measures the number of people in the labor force looking for a job but who remain unemployed. These three indicators working together can paint a more accurate picture than one alone, but without indicators of political and social health, the overall analysis of a country remains foggy.

Other Important Global Metrics

To better understand the political situation of a country, readers can consult indexes and indicators from a multitude of NGO and governmental watchdogs.

  1. Freedom House creates a comprehensive guide to the status of democracy in each country yearly. Freedom House breaks down its analysis into three categories: “freedom rating, political rights and civil liberties.” Along with these three categories, Freedom House also offers an overview of the key issues facing a countries democracy or lack thereof.
  2. The Economist also offers a comprehensive Democracy Index, which takes into account five categories. These include the “electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation and political culture.” Freedom House ranks countries from free to not free whereas The Economist ranks each country in a list that helps give global context to each situation.
  3. The U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures indicators of social happiness to round out the political and economic indicators and give a completely holistic view of a country. HDI takes into account a number of complex factors but, in short, it consists of “a summary of average achievements in key dimensions of human development [such as] a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and [having] a decent standard of living.” With a broad scope, HDI can look at metrics that other indexes cannot, such as education and life expectancy. Along with HDI, the World Happiness Report (WHR) offers a holistic analysis of how politics, economics and other indicators of happiness can shed light on a particular country or region. The WHR reports that they “focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and governmental policies” that change reports of happiness.

Overall Data Collection

A good place to start for general research into specific countries is the CIA World Factbook. The Factbook includes a summary of the country in question and will provide global metrics mentioned such as GDP, ethnic groups, population growth rate, government type and even electricity access. Global metrics are relatively intuitive, but using only one will offer a narrow view into a specific sector of a countries society.

For instance, according to the CIA World Factbook, the real GDP growth rate of Ethiopia is the fifth highest in the world in 2017, but 29.6 percent of the Ethiopian population lived below the poverty line and the unemployment rate was ranked 180 out of 218 countries studied. Just looking at the real GDP growth rate would lead to the assumption that the economy of Ethiopia thrives and that all members of society benefit from the expansion. However, other global metrics tell a different more concerning story.

Freedom House, along with its democracy in the world report, also operates a number of programs around the world in the interest of freedom. Freedom House’s “Latin America Program” seeks to help “citizens defend their rights against government abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Freedom House has similar programs in both Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that work towards the political rights of citizens through improving factors such as the rule of law and civic knowledge and engagement. In this way, Freedom House goes beyond just identifying factors that exacerbate global poverty. It goes a step further and also implements programs to fight it.

Having a well-informed viewpoint on the factors that allow for systemic ills in nations across the world helps supporters make informed decisions about how to combat global poverty whether through advocacy, donation or personal action. Some NGOs go beyond observing and documenting poverty to implementing plans to combat it. Whichever approach is used, global metrics help people to stay informed from many different approaches to help enact change.

Spencer Julian
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