The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization that works to support and strengthen democratic institutions and processes around the world, to develop sustainable, effective and legitimate democracies. It has regional offices in Wider Europe (Netherlands), Latin America and the Caribbean (Chile), Asia and the Pacific (Australia) and Africa and West Asia (Ethiopia). The organization's headquarters is in Stockholm, Sweden.
Yves Leterme, former deputy secretary general at the OECD and former Prime Minister of Belgium, has been the secretary-general since 2014, replacing Vidar Helgesen. International IDEA is an official United Nations Observer.
The early 1990s were marked by challenges to democracy worldwide. The violent crackdown in Tiananmen Square in China happened in 1989, and Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina were all on a slow, difficult road toward democracy after having suffered similarly cruel military coups and dictatorships. Despite a long tradition of autocracy in South Korea, democratic dissident Kim Dae-jung became president. Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 after serving 28 years in prison marked South Africa’s first step toward democracy. There were also wide-ranging discussions in other parts of Africa and Asia about how to incorporate democratic norms into their traditions and cultures.
More and more people around the world needed good advice about a number of choices that had to be made in order to make democracy work. In response to this need Sweden, along with 13 other countries took the initiative to found The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, International IDEA.
The Founding Conference of International IDEA took place on 27–28 February 1995 and involved 14 founding states: Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. The institute’s four initial fields of activity were defined as: (1) the creation of a databank and provision of information services; (2) research; (3) establishing and promotion of guidelines and (4) offering advisory and capacity-building services.
The institute’s original structure consisted of a board of 9–15 persons, appointed in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of member states, which developed the work programme. The council (composed of one representative of each member and associate member) was responsible for approving the work programme and budget—despite not being consulted about their development—and for making sure the contributions supported the work programme. A founding ‘nucleus’ board was established that comprised Shridath Ramphal, Adama Dieng and David Steel. Bengt Säve-Söderbergh, who was instrumental in the process of creating International IDEA from the start, was appointed its first secretary-general. Due to practical difficulties and overlapping responsibilities between the board and council, this model later changed.
International IDEA was able to immediately start work designing ethical codes and professional rules and guidelines for electoral processes, and developed three extremely useful handbooks in the very beginning on electoral system design, democracy and deep-rooted conflict, and women in parliament.
As part of the institute's 20th anniversary celebration in 2015, Bengt Säve-Söderbergh wrote an essay, The Birth of an IDEA, that captures how the organization was born and its relevancy.
International IDEA’s mission is to “advance democracy worldwide, as a universal human aspiration and an enabler of sustainable development, through support to the building, strengthening and safeguarding of democratic political institutions and processes at all levels”. Additionally, International IDEA is dedicated to the following tasks:
International IDEA offers several online tools and databases including the Voter Turnout Database, Electoral Risk Management tool and the IntegriTAS Threat Assessment System. Anyone can access data on topics such as voter turnout, electoral system design, quotas for women and political finance laws and regulations.
IDEA has been granted UN observer status.
There are currently 31 member states. They are Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Finland, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uruguay.
Japan has observer status.
Each year, the chair of the Council of Member States hosts a Democracy Forum on a current topic related to democracy. The forum invites dialogue across member states and with civil society actors, academia and youth. Past Democracy Forum topics have included anti-corruption, accountability, natural resource management and youth participation.
International IDEA's nearly 200 staff members are located in across various offices in Stockholm, Sweden (headquarters), New York, United States; Brussels, Belgium; The Hague, Netherlands; Kathmandu, Nepal; Suva, Fiji; Thimphu, Bhutan; Santiago, Chile; Mexico City, Mexico; La Paz, Bolivia; Lima, Peru; Asuncion, Paraguay; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya; Tunis, Tunisia; Canberra, Australia; and Yangon, Myanmar. and is a permanent representative to the United Nations based in New York City.