Logo of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
Map of International IDEA members.
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 of 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.
Assist countries build capacity to develop democratic institutions.
Provide a forum between policy-makers, academics and practitioners.
Synthesize research and field experience, and develop practical tools to improve democratic processes.
Facilitate local democracy assessment, monitoring and promotion by local citizens.
Electoral Processes - Support for electoral processes has been at the heart of International IDEA’s work since its foundation in 1995. International IDEA’s Statutes provide a mandate for the Institute’s efforts to improve and consolidate democratic electoral processes worldwide. By generating global comparative knowledge, non-prescriptive analysis and policy recommendations aimed at the design, establishment and consolidation of sustainable and credible locally owned electoral processes, the Institute responds to the needs of target audiences. Those include electoral management bodies (EMBs) and electoral practitioners, legislative and judicial bodies, academics, civil society, election observers, as well as development agencies and democracy assistance organizations.
Constitution building - Together with local, regional and global partners, the Constitution Building programme raises awareness of the role constitution-building processes play in managing conflict and consolidating democracy. The work involves: Providing technical assistance to national actors engaged in processes of constitution building. Providing knowledge and capacity-building resources that individuals and groups can use to strengthen their participation, and its quality, in processes of constitution building. Facilitating access to lesson learning in comparative contexts so that national, regional and international actors have more options to consider in dealing with different constitutional issues. Servicing a global community of constitution building practitioners through physical and virtual spaces for dialogue.
Political Parties, Participation and Representation - This programme supports political parties focusing on four areas. Party Law and Finance: to improve regulation on party and candidate finance. The Political Party Organization: to allow political parties to develop policy platforms. Political Party Dialogue: to seek consensus within the prevailing political culture of competition, through more effective interparty dialogue. And effective Party Assistance: to strengthen alignment of approaches in party assistance.
Democracy and Development - This programme promotes global policy discussions, knowledge and practical tools to strengthen political institutions. These help to deliver on development, and to promote democracy building in international development efforts. It has three main objectives: Strengthen democratic accountability in service delivery; Strengthen political institutions in development; and Strengthen democracy in the new aid architecture.
IDEA offers several online databases including a Global Database on Elections and Democracy. Anyone can access data on topics such as voter turnout, electoral system design, quotas for women and political finance laws and regulations.
Reynolds, Andrew (1997). Electoral system design: the new international IDEA handbook (volume 1). Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
Reynolds, Andrew; Reilly, Ben; Ellis, Andrew (2005). Electoral system design: the new international IDEA handbook. Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). ISBN 9789185391189.
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