Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Launch of the 2002 United Nations Development Program

UNDP Human Development Report (onshi/Flickr)

UNDP Human Development Report (onshi/Flickr)

So this is why in the context of the global situation today, the need to widen and broaden democracy at the global community is such an important priority. The report is then trying to look at the institutions of democracy and how they are functioning today.

In fact, democracy, because of the institutions that hold those in power accountable to the public, that allow the free and fair contest of power and above all to increase popular participation, is the system that can safeguard human freedoms within all the countries of the world and dignity of all people. But for democracy to be really functioning, elections are only a very small first step. One of the challenges this report poses is to rethink the whole concept of democracy because there are really three elements that are critical to democratic political systems.

One is the contest for power, competition for power as reflected in open elections. But there are two other elements which are quite often neglected. One is public accountability of the authority and the other is participation of people.

It is that sort of participation and influence that people can have in decision-making. It's the accountability that decision-makers would have to public interest of ordinary people that is fundamental to making sure that democratization, economic and social progress all go together. Because in fact it is when you can have popular pressure through the free press, through electoral processes, through other means of wielding influence, that you can influence decisions so that they are made in the interest of people. For example, so the budget expenditures are for clean water, roads, schools in villages and slum areas rather than for roads that lead to the presidential palace.

But for that to happen it really isn't enough just to have elections. So what this report is arguing for is this deepening of democracy and that deepening of democracy cannot depend only on the spread of democratic institutions. And why is that? It is because democratic institutions actually can be very easily captured by political and economic elites. And that is a process that is as true in the United States or in Britain or in France or in Japan as it is in India or Nepal.

So what this report is arguing for is the spread of democratic politics, the democratic processes, not just for more democratic institutions and structures. These are the two kinds of reforms that the report argues for. Deepening Democracy is really all about fostering vibrant democratic processes through things like the press, civil society groups, kinds of organizations like Princess Basma leads, womens' groups, NGOs - are really the foundations of building a democratic society.

What is interesting though about the challenges and situation of today is in fact that there are all kinds of innovations taking place throughout the world in this process of stimulating democratic politics. And the role of the civil society in promoting change, in triggering change, has altered in character over the last decade. The use of new information technology has certainly stimulated it, the fact there are NGOs that are globally networked means that there is a movement. We will hear from Professor Sen about her network of researchers and this networking among people or groups across the globe is an important part of that. Activist Judiciary in India is another one. So there are many of these new processes that are taking place. I will just give you an example of two and then I'll close.

In Rajasthan, there is a citizens' group that has challenged village budgets and held hearings and realized that all kinds of money was being spent for corruption rather than for what they were supposed to be budgeted for, such as schools and roads. And what is interesting about that is not just that corruption was exposed. It is not the first time that something like that happens. But this then led to reforms in the budgeting processes so that in fact they have introduced mechanisms by which people are able to comment on the budget before it is finally approved.