Democracy Cannot Be Exported or Imposed

09/15/2011 02:33 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011
  • Helen Clark Administrator, United Nations Development Programme

On this International Day of Democracy, we reflect on the human desire for dignity, inclusion and freedom, which has seen millions of people across the Arab world demanding change.

Many lives have been lost, and are still being lost, as regimes and their opponents have faced off against each other.

Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya are embarking on a new era and face the challenge of building more inclusive societies, economies and governance systems.

That will involve strengthening legislative and judicial bodies, fostering transparency and accountability in government at all levels, building new institutions and overhauling political and economic systems in general.

Transformations from authoritarian to more participatory systems take time, and there will be bumps along the way. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is able to share experiences from working in many countries in transition.

On Oct. 23, for the first time, Tunisians are scheduled to elect representatives to the National Constituent Assembly. Building on Tunisia's historic achievements in gender equality, there are attempts to boost the number of female candidates on party electoral lists to lift the representation of women.

Tunisian women of all ages and from all backgrounds played a crucial role in the quest for democracy and freedom. Female judges in black robes marching down the streets of the capital in January will remain among the most vivid images of the Arab uprisings.

UNDP is providing women candidates running for the first time in October's election with information on how to mount campaigns, engage civil society and use new and traditional media. We are also promoting dialogue among Tunisians on the public image and perception of women's participation in politics.

In Egypt, UNDP is available to support the election process and security sector reform. In Libya, the U.N.'s broad team is tackling humanitarian challenges and stands ready to assist the transition.

Around the world, the United Nations does a great deal to develop and strengthen democratic institutions and practices.

UNDP alone dedicated more than U.S. $1.6 billion to building democratic governance last year. We currently support one in three parliaments in the developing world and are involved on average every two weeks in an election.

Democracy cannot be exported or imposed; it must come from the will of the people. The rest of us can support nations on the path they lay out for themselves to meet their aspirations for equity, inclusiveness and empowerment.