Around two billion people are eligible to vote this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their opinions will be taken into account by the governments they elect. Amid concern over growing authoritarianism, repression and misinformation, the UN is promoting forms of governance that are inclusive, and accountable. In this bumper election year of over 60 elections, around a quarter of the entire world population are taking part in polls but, whilst democracy remains overwhelmingly popular, many people feel that their voices are not being heard, even if they live in historically democratic countries.

Initiatives such as citizen’s assemblies, some of which are supported by the UN, are seen by some as a way of giving more people direct involvement in the democratic process, and empowering communities in the process. UN News brought together two experts to discuss the power of citizen’s assemblies, and the role of the UN in democratic governance: Sarah Lister, the Head of Governance at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Iain Walker, the CEO of newDemocracy, which has organized several citizen’s assemblies.

UN News: To what extent can, and should, the UN, which is made up of sovereign Member States, get involved in democracy? Sarah Lister: Well, democracy is a core value of the UN, and we’ve long advocated for governance systems that promote values and principles of greater participation, equality, security and human development. That doesn’t mean that we impose any particular system on member states or say that any particular system is right.

Member States are sovereign, and we support them to have the capacity to run governance processes in the way that best suit them. But obviously, we do also provide support for democratic institutions and inclusive, peaceful and credible elections. That can be anything from procuring ballot boxes, to advising national authorities around issues of misinformation, to supporting civil society organizations around literacy – civic literacy. So, a wide range of activities, including supporting, in some places, women’s organizations or other national stakeholders.

This year we supported the Pakistan elections in a number of ways; in South Africa we supported on voter education, electoral conflict management, combating disinformation and misinformation; we are also supporting the forthcoming Mozambique elections. But in the last two and a half years, we’ve actually supported some 47 elections in 38 countries. So, the range of countries and regions where we work is, is very wide.

Source: The UN

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