Supporting Citizen Voices and Fostering Accountable Governance

An important milestone for democracy occurred just last month in the Seychelles, but you may have overlooked it.  In parliamentary elections, a coalition of opposition parties won the majority of votes, ending the ruling party’s four-decade hold on power. President James Michel stated “The people have spoken, the people have decided, and the people’s decision is supreme.” Earlier this month, he announced his resignation, saying that after 12 years as president, “the time has come to hand over the reins of power to a new leader.” While Michel was legally serving a third term, his decision to resign was in response to a constitutional amendment passed earlier this year limiting future presidents to two terms in office.

This stands in refreshing contrast to events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to state publicly that he will not seek a third term in his country’s upcoming presidential elections has brought violence, escalating tensions, and mass protests. Across the world, in places like Burundi, Tajikistan, Congo-Brazzaville and Rwanda, leaders persist in modifying constitutions for personal gain and running referendums to extend their terms. Globally, over 25 percent of term-bound presidents who served between 1960 and 2010 have extended their stay in office beyond their country’s constitutionally-mandated limits.

What steps can the international community take to reverse this trend? Last month, I moderated a high-level panel at the UN General Assembly in New York to tackle these questions. A common theme I heard from participants, who included Secretary General for the Community of Democracies Ambassador Maria Leissner, President Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, and Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye, was that respecting constitutionally-mandated term limits is directly related to a country’s peace, security, stability, and future prosperity.  But participants also observed that enforcing term limits is only part of the solution -- to build a genuinely sustainable democratic future and to counter many leaders’ claims that they are “indispensable” to the development of their country, the term limits push must also be accompanied by a strong adherence to fundamental rights and freedoms, and to institution-building.

Senegalese Foreign Minister Ndiaye reinforced this idea when he described President Macky Sall’s decision to make presidential term limits a platform for his 2012 presidential campaign, and to submit a constitutional amendment shortening terms from seven to five years. Minister Ndiaye observed that President Sall’s push for this referendum was intended to lay the foundation for long-term democratic stability by boosting the ability of opposition candidates to participate and compete in elections. President Sall’s bet is that advancing political pluralism will foster more transparent and accountable governance and a more open and inclusive future for Senegal’s citizens.

A new generation of citizens that steadfastly believes that leaders should not profit at the expense of their country is rising up around the globe.  Just look at what happened in Burkina Faso in 2014, when citizens of all ages, professions, and backgrounds came together and demanded that President Compaoré back down from his attempt to extend his 27 years in office. As President Obama stated in an address to the African Union in Addis last summer, “Nobody should be president for life.  And your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas.” We support citizen voices around the world that recognize countries will only prosper when people are truly free to choose their own leaders.

About the Author: Tom Malinowski serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Comments

Comments

Emmanuel S.
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Texas, USA
October 25, 2016
Just like in Cameroon where a dictator Paul Biya is holding his citizens hostage since 1982.He is very dangerous for his own people and is using state money like his own.People around him are speechless and pretend like everything is all right. Cameroonian people needs a divine intervention to force a change in their bsd governance.
Poll workers tally yes and no ballots by battery-powered lamp in a sealed classroom, following a constitutional referendum in Niger.
Posted by Tom Malinowski
October 18, 2016

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