Democracy Research News September 2021

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September 2021

The Democracy Research Newsletter features news and information from the members of the Network of Democracy Research Institutes on democracy, democratization, and related topics in international affairs.

news from the network of Democracy research institutes (NDRI)

In July 2021, the Political Capital Institute (Hungary) released a new report based on a two-year research project entitled “The Specter of Authoritarian Regimes is Haunting Europe.” Spearheaded by Patrik Szicherle, Csaba Molnár, & Péter Krekó at Political Capital, the report reviews how authoritarian influence, an especially effective tool for Russia, targets individual European Union (EU) states in order to break EU solidarity and manipulate European foreign policy. The authors provide several recommendations to address this challenge, including the need to address the risks that the EU’s rule of unanimity poses to implementing rapid and effective policy responses. Several NDRI members contributed to the project, including Grigorij Mesežnikov and Ján Bartoš of the Institute for Public Affairs (Slovakia) as well as Šimon Pinkas at the Prague Security Studies Institute (Czech Republic).




The International Forum for Democratic Studies (United States) published the final two reports in the Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series. In the eighth report entitled “Double-Edged Sword: China’s Sharp Power Exploitation of Emerging Technologies,” Dr. Samantha Hoffman describes how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) leverages emerging technologies to undercut democracies’ stability and legitimacy while expanding its own influence. The final report, written by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig entitled “A Full-Spectrum Response to Sharp Power: The Vulnerabilities and Strengths of Open Societies,” discusses how state actors in Beijing and Moscow use sharp power operations to exert influence in foreign institutions to the detriment of global democratic integrity. The International Forum also launched a working paper by Alexander Cooley, Tena Prelec, John Heathershaw, and Tom Mayne entitled “Paying for a World Class Affiliation: Reputation Laundering in the University Sector of Open Societies.” This essay analyzes how malign actors use funding and donations to higher education institutions as a means of reputation laundering, especially as rapid globalization within the higher education sector has made these schools a prime target for kleptocrats.

The V-Dem Institute (Sweden) produced its annual Democracy Report, entitled “Autocratization Turns Viral.” The study found that autocracies are now home to 68 percent of the world’s population as the number of non-democratic governments increased since the onset of the pandemic. In addition, the Institute released five policy briefs that examined the benefits of democracy as part of its March 2021 Case for Democracy Week. The series, organized by Nazifa Alizada, Vanessa Boese, Staffan Lindberg, Martin Lundstedt, Natalia Natsika, and Shreeya Pillai, analyzed the following topics:

The Journal of Democracy (United States) published the July 2021 issue, which explores Latin America’s political upheaval in the wake of mass protests, including analyses on El Salvador, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. The issue also features commentary from Péter Krekó, executive director of Hungary’s Political Capital Institute, on “authoritarian inflation,” where autocratic leaders work to provide an outsized depiction of their power in order to influence other states.

The Quality of Government Institute (QoG, Sweden) published a peer-reviewed article entitled “Local Interest Group Activity and Environmental Degradation in Authoritarian Regimes.” Authors Ruth D. Carlitz and Marina Povitkina examine the air and water quality in authoritarian regimes and how the presence of interest groups affects these metrics. In their research, the authors found that a higher number of interest groups, mainly due to the influence of local business interests, tended to precipitate lower air and water quality. As a result, the findings suggest heightened challenges within authoritarian settings that “base their legitimacy on economic development.” In March 2021, Marina Nistotskaya, Stefan Dahlberg, Carl Dahlström, Cem Mert Dalli, and Natalia Alvarado Pachon document the design and implementation of the third iteration of the QoG Expert Survey, and provides initial analysis of the data in a piece entitled “The Quality of Government Expert Survey 2020 (Wave III): Report.”

The National Democratic Institute (NDI, United States) published two blog posts on the NDItech blog in June 2021. In the first, Elizabeth Sutterlin weighs the benefits and consequences of nationalized digital ID systems and how they have the potential to foster inclusion or perpetuate existing inequalities in “Digital ID: A Tool for Inclusion, or Just Confusion?” The second blog post, entitled “Designing Democratic Digital Cities” by Priyal Bhatt, examines opportunities for cities to implement digital technologies to enable “faster responses to crises, better planning and allocation of resources for public programs, and increased quality of customer experience” to build trust in government. NDI’s Municipal Digital Transformation Guidebook, published in June 2021, aims to assist municipal and local leaders to design and implement digital programs within their programs.



The Ghana Center for Democratic Development (Ghana) recently produced two new reports with Democracy in Africa in recognition of International Democracy Day. The first, entitled “Democracy Capture in Africa,” features essays from E. Gyimah-Boadi, Expédit B. Ologuo, Migai Akech, Adriano Nuvunga, and Idayat Hassan. The second report, entitled “The Shadow State in Africa,” features analysis from Nic Cheeseman, Claude Iguma Wakenge, Lisa Rolls, Shishuwa Shishuwa, and Phillan Zamchiya. Both reports examine how many countries are unable to experience democratic consolidation while ineffective governments remain in power in addition to examining how inadequate development programs are unable to address growing inequality in the region. To launch these reports, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development recently held a webinar entitled “Democracy Capture in Africa and the Rise of the Shadow State in Africa.”

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE, South Africa) is commemorating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and to celebrate, hosts regular conversations on democracy, business, markets, and development with leading global development experts. CDE published reports on the first five events that hosted with Paul RomerFrancis FukuyamaMontek Singh AhluwaliaMartin Wolf, and Sir Paul Collier.



INCITEGov (The Philippines) published a report on populism entitled “Probing Populism in the Philippines: Proceedings of the 2018 National Consultation on Populism by Veronica Fenix Villavicencio and Corazon Juliano-Soliman, which focused on civil society’s responses to President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist leadership. In addition, INCITEGov released a report by Luisito G. Montalbo entitled “The Two Tracks of the Bangsamoro Peace Process and the Extension Transition Question.” This paper argues that any roadmap for the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that witnessed conflict between the central government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front should be contextualized alongside the larger peace process and must prioritize specific steps to achieve the process’ goal.

For the Centre for Policy Research (India), Kiran Bhatty wrote a June 2021 report entitled “Open Government in Education: Learning from Social Audits in India.” This case study examined the first social audit of education, an analysis of the effectiveness of government programs in schooling, that took place under the direction of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). He concludes that direct access to information is a method to establish accountability and empower marginalized groups.

The Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4 Center, Malaysia) launched a report entitled “Malaysia is not a ‘Garbage Dump’: Citizens Against Corruption, Complacency, Crime, and Climate Crisis.” In the report, Wong Pui Yi argues that corruption, complacent regulators, and improper oversight led to the illegal dumping of plastic within the country and subsequently exacerbated the climate crisis.



In June 2021, the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (Belarus) released a report by Katsiaryna Shmatsina, Vasil Navumau, and Tatsiana Chulitskaya entitled “Russian Influence in Belarus,” in which the authors argue that the Kremlin’s propaganda machine seeks to undermine Western-led efforts to mediate the country’s crisis while ensuring Moscow’s exclusive contact with Belarus. To achieve this objective, the authors found that Russian state media outlets devote significant time to divide Belarusian society and prolong the country’s political crisis.

The Democratic Initiatives Foundation (Ukraine) published a study entitled “Assessment of the Vulnerability and Resilience of Residents of the Southern and Eastern Regions of Ukraine to the Narratives of Russian Propaganda.” In the study, Petro Burkovsky found that three factors will determine whether Russian propaganda will be effective within Ukraine: Russian aggression in the Donbass, Ukrainian methods of integrating the Eastern Ukraine into the country, and economic development initiatives. Burkowsky argues in “Ukraine Desperately Needs Referendums. Zelensky and his Team Think so. And How in Fact,” that more referendums will lead to a more democratic government alongside higher levels of citizen engagement.

In June 2021, the Association for International Affairs (Czech Republic) produced a report entitled “China’s ‘Digital Silk Road’ Enters the Western Balkans.” Stefan Vladisavljev claims that China’s Silk Road initiative increasingly exports techno-autocratic technologies, requiring a coordinated democratic response to provide viable alternatives to these tools. In another policy paper, “Teaching the State to Talk: Lessons for the Czech Republic on Using Strategic Communication as a Counter-Disinformation Tool,” Dominik Presl urges the Czech Republic to develop a central strategic communications unit based on  Taiwan and the United Kingdom’s examples to mitigate the impact of disinformation.

Catholic University of Portugal’s Institute for Political Studies (Portugal) will host the Estoril Political Forum 2021, entitled “On the 80th Anniversary of the Atlantic Charter: Structuring a New Alliance of Democracies.” The Forum will be held on October 18 – 20, 2021 and will be the 29th International Meeting in Political Studies. The event will feature several ambassadors, think tank researchers, and university academics.

The Prague Security Studies Institute (Czech Republic), as part of its “PSSI Perspectives” series, released a memorandum entitled “Vvrbêtice: Case Study of Czech Resilience Against Hostile Propaganda.” Michaela Dvořáková and Jonáš Syrovátka argue that the Czech government’s mismanagement and lack of communication allowed purveyors of conspiracy theories to shape public discourse. Another PSSI Perspective, consisting of two interviews with Czech MEPs Markéta Gregorová and Alexandr Vondra, was released earlier this year entitled “Authoritarian Influence in the EU and How to Deal with It: The MEP’ perspective,” and offered unique opinions on how to counter Russia and China’s sharp power tactics.



In March 2021, Sivis Institute (Brazil) released the results of the second wave of research for the “Valores em Crise” (Values in crisis) series, with data collected between January and February 2021. Developed by an international consortium led by the World Values Survey Association, this Portuguese-language report examines Brazilian politics and society to understand how societies’ fundamental values change during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (Argentina) released a report on “How the Chinese Communist Party Seduces Political Parties in Latin America.” In the piece, Juan Pablo Cardenal argues that Chinese Communist Party leaders adopt perspectives on both the left and right of the political spectrum to convince elites to create a favorable environment for Beijing’s investment within Latin America. In another article from Cardenal entitled “Chinese-style Democracy,” he argues that China’s effectiveness in pushing narratives regarding its style of governance is rooted in a lack of knowledge about the country and its governance model within Latin America.

In early 2021, Latinobarómetro (Chile) released a Spanish-language report entitled “Informe Chile 2020” [Chile Report 2020]. On the 25th anniversary of the organization, the report concludes that Chileans have lost a sense of trust in government due to widespread inequality and a belief that corporations have undue influence within the political process.



Georgia Dagher of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (Lebanon) published a report entitled “Women’s Participation and Representation in Lebanese Politics: Electoral Performance, Challenges, and the Road Ahead.” Stating that representation of women in Lebanon’s government is disproportionately low, Dagher proposes various electoral reforms to remedy the political inequality and create a more egalitarian electoral system. The report also examines how “geographic characteristics and sectarian representation” have an important influence over the electoral performance of female candidates.


Democracy Research News is the digital newsletter of the Network of Democracy Research Institutes (NDRI), a membership association of institutions that conduct and publish research on democracy and democratic development. To submit comments or to inquire about joining the Network, please write to Melissa Aten at

The views expressed in this newsletter represent the opinions and analysis of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy or its staff.


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