Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2008
Volume 19
Issue 2
Page Numbers 183-186
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On February 17 in Pristina, the Assembly of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and proclaimed the new Republic of Kosovo. An excerpt from Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence appears below:

We, the democratically elected leaders of our people, hereby declare Kosovo to be an independent and sovereign state. This declaration reflects the will of our people and it is in full accordance with the recommendations of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and his Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. . . .

We declare Kosovo to be a democratic, secular and multiethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law. We shall protect and promote the rights of all communities in Kosovo and create the conditions necessary for their effective participation in political and decision-making processes. . . .

We shall adopt as soon as possible a Constitution that enshrines our commitment to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all our citizens, particularly as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights. The Constitution shall incorporate all relevant principles of the Ahtisaari Plan and be adopted through a democratic and deliberative process.

United Kingdom

On February 12, U.K. foreign secretary David Miliband delivered the Aung San Suu Kyi lecture at St. Hugh’s College of Oxford University. Excerpts from his speech appear below:

I have called this speech “The Democratic Imperative” because I believe discussion about the Iraq war has clouded the debate about promoting democracy around the world. I understand the doubts about Iraq and Afghanistan, and the deep concerns at the mistakes made. But my [End Page 183] plea is that we do not let divisions over those conflicts obscure our national interest, never mind our moral impulse, in supporting movements for democracy. We must not be glib about what democracy means—it is far more than a five-year ballot. We cannot be self satisfied about the state of our own democracy. We cannot impose democratic norms. But we can be clear about the desirability of government by the people and clear that without hubris or sanctimony we can play a role in backing demands for democratic governance and all that goes with it. That is my focus today. . . .

We must resist the arguments on both the left and the right to retreat into a world of realpolitik. The traditional conservative “realist position” is to say that values and interests diverge, and interests should predominate. This will not do. Yet in the 1990s, something strange happened. The neoconservative movement seemed to be most sure about spreading democracy around the world. The left seemed conflicted between the desirability of the goal and its qualms about the use of military means. In fact, the goal of spreading democracy should be a great progressive project; the means need to combine soft and hard power. We should not let the genuine debate about the “how” of foreign policy obscure the clarity about the “what.”

Democracy is plural not singular. There are many aspects to democracy and some countries are more democratic than others. It also makes sense to talk of the culture of democracy, which is both a condition and a consequence of a democratic state.

But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be said. The root of the word is clear: government by the people. We can specify the indispensable conditions of a democracy—that the people choose the government, that they are free from arbitrary control, and that the government respects the right of the people to dispense with it.

And I do not believe . . . this demand for civil recognition to be a curiosity of the modern West. There are very many forms of government by the people that are compatible with the demand for civil recognition. The demand itself I take to be universal. The checks and balances of human rights and democratic governance are important for the security and development of any society: from established systems like ours, to the new democracies of Eastern Europe and Africa, to the emerging economies of China and the Middle East. . . .

I am quite comfortable asserting, to echo Churchill, that democracy is the least bad system of government we have yet devised. I am unapologetic about a mission to help democracy spread through the world—and by this I mean not just more elections, but the rule of law and economic freedoms, which are the basis of liberal democracy. And while we must deploy different tools in different situations, flexibility of means must be combined with consistency in our goals. . . .

Most democracies that fail do so during the first few electoral cycles. [End Page 184] While fragile democracies are safer the year before an election, they are more at risk of violence the year after. Democracy needs to be nursed through its early years. . . .

There are not many countries where democracy is achieved without a struggle. Nelson Mandela, Lech Wa³êsa, Mahatma Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Shirin Ebadi, Aung San Suu Kyi, and many other others have risked their lives and their liberty for it. Those are the names we know. Behind them are others, who, because they are not famous, are taking even greater risks. . . .

No one ever knows when the struggle will end. When they begin to crumble, authoritarian regimes can collapse overnight. The fight needs uncompromising courage; but when it is over, different qualities are needed: reason, patience, calm, a readiness to reconcile and forgive. Qualities that I find easy to associate with the patient suffering of Burmese men and women, and which Aung San Suu Kyi herself embodies.

When it awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Committee said in its citation that it wanted “to show its support for the many people through the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.”

I would like to echo that sentiment today. I believe democracy can take root in all societies. I hope and believe that, in time, it will. The equal worth of human beings, their equal right to independence and self-government, requires no less. And all those brave people, who are fighting to gain tomorrow the democracies that we in the lucky, rich nations of the world are blessed with today, deserve our support. Not just in words, but in deeds.


Massive violence erupted in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed presidential election on December 27. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan led extensive negotiations between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, which finally resulted in the signing of a power-sharing agreement to end the crisis on February 28. Below are the opening paragraphs of the agreement, signed by Kibaki and Odinga. (For a full version of this text, see

The crisis triggered by the 2007 disputed presidential election has brought to the surface deep-seated and long-standing divisions within Kenyan society. If left unaddressed, these divisions threaten the very existence of Kenya as a unified country. The Kenyan people are now looking to their leaders to ensure that their country will not be lost.

Given the current situation, neither side can realistically govern the country without the other. There must be real power-sharing to move the country forward and begin the healing and reconciliation process. [End Page 185]

With this agreement, we are stepping forward together, as political leaders, to overcome the current crisis and to set the country on a new path. As partners in a coalition government, we commit ourselves to work together in good faith as true partners, through constant consultation and willingness to compromise.

This agreement is designed to create an environment conducive to such a partnership and to build mutual trust and confidence. It is not about creating positions that reward individuals. It seeks to enable Kenya’s political leaders to look beyond partisan considerations with a view to promoting the greater interests of the nation as a whole. It provides the means to implement a coherent and far-reaching reform agenda, to address the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict, and to create a better, more secure, more prosperous Kenya for all.


Benazir Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and former prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated on December 27. Days later her nineteen-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, was appointed chairman of the PPP. Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari will serve as acting head of the party while his son completes his studies at Oxford. Following are excerpts from a statement by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on January 6:

My country mourns. And as my countrymen join me in personal grief over the loss of my mother, I join them in national grief over the loss of something even greater: the loss of Pakistan’s greatest voice for democracy.

Benazir Bhutto’s death, however, shall not have been in vain. We will go forward, as she would have wanted, and bring freedom and democracy to Pakistan.

For those in my country who would find it easier to walk away from democracy and seek revenge through violence, I urge you to remember my mother’s words: democracy is the sweetest revenge. To plunge the country into more violence and chaos would only play into the hands of those who hope for democracy’s failure. The terrorists have no use for democracy, and the current government fears it. We must unite and rise above both. . . .

Pakistanis will soon hold the most important election in our history. We have reached a tipping point. We will either unite behind democracy and the fight against radicalism and violence, or we will descend into the all-too-familiar cycles of despotism, terror and instability.

Those of us who will fight for democracy must make our stand now. Then, together, a united and democratic government can turn its attention to the extremists and terrorists who seek to undermine freedom in our country and throughout the world.