There are risks with the transition to democracy. It can be chaotic. It can cause short-term instability. Even worse – and we have seen it before – the transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime. Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception, and rigged elections to stay in power or to advance an agenda of extremism.
So the transition to democracy will only work if it is deliberate, inclusive, and transparent. Those who want to participate in the political system must commit to basic principles such as renouncing violence as a tool of political coercion, respecting the rights of minorities – ethnic and religious minorities, participating in a spirit of tolerance and compromise. Those who refuse to make those commitments do not deserve a seat at the table. We will continue to champion free and fair elections as an essential part of building and maintaining a democracy.
But we know elections alone are not sufficient. They’re not even sufficient to secure lasting change. So we also must work together to support the institutions of good governance, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, transparency and a free press, strong political parties, protection for the rights of minorities and more, because those, indeed, are the building blocks of a true democracy.
The transition to democracy is more likely to be peaceful and permanent when it involves both the government in power and a broad cross-section of the citizenry. So in addition to supporting institutions and free and fair elections, we are committed to supporting strong civil societies, the activists, organizations, congregations, intellectuals, reporters who work through peaceful means to fight corruption and keep governments honest. Their work enriches the soil in which democracy grows.