EBA seminar on democratic backsliding – summary

SoME Gavobevis 2023

20 May 2024

The Expert Group on Aid Analysis (EBA) organised an interesting seminar: ‘Political Voices in Times of Democratic backsliding’, where three researchers presented their dissertations linked to the decline of democracy. 

Adea Gafuri, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs presented her research on Aid from Democratic versus Autocratic Donors: Democratisation Processes and Citizens’ Perceptions in Recipient Countries  

Elizaveta Kopacheva, researcher from Linnaeus University presented her research on ‘The resource model of political participation in semi-authoritarian states, A privilege for the privileged’  

Valeriya Mechkova, Assistant Professor and researcher from the University of Gothenburg presented her research on understanding the conditions and consequences of women’s political representation. 

Everything was summarised and commented on by Anna Sundström, Secretary General of the Olof Palme International Centre.   

Moderated by Malin Oud, Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s Stockholm office and member of the Expert Group for Aid Analysis. 

Some interesting lessons from the research 

Gafuri highlighted that people in the countries she studied wanted aid but not at any cost, for instance corruption is not appreciated.  The population also has greater confidence in aid provided by democratic states, as they believe that they are more responsive to the population’s own views. Many people want more aid and would like to see a combination of different types of aid from both democratic and autocratic donors.   

Kopacheva highlighted that her research has found that protests in the streets have more impact than social media appeals in transition economies (i.e. economies that are changing from a centrally planned economy to a market economy). Previous activism and socialising in groups that push these issues is a major contributing factor to participation in protests.   

Sundström summarised and referred to Erika Chenoweth’s research showing that public protests are the best way to make a difference, and that peaceful resistance campaigns are ten times more likely to lead to democratic change than violent ones. At the same time, the chances of change increase if at least 3.5% of the population actively participates in the protests. 

Mechkova emphasised that the inclusion of more women makes a difference in politics IF certain conditions are met, e.g. women have less influence in more corrupt states, regardless of their numbers. At the same time, the sheer number of women in political positions can be used as a ‘gender washing’ for a country to broadcast a more equal appearance than the reality of the country. Regardless, quotas and proportional systems for women matter, as it makes it easier to vote for women. However, it also matters who these women are for how much influence they will have.   

In conclusion, there are many aspects that influence the strength of political voices for democracy, and as Sundström summarised, now is the right time to act more to strengthen democracy in the world. 

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