Helen Clark: Commemorative ceremony marking the International Day of Democracy

Sep 15, 2011

Remarks for Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
For the Commemorative Ceremony Marking the International Day of Democracy
Mexico City, Mexico
Thursday 15 September 2011 9: 00 am

I am deeply impressed that Mexico is marking the International Day of Democracy with this ceremony attended by the President and other very senior holders of public office in this country. This speaks volumes about the importance Mexico attaches to democracy.

I understand that this very evening, celebrations also begin for Mexico’s Independence Day, marking 201 years independence from colonial rule.

The concurrence of these two days is fitting. At their foundation, popular movements for independence and democracy are born from the drive of people everywhere to determine their own destinies and participate in the decisions which shape their lives.

By establishing the International Day of Democracy in 2007, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged that this drive is universal. 

We see that confirmed this year in the streets and squares of countries in the Arab States region. There, at great personal risk, and with the loss of many lives, people have called for dignity, opportunity, a meaningful say in decision-making, and an end to corruption, injustice, and repression.

Democratic transitions

When making transitions to democracy, many countries look to the experiences of those who have grappled with some of the same challenges. That makes Mexico’s transition to deeper democratic governance of great interest.

When I visited Cairo, three months ago, the President of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) of Mexico was already there, exchanging ideas with Egyptian counterparts. His visit helped set the tone for the Pathways to Transitions conference, organised by UNDP. It brought together Egyptian Government and civil society leaders with interlocutors who had played key roles in transitions in Mexico and other Latin American countries, Indonesia, and South Africa.

Since 1994, UNDP has been a witness to Mexico’s transformation into a better and deeper democracy. Early on, we administered a fund which helped build the credibility of the electoral process including by employing representatives of local civil society organizations to observe elections.

Today, UNDP is proud to work with partners from civil society, the Federal Electoral Institute, the electoral tribunal, and the Government of Mexico to provide capacity development and research programmes for electoral experts from around the world who seek to learn from Mexico’s experience.

There is no one formula for democratic governance or for transitions to it. Countries can be ‘differently democratic’. In its work to advance democratic governance around the world, UNDP is very respectful of the distinct pathways chosen by each society.

Young and old democracies alike nevertheless share the common objective of achieving effective, accountable and responsive governance. Such systems expand people’s freedom and choices, enabling them to live lives they value. That is the vision for human development which informs UNDP’s work.

Democratic governance also reinforces development progress by:

  • establishing the transparency and predictability needed to attract investment and grow the economy, and by
  • making resource allocation and service delivery more responsive to the needs of people.

In UNDP’s report last year on the state of democracy in Latin America we said that growing inequities and the unequal fulfillment of human rights ultimately erode democracy.

Around the world we see large and growing disparities in income and opportunity creating imbalances of influence. That in turn makes abuses of power and corruption more likely. For young people in particular, these trends, coupled with a lack of jobs and economic opportunities, can lead to cynicism and alienation from the political process.

Thus Mexico’s continued efforts to confront social and economic inequality are critical for building social cohesion and reinforcing its commitment to responsive and inclusive governance. I understand that the innovative“Oportunidades” programme has brought real benefits to Mexican families on low incomes.

All democracies are works in progress.As indicated in the ‘Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on Democracy Assistance’, “democratisation is neither linear nor irreversible, but must be monitored and maintained by both the state and citizens.”

For inclusive and open government to be reached the public need to be able to access the information they need to participate in a meaningful way, and be able to make their voices heard. New technologies can help that, and be part of making existing institutions more responsive. Wherever it can, UNDP supports countries’ efforts to establish environments in which political parties, civil society, and free and ethical media can flourish, and where women and indigenous people and minority groups can participate fully and be well represented.


The infrastructure behind elections must also be independent so that it maintains the confidence of the electorate in the integrity of the electoral process and its outcomes.Candidates for elections need to be able to compete from a level playing field. Allocating equal media timeduring election campaigns on the basis of a fair formula is well established practice in many democracies for that reason.

Mexico and UNDP in Partnership

Under the auspices ofthe Collaboration Framework Agreement between Mexico and UNDP signed two days ago, UNDP looks forward to stepping up its work with Mexico to share its experience and expertise in advancingdemocratic governance.Your experts are in demand – UNDP itself appointed one from IFE to be director of our electoral assistance programme in Haiti.

UNDP also remains committed to supporting IFE and the Mexican electoral process, through our work in preparing the citizen´s observation forthe 2012 elections.Ithank all our electoral counterparts who, for so many years, haveplaced their trust in us to do this work.

Democracies everywhere, of all shapes and sizes, confront challenges in meeting the demands and aspirations of their people. It is how they rise to meet those challenges which matters.

UNDP has been a partner of Mexico on its democratic journey, and we continue to support this country’s efforts to advance inclusive and democratic governance. We see the tenacity and commitment with which Mexico has pursued this project, and we wish Mexico’s government and people all the best for the future.


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