Our Perspectives

Youth as allies of democracy


students protestingStudents and civil society march against the government of Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela in February 2014. Photo: Gabriela Benazar

I was born in 1990. When I could barely walk, a former military staged a coup against the government. Six years later, in 1998, the people of my country elected him as president and he remained so until the day he died, when I was 23. He was elected for president every single time he ran. Despite these numerous electoral processes, however, I cannot say I grew up in a democracy.

In his book, The inner enemies of democracy, Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov states that democracy is not only characterized by how it is established in power and for the purpose of its action, but also by how it is executed.

My country, Venezuela, is not alone. There are many examples of governments elected democratically in theory, but autocratic or dictatorial in practice. In some countries, the word democracy is used to justify the rulers’ presence in power despite daily infringements of civil liberties. Technically, even North Korea holds elections. But it does not matter how many elections a country has if liberty, separation of powers, rotation of power, freedom of expression and association, and human rights are not guaranteed for the population that elects its heads of state.

The consequences of living with governments elected democratically but without democratic exercise are, according to my experience, bad for the personal and social development of children and young people. We get used to this situation as the way an actual democratic government should be. It pushes us further away from nuanced debate, and makes us more vulnerable to violations of our universally recognized human rights.

In 2007, a new generation of students took the streets in Venezuela to protest against the closure of a TV station by the government. Since then, students haven’t stopped protesting and being a political force in Venezuela. By July 2015, they were well-perceived by 86.5% of the population according to a recent poll.

They’ve made sure their voice is heard by voting with a conscience, knowing their candidates, and helping others register to vote. They have defended their right to vote through initiatives such as Voto Joven and Operación Transparencia. They’ve talked to others about the problems they believe the society faces, looking for common grounds and solutions and reaching out to those who think different.

They’ve gotten involved in creating the solutions. One municipality in Caracas is run by mostly young people. (The mayor turned 30 last May).  They created a participative budget, one of the few in the country, with help from the British Embassy and Transparency International and are becoming pioneers in matters of education, culture, and security.

In the spirit of International Youth Day, I want to raise the important role of youth in the consolidation of the democratic institutions, especially in developing countries. We are the next generation to hold office, the one that can truly embrace and make a change if make it as our purpose. We are the ones that can rebuild bridges and progress towards governments elected and exercised in actual democracy. The road might seem uphill, but every civic and political action we take is leading the way towards the world we truly want and deserve.

Gabriela Benazar Governance and peacebuilding Elections Youth Accountability Latin America & the Caribbean Venezuela

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