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15.4.11


A majority of people across the world feel they are not completely free to express unpopular opinion in their countries, says a survey released on the United Nations International Day of Democracy on Tuesday.

Most people answered in the positive for "freedom of expression" and "democracy" when they were asked how important it is to express political views without fear of being harassed and how important it is to live in a country that is governed democratically, the worldwide poll said.

The survey was carried out in 24 countries including China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia and South Africa, and represented 64 per cent of the world's population.

It asked questions such as -- "How important do you think it is for people to express unpopular political views without fear of being harassed or punished?" and "How important it is for you to live in a country that is governed democratically?" For both questions, the majority of people answered positively for freedom of expression and democracy.

"The notion of the importance of democracy and the notion of accepting diversity, expression of diverse political views are very integrally related," said Steven Kull, Director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, a consortium of research centres around the globe that conducted the poll.

Anda Filip, a top official of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) that sponsored the poll said one of the major challenges to democracy continues to be lack of political tolerance.

"It (political tolerance) is the very foundation of democratic dialogue and political pluralism, and yet it continues to elude us in so many societies around the world," Filip told reporters at the UN.

Established in 1889, the IPU is an international organisation for the parliaments of 143 sovereign states.

Despite the enthusiasm for political tolerance and democracy, most of the polled persons said they could not express their views freely.

"There was actually not a single country where majority said that people are completely free," said Kull.

The poll also revealed that people did not think that ethnic minorities were well represented in legislative bodies.

They also felt that opposition parties did not get a fair chance to express their views, and that legislators have limited freedom to differ from their political party.

"We see this marked discrepancy between the global demand for democratic governance and its supply," said UN Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.

"Despite such massive public support in favour of democracy and pluralism, we continue to be confronted with the problem of lack of political tolerance virtually everywhere," he added.

Fernandez-Taranco also said elections should not be the sole focus of the international community in their assessment of democracy, especially in post-conflict scenarios.

"The UN support in many of these electoral processes is usually accompanied by efforts to promote good governance and fundamental freedom," he said.

Meanwhile, Filip said the IPU would be studying how Members of Parliament did not feel comfortable in expressing their views that differ from political parties.

"It is a very worrying phenomenon that we are witnessing in very many regions of the world of how MPs are losing their seat for not observing certain political party discipline," she said.

In 2007, the General Assembly had designated September 15 as International Democracy Day to reflect on the achievements and setbacks of the democratic process.

The Universal Declaration on Democracy states, "While democracy is imperfect it is the only political system that has the capacity for self correction."


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