USAID’s Peter Wiebler on ‘Empowered Citizens for Responsive Politics’

On 18 October, USAID held a public event titled ‘Countdown to 2020: Empowered Citizens for Responsive Politics.’ During the event, USAID presented its new Elections and Political Processes initiative. The four-year initiative covers a broad range of non-partisan activities supported by the American people and implemented by nine different organizations, including six Georgian CSOs. The initiative focuses on supporting more responsive and citizen-centered political and electoral processes. It is the U.S. government’s primary electoral assistance initiative for Georgia’s upcoming 2020 and 2021 electoral cycles.

Nine different organizations are involved in the program: the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES); the International Republican Institute (IRI); and the National Democratic Institute (NDI); the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP); the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy (EECMD); the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA); the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED); the Public Movement Multi-National Georgia (PMMG); and Transparency International Georgia (TI). Together, they will carry out various activities to support better civic engagement and increased oversight over the country’s political system.

The budget of this program encompasses approximately $14 million over four years, with a large portion of the money going to support the work of local organizations to empower citizens for the approaching election cycles and beyond. This is particularly important as Georgia is currently undergoing a transition to a new proportional system of elections. Moreover, this shift emphasizes the need and the role of watchdog organizations to conduct monitoring and ensure the integrity of elections and political processes.

GT had the honor to sit down with USAID/Georgia Mission Director Peter Wiebler to discuss the details of the program and Mr. Wiebler’s personal outlook on the USAID project.

What is the overall goal of USAID support for Georgia?

The overall goal for USAID, which is part of the US government and is carrying out official policy in Georgia, is for the country to grow its economy in a more inclusive way, strengthen its democratic institutions and, in a broader sense, move closer to the Euro-Atlantic community. In a developmental sense, we are trying to help Georgia reach a level where foreign assistance is no longer necessary.

We don’t pick favorites. We don’t favor one political party over another. Through our assistance, we’re helping Georgia achieve goals that its citizens have already set. Which party or parties lead Georgia closer to those goals, is for the Georgian people alone to decide.

"Responsive politics" is a main theme of USAID support in the elections and political processes sphere. How do you define responsive politics? Why is this important to Georgia's democratic development?

The classic American answer to that is ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ That is enshrined in our constitution, and that’s the way Americans look at the world. We understand that not everybody looks at the world that way, but I think that this point holds true. Government exists to serve the interests of the people, and the authority of governments comes from the people. So, when we talk about responsive politics, it means that we want to help Georgia build a system where the citizens drive the government’s agenda.

How is USAID helping support more responsive political processes?

The program we’re talking about today has a number of interesting parts. USAID has supported Georgia’s electoral processes for quite a while now. Now, we’re doing it in a different way than we did before. We’re announcing a program to strengthen Georgia’s democratically-oriented political parties, to help citizens engage more in electoral and political processes overall, and to strengthen electoral oversight so the entire electoral system has more integrity and better serves the will of citizens. Also, we seek to help Georgia’s underrepresented groups, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, or folks from the regions who normally don’t get as big a voice in Georgia’s political system. We are trying to help those people become better represented. That’s the idea behind the program we are announcing today.

USAID has supported Georgia for nearly 30 years. What is different about your new initiative?

Three things are different about this initiative. One is that, instead of focusing mostly on strengthening political parties and supporting the electoral system, we are putting the Georgian citizen at the center of this new program. The activities are designed to give citizens more tools, information, and opportunities to get involved in the political process. The second point is that the program emphasizes engaging citizens living in Georgia’s regions. We are putting a bigger emphasis on support for regions-based civic groups and community organizations to get involved in the political process. We are also supporting stronger monitoring by Georgian organizations working in the regions to ensure that elections and political processes in general are played by the rules.

The third point is that we’re working with a much bigger pool of partners, including, most impressively, numerous Georgian partners and CSOs through which we will be implementing the program. Of note, we have doubled the number of Georgian implementing partners and doubled the amount of funding provided to these partners.

What are you most excited about?

First of all, I’m excited about Georgia because Georgia has a great future. Regardless of where you come from in the political spectrum here, you look at the political environment, and there’s freedom of speech. You hear people criticizing the government, also you hear people supporting the government. Georgians have neighbors to the north where you can’t do that, and neighbors to the south where you can’t do that. I think it’s important to highlight that point. Secondly, I’m excited to work with our partners and the Georgian people to get citizens more involved. That’s the only way the country will move toward more responsive democracy. That’s what I’m most excited about. We have an exciting year ahead of us as we look toward 2020. But most importantly, I’m just excited about this country and the fantastic future it has.

By Beka Alexishvili

USAID/Georgia Mission Director Peter Wiebler presenting USAID’s new elections initiative. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

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21 October 2019 18:17