International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

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International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
AbbreviationInternational IDEA
FormationFebruary 28, 1995; 28 years ago (1995-02-28)[1]
TypeIntergovernmental organization
PurposeSupporting sustainable democracy worldwide
HeadquartersStrömsborg, SE-103 34
  • Stockholm, Sweden
Region served

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization that works to support and strengthen democratic institutions and processes around the world, to develop sustainable, effective and legitimate democracies. It has regional offices in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific and Africa and West Asia. The organization is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.

Kevin Casas Zamora is the secretary-general as of August 2019. Previously, Casas Zamora was Costa Rica's second Vice President and Minister of National Planning. Yves Leterme, former deputy secretary-general at the OECD and former Prime Minister of Belgium, was the previous secretary-general from 2014 to 2019. Leterme replaced Vidar Helgesen.

International IDEA is an official United Nations Observer.[2]


The early 1990s were marked by challenges to democracy worldwide. The violent crackdown in Tiananmen Square in China happened in 1989, and Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina were all on a slow, difficult road toward democracy after having suffered similarly cruel military coups and dictatorships. Despite a long tradition of autocracy in South Korea, democratic dissident Kim Dae-jung became president. Nelson Mandela's release in 1990 after serving 28 years in prison marked South Africa's first step toward democracy. There were also wide-ranging discussions in other parts of Africa and Asia about how to incorporate democratic norms into their traditions and cultures.[citation needed]

More and more people around the world needed good advice about a number of choices that had to be made in order to make democracy work. In response to this need Sweden, along with 13 other countries took the initiative to found The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, International IDEA.

The Founding Conference of International IDEA took place on 27–28 February 1995 and involved 14 founding states: Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. The institute's four initial fields of activity were defined as: (1) the creation of a databank and provision of information services; (2) research; (3) establishing and promotion of guidelines and (4) offering advisory and capacity-building services.[1]

The institute's original structure consisted of a board of 9–15 persons, appointed in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of member states, which developed the work programme. The council (composed of one representative of each member and associate member) was responsible for approving the work programme and budget—despite not being consulted about their development—and for making sure the contributions supported the work program. A founding ‘nucleus' board was established that comprised Shridath Ramphal, Adama Dieng and David Steel. Bengt Säve-Söderbergh, who was instrumental in the process of creating International IDEA from the start, was appointed its first secretary-general. Due to practical difficulties and overlapping responsibilities between the board and council, this model later changed.

International IDEA was able to immediately start work designing ethical codes and professional rules and guidelines for electoral processes, and developed three extremely useful handbooks in the very beginning on electoral system design,[3] democracy and deep-rooted conflict,[4] and women in parliament.[5]

As part of the institute's 20th anniversary celebration in 2015, Bengt Säve-Söderbergh wrote an essay, The Birth of an IDEA,[6] that captures how the organization was born and its relevancy. Säve-Söderbergh is the first secretary-general of International IDEA.


International IDEA's mission is to “advance democracy worldwide, as a universal human aspiration and an enabler of sustainable development, through support to the building, strengthening and safeguarding of democratic political institutions and processes at all levels”.[7] Additionally, International IDEA is dedicated to the following tasks:

  • Assist countries build capacity to develop democratic institutions.
  • Provide a forum between policy-makers, academics and practitioners.
  • Synthesize research and field experience, and develop practical tools to improve democratic processes.
  • Promote accountability, transparency and efficiency in election management.
  • Facilitate local democracy assessment, monitoring and promotion by local citizens.

Key activities[edit]

  • Electoral Processes - Support for electoral processes has been at the heart of International IDEA's work since its foundation in 1995. International IDEA's Statutes provide a mandate for the Institute's efforts to improve and consolidate democratic electoral processes worldwide. By generating global comparative knowledge, non-prescriptive analysis and policy recommendations aimed at the design, establishment and consolidation of sustainable and credible locally owned electoral processes, the Institute responds to the needs of target audiences. Those include electoral management bodies (EMBs) and electoral practitioners, legislative and judicial bodies, academics, civil society, election observers, as well as development agencies and democracy assistance organizations.
  • Constitution-building - Together with local, regional and global partners, the Constitution-building programme raises awareness of the role constitution-building processes play in managing conflict and consolidating democracy. The work involves: Providing technical assistance to national actors engaged in processes of constitution building. Providing knowledge and capacity-building resources that individuals and groups can use to strengthen their participation, and its quality, in processes of constitution building. Facilitating access to lesson learning in comparative contexts so that national, regional and international actors have more options to consider in dealing with different constitutional issues. Servicing a global community of constitution building practitioners through physical and virtual spaces for dialogue.
  • Political Participation and Representation - This programme supports political parties focusing on four areas. Party Law and Finance: to improve regulation on party and candidate finance. The Political Party Organization: to allow political parties to develop policy platforms. Political Party Dialogue: to seek consensus within the prevailing political culture of competition, through more effective interparty dialogue. And effective Party Assistance: to strengthen the alignment of approaches in party assistance.
  • Democracy Assessment - The Global State of Democracy (GSoD) Initiative was launch in 2016 to analyze current trends and challenges impacting on democracy worldwide. The GSoD Initiative provides evidence-based analysis and data on the global and regional state of democracy. It also seeks to contribute to the public debate on democracy, inform policy interventions and identify problem-solving approaches to trends affecting the quality of democracy. The first report[8] was released in 2017 and the second will be available in November 2019. The Global State of Democracy Indices[9] also offers data for anyone to use.

International IDEA offers several online tools and databases including the Voter Turnout Database, Electoral Risk Management tool and the IntegriTAS Threat Assessment System.[10] Anyone can access data on topics such as voter turnout, electoral system design,[11] quotas for women and political finance laws and regulations.[12] Issues of gender, diversity, conflict and security are also addressed. Data from the International IDEA Political Finance Database relating to political disclosure is used as an indicator of public transparency and accountability in the Basel AML Index, a money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment tool developed by the Basel Institute on Governance.

International IDEA has been granted UN observer status.


Map of International IDEA members.
  Founding members
  Observing member

International IDEA's founding member states were Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.[1]

As of 2021 the 34 member states include: Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia and Uruguay. Japan has official observer status.[13]

Member States host a Democracy Forum and invite dialogue across member states and with civil society actors, academia and youth. Past Democracy Forum topics have included anti-corruption, accountability, natural resource management and youth participation.

Internal structure[edit]

International IDEA's nearly 200 staff members are located in various offices worldwide. The headquarters is in Stockholm, Sweden, with additional offices in New York, United States; Brussels, Belgium; The Hague, Netherlands; Kathmandu, Nepal; Suva, Fiji; Thimphu, Bhutan; Santiago, Chile; Mexico City, Mexico; La Paz, Bolivia; Lima, Peru; Asunción, Paraguay; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Tunis, Tunisia; Canberra, Australia; and Yangon, Myanmar.

The organization is also a permanent representative to the United Nations, based in New York City.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Declaration" (PDF). International IDEA.
  2. ^ "Intergovernmental and Other Organizations". United Nations.
  3. ^ "Electoral System Design: The New International IDEA Handbook". International IDEA.
  4. ^ "Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators". International IDEA.
  5. ^ "Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers, A Revised Edition". International IDEA.
  6. ^ "The Birth of an IDEA | International IDEA". International IDEA. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Supporting Democracy Worldwide" (PDF). International IDEA. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Home | IDEA Global State of Democracy Report". Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  9. ^ "The Global State of Democracy Indices". International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  10. ^ "Data & Tools | International IDEA". International IDEA.
  11. ^ "Electoral System Design: the New International IDEA Handbook". International IDEA. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  12. ^ "Political Finance Database". International IDEA.
  13. ^ "About Us | International IDEA".

Further reading[edit]

  • Reynolds, Andrew (1997). Electoral system design: the new international IDEA handbook (volume 1). Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
  • Reynolds, Andrew; Reilly, Ben; Ellis, Andrew (2005). Electoral system design: the new international IDEA handbook. Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). ISBN 9789185391189.

External links[edit]