A Legacy in Democracy: IFES Remembers Margaret Thatcher

Publication Date: 
8 Apr 2013

News Type:

The following is a statement from International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) President and CEO Bill Sweeney on the passing of former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is saddened by the death of former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the age of 87. She was the first woman and longest-serving (1979–1990) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of the 20th century.

"We believe in political freedom as providing the only framework within which men and women can live lives worthy of their talents and of their human dignity,” said Thatcher in a 1977 public statement. She held a strong conviction that democracy was a better system of governance than communism – a system that allows the voices of citizens to reach their leaders.

As Thatcher developed her platform and policies as Prime Minister, she found strong support and resonance in then U.S. President Ronald Regan in democratic and economic development in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In 1982, Regan addressed Members of the British Parliament and said:  “We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.” Thatcher praised Reagan’s Westminster address as a "magnificent speech."

Their partnership was key as the world witnessed the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and its transition to democracy. Her unrelenting efforts and outreach to then Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984 set the path for the eventual end of the Cold War. Thatcher once said, of their working relationship, that she and Gorbachev could “do business together.”

Thatcher’s commitment to the spread of democratic principles continues to be seen through two organizations she founded. The Thatcher Foundation and the Centre for Policy Studies both promote democratic values and principles of a free society.

Her camaraderie with Reagan, and praise of his 1982 Westminster speech, set in motion the formation of the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and, in 1987, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).  

Since then, IFES has worked in over 135 countries – from developing democracies, to mature democracies. Currently, IFES’ projects in span from engaging youth voters in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan to reviewing legal framework in Kosovo to voter registration and electoral law reform in Moldova.