For a political party it is one thing to proclaim to be democratic but another thing to practice it. This is the main challenge identified in a pilot survey on internal party democracy conducted by the NIMD Knowledge Centre.
Walking the talk
Presenting the results at the NIMD Partnership Days in September, Dr. Augustine Magolowondo, Coordinator for NIMD’s Eastern and Southern Africa Programme, observed that while formally all political parties participating in the survey have established democratic rules and regulations, "the biggest challenge, however, is the gap between rhetoric and reality. In other words, the problem is not the intention to do so as manifested in the formal requirements that are easily fulfilled, but rather it is the actual practice of walking the talk.”
Ten political parties from five countries (Zambia, Ghana, Mali, Suriname and The Netherlands) took part in the pilot survey, which consisted of a questionnaire developed by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). It covered a wide range of themes that are key to internal party democracy, including internal structures, policy development, membership, candidate selection, external relations and funding.
From the results, it is clear that there are a number of differences and similarities in terms of practicing democracy within parties, underscoring the need for parties to intensify exchange of experiences and learning from each other as some parties appear to have progressed in areas which others are still struggling.
While welcoming the initiative, political parties and other commentators noted that there is need to go beyond the formal aspects of internal party democracy if a better understanding of the state of affairs on internal democracy within political parties that co-operate in NIMD programmes, is to be achieved. NIMD plans to organise a follow-up survey towards the end of 2007.