Former President Mkapa of Tanzania recently stated that “the biggest obstacle to democratic development and stability in Africa today is the lack of trust among the political parties”.
Centres for Multiparty Democracy (or CMDs for short) have become the principal agencies through which NIMD pursues its objectives in partner countries, including the enhancement of trust between political parties and the strengthening of democracy.
CMDs are novel institutions managed by the leadership of political parties with professional staff to facilitate interparty dialogue and programme implementation. The cooperation between Dutch political parties within NIMD formed the inspiration of political parties in partner countries to institutionalise their own interparty cooperation and to move beyond the prevailing ‘winner-takes-it-all’ political culture. Within a CMD, parties work towards a consensus on ways of improving the democratic performance of the political system in their country.
The uniqueness of a CMD is that it facilitates consensus-oriented interparty dialogue between governing and opposition parties about concrete political reform challenges. The cooperation results in higher levels of trust and confidence, which make possible reforms aimed at improving the performance of democracy and political parties.
The agendas and activities undertaken are locally owned, consistent with the lesson that democracy has to be developed from within. The institutionalisation of interparty dialogue in a CMD fosters the process of changing the political culture, with the promise that it will become sustainable in the longer term.
The involvement of the political leadership in an equal and inclusive manner helps them to pre-empt political conflicts spilling over into violence. At the same time it helps parties to find common positions on such issues as constitutional reforms, reviews of the electoral systems, improvements in the management of elections, increasing levels of participation of women and young people in the political process, legislation on political parties and public funding of political parties.
Improving the performance of democracy cannot be pursued without the direct engagement of the political leadership in a country. However, it is not exclusively the domain of party politics in the narrow sense. To achieve successful political reforms, substantial majorities within the political leadership are required and a reform agenda shared between the political leadership, the private sector and civil society.
CMDs have become important catalysts in this process. The national reform agendas established through this process could in future become the reference for international partners interested in supporting political reform processes in young democracies.
Although very young institutions, CMDs (or comparable forms of interparty cooperation) have captured important positions in the political processes in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Bolivia and Guatemala, amongst others.
Meanwhile, important regional networks have been established in Africa (ARP) and in Latin America (LARP). These regional networks function as a form of peer cooperation in terms of sharing expertise and lessons learned.