NIMD worked in Suriname from 2003 to 2010. During that period, the political organization of Suriname was closely linked to ethnic groups that were brought to the country during the plantation era. Parties, therefore, had a distinctly ethnic bias, which played a role in the internal distribution of power. Political parties were also strictly managed from the top, which meant that the power of decision largely rested with the chairman, who was often surrounded by a small circle. Patronage was a common phenomenon in Suriname, which is the act of arranging specific favors for one’s own supporters.
The political parties in Suriname functioned in a society where other organizations had authoritative voices, the most outspoken voices being from religious organizations. Social partners (e.g. trade unions) and NGOs were also important, but the government did not cooperate with them closely enough in order to establish substantive policies.
NIMD’s programme in Suriname
NIMD’s programme in Suriname, officially called “Strengthening of Democracy and Policy Development of Political Parties,” had three main focus areas, which were the multiparty political system, political parties, and the relations between politics and civil society (social partners and NGOs). We also tackled the alleviation of poverty and exchanged knowledge and experience with experts from the region. Political parties found the training programmes, seminars, and workshops very important.
The NIMD programme in Suriname was terminated in 2010. Our implementing partner, the Democracy Unit (DU), continued as an independent organization.
Honduras’ political background
The political system in Honduras consisted for many years of two big parties and a few small ones. This changed dramatically in 2009 when a coup d’état took place. As a result of this, one of the two big parties split. The political landscape diversified even more with the foundation of a new anti-corruption party. Due to the events that led to the 2009 coup, the country became highly polarized between people supporting and opposing the coup. The results of that are still evident today. In the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established to investigate the course of events, the need for changes in the political party system and within the political parties are highly recommended in order to strengthen the democratic system.
NIMD’s approach in Honduras
NIMD started to work in Honduras in 2011. The work originally focused on bilateral political party support: based on their strategic plans, NIMD supported the parties in strengthening their programmatic or institutional capacity. Because some of the parties were established and others were new they had different needs for support. For example, newer parties were helped to develop strategic plans for developing as political parties, while more established parties received support with issues such as involving more women and young people in the parties as these groups tend to be underrepresented.
Women political participation
Women in Honduras face numerous obstacles in achieving representation in governance. Violence is one the barriers affecting their access to political power. Honduras has a quota system which required 40% of the candidates in the 2013 elections to be women and will require 50% of the candidates in the 2017 elections to be women. NIMD, together with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the United Nations, is supporting the implementation of this quota by training female candidates. NIMD also supports parties with internal discussions and debates about how to get more female candidates on the electoral lists.
In order to obtain equal rights, it is important to promote strategic alliances among women already in parliament: NIMD facilitates the development of a Legislative Agenda of the Commission on Gender Equality of the National Congress for the development of a ‘multiparty’ Gender Agenda. The four topics discussed and then included in the Agenda are: gender sensitive budgets, violence against women, political participation of Honduran women and access to credit.
In accordance with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and also in line with the observations of the EU Electoral Observation mission, NIMD, together with NDI, is also facilitating discussions involving all the parliamentary parties on reform of a political party law. At the same time, a dialogue is facilitated between civil society actors and political actors on the different proposals for reform, sharing also experiences from other Latin American countries that went through similar processes.
In addition NIMD is currently in the process of setting up a democracy school especially aiming at young people which is due to start at the end of 2015.
Guatemala’s political background
Guatemala is part of an area of Central America that is characterized by inequality. Even though it is a low middle income country, there are still a lot of people who live in poverty. This, together with very high crime rates and high levels of impunity is causing a lot of (young) people to emigrate. A large part of the population is indigenous and these people are particularly affected by a lack of employment opportunities and access to social services such as healthcare and education. These are issues that need to be addressed by politicians.
However, political parties in Guatemala tend to be based on the personalities of their leaders rather than on a programme of policies. There is a high level of corruption and a lack of transparency. Politicians frequently move from one party to another and many political parties have short life spans. Guatemala is also affected by the increasing cost of electoral campaigns, which makes it difficult for people without access to large amounts of money to participate in national politics. At the same time there is a growing popular demand for change and a growing consensus to fight against corruption and change the political system.
NIMD’s approach in Guatemala
Facilitating multiparty dialogue
NIMD’s work in Guatemala started in 2002. NIMD’s first major project was facilitating multiparty dialogue, together with UNDP, between all the political parties over an 18-month period which resulted in the signing of a development plan for the country called the ‘shared national agenda.’ This was a plan for recovery following the armed conflict, which had continued in Guatemala for 36 years. Since that first project, NIMD has continued to facilitate interparty dialogue around themes of shared concern including political party reform, security, environmental governance and the inclusion in politics of underrepresented groups (such as women, young people and indigenous people.)
In addition, NIMD has been working with Congress on facilitating interparty dialogue, especially on political party and electoral law, the rules and regulations of Congress and civil servant law. As a result of this work several changes have been made and other changes are pending. NIMD has also provided advice and training to Congress, including a training programme for Members of Parliament and their assistants, with the aim of increasing the quality of legislation drafting. Furthermore, NIMD works with several thematic commissions of Congress, making sure that demands and concerns of civil society organizations are known by the commissions and included in their legislative proposals.
As well as working with Congress and political parties at a national level, NIMD has also been running democracy schools for young people, with special attention for the inclusion of women and indigenous people, in order to give more people the knowledge and skills to play a role in political decision-making.
Political system reform
In 2015, Guatemala faced a major political crisis, which led to the stepping down of the President, the Vice President, and several other high-level politicians who were accused of corruption. More transparency in political decision making was just one of the demands of the people who demonstrated. The newly elected Members of Congress, sworn in on 14 January 2016, responded to these public demands by reforming the Rules and Regulations of Congress. These changes include barriers for floor crossing (changing political parties and taking your seats with you), regulations that fight nepotism, and a reduction in the number of staff working in Congress. These reforms were made possible due to the consistent work of the Technical Commission of Congress, which was supported by NIMD in preparing and debating the different reform proposals. For more information, read this document (in Spanish).
Raising gender issues on the national agenda in Guatemala
Violence against women is one of the big problems Guatemala is facing. NIMD has contributed to a law against femicide by facilitating discussions between the different political parties and between civil and political society to enable a consensus to be reached on the content of the proposed legislation that was later adopted by Congress.
The conservative ‘macho’ culture in Guatemala does not allow much space for women’s political participation. NIMD’s programme in Guatemala supports the Forum of Political Parties (FPP), a multiparty dialogue platform. Specifically, we have made resources available for the activities of the Commission on Full Citizenship for Women, or Women’s Commission, which aims to advance women in politics and leadership, independent of partisan ideologies.
Women’s civil society organizations in Guatemala have long been pushing for a special law to punish the killing of women, or femicide. Guatemala has the highest femicide rate in Latin America: between 2000 and 2012 over 5000 women were murdered. With the support of NIMD’s political analysis and technical support, the Women’s Commission worked with civil society and women’s groups in the drafting of a law against femicide. After a long and intense dialogue process, the law was approved in 2008. It contributed to sensitizing Guatemala’s political culture to this important gender issue.
NIMD also seeks to encourage a continuous and inclusive dialogue about environmental policy formulation. Additionally we aim to strengthen the capacity of women and other stakeholders to prevent and resolve conflicts related to environmental threats. This programme is implemented together with Cordaid and is being carried out in Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Here you can read more about the Democratic Dialogue for Environmental Security Programme.
El Salvador’s political background
El Salvador is located in the northern part of Central America, and is part of the so called Northern Triangle together with Honduras and Guatemala. The three countries face a lot of similar challenges especially in the area of security.
Although the economy has steadily increased over the last decade in El Salvador, a large proportion of the population continues to live in poverty and the level of unemployment remains high. Young people and women are even more vulnerable to the socio economic situation. Furthermore, the country experiences some of the highest crime levels of the world.
On top of that, climate change poses a serious challenge for El Salvador, because it is particularly vulnerable to extreme climatic events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. As a result, tensions around sufficient clean water supply have built up. The country is dependent on Guatemala and Honduras for its water supply.
Over the last decades, the democratic system of El Salvador has been dominated by two parties : the conservative right-wing party ‘Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA)’ and the ‘Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN)’, which transitioned from a guerrilla movement to a leftist political party. After an initial domination of the political landscape by the ARENA party from 1989 until 2009, in 2009 the FMLN managed to win the elections for the first time and subsequently installed the first left-wing government in El Salvador. In February 2014, the FMLN won the elections again with a very narrow margin.
In March 2015, elections took place for the Legislative Assembly, the Central American Parliament and the municipal governments. For the first time in history Salvadorans chose plural or multi-party municipal councils (before that the ‘winner takes all’ system was applied). These elections also had another new feature: for the first time a quota regulation of 30% for women was applied for the electoral lists.
Despite a high perception of corruption and friction between the judiciary on the one hand and the presidency and legislative assembly on the other, the democratic institutions are perceived to be functioning reasonably well.
NIMD’s approach in El Salvador
NIMD’s work in El Salvador started at the end of 2012. As a result, the programme was focused on preparing the political parties for the changes in the electoral system for the 2015 elections. In light of the changes in the electoral law for the municipal elections, NIMD developed a ‘train the trainers programme’ for all political parties on dialogue skills and consensus building: important skills to have to ensure governability at local level. NIMD did this in coordination with other organizations.
Inclusion of underrepresented groups
In its work, NIMD pays special attention to the inclusion of underrepresented groups in politics. The establishment of the quota regulations was an important step forward in Guatemala and resulted in over 30% of women elected in the Legislative Assembly.
NIMD supports capacity building of women politicians through an intensive training course for women politicians from all political parties and from national and local level. Furthermore, NIMD seeks to contribute to a democratic culture where the rights of women and men are respected. We do this by investigating the barriers that hamper political participation of women and by exchanging best practices on gender sensitive policy and legislation.
Capacity building of youth
Young people tend to shy away from a career in politics, not seeing the possibilities that the political arena offers to positively influence important decisions about the future of the country. NIMD is in the process of establishing a Democracy School for young people from political and civil society to prepare them for their careers. At this school they will be able to practice democratic skills and behaviours and learn how to speak, listen and debate with mutual respect and focus on programmatic content.
NIMD also facilitates dialogue between civil society and political actors on issues related to environmental governance and security, such as water management. This approach is part of our Democratic Dialogue for Environmental Security programme. The programme is implemented together with Cordaid and is being carried out in El Salvador, Colombia, and Guatemala.
Ecuador’s political background
Ecuador has a multi-party system with numerous parties. The PAIS Alliance currently holds 74% of the legislative assembly (100 MPs), which gives the party an absolute majority. However, during the local elections in February 2014, the PAIS movement suffered electoral setbacks in two major cities (Quito and Cuenca). Yet, based on the number of votes obtained nationwide, PAIS continues to be the main political force in the country on the local level, followed by AVANZA and SUMA.
One of the main challenges that political parties in Ecuador face is the lack of support from the public. Despite the votes, they are still one of the least trusted institutions in the country. However, recent public opinion reports do show a notable improvement of confidence in the National Assembly. The approval rate has tripled from 21,8% in 2008, to 64,4% in 2014. This figure is well above Latin America´s average approval rate of 32%. This positive development can largely be explained by the new constitution from 2008.
On a political organization level, participation of youth and women still needs attention. Even though women’s representation in the National Assembly reached 39%, after the local elections of 2014 women’s representation in local governments is just 25.7%. Also, only 13.4% of the elected authorities were under 30 years of age.
In 2013, incumbent President Rafael Correa was re-elected. Since then, there has been much debate about whether or not to make indefinite reelection of the President legally possible. On 3 December 2015, 15 constitutional amendments were approved by the National Assembly, including the indefinite re-election. However, the amendment will only enter into force after 24 May 2017. This measure will make sure that those authorities that are currently enrolled in the second re-election will not benefit from the reform. Consequently, Correa will not be able to run in the upcoming elections in February 2017, but he could be a candidate for the elections in 2021 and so on.
NIMD’s approach in Ecuador
The NIMD programme focuses on improving the level playing field in politics by assisting the legislative process of the National Assembly. In 2015, NIMD has therefore started the implementation of an EU funded project that promotes citizen participation and strengthens legislative capacity in the National Assembly of Ecuador. The project consists of:
- compilation and systematization of procedures within the Assembly, which will be published in a guide addressed at assemblymen;
- designing a tool that helps to reflect on the future effects of legal and political decisions;
- give recommendations on how to ‘translate’ laws into a more understandable language for an informed and involved citizenship.
In addition, NIMD supports political parties to build their organizational and programmatic capacity in order to be able to respond effectively to the interests of the citizens. Since no elections were planned for 2015, political parties can work on further developing their organizations. Lastly, the programme connects civil society more directly with political parties to fill the gap between these two sectors.
Colombia’s political background
In 2014, Colombia went through two electoral contests. In March, a new Parliament was elected (using the gender quota of 30% for the first time), and in July, after a second round, Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected as President. These events produced a polarized political landscape. On the one hand, new political parties (like the Democratic Centre, led by former President Uribe) refused negotiations with the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). On the other hand, Santos achieved his second presidential term based on the campaign promise of reaching a final peace agreement with the FARC-EP before the end of 2018.
At present, peace talks between the government and the FARC-EP are still going on in Havana. The ‘basic agreements’ of these talks are public. One of the agenda points on which the two parties have already reached consensus is political participation. This means that political inclusivity will be an important aspect of the peace process. It is expected that the negotiations will come to a successful conclusion in the near future.
It has become clear in recent years that Colombia needs to reform its democratic institutions to make them more inclusive and political parties more representative and disciplined. This becomes even more urgent in the face of a possible peace agreement with the FARC-EP. Therefore, the national government presented a proposal for political reform in September 2014, including issues such as congressional closed lists, the elimination of presidential re-election, implementation of the ‘zippered list’ and compulsory voting. However, the vast majority of these reforms were not adopted by Congress in 2015.
Also, local elections will take place in 2015, during which more than 2,000 government officials such as mayors, governors, councilors and deputies will be elected. This situation poses a challenge to the political parties, both in terms of representation as well as candidate selection.
NIMD’s approach in Colombia
In 2015, NIMD’s activities in Colombia will focus on three programmes: The UNDP-NIMD-IDEA Respect for Women Political Rights programme (WPR Programme), the NIMD-Cordaid Programme for Democratic Dialogue for Environmental Security (PDDES), and a new initiative together with the Colombian government that focuses on the political participation of the youth.
Through the WPR Programme NIMD will continue to support the women branches of all political parties in Colombia in order to strengthen their political skills and remove barriers to increase their participation.
The PDDES programme brings together civil society actors and political parties around the democratization of environmental governance. The programme is implemented together with Cordaid and is being carried out in Colombia, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The third project, which is jointly executed with the Ministry of Interior in Colombia, aims to develop a strategy that combines technical, administrative and financial efforts to stimulate the political participation of young people.
In addition to these programmes NIMD also offers direct bilateral support to the political parties in areas such as the capacity building of think tanks, candidate selection and the improvement of communication with civil society. This is one of the reasons why NIMD has opened a local office in Colombia in 2014.
In July 2016, NIMD was chosen by the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP to help select experts that will form the Special Electoral Mission that was agreed upon during the peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba. The Special Electoral Mission will study and give recommendations on the reforms of the current electoral system in Colombia. Read our press release on the exciting news here.
Strengthening women in political parties in Colombia
In Colombia, violence against women has increased considerably in recent years. According to the newspaper El Tiempo, every six hours a Colombian woman is abused due to the armed conflict in the country, and a daily average of 245 women are victims of some type of violence. While there has been very little documentation of the violence used to impede women’s participation in politics in Colombia, violence against female leaders of social movements is common.
Since 2011 UNDP, NIMD and International IDEA have worked with women and political parties in Colombia via the Democratic Strengthening programme. At the individual level, this work has included supporting the nomination of candidates, the promotion of women in legislative benches and commissions, and the creation of meeting spaces for elected women and social organizations. More than 1500 women took part in these activities.
The political parties received technical support to assess and reform their internal rules and regulations.
In several Latin American countries, civil society organizations and local communities have little access to government and therefore little chance for their concerns to be heard. Many of the governments are perceived as being aligned with the interests of multinationals and not taking into account the concerns of ordinary people or the good of the country. Decisions made about big mining projects are a good example of this. The decision to allow this kind of project to go ahead is often taken by the national government without local community support. This can lead to conflict, including violence.
NIMD’s programme in Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia
NIMD worked in Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia from 2013 to 2016 to facilitate dialogue between politicians, civil society organizations and other involved parties around this sort of environmental conflict. The effort was carried out together with Cordaid, with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Reconstruction Fund. NIMD and Cordaid used their networks to bring representatives of different groups together to talk and find solutions. The aim was to improve environmental governance, make sure that the parties involved were capable of maintaining dialogue and ultimately, reduce conflict.
In 2014, in El Salvador, NIMD and Cordaid helped the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to set up a special unit for environmental conflict resolution. NIMD’s role was to help develop guidelines for the ministry and train ministry staff in conflict resolution and environmental governance. NIMD also helped civil society organizations in El Salvador to form an integrated platform and to work together on a common agenda. In addition, NIMD was able to get different groups together to start discussions on creating a water law.
In 2015, the programme managed to contribute significantly to an important debate taking place in Colombia on the decision-making ability of local governments on the peoples’ access to a safe and sustainable environment. The awareness raising campaign with political and civil society actors was implemented successfully. Shortly after the campaign, the Constitutional Court ruled that any activity that could pose a risk to citizens’ access to water or undermine their right to a healthy environment must be first consulted and agreed upon with local authorities and dependencies.
The programme ended in 2016 because the Reconstruction Fund ended.