In Colombia, and many countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for citizen oversight and involvement in politics.
Clearly, this is not only a health crisis. The virus has had many consequences across all aspects of society. The economic consequences – which are still to become clear – are already significant. And there has been a rise in unemployment, femicide, and violence towards political and social leaders.
The political consequences, in particular, cut deep into the values and structure of democracy in the country, with power concentrated in the hands of the President and Executive.
Promoting citizen oversight
In this context, it is more important than ever that people are aware of what is happening in politics, and hold their politicians to account, at the local and national level.
Given effect that the crisis has had on democratic checks and balances, people must use their power to monitor and oversee the democratic processes around them. NIMD Colombia believes that citizen oversight is key to keeping democracy afloat during national (and international) emergencies.
That’s why NIMD Colombia has been working to build bridges between politics and society, by promoting citizen oversight and involvement in politics.
The alumni course on citizen oversight
NIMD Colombia has been running an online course for alumni of its Democracy School, to train them to use mechanisms available for citizen oversight.
The series of training sessions focus on how to use these mechanisms to monitor their local authorities’ response to the pandemic. Through Facebook and WhatsApp, the course makes use of videos, lectures and interactive activities to train over 100 aspiring political and social leaders from across the country.
After receiving a conceptual background on the effects of COVID-19 in Colombia and the role of citizen oversight, the participants are tasked with a case study: they have to research the Coronavirus response in their local area and create a short video about it, which they post on social media.
The aim of the case study is to make the participants aware of how to gather information on their local authorities, and the citizen oversight mechanisms available to them to act on this information, including social media and petitions.
NIMD Colombia has also been working with the city council of Bogota – the country’s capital – to launch the Democracy Lab, or DemoLab
The DemoLab is a whole set of innovative practices, strategies and actions that the council will adopt in order to increase its transparency and involve citizens in policymaking. It’s about creating a dialogue between the population and their elected representatives, and making sure this dialogue is built on respect, openness and mutual listening.
“The idea of the lab was born from conversations on the need for trust and participation of the people on public policy issues.” Carlos Fernando Galán, Chair of Bogotá Council.
The first innovative strategy set up by Bogota Council was a conversation on the city’s development plan between councilors and citizens. With more than 580 people attending, the online conversation proved to be an interesting new way to build bridges between the council and the people. As well as informing the public on the plan, the council was able to collect valuable input from the participants.
Plans for the future
This year, the DemoLab will also hold the country’s first Citizens’ Assembly, where 1000 citizens will come together to deliberate on key democratic issues.
Similarly, the lab is developing civic technology so that citizens can propose agendas, debates and collaborative projects to the Council.
But the DemoLab is not just about gathering input. Crucially, the Bogota Council is also working to become more open and transparent. NIMD is helping the Council to work on gender equality within its own structures and activities.
“DemoLab represents a commitment to transform the functioning of representative democracy, through innovative ways to ensure collaboration between citizens and councilors that really has an impact”. Daniel Botello, NIMD Colombia Programme Officer
In the coming months, NIMD will also lend a hand in developing a strategy for innovation and transparency in other public institutions.
A more inclusive society
Through initiatives such as the DemoLab and the citizen oversight course, NIMD Colombia is making strides to a more inclusive society, where people have the tools and opportunities they need to become involved in politics. And where politicians are held to account by the people around them.
Across many of our programmes, like in Colombia, we are helping politicians to find new ways to connect with their voters, and with their populations at large, and enter into a dialogue with them.
The second yearly edition of the school was launched in August, with training taking place online due to COVID-19. Many of the participants also took part in the first edition of the school. As such, this year’s training sessions will provide an opportunity to build on and consolidate their knowledge and skills
The school for young people living with disabilities is just one of the Democracy School courses we run across our programmes, where both established and aspiring politicians come together and learn democratic values. By teaching future leaders skills such as how to speak, listen and debate with mutual respect, we help the next generation to put their political values into practice in line with needs of their country.
By focusing on young people living with disabilities, this school also aims to empower a group of people who may face barriers to political participation, both as young people and people living with disabilities. By providing a space where they can build a network of other young people from across the political spectrum, and the chance to pick up new knowledge and skills, we hope to help the participants to break down these barriers.
The course will run for six weeks, and will be divided into modules on working collectively to strengthen democracy; a framework for political action and communication; and tools for democracy and promoting the rights of people with disabilities.
Since 2017, NIMD has been working with Ethiopian political parties on dialogue processes focused on building trust between politicians. However when COVID-19 hit the country in March, large in-person dialogue meetings were put on hold, and political violence reared its ugly head. This meant that new avenues for dialogue had to be found. An inclusive agenda needed to be agreed on, and parties needed the means to facilitate free and fair discussions safely during the pandemic.
Last week these efforts came to fruition when the Ethiopian Political Parties Joint Council (IPC) convened for a pre-consultation on resuming the national dialogue – its first meeting since March.
IPC and Ethiopia’s Parties
The IPC, founded in 2019, is a dialogue platform that seeks to facilitate good relations and the resolution of disputes between political parties. The main way the IPC does this is by providing support for the Ethiopia Political Parties Dialogue (EPPD), a process led by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).
Last week’s meeting, a pre-consultation to prepare for the resumption of national dialogue through EPPD, was attended by 97 people drawn from political parties, civil society organizations and the media. Senior officials from the ruling Prosperity Party and the government attended the meeting.
IPC Chair Mussa Adem opened the meeting by stressing the need for all to contribute to sustainable peaceful political dialogue to realize a better future of Ethiopia. He was supported by Dr. Aregawi Berhe and Mr. Girma Bekele, also from the IPC, as his co-moderators.
The meeting came amid a backdrop of occasional outbreaks of political violence, such as in response to the death of activist and Oromo Singer, Hachaalu Hundesa. It is widely acknowledged that there is an urgent need to re-vitalize the national dialogue among the political actors; in particular the political parties. It is hoped this will help forge national consensus on Ethiopia’s most pressuring political issues.
Setting an inclusive agenda
In a separate meeting a few weeks earlier, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and political parties had agreed to the establishment of an agenda-setting committee on identifying the most pressing political issues in the country. The committee’s findings are then intended to serve as an input to the agenda of the IPC’s national dialogue that is now expected to be resumed before the end of 2020.
Last week’s pre-consultation saw the results of the committee’s findings, as three of the seven identified national issues were presented and discussed, with more pre-consultation meetings on the remaining topics scheduled for the coming weeks.
The three research topics discussed in this first meeting were:
‘The Political History of the Ethiopian State’ by Prof. Merera Gudina from Chairperson of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) party
‘Political Parties Organization and Conflict Management’ by Mr. Shambel Aman Usman, (Conflict Management Expert)
‘The Constitution and National Consensus’ by Mr. Yeshiwas Asefa from Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA) party
This agenda also led to discussions on key divisions in Ethiopian politics, such as that between ‘Pan-Ethiopianists’ and ‘ethno-nationalists’. Pan-Ethiopianists view Emperor Menelik (Ethiopia’s ruler from 1889-1913) as the father of modern Ethiopia, whilst for ethno-nationalists he is an architect of subjugation particularly in the areas where Oromia and the Southern regional state. Having the chance to freely discuss such defining issues is key to securing consensus the IPC seeks.
How NIMD Ethiopia supports the IPC’s preparations for national dialogue
Through its EU project funding, NIMD Ethiopia is offering financial and logistical support to the successful completion and publication of the seven research studies and the pre-consultation meetings. In addition, NIMD Ethiopia has in-house capacity-building competencies on dialogue facilitation & mediation, and provides advisory services to the IPC moderation team throughout this pre-consultation process.
The IPC’s pre-consultations continue until 6 September. Thereafter, NIMD will continue to provide the same type of support to the IPC in conducting further preparatory works to establish an effective framework for an inclusive national dialogue process. We hope that this dialogue through the EPPD can resume before the end of the year.
On 15 August, NIMD’s offices in Latin America came together to kick-off the first ever regional Democracy School.
The school will bring together current Democracy School participants and alumni from across the political spectrum in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela in an online environment. This diverse mix of young leaders from political parties, civil society and academia will explore the topic of migration over the course of 12 hours, split across five weekly sessions.
Migration has (and still does) very much affected the region as a whole in recent years, while the consequences of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of people potentially forces many more to migrate. The cross border nature of migration in the region gave rise to the theme “Democracy, citizenship and human rights: Beyond borders”. The participants are specifically exploring the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on migrant groups in Latin America. Migrant groups, often living in cramped conditions without good access to health care, are especially at risk from COVID-19.
At NIMD, we believe in an inclusive society, which respects the rights of all groups and protects those who are most vulnerable. If we are to truly “leave no-one behind” – the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – then there is no space for arbitrary detention, torture, or a lack of respect for refugee status. But leaving no-one behind also means protecting economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to health, housing or education.
These rights are best protected in a strong and inclusive democracy. In the many forms it can take across the world – democracy is the only governance system founded on the equality of every individual.
NIMD strengthens democracies by bringing politicians and society together in dialogue so that they can jointly formulate policies to improve their democratic system. We also support individual politicians, political parties and other political institutions to strengthen their democratic values and improve the overall political culture in their country.
The regional Democracy School
The regional school is part of our work to strengthen these democratic values among young and aspiring leaders.
By bringing these participants together across borders, the school aims to generate dialogue and build trust in this regional setting. The participants are invited to reflect together on their future role in the democracies of their country and region.
Each week, the participants explore a different facet of the theme of migration, including human rights and the response of institutions during the COVID-19 crisis. Each session is opened by a thematic expert, who shares their reflections with the participants. This is followed by a series of activities aimed to generate dialogue.
The participants are encouraged to think critically, questioning the capacity and responsibility of states to guarantee rights and wellbeing, not only among citizens but also for migrant groups.
Through these sessions, NIMD’s Latin America offices are committed to empowering the aspiring leaders to use their new knowledge and skills in their political careers. Armed with their experience in the Schools, and their new regional network of participants, they are better placed to make a difference to politics in their country.
The international Coronavirus outbreak has serious implications for democracy worldwide. In the #NeverLockdownDemocracy blog series, the NIMD network takes a global view of how we can respond to the pandemic as we continue our work to protect democracy. Follow @WeAreNIMD on Twitter and the hashtag #NeverLockdownDemocracy to never miss a post.
By Kathleen Ferrier, NIMD Supervisory Council Member and Former Member of the Parliament of the Netherlands
2020 will be remembered as the year of COVID-19. The year that an invisibly tiny creature, a deadly virus, got us all on our knees and showed us that in spite of our man/woman-made divisions – such as ethnicity, education, age, and our physical abilities – we are all equal. We are all vulnerable human beings, all dependent on the planet we live on, and on each other. COVID-19 also showed us how vulnerable democracies can be, which made me think: what should our immediate priorities be to defend democracy today?
The great leveller?
Once we realized that anyone and any country could fall victim to COVID-19, we hoped this could bring people together. There was public acceptance that we are all equal and we need to care for our environment, and we became excited about the prospects for change. From our homes in lockdown, we thought about a world away from the rat race, with more quality time with loved ones and more respect for the earth and our fellow human beings. Many assumed that going ‘back to normal’ should not be an option, because normal caused the problem.
In the beginning there was hope that the virus would be humanity’s wake-up call, the ‘great leveller’. By showing our interdependence, we were hoping the virus would promote democratic values, such as active participation of people as citizens, in politics and civic life, protecting human rights and (of course) free and fair elections.
But halfway into 2020, we are seeing that this is far from a sure thing. In fact if we want this kind of change in society, we will have to fight for it.
What COVID-19 has really done is shine a light on the shortcomings in modern social, economic and political structures. But awareness alone is not enough to lead to actions. And those opposed to democracy are taking actions already.
Their actions mean that not only is public health at risk, but democracy is as well. In many places, hard-won democratic rights are being swept aside through the use of emergency measures, like we are seeing in Zimbabwe. Elections are being postponed, like in Hong Kong, or held under problematic conditions – see the discussions in the United States on voting by mail. Essential freedoms are eroding.
These trends make it clear: sitting idle is not an option. Democracy is indeed under threat – but we also have momentum. The virus has opened our eyes to society’s divisions, in a way many people had never seen before.
As passionate democracy advocates, this forces us to act.
But where and how to start?
If we are to seize this opportunity, there are three priorities for governments and those serious about strengthening democracy in the wake of COVID-19.
The first is to achieve a credible and free flow of information between experts, governments, and the public. That is crucial for securing two things: firstly a fact-based debate on policy options, and secondly the public trust in politics that democracy relies on. In this matter New Zealand sets an interesting example, where the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern used regular, open and empathetic communications with the public to win their support for what were fairly severe anti-pandemic measures.
Secondly, it is crucial that the teams that work on the COVID-19 policies are diverse and inclusive. Measures taken now will have a huge impact on our future. National crisis teams that don’t reflect the diversity of their countries won’t have the knowledge or insights needed for crafting decent and effective policy. Instead of a better democracy, we will get the repeated pattern of exclusion based on race, gender, and the other arbitrary factors we divide ourselves with.
And thirdly, we should tap into the energy behind what is happening on our streets. In places such as Brazil, Belarus, and Thailand, people are taking to the streets to make their voices heard in higher numbers than we have seen for a long time. Many of them are young people, women, or members of communities left at the periphery of politics, now coming forward to voice their discontent with undemocratic acts.
The time is now
This energy is what drives democracy – the energy to make one’s voice heard and to participate in civil society. We see it in Minsk, where women dressed in white lead the protests, and when large, ethnically mixed groups, take to streets of cities in Europe and the USA because Black Lives Matter. Leaders of all nations should take heed.
COVID-19, with all its restrictions and uncertainties, provides a momentum to build a more just and inclusive democracy in its aftermath. If we let this energy for change slip through our fingers, we will be paying the price long after the pandemic is over.
I am not saying that this is easy, I am saying that this is urgent. The rise of populism and movements like QAnon are, at least partially, based on citizens’ perception that political decision-making and politics is not about them, and not about the challenges they are facing day by day. COVID-19 presents an opportunity for leaders to show that they take democracy seriously, and prove that perception wrong.
How NIMD will play its part
NIMD will use its position as a network organization, with its country offices across the world, to seize the momentum for democratization. We should not go into defense, but into offense, working together with old and new allies. NIMD is prepared to use the new situation to stand for democracy everywhere it is at risk – and that is unfortunately in many places.
The Chinese word for crisis consists of two characters. One means dangerous (wēi) and the other (jī) meaning opportunity. This COVID-19 crisis is indeed dangerous, but it is an opportunity as well. These times show us how fragile democracies are, and how quickly change can come about.
They also show why NIMD’s work strengthening democracy is so important. And I am glad to be part of NIMD and have the chance to use this momentum, to stand up for democracy.
For many weeks in the streets of Bamako, Malians were protesting against the regime of Mali’s sitting President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (also known as IBK) due to allegations of corruption and mismanagement on his watch. IBK, who was re-elected for his second Presidential term in 2018, was also facing doubts over the veracity of recent legislative elections, and whether he could lead the army effectively in a longstanding war with religious extremists in Northern Mali.
Events came to a head this week as high-ranking officers staged a coup in the country. Following the coup, IBK dissolved parliament and resigned from his post. Mali’s last coup took place in 2012, when power again changed hands after the military took action against the government.
What is the current situation in Mali?
Currently in Bamako, people are going about their businesses very much as usual. Things are relatively quiet compared to recent weeks, when tens of thousands of Malians took to the streets repeatedly, protesting. Acts of civil disobedience that had interspersed the demonstrations, such as self-made checkpoints in the streets, seem to have disappeared completely.
Listening to people I’ve met over my years in Mali, the feeling was unanimous that the political situation had become untenable. Mali’s democracy was dysfunctional, based on keeping powerful actors happy through power-sharing deals, as opposed to a ‘public-first’ government that reflects the will of voters. Public dissatisfaction was at an all-time high, and it would have been almost impossible for the opposition movement of religious, political and civil society leaders to back down on its demands for President IBK to step down. Yet the President had the backing of the international community. It was at this moment of impasse that the military intervened.
This week’s coup has brought the resignation that the public were asking for, but now a conversation needs to be had in Mali on where to go from here and how to put the people back at the heart of governance.
What can civil society, and NIMD, do next?
The coup leaders have expressed their commitment to passing on power to a civilian government and organise elections. Elections will be essential, but not enough.
As NIMD we will reach across Malian society to push for a dialogue about how to make this always regrettable coup d’état into an opportunity for deepening democracy and increasing the credibility of Malian institutions.
NIMD has joined forces with democracy support organizations from across Europe to call for support to human rights, justice and accountability in Belarus.
In response to grave human rights abuses and rigged elections in the country, we have signed a joint statement asking EU Member States and institutions to strengthen their commitment to human rights and democracy in Belarus. The statement came ahead of the European Council Summit on Belarus on 19 August.
Fellow members of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), a network of not-for-profit organizations working on supporting democracy worldwide, have also signed the statement. Together, we ask EU Members States and institutions to:
Support democratic processes in the country, in particular to the Belarusian-led transition coordination council.
Condemn the widespread abuses and human rights violations in Belarus and support processes for ensuring accountability for these violations.
Call for access to prisoners for their families and lawyers, as well as the release and rehabilitation of all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and other human rights.
Call for free and fair elections in Belarus in accordance with international standards and with the presence of international observers.
Apply targeted sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes to those responsible for fraud in the 9 August election and the repression that followed.
Offer protection for those facing persecution through the provision of free Schengen visas and/ or temporary humanitarian visas.
Provide flexible and speedy funding to Belarusian civil society, including through the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).
12 August is the UN’s International Youth Day, a celebration of young people’s invaluable contribution towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. To mark #IYD2020, we’re telling the story of Yassmine Ben Hamida, an inspirational young politician who met NIMD at the Tunis School of Politics (TSoP).
Aged 19, Yassmine Ben Hamida is one of the youngest people in Tunisia to be elected to a political position. Shortly after her election as a City Councillor, she decided to join TSoP. She saw it as a way for young politicians to come together in a multiparty setting, and acquire the skills and knowledge that they need to go further in their political careers. What she did not foresee was the impact the School would have on her own aspirations and relationships.
When she was growing up, Yassmine didn’t hear about politics much. It wasn’t a frequent topic of discussion in her family, and it was rarely mentioned in her friend group at school.
It was only after the Jasmine Revolution, when Yassmine was 12, that freedom of expression took hold, and politics became more accessible:
“Suddenly, there was an explosion of political discourse across all levels of society. Overnight, everyone became an expert in political analysis.”
But it wasn’t until a few years later that Yassmine also started to take notice of the new opportunities available to her. Her civil society work opened her eyes to the power of politics. Among many other projects, she was part of a team who organized medical consultations. She saw the concrete impact that the consultations had on the lives of her fellow citizens, who would otherwise have had no access to this kind of service. That’s when she decided to bring services closer to the people through politics.
So, Yassmine embarked on a political campaign at the age of 19. It wasn’t an easy ride for her. She had to juggle campaigning and studying for her university exams. And many people didn’t believe that someone so young could be there on merit. The criticism Yassmine faced only spurred her on: “It was my motivation for passing on a clear and positive message about young people. We are there and we are ready to take up our place in politics.”
A first step into politics
After months of arduous campaigning, Yassmine was elected as a City Councillor. While she had a lot of experience working in civil society, it was her first time working in politics. From her campaigning, one lesson stood out to her: as a young woman in politics, she would have to fight to prove herself in this domain and be accepted by the older generation.
At TSoP, Yassmine was excited to meet so many people from different backgrounds and ideologies; young people who, like her, had entered politics for the first time. She took part in a whole series of interactive sessions, including training and group work, focusing on public law and political sciences; economic sciences and social science. In each, she learned a bit more about the political landscape in Tunisia.
She learned about the role of municipalities, which helped her to see her tasks as City Councillor in a new light. She learned the definition and objectives of Tunisia’s decentralization process – a crucial task of shifting power from the national to the local level.
And, through the School’s focus on political communication and leadership, she learned to refine her soft skills and enter negotiations in her political life on a different footing.
But, what she soon also learned is that the School was about much more than political knowledge and skills. It was about democratic culture.
As Ahmed Driss, Director of CEMI, puts it: “Democratic culture goes beyond the traditional understanding of democracy as a political system and the rule of law. Participants also need to understand values such as integrity; how to bring about change through peaceful means; and respecting minorities and people who are different.”
This started, of course, with the multiparty setting. Before taking part in the School, Yassmine did not have contact with people from other political parties. While Yassmine had always believed in human fraternity as a key principle, TSoP helped her to put this into practice with people who held very different beliefs.
As time went by, her relationship with the other participants went beyond mutual respect. She made friends with many participants; learned about their motivations; and forged a long-lasting connection.
Through the School sessions, it was clear that Yassmine was thriving. Based on examination results, CEMI and NIMD selected her as one of 10 high-performing students who would take part in a series of regional exchanges between young politicians in Jordan and Tunisia, including a final exchange visit to the Netherlands.
Yassmine was inspired by the experiences that her peers in Jordan shared. It was refreshing to see things from a different perspective and work together to consider practical ways to help young people into politics and address regional challenges.
She also believes that the exchanges helped her to widen her perspectives. Meeting other young politicians from Jordan opened her up to the possibilities of a more interconnected world, one where she could work directly with other young leaders across her region.
The exchanges also affected her view of her future prospects. She recalls how, during her visit to the Netherlands, she entered into conversation with H.E. Elyes Ghariani, Tunisian Ambassador to the Netherlands. They discussed possible agricultural cooperation between her municipality and the Netherlands.
While she had previously focused solely on working locally, this conversation showed her the more international possibilities and awoke in her a commitment to explore different sectors in her role as City Councillor.
New opportunities for her community
Yassmine is determined to take what she has learned back to her community. For example, she is working on an international architecture and urban planning project entitled “space for citizens”. As part of this project, she is creating a space in her city dedicated to managing citizen affairs such as complaints and registrations. This will increase responsiveness to citizen demands and, ultimately, bring the services of the Municipal Council closer to the people.
In addition, Yassmine wants to make sure that other young people also have access to TSoP. She is working with CEMI to start to involve even younger people from her municipality in the School, including secondary school pupils. These pupils will attend training and even Multiparty Council sessions. They will learn how local politics works, how it affects them, and how to get involved.
“For me,” explains Yassmine, “the idea of cooporating with TSoP to help young people in my city came from my deep belief in the need to create new generations of engaged citizens.”
Unlike Yassmine, these young people will have the chance to grow up in a democratic environment, with real understanding of how they can make their voices heard.
“It’s an opportunity for today’s young people, but also for the future of Tunisia. This is how we make sure democracy is here to stay.”
Plans for the future
Yassmine is excited for what the future will bring. For her, TSoP is about expanding horizons. And one of her possible ambitions is to pass from local to national politics, where she can propose national solutions to the challenges her country faces.
Whatever path Yassmine takes, she is pleased to have the continued support of TSoP and the new friends she has made. Her network of alumni cuts across traditional party boundaries. Its members are not only Tunisian, but hail from across the wider region. They share a vision of a more democratic future, and they will be there to help each other towards achieving that future.
As Yassmine puts it: “Perhaps one day, we will be the leaders of our parties, and the connections we have built through TSoP will have a major impact on the decisions we take as leaders”.
On 5 August, Guatemala’s Forum for Women MPs presented their strategic plan to develop laws towards gender equality in Guatemala.
The Forum for Women MPs brings together Congresswomen from across the political spectrum in Guatemala. It allows these women to come together, engage in dialogue, and unite their efforts to advance legislation which will benefit women from across the country.
Guatemala’s Congress channel reports on the meeting (in Spanish – see from 2.09)
NIMD’s support to the Forum
NIMD has been supporting the Forum to develop its strategic plan, together with women’s association Alas de Mariposas, and with funding from the Swedish Government. The Forum also invited UN Women and the Centre for Investigation, Capacitation and Support for Women (Centro de Investigación, Capacitación y Apoyo a laMujer – CICAM)” to the meeting.
In addition to our support to the strategic plan, NIMD has been helping to strengthen the Forum. We support the Congresswomen as they put forward policies to empower women, giving them a central role in efforts to boost the economy during the COVID-19 crisis.
Among the policies the Forum has put forward, are laws on economic development among women (LEYDEM); gender parity in political parties, the inclusion of indigenous peoples and political violence against women.
First Vice Chair of the Forum, Sofia Hernández: “I feel motivated by the Forum of Women’s MPs because it is a multidisciplinary strategic space for women who take decisions to benefit all women in Guatemala.”
NIMD was also instrumental in organizing the meetings which led to the creation of the Forum of Women MPs, in 2016. Through our support to both the Forum for Women MPs and the Women’s Committee, we have been able to facilitate dialogues between women MPs and Women’s Organizations in the country. By sharing experience and working together to increase their influence, these groups can make a real impact on gender equality in Guatemala.
A continued commitment
Susan Batres, Executive Director of NIMD Guatemala kicked off the presentation with some introductory words. She presented NIMD’s work in Guatemala and pledged NIMD’s continued commitment to support and facilitate the work of the forum.
“Women face huge challenges in Guatemala, in different sectors and at all levels. And the current conditions, resulting from the pandemic, are making these challenges even bigger and harder to surmount. That’s why we need the political will of women like you, who hold decision-making roles and have can make steps towards paying off the historical debt that this country owes Guatemalan women.”
Ultimately, the Forum for Women’s MPs is working towards establishing a Ministry for Women’s Rights in Guatemala to support dialogue with women’s civil society organizations. NIMD stands behind this goal. We will continue to support the work of the Forum, as it gains in strength.
With elections still set to go ahead later in 2020, NIMD is looking to support Myanmar’s broad range of political parties however we can. To help ensure credible elections take place, voters need a choice of parties and policies to choose from – and this is the aim of the policy positioning training hosted by The Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) last week.
Policies vs patronage
Like in many emerging democracies, parties’ policy positions are not the only factor influencing peoples’ choices on polling day in Myanmar. Indeed, oftentimes policies held by parties aren’t clearly disseminated and communicated to the public. Such contexts see elections also being swayed by patronage networks, and the personalities of leaders.
To ensure elections produce governments that actually represent the best interests of the public, the public need policies to scrutinize before deciding where to put their cross on election day. That’s what led MySoP to host “Policy Positioning Workshops” for Myanmar’s political parties last week.
Listening to their constituents
Through the EU-funded STEP Democracy Programme, MySoP hosted regional workshops for political parties in two states; Shan State and in Tanitharyi Region. During the two workshops, MySoP introduced each region’s parties to ‘VoteMatch’ – a web-based application designed to help parties discuss, define and disseminate their manifesto positions.
On the importance of such a service, a participant from Tanitharyi said “For political parties to develop a strong policy, they need to collect the information from the public. This is necessary so that the party policy will meet people’s needs. In addition, parties should motivate people to focus on their local issues and take an interest in them.”
How VoteMatch works
Tools like VoteMatch are used in many countries as voter education tools to compare political parties’ policy stances. They typically contain a list of questions or statements on the main issues during an election campaign, voters’ answers to which help connect them with policy positions and parties. The VoteMatch tool helps political parties to reach out to citizens based on these policies. It is thus a perfect opportunity to reach a big number of voters and educate them, in an interactive way, about party policies.
To use VoteMatch, parties first shortlist their key electoral positions. They then work with policy experts and political analysts to turn these positions into concrete political statements they can take to the voting public. If the party then approves these statements, then they are input into the VoteMatch system so voters can read about the party’s agreed positions. To support reflection – both by voters and the parties – parties also attach explanations of why they’ve agreed each statement in the VoteMatch system.
As internet use grows in Myanmar many voters are becoming active on social media; this online application is an attractive way for political parties to mobilize voters. Meanwhile, in the context of nationwide and regional issues (such as land-use, economic developments, education and healthcare), political parties need to develop and express clear policy positions in order to respond to citizens’ demands. That in turn gives parties more realistic policies – and hopefully grows a more accountable and effective democracy.
Finding common ground, learning from differences
What we saw in both states was that when groups of MPs began discussing policy needs in their communities, they soon found common ground and learned from each other’s constituents. For example, parties representing urban and rural interests in Shan State got the chance to pick each other’s brains and find ways to devise mutually beneficial policies.
By looking at where their differences and similarities lie, parties can learn more about the roles they and their members can play in supporting local political needs. However it also shows the parties where opportunities lie; what the mandate, responsibilities, and budgets of government institutions look like, and what can be achieved within their constitutional limits.
Despite the pandemic the polls will move forward in Myanmar in November. The coming elections will be another landmark development in the country’s democratic transition. If you want to follow the latest news on activities follow MySoP on Facebook. MySoP is supported by NIMD and DEMO Finland.