On 16 November, NIMD and the International Peace Institute held an expert meeting in New York, USA. The meeting focused on the theme of synchronicity, broadly defined as ‘the fact of two or more things happening at exactly the same time’. In this context, this refers to how to improve coordination between peacebuilding and conflict-resolution on the one hand, and democracy assistance efforts on the other.

As such, the meeting brought together:

  • UN staff working on the implementation, strategy development and funding of political reform in fragile and conflict-affected settings
  • International NGOs working on democratization in these settings and political party assistance organisations, as well as the diplomatic representatives of countries involved in this field.

Objectives

With this diverse group of experts and practitioners, NIMD aimed to analyse success factors as well as identifying challenges that have limited the most optimal cooperation up to now.

As well as building stronger networks among the international peacebuilding community and democracy assistance providers, the event also provided a space for these experts to discuss different perspectives and develop more effective strategies for political reform.

Approach

The day was be split into three sessions. During each session, democracy assistance organisations provided insights into their work on political reform and their experiences working in the same space as conflict prevention actors. The UN representatives were also invited to share their insights and reflect upon the experiences of the democracy assistance organisations. The participants were encouraged to explore each other’s perspectives and identify opportunities for moving towards increased effectiveness.

Results

The discussions throughout the three sessions led to some clear conclusions on how to improve synchronicity in working in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Importantly, the participants called for a change in perspective. It became clear that the divide between democracy assistance, conflict resolution and peacebuilding is artificial: Democracy assistance should be considered part of the peacebuilding process not parallel to it. The participants agreed that it would be more effective to approach the work based on objectives, deciding what each actor is best placed to contribute to each of these.

Secondly, the group agreed that, while there is a plethora of organisations working on democratic change, there is often a focus on technical aspects. Support for the less tangible, but equally important, element of democratic culture is often lagging behind.

These insights will be used to shape NIMD’s knowledge development agenda, sharpen our approach in fragile and conflict-affected settings and design experimental in-country projects.

Background information

Working in synchronicity with international conflict resolution and peacebuilding interventions is one of the six themes under the NIMD Fragile and Conflict Affected Settings (FCAS) agenda.

The concept of synchronicity is not new in the field of development aid. Several papers underscore the importance of harmonizing interventions for complementary, and describe situations that unfolded due to a lack of coordination and communication.

However, within the democratization field, where democracy assistance, conflict resolution actors and peacebuilders work in close proximity, this topic has yet to receive the attention it deserves. That’s why NIMD organized this round table: to bring the relevant actors together to investigate how we can improve our effectiveness in conflict affected settings.

NIMD is all set for the third edition of our Innovating Democracy event. This full-day interactive debate will take place on 30 November 2017 at Museon in The Hague.

This year has seen many new political actors gain power, and even win elections, with the help of social media and digital tools. It’s clear that the political landscape is shifting, and the use of democratic innovation to meet the needs of this new context is more pertinent than ever.

To discuss this shift, Innovating Democracy will bring together political parties and movements who have experience with cutting-edge political innovation.

A number of key questions will be addressed:

  • How does technology influence the public and political debate and behaviour?
  • Is technology empowering us to voice our opinions or is it providing a platform to disregard ethical boundaries?
  • Do tech companies have too much power to influence the political debate?
  • Where does technical innovation leave political parties?

The event will be a chance to take part in interesting debates and learn from leaders in the field of democratic innovation.

We invite you to take part in the discussion! To secure your place, or find out more about the programme, check out the Innovating Democracy website. (Limited places available, entry only upon prior registration).

The Innovating Democracy conference is a collaboration between NIMD, International IDEA and enabl.ist.

Blog by Jerome Scheltens, NIMD Knowledge Development Advisor

This blog is the second in a series of insights on Political Paradoxes, through which our Knowledge Development Advisor explores how we deal with paradoxes, contradictions or counter-intuitive manifestations in politics through our work.

Can there ever be too many parties in a democracy?

The principle answer is: “No such thing!”
Reality, however, is not that simple.

If, like me, you’re a professional working in the sphere of international democracy support, chances are one of your peers has told you over drinks: “The political party landscape in country X is just out of control! Citizens can’t make a proper choice. There are simply too many parties on the ballot and they are indistinguishable.”

Parties in principle

I understand my colleagues’ frustrations and can certainly relate to some of the problems that can arise from a long ballot paper.

But before jumping to counter-measures, we should go back to why we have political parties in the first place. Parties are private initiatives belonging to citizens, created around shared views and interests.

After all, citizens can and should come together around issues of public concern.  The act of founding a political party is a fundamental political right, often guaranteed by the constitutional right to assembly. From this perspective, you can never have enough political parties!

“In our work with political parties, we seek as much inclusiveness as is effectively manageable and credible.”

Parties in practice

However, in practice, having many political parties can cause problems. The reason for this is often funding:  In some countries, parties are immediately entitled to state funding as soon as they register or sign up for elections.

I remember, right after its 2011 revolution for example, Tunisia did this as a matter of principle. They wanted to give true support to their citizens’ crucial new right to assembly.

Other countries, like Mozambique in the past, give funding because they see it as a way to stimulate public participation.

These measures are genuinely aimed at giving everyone a voice. But, unfortunately, they are often an incentive to simply register a party on paper. Once in place, such financial arrangements become counter-productive and hard to reverse as any attempt may be seen as a bid by the incumbent to lessen competition.

Another consequence of these generous financial arrangements is that it is very hard to create an effective dialogue process between parties. The small, less organized parties also want to participate, sometimes even immediately after registering.

And it’s hard to refuse them access if you claim to strive for inclusiveness. It is important for citizens and parties to realize that exercising their right to assembly does not immediately give them the right to participate in public administration and decision-making.

Healthy thresholds

Given the challenges caused by having many political parties, I believe it is legitimate to introduce thresholds. These of course have to be reasonable. Transparent and objective criteria are of fundamental importance, and these must be clearly explained and defended with confidence.

Think of practical measures: registration procedures such as collecting endorsements and paying deposit fees, which can make parties consider if they are determined enough about joining the electoral race and taking up public responsibility.

Such balancing acts are at the heart of NIMD’s interparty dialogue work. As a rule of thumb, we seek as much inclusiveness as is effectively manageable and credible. This means applying a set of selection criteria. Electoral success – if those elections are free and fair, of course – is one of the important criteria.

Last week, NIMD launched a new campaign highlighting the value of democracy, including the need for multiple and diverse parties in a functioning democracy. Enjoy and share!

NIMD and International IDEA are proud to present our new Roadmap towards inclusive democracies.

The Roadmap is based on our experience of helping political parties to support the active participation women in politics and the equal distribution of power and influence between women and men.

Political parties can play a key facilitating role. But, if the right structures are not in place, they can also hinder progress, putting up further barriers for women who want to participate in politics or reach leadership roles.

The Roadmap targets both parties themselves, and political party assistance organizations, and aims to provide a practical guide to addressing such barriers.

In six distinct steps, to be repeated and reinforced over time, we set out the path towards more inclusivity and gender equality.

View the full Roadmap.

Only 22% of Members of Parliaments around the world are women. And, according to UN Women, only two countries – Rwanda and Bolivia – have 50% or more women in their parliaments.

Faced with such statistics, we have to ask ourselves: Why doesn’t a group that accounts for half of human society hold half of all positions of power and political influence?

To help answer this question and make steps towards increasing the political participation of women, NIMD and International IDEA held an international conference on women’s political rights, in collaboration with our partner, the Centre des Etudes Méditerranéennes et Internationales (CEMI).

Hon. Monica Mutsvangwa: #DemocracyIs from NIMD on Vimeo.

The conference, which took place in Hammamet, Tunisia, on 24-26 October aimed to assist political parties’ in implementing strategies and measures to promote women’s political empowerment and gender equality.

It brought together members of political parties, ministers, MPs and pioneers in the struggle for gender equality for three days of intense learning and debate. The participants discussed gender stereotypes, violence against women in politics, financing for woman politicians and how to ensure men are also involved in achieving gender equality.

The three-day meeting culminated in a series of recommendations, which can be implemented by parties in all the countries we work in, and which aim to make it easier for women to access positions of power within those parties.

The WPR Programme

The conference was held as part of the Women’s Political Rights” (WPR) programme. For the past four years, NIMD and International IDEA have been implementing this programme in Colombia, Kenya and Tunisia.

Though the project will end in December 2017, NIMD and International IDEA’s commitment to supporting women’s political participation and representation will be sustained as part of the organizations’ global initiatives that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Further reading

The Supervisory Council of NIMD is pleased to welcome Simone Filippini has our new Executive Director.

Filippini has more than 30 years of experience in the international public sector. She started her career at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she had various roles, including Ambassador to Skopje, Macedonia. Her latest position was CEO of Cordaid, one of the largest development and humanitarian NGOs in the Netherlands. She has also been an elected member of the National Board of the Dutch political party D66. Filippini will succeed Hans Bruning who has led the organization since 2011 but who unfortunately has to step down due to health reasons.

Bernard Bot, Chair of the Supervisory Council: “We are very excited to welcome Ms. Filippini to the NIMD family. Actually, she is no stranger to NIMD. From 2004 to 2007 she was a member of the NIMD Board where she had the opportunity to see our work in practice. Her vast management experience, leadership and communication skills will bring new energy and a fresh approach to the organization and will help us to steer NIMD forward. Furthermore, we also want to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation and gratitude to Hans Bruning who has guided the organization with dedicated leadership and commitment since 2011.”

Simone Filippini is excited to take up her new position. “As a strong believer in multiparty democracy I’m really honoured and happy to be joining NIMD. Effective and inclusive leadership, and cooperation across party lines, which are all key aspects of NIMD’s work, are now more important than ever. Especially if we want to achieve the ambitions that the global community has committed itself to, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Agenda. To help increase the scale and impact of NIMD’s activities, together with the highly knowledgeable and committed NIMD team, is a fantastic challenge that I’m truly looking forward to.”

What does democracy mean to you?

Is it having the right to vote, feeling safe and free to speak your mind or being included in important decisions in your country of community?

Democracy is the only political system that brings us all of these things. No other system gives us the same protection, opportunities and freedom. We shouldn’t take it for granted.

That’s why, at NIMD we are launching a brand new campaign: #democracyis.

Through our series of videos, we highlight the value that democracy brings to people’s lives. And we show how we work to protect these values around the world.

Please join us! Check out our campaign site, where you can watch the videos and share your opinion. Or follow the hashtag #democracyis on Twitter and Facebook.

Due to AWEPA’s serious financial problems, NIMD has annulled its contract with AWEPA under the Strategic Partnership programme, effective immediately.

Under the Strategic Partnership with the MFA, NIMD works in 14 countries. In Benin, Mali, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, NIMD and AWEPA worked together on the strengthening of both political parties (NIMD) and parliaments (AWEPA). The programme started in January 2016.

Given the recent developments at AWEPA, it is no longer possible for us to continue the joint programme in these countries. In the coming months, we will work together with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see how we can safeguard the SP programme objectives and preserve the knowledge and expertise that have been developed so far in the joint programme countries. NIMD’s activities in the other seven countries that fall under the Strategic Partnership programme, will continue as scheduled.

We very much regret this development within our Strategic Partnership programme. All our efforts are now aimed at securing the continuation of our programmes in Africa.

For further information, please contact Mrs. Karijn de Jong, Acting Director NIMD (karijndejong@nimd.org).

The Global Partnership for Multiparty Democracy (GPMD) has launched its website today.

Founded in 2016, the GPMD is a unique ‘North-South’ network that brings together 18 practitioner organizations from all over the world that support political parties in developing democracies.

Like NIMD, all GPMD’s members operate from a multiparty perspective, meaning that they work with the full political party landscape in a country. Their support is aimed at promoting a political culture of cooperation, consensus and dialogue.

As well as presenting all the member organizations, the new website is a hub where you can learn more about the importance of political party assistance. From useful statistics to interesting reading material, the site brings together knowledge and information on this often overlooked topic.

Browse the new website here.

Afef Khnissi was born in 1982 in Nabeul, a city in the northeast of Tunisia. She is a geologist, currently pursuing her PhD in hydrogeology, and an aspiring politician.

She is a member of the political party Hirak Tounes el Irada (Movement of the Tunisian Will), a small opposition party which currently has four seats in parliament.

She describes herself as an ambitious person who is keen to get ahead in life. It was for this reason that Afef decided to apply for the Tunisian School of Politics in 2016.

The School was founded in 2012 by NIMD and its implemen­ting partner, the Centre des Etudes Méditerranéennes et In­ternationales (CEMI). It offers a one-year training programme for young politicians. The participants are all members of one of the nine political parties which are represented in Parlia­ment with three seats or more.

They include Members of Parliament but also promising young politicians who are involved in the leadership bodies of their party. The course equips this new generation of political leaders with the skills and know­ledge they need to participate in the political game, and trains them to be democrats and change-makers within their own political parties.

Calls for democracy during the Jasmine Revolution (Tunisia for all. No to absolute power. We demand separation between the three powers).

Tunisia’s transition to democracy

The Jasmin Revolution that took place in 2011 radically changed the Tunisian political landscape.

Although it is often cited as one of the only success stories of the Arab Spring, Tunisia’s transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule has not been easy. It is one thing to successfully organize elections, but cultivating an inclusive and democratic culture does not happen overnight.

One of NIMD’s priorities is improving the political participation of women and youth.

The electoral law adopted in 2011 stipulates that there should be an equal number of men and women on election lists and that the fourth candidate on each list should be younger than 35 years old. As a result, 34% of seats in parliament are occupied by women. But still, very few women have been able to secure positions of actual power.

The same is true for youth. So strengthening the position of women and youth in politics and helping them to gain access to political opportunities is a key objective of the programme.

When the Revolution took place, Afef was in university, having just started to pursue her PhD.

She had been socially engaged since she was a young child. But now, for the first time in her life, she was free to express herself politically and to participate in the political life of her country.

“Most young people in Tunisia had no experience with politics until the Revolution,” she explains. She and her fellow young Tunisians were born and raised in an authoritarian state. “After the Revolution it was very different.”

Engaging young leaders in democracy

In Afef’s view, that there is a gap between older and younger generations of politicians in Tunisia.

Young people have a different mindset and a different way of interacting and communicating with each other.

Ahmed Driss, CEMI Director, confirms this. Older politicians tend to be more content with the status quo, whereas young people are more reform-minded. This is clearly visible in political debates about, for example, educational reforms, where older politicians are much less convinced of the need for change.

What is needed, says Mr. Driss, is to teach young people about democratic values and to encourage them to be optimistic about their futures. Having grown up in an authoritarian state, it is easy to be pessimistic about the prospect of having an open and transparent government, especially when progress is slow. Helping young reform-minded politicians to succeed is key to consolidating Tunisia’s democratic transition.

The Tunisian School of Politics brings together young politicians from diverse backgrounds.

“At the beginning it was no paradise,” Afef says.

Sometimes there were heated arguments between participants with different viewpoints. They struggled to get along and to accept differences of opinion.

She describes how the course helped her and the other participants to understand each other better and accept differences even when they disagreed with each other. By the end of the programme, despite their differences, they became a close-knit group. They still meet each other socially and look for opportunities to work together.

The TSoP also taught her that being an opposition politician does not mean simply rejecting everything the government does.

Instead, it is about critically monitoring the government and engaging constructively by proposing alternative paths and solutions to the problems the country faces.

For example, when there was an economic slowdown, the opposition proposed a national dialogue between government, opposition and civil society to address the problems. They also suggested focusing on strengthening the public administration and fighting corruption. Despite being an opposition party, they were able to contribute to resolving national problems.

Creating change

One of the things Afef is passionate about is passing on the lessons she learned to others.

She is involved in training and coaching men and women in her own party with the skills she acquired in the Tunisian School of Politics.

In fact, this was one of the reasons she first joined the course.

Currently, she is also mentoring members of her party who have just started the School. As a geologist, she is especially interested in drawing attention to environmental issues. She is also passionate about the role of women and their contribution to politics.

As Ahmed Driss explains, one of the objectives of the course is to allow young politicians to become change-makers within their own parties. So the course includes topics like campaigning, party programmes and communication, which can help political parties to function more effectively.

Former participants have been involved in establishing youth wings or even a political academy in their political parties, including Machrouu Tounes and Afek Tounes. In this way, the Tunisian School of Politics helps young people to become agents of change in the political sphere.

Afef successfully completed the Tunisian School of Politics together with 35 classmates in 2016, and was one of nine participants selected to take part in an exchange visit to Finland to learn about the political system there, organized by NIMD’s partner organization DEMO Finland. These nine were the best participants from each party represented in the School.

The participants in Finland.

An ongoing commitment

This year, she is following the second level course of the Tunisian School of Politics, which helps alumni build on the skills they learned in the previous year. The participants are currently working together on an anti-corruption strategy.

One of Afef’s ambitions is to one day be a Member of Parliament working on environmental issues. The Tunisian School of Politics exists to help young and talented people like her to pursue such ambitions and overcome the many obstacles in their way.

Democracy is about much more than just holding elections.

In order to thrive, it needs politicians that are accountable and a political culture that values cooperation rather than conflict.

NIMD contributes to this by investing in a new generation of leaders and equipping them with the skills they need to practice a new brand of politics, away from the authoritarian tradition they grew up in. This is crucial in countries like Tunisia, which are in the process of a democratic transition.