NIMD is very pleased to welcome Eimert van Middelkoop as the new President of our Supervisory Council. Eimert, a longstanding member of the Council, will take over from Bernard Bot who has stepped down this month.

The Supervisory Council consists of independent professionals, many of whom are from the political or academic sectors. They oversee NIMD’s activities, and enrich our work with their specific expertise and experience.

Eimert van Middelkoop

Eimert van Middelkoop is a Dutch politician; he has been a Member of Parliament and the Senate and is a former Minister of Defence (2007-2010). He has been on many missions during his years on the Supervisory Council. Most recently, in July 2017, Eimert shared his insights with young politicians as the keynote speaker at NIMD’s Digital Democracy Forum in Georgia.

Eimert’s vast experience, along with a genuine belief in the vision and work of NIMD, makes him ideally placed to oversee the support that the Supervisory Council provides to the organization.

“Dutch foreign politics is characterized by idealism. NIMD is proof that democratic ideals can be turned into practice in complex political and fragile environments where few organizations dare to work. That’s what I find appealing about the organization. I’m proud that NIMD has accepted the many challenges working with difficult political structures in developing democracies around the world.”

Eimert van Middelkoop is very happy to be taking up the new role. In his role as President of the Supervisory Board, he looks forward to using his specific background and experience to advise the organization on how to continue to ensure that our approaches enable fragile countries to really embed multiparty democracy in their society.

Bernard Bot

As well as looking forward to our continuing priorities, this is also a time to say goodbye to the former President of the Supervisory Council, Bernard Bot, who has been involved in NIMD’s work for over 10 years.

A Dutch diplomat, Bernard Bot served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2003 until 2007. His previous roles included Secretary General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, Dutch Ambassador to Turkey and Permanent representative of the Netherlands to the European Union.

His wealth of experience and international portfolio have been a valuable asset to our work, as well as the dedication he has always shown to our mandate.

“I very much believe in NIMD’s work and objective. Supporting democracy and democratization in young and fragile democracies is important, now more than ever. Solid democratic governance within stable structures is a prerequisite for prosperity, development, human rights and accountability. It needs our attention.”

As Supervisory Council President, Bernard Bot also took part in many visits to programme countries. During his most recent visit, he helped launch our new School of Politics in Jordan. On these trips, his ability to connect with politicians, building our network and sharing ideas on the importance of democracy, always shone through.

 

Ultimately, Bernard Bot will be missed for his broad knowledge and experience, his dedication to NIMD and a strong sense of pride in his work.

“I’m proud that NIMD is doing well and is growing. We have also had difficult times, times of uncertainty. I’m proud that we were able to get through those periods together and have come out stronger on the other side.”

NIMD’s staff and Supervisory Council would like to express our deep gratitude to Bernard for his commitment and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Seven Tunisian political parties officially signed a charter on electoral ethics, committing to promote a climate of mutual respect in the run-up to Tunisia’s municipal elections on 6 May 2017.

The initiative was launched by NIMD’s implementing partner the Centre des Etudes Méditerranéennes et Internationales (CEMI), acting through our dialogue platform in the country.

By signing this pact, the signatories commit to respecting ethical values in the field of politics. The charter is based around four main actions:

  • To speed up the review of the law on opinion surveys.
  • To revise the Associations Act and strengthen oversight over the management of associations.
  • To ensure that the electoral body is kept away from political infighting.
  • To oversee political party finance mechanisms and electoral lists.

In addition, the charter highlights the need for human, material and financial resources to be provided to the Court of Auditors and the Administrative Court.

The charter also calls on High Independent Authority of the Audiovisual Commission (HAICA) to put in place strict measures against radio and television scheduling which does not respect the laws in place during electoral campaigns.

The signatories also urge HAICA to ensure equality of opportunity for all candidates and neutrality in media coverage.

In general, the pact aims to reinstate the public’s trust in impartial and transparent elections.

A delegation of politicians and civil society organization (CSO) leaders from Georgia and Ukraine visited The Hague this week as part of a programme designed to enhance cooperation and policy awareness.

The delegates met with Dutch MPs, Ambassadors, and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NGOs to identify shared interests, exchange information and gain insight into the policy positions of the different countries.

Diplomacy, Security and Democracy

The visit culminated in a lunch and roundtable discussion with MPs and officials from both opposition and government parties from Georgia, Ukraine and the Netherlands on 20 December in Nieuwspoort. The debate focused on the theme of “Diplomacy, Security and Democracy”.

Topics for discussion included:

  • Taking stock of trilateral affairs, including an exchange of opinions on the Fifth Eastern Partnership Summit.
  • Security and Conflict Resolution, specifically Russian interference in Ukraine, Georgia and the Netherlands, and Russian propaganda and fake news.
  • Democratic development in the three countries, including political reform and the political participation of women and minorities.

The Context

The visit comes at a moment when both Georgia and Ukraine are actively seeking closer ties with the European Union. The two countries have signed both an association agreement and a trade agreement with the EU, and their citizens have been able to travel visa-free to the member states of the Union since earlier this year.

These institutional frameworks ensure stronger political, economic and cultural ties but should, at the same time, be accompanied by strengthened bilateral relations.

This visit, organized by NIMD and our partner the Eastern European Center for Multiparty Democracy (EECMD), therefore aims to contribute to more trilateral contact between the Netherlands and Ukraine and Georgia.

Despite heavy snow delaying their arrival by a day, a group of young Tunisian politicians have started an intense three day exchange visit to the Netherlands as part of NIMD’s Democracy School programme.

The visit is the culmination of a year’s training in the Tunisian School of Politics, together with partner organisations Demo Finland and the Centre des Etudes Méditerranéennes et Internationales (CEMI). Over the course of the week the delegation will visit the Dutch Parliament, engage in meetings with politicians from various parties (including the Speaker of Parliament), meet local politicians, trade unions and the Tunisian Ambassador to the Netherlands.

The visit is based around the themes of national and local politics and social dialogue. A key focus will be on the importance of social dialogue in the Dutch political system in finding common ground and striking consensus on social issues. These themes are particularly relevant to Tunisia in its current democratic transition and with local elections taking place in Spring 2018.

Each year the Tunisian political parties nominate their best young politicians to take part in the Tunisian School of Politics. The year-long training programme involves 45 politicians from 9 political parties. The best participants are assessed with the top 10 then selected for the exchange trip. This year’s delegation are youthful (everyone under 40 years of age) gender balanced and represent all Tunisian political parties with at least three seats in parliament.

The overall purpose of the visit is to inspire, encourage and impart international best practices in democratic dialogue processes.

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

Recently, we saw the sudden end of Robert Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe. Sudden, but not unexpected. With the ruler approaching 94 years of age, sooner or later a political change was going to take place. What still surprised many people, was how relatively peaceful it was.

A key factor in this peaceful transfer of power was of course the disciplined military intervention. But, ultimately, it also came down to the role of the ZANU-PF political party behind the leader. The foiled attempt by ‘Uncle Bob’ to have his wife ‘inherit’ his rule can now be considered a positive result of the fact that an organized party structure is also part of Mugabe’s legacy.

Of course, a political landscape dominated by one party is far from the ideal situation. These political systems are often considered a challenge in democracy assistance work since power concentrated in the hands of one party facilitates state capture. It also complicates the multiparty concept where several parties and a vibrant opposition should provide the electorate with clearly distinguishable policies.

Nevertheless, a strong party seems preferable to a strong president; rule by organized and institutionalized political structures does, at least, increase the chance of a peaceful transfer of power. Parties which are strong enough to balance or limit the leader’s dominance have created a lot of stability and set the stage for peaceful handovers of power in countries like Mozambique and Tanzania.

In fact, while many of us may not even know the names of the current presidents of these countries, Frelimo and CCM are well known ruling parties. Given the current international focus on stability and the prevention of violence, the role of strong parties in easing the transfer of power should not be underestimated.

However, the dominance of the Executive, especially in presidential systems, is a far more difficult challenge. Uganda is a case in point, and I am of course not the first to now look at Museveni’s Uganda, following what happened in Zimbabwe.

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) operates as the dominant presidential party in Uganda but this former military machine has still not fully transformed into a professional political structure like Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. One reason is that Museveni has never seemed to have a great love for political parties in general, having stalled and changed the formal multiparty system on several occasions during his rule. So far, Museveni seems to have hinted at neither a personal nor a party succession. It would seem, then, that a less institutionalized party managing the demise of a leader makes a peaceful transition more challenging.

So, the situation in Uganda is far removed from the strong party system in Mozambique and Tanzania, and from the strongly-rooted party structure in Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, in all these contexts the key is to support and work with all the existing parties and to encourage dialogue between them while finding opportunities to give smaller parties a voice. This is what we at NIMD understand by inclusive dialogue with all relevant parties.

 

The third edition of our Innovating Democracy event was a full-day interactive debate on 30 November 2017 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 brought together political parties and movements who have experience with cutting-edge political innovation.

A number of key questions were 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 was a chance to take part in interesting debates and learn from leaders in the field of democratic innovation. Speakers included academics and journalists, for example, Mike Hind, who outlined how people create fake armies of supporters to take advantage of the hyper-partisan political and social points of view that are built into social media platforms.

A number of political parties were also represented, including Podemos and En Marche. Significant contributors to the Trump campaign and Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 campaign also shared their experiences using innovative technologies.

Lastly, the participants learned from the creators of tools designed to increase democratic participation, for example, Kal Turnbull, who founded the ‘Change My View’ subreddit, and Nicolás Díaz, Founder of SeamOS.

Find out more about the participants and follow the discussion with news, polls and the programme, on the Innovating Democracy website.

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

The 6th edition of the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) Alumni Weekend started on November 25th in Bagan, Myanmar.

Entitled ‘Federalism: Facts & Fantasies, the Weekend brought together close to 120 high level politicians from over 30 different political parties, all former and current participants of MySoP programmes.

Trainers included Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Vikram Misri, Nigerian author and commentator Ms. Kaine Agary, Malaysian professor Mr. Jayum Anak Jawan, and Myanmar’s very own Mr. Myat Ko Ko.

Dutch Ambassador Mr. Wouter Jurgens opened the Weekend with a short speech noting the importance of building an inclusive democracy and the inspiration the multiparty audience at the Weekend gave him. Acknowledging the current challenges to Myanmar’s democratization process, he encouraged participants to persevere, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s words that at times someone needs to take on an important challenge ‘not because it is easy, but because it is hard’.

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.

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.