On 6 May 2018 Tunisians went to the polls to vote in the first municipal elections since the Jasmine Revolution in 2011. These elections had been postponed several times and experts widely regarded them as a test of the success of the democratic transition in Tunisia. How would the ruling national parties respond to a potential loss of influence at local level?
As expected, voter turnout was low at 35.6%. Many Tunisians abstained out of frustration with the ineffectiveness of the national-level political parties in addressing pressing problems like youth unemployment. Many people felt that they had voted in 2011 and 2014 without seeing much positive change in their daily lives. A sense of frustration with national politics was also reflected in the fact that independent lists were the largest winners in the elections.
Youth and the elections
But, despite the low turnout, certain facets of the election results showed a lot of promise. The participation of a large number of women and youth was one such highlight. 29.7% of lists were headed by women, and female candidates ended up winning 47% of seats in the municipal councils.
Dutch MP Anne Kuik accompanied NIMD to Tunis during the elections. She shares her insights.
The reforms following the 2011 revolution have opened up the political system for young people. The electoral law now contains provisions to ensure the inclusion of youth and women on candidate lists. But having the opportunity to be elected is one thing; an even bigger challenge is to learn the profession of politics.
Generations of Tunisians have grown up in an authoritarian country with no experience of democratic politics. In countries with a longer democratic tradition, young people learn the basics of democracy through civic education, running in elections for student councils, joining youth wings of political parties. The current generation of young Tunisians have not had such opportunities.
The School of Politics
The Tunisian School of Politics aims to fill this gap. It is a place where young Tunisian politicians can learn about democratic politics. It emphasizes a culture of trust and dialogue: one that is characterized by listening to citizens’ concerns and working together with political opponents to find common ground. Some graduates of the Tunisian School of Politics have gone on to become Members of Parliament or government ministers. Others are active in training other members of their own parties and transferring the skills they learned.
The low turnout for the municipal elections show that there is still a lot of work to be done to consolidate democracy in Tunisia. The political parties need to win the trust of the public by behaving transparently and responding to the needs of the people who elected them. NIMD will continue to support Tunisia in this process by investing in a new generation of effective and trustworthy politicians.
The appeal of traditional institutions for political representation, such as political parties and legislatures, seems to be in decline in both established and developing democracies alike. Increasingly, new forms of political action and agendas emerge, including different forms of populism.
The conference, which is set to take place on 18-20 June, will address whether populism – in all its different forms and shapes – signifies a potential demise of representative democracy, or if whether triggers a renewal.
Experts from across the globe will gather in the Belgian Senate in Brussels. Over the course of 10 sessions, they will address global action on social movements, party innovation, social media and legislation, among other topics.
Speakers at the conference will include:
Michelle Bachelet – Former President of Chile
Enrico Letta – Former Premier of Italy
Cas Mudde – Expert on populism
Delia Ferreira – Chair of Transparency International
Zeinab Badawi – BBC journalist
Register online here.Please note that spaces are limited. We therefore kindly recommend that you register early.
In the messy reality of everyday politics, political parties are often forced to focus on short-term external crises.
As we know all too well from examples in our own countries, this can work to the detriment of the medium and long-term development of visions, strategies and the party organization needed to support these strategies.
At NIMD, we use a tool that we call “strategic planning” to help political parties across the globe gain the capacity to look ahead and anticipate developments. This way, parties and politicians can prepare adequately to deal with political events, societal demands and democratic changes.
Why did you find it important to contribute to this training?
I strongly believe that sharing knowledge, experience and motivation is a good way to improve democracies. In addition, it is also a very special and instructive experience to work with politicians who are trying to get something done in an incredibly difficult context.
What is the importance of international exchange and training for young democracies like Burundi?
As a politically active person, it is very easy to lose yourself in your own context and there’s a danger of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel and getting stuck in short-term politics. Sharing experiences from other countries and thinking about broader and more strategic questions gets politicians out of that context and helps with the long term.
How did your own experience in a political party help you to assist Burundian parties to develop an organizational vision?
Let’s start by saying that no party is perfect and that, in the Netherlands, parties and democracy still need constant work. But, by thinking about the issues that we all encounter, you can give a push in the right direction. It’s about discussing the deeper questions of representation, legitimacy and responsibility in order to arrive at a party organization that can effectively commit itself to a better society. The fact that I have often seen these questions pass by helps guide the discussions and thought-making, without becoming prescriptive.
How do you think the training was received?
I have a very good feeling about it. The participants loosened up in the plenary discussions, were very curious about my experiences in the Netherlands and were active in the work sessions. The local context is complicated, and sometimes it feels like fighting an uphill battle. But if you see the participants writing notes and plans for a better future of their party, then you know that there is always hope.
Can you describe a nice response from the participants?
Apparently, they found me cool enough to invite me for drinks after the training. There were also surprising questions about details: “Why does the PvdA have a party leader and a chair?”, “How do you form a coalition and what do the opposition parties do?”, “Why is it so difficult to find good women for our party?” These are the questions that made me think: YES! You have understood: these are the choices we as political parties are faced with. I hope that they use the exercises and the Dutch examples for their own growth.
Our work in Burundi
Burundi is a country where politics is often polarized and dominated by the question of who is in power. NIMD believes that a democracy benefits from strong parties with a clear vision. Together with its partner the Burundi Leadership Training Program, NIMD assist political parties in developing this a longer-term vision. By adding experience from its international network. By offering technical tools to take the step from power-politics to policy-based parties. And sometimes, by simply asking the right questions.
The debate took place at International Crisis Group office in Brussels on 19 April, and addressed the role elections can play in either reinforcing democracy or fueling discontent.
Elections and Democracy in Latin America
Elections are an important indicator of the quality of democracy, and a test of whether social and political differences can be handled peacefully. The number of political parties taking part, the influence of financial resources on the results, and the roles played by women, youth or other traditionally under-represented groups all point, in one way or other, to levels of inclusiveness.
Whether the final results are respected or resisted by a large part of the electorate is a further crucial measure of the health of a democracy.
This is particularly relevant in the Latin American context. 2018 is a critical year for this continent’s democracies. Presidential and/or legislative elections take place in Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Paraguay, Mexico and Brazil, with all of these countries affected by acute concern over economic and security issues and high levels of public distrust in their governing elites. Such distrust often leads to divisions and polarization within societies.
The roundtable debate
During the roundtable, experts and practitioners reflected on these recent and upcoming elections, and addressed a number of key questions:
How do corruption and illicit practices influence democratic processes?
What can politicians and practitioners do to foster accountable and transparent elections?
And who are the political actors benefiting from increased public demands for transparent decision making and public discontent over corruption, insecurity and low economic growth?
More concretely, the event focused on what can be learnt from the turbulent aftermath of the November 2017 elections in Honduras, as well as Colombia’s response to the first participation of the FARC in the legislative elections and the possible effects of Venezuela’s discredited electoral system on peace and stability.
Speakers and panellists included:
Ivan Briscoe, Programme Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, International Crisis Group
The 11th Myanmar School of Politics Core Course – an intensive political training course – came to an end in Hsipaw township, Shan State on 5 April.
Mr U Tin Oo, the General Attorney of Shan State, who is himself a MySoP alumni, and H.E. Riikka Laatu, Finnish Ambassador to Myanmar, delivered the closing speeches. They presented graduation certificates to the 16 graduates. In addition, the Chair of the Election Sub-Commission of Shan State (North), Mr U Loke Yoon, gave his encouragement in a speech to the graduates.
Working across party lines, the School of Politics brought together 15 politicians from nine different political parties together as well as members of the Election Sub-Commission of Shan State to study and practice democratic politics. The Core Course focuses on the strengthening capacities of politicians as well as enhancing the practice of multiparty dialogue.
This Course included political theory, and skills training such as speech writing and campaigning, gender in politics, election rules and regulations, and reconciliation in the peace process. The participants also discussed the role of political parties in economic development and how to operate as state level politicians, as well as making a country comparison with the democratic transition in Indonesia.
Trainers from Myanmar, the Netherlands and Indonesia conducted the course from 20 March to 5 April.
Organised by NIMD and Demo Finland, the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) provides training courses to strengthen the democratic role of politicians and political parties, and enhance the practice of multiparty dialogue.
As such, MySoP takes place in a multiparty setting: all parties with an established presence study and practice politics together in a neutral, respectful setting. In this way, the courses aim to build trust between the different political party representatives, and promote a political culture of openness and cooperation
“This has been a great experience for us as a newly appointed electoral board; we have learned so much from so many people – especially about the importance of the trust held by political parties and the general public in an electoral management body!” said Mr Demwozie Mammie Hersho, the leader of a delegation from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), at the end of a five-day visit to the Netherlands.
The NEBE delegation visited the Netherlands on the invitation of NIMD to, among other things, observe and draw lessons from the 2018 Dutch local government elections.
Having been appointed a mere two months earlier, the Board was facing the prospect of organising local government elections in Ethiopia in May 2018, and its members were eager to draw some lessons from the recent Dutch elections.
Importantly, before the next national elections in 2020, the Ethiopian electoral system will change from a first-past-the-post system to a mixed system that will most likely include 20% proportional representation. The Netherlands, with an electoral system based on preferential proportional representation, was therefore of special interest to the delegates.
The visit took place from 19-23 March, and the delegation visited The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. With the visit kicking off in The Hague, the delegation was introduced to NIMD, its programme in Ethiopia and the kind of support NIMD is able to offer to NEBE and political parties in Ethiopia.
NIMD also noted the expanding role of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) – and the change from delivering ‘free and fair’ elections to providing ‘genuine and credible’ elections – at the root of which lies trust in the EMB. The visit was attended by the Chair of NIMD’s Supervisory Council, Eimert van Middelkoop, who discussed NIMD’s work and the Dutch local government elections with the delegates.
The delegation was later addressed by the Chair of the Dutch National Election Council, Jan Kees Wiebenga, as well as Ben Knapen, former Senator and Senior Advisor to the NIMD Ethiopia programme and a long-time observer of Ethiopian politics.
The NEBE members also met with senior staff from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations, to learn, inter alia, about its role in the organization of elections and the registration and financing of political parties in the Netherlands. The Ministry officials reflected on the importance of trust in the electoral process and discussed, for example, their decision not to use Information Technology for counting the votes in the General Election in order to ensure trust.
According to Mr Demwozie, the discussion on the role of trust was particularly thought provoking and he was interested to learn that the Netherlands is a high-trust society where public institutions, such at the Ministry and the National Electoral Council, are implicitly trusted by the society. This, he said is an important factor in ensuring that the outcomes of elections are generally accepted by all.
One of the highlights of the delegation’s programme were visits to polling stations in the municipality of Rotterdam on election day. The delegation first met with technical staff of the Rotterdam Electoral Council, who explained the voting setup and procedures, including the ballot paper. They were surprised with size of the ballot papers – finding them unwieldy and wondering how voters were able to navigate them.
They were informed that all candidates were listed so that voters could move their preferred candidates up the party list thus providing them with a better chance of being elected. In addition, samples had been sent to voters ahead of time to help them prepare them for the ballot. The delegates visited three voting stations, where the public were already casting their votes, and noted how the stations were set up to facilitate swift and orderly voting.
They also had the chance to visit an experimental post-election counting station in Rotterdam, where all the votes for the municipality were recounted by a fresh team to ensure accuracy. The delegates were impressed with the organization of the counting teams, with different jackets for team leaders and technical experts, as well as the simple but effective flag system employed to signal either a problem (red) or a complete tally (green). During the visit, the delegation was surprised to be received by the Mayor of Rotterdam, Hon. Ahmed Aboutaleb, who was conducting his rounds of the counting as head of the Central Municipal Electoral Council.
Overall, the visit provided valuable input for the Board, who will reflect on what they have learned when organizing the upcoming Ethiopian elections. In the words of the delegation leader: “The visit could not have come at a better time and the many lessons learned have prompted us to consider reviewing our strategic plan in order to incorporate some of these”.
The Peace Process is rewriting the political game in Colombia.
It is important that political actors have the support they need to implement this historic change. Active and informed political participation of all the relevant groups is crucial to making sure Colombian politics become inclusive, transparent and effective.
To lend its support in this process, NIMD launched a new programme called “Democratic action for peace”. Funded by the EU, the programme aims to deepen democracy in Colombia in the context of the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
NIMD will provide support to the implementation in three main ways:
1. By developing the capacities of political actors NIMD will support political parties in their work to implement the reforms required by the Peace Agreement. This will include supporting new political parties like the FARC to become fully-fledged political organizations.
2.By promoting a democratic culture and reconciliation Colombia as a country is hurting. Many people suffered pain and hardship during the conflict. But it is now time to come together to work for peace. NIMD will set up eight multiparty Democracy Schools for civil society and (aspiring) politicians from all parties in those regions most affected by the conflict. By bringing people from across the political spectrum together in dialogue, and by promoting democratic values, NIMD hopes to help heal past wounds.
3. By providing technical support NIMD will help implement and track the Peace Agreement by conducting research and setting out recommendations. As part of this, we will hold multiparty dialogue sessions on the challenges that parties face in their implementation of the Agreement.
Everything you need to know about the new programme (in Spanish).
The new programme will be launched on 21 March in Bogotá, Colombia. High level speakers – including H.E. Jeroen Roodenburg, Dutch Ambassador to Colombia, and H.E. Patricia Llombart Cussac, EU Ambassador to Colombia – will discuss the current situation in Colombia and their hopes for the future. This will be followed by a short presentation of the programme and our aims and objectives.
In the first of these roles, NIMD was a member of the selection committee for the Special Electoral Mission, a group responsible for providing recommendations to improve the electoral system. The Special Electoral Mission strived to make the political system more inclusive, opening up democratic space for new actors and thereby mitigating the chances of a relapse into armed conflict.
As its second official role, NIMD provides institutional support for the implementation of the Agreement on Political Participation, together with Carter Centre, UNASUR and Switzerland, and aims to communicate the significance of the reforms more broadly to the public in Colombia.
We are excited to have this opportunity to promote inclusive politics and reconciliation in Colombia. We firmly believe that inclusive dialogue and the promotion of a democratic culture are crucial in a country struggling to overcoming polarization and achieve lasting peace.
The Chair of Election Sub-Commission (Shan State, North) opened the 17 days of training with a speech noting his strong belief that MySoP will benefit not only political parties but also Shan State as a whole.
With the existence of different ethnic groups and armed groups, along with diverse political parties within Shan State, the multiparty dialogue offered by MySoP would bring better cooperation for the development of Shan State in future, he added.
Held in the beautiful town of Hsipaw, located in the hills of Shan State, the course brings 15 state-level politicians (eight male, seven female) from nine political parties with the Election Sub-Commission to engage in dialogue and learn together in a neutral, respectful, multiparty setting.
Together the participants will study political theory and practice their democratic skills. The course curriculum includes political ideologies, gender in politics, speech writing, campaigning, policymaking, dialogue, economic development and the peace process.
The Myanmar School of Politics is a joint programme by NIMD and Demo Finland. The School focuses on strengthening the democratic role of politicians and political parties at the regional and state level, as well as enhancing the practice of multiparty dialogue.
CARE Nederland, WO=MEN and NIMD are set to hold a panel discussion on empowering women to participate in politics in fragile and conflict-affected settings (FCAS) in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 29 March.
Recent years have seen a growing recognition among the international development community of the importance of supporting women’s political participation and influence in FCAS.
However, despite improvements in policy and funding, the international community is still failing to effectively support women’s political participation and influence. Women in FCAS, especially grassroots women continue to be excluded from formal political processes, may it be because of deep rooted and powerful discriminatory gender norms, and/or the unbalanced interplay of formal and informal rules and power in FCAS.
NIMD, CARE Nederland and WO=MEN believe that engaging women in political decision-making processes strengthens their power, agency and rights. The panel discussion aims to spark a debate on the enabling conditions for women to increase their political influence in fragile contexts.
In the run-up to the debate, NIMD will show a documentary of the Guatemalan indigenous activist Sandra Morán and her path towards election as Member of Parliament. And CARE Nederland will present first findings of global research that it is conducting on Women’s Political Participation and Influence in FCAS.
Key note speech by:
Irma van Dueren (Dutch Ambassador of Yemen)
Tam O’Neil (CARE UK)
Fatimazhra Belhirch (Women’s rights and government relations expert)
Members of Parliament:
Anne Kuik (CDA)
Stieneke van der Graaf (CU)
Achraf Bouali (D66)
Laila Ait Baali (WO=MEN)
Concluding remarks by:
Simone Filippini (NIMD)
The event will take place at 9.30-12.30 on 29 March at Humanity House, The Hague, Netherlands. If you would be interested in joining us, please register before the 26th of March via this link.
The three participants, Hamzeh Hyassat, Rand Muhammad and Ahmad Ghraiz, were among 150 youth representatives selected from different governorates in Jordan. The meeting was organised by the Ministry of Youth and aimed to make youth voices heard, addressing the challenges young people face and helping to solve their problems.
Having been trained on communication skills and speech delivery, Hamzeh Hyassat was chosen to represent the youth from Balqa Governorate and speak on their behalf. Hyassat spoke on the economic challenges currently facing Jordan. Hamzeh provided accurate statistics on budget deficit and other relevant data, which was part of the training the youth received on analysing data and using convincing arguments in influencing public opinion.
Rand Muhammad and Ahmad Ghraiz shared their ideas and thoughts on the importance of engaging youth in politics.
During the meeting, Minister Musa Maytaah spoke on the role of the government in creating an environment for political parties to flourish and increasing youth political participation. He outlined recent laws which aim to increase citizens’ political participation. He also mentioned that the Ministry is in the process of issuing a new by-law on State Subsidies to Political Parties. EU Support to Jordanian Democratic Institutions & Development’ Programme (EU-JDID) supported the Ministry in facilitating three workshops with the 47 registered political parties in order to discuss the potential modification of the by-law that regulates state subsidies to political parties.
The annual Young Political and Civic Actors Training Program is implemented by NIMD as part of the ‘EU Support to Jordanian Democratic Institutions & Development’ Programme (EU-JDID) project. The training programme is organized in cooperation with the Jordanian Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs.