Financial scrutiny explored in North Africa

One of the thematic areas of parliamentary strengthening Westminster Foundation for Democracy has developed in recent years is financial scrutiny – the topic of an event which took place in Tunis in March 2016.

The March 12-13th event brought together MPs and officials from three North African countries: Tunisia and Morocco, whose parliaments receive support in this area from WFD, and Mauretania.

The technical discussions explored in detail the fundamental principles which underlie scrutinising public spending, including both ex-ante budget oversight and ex-post financial oversight.

Margaret Hodge, the former Chair of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, offered her insights into what makes financial scrutiny work effective.

Attendees also benefited from the experience and expertise of Jeremy Purvis, the peer and former Member of the Scottish Parliament, also contributed by providing input about financial scrutiny in a devolved context. Lord Purvis has presented and facilitated discussions on this topic in Tunisia before. Dominique Boily, an academic from the Canadian School of Public Administration, also contributed to the session.

Two MPs from the Moroccan Parliament spoke about their work. WFD has supported the development of a Public Accounts Committee in Morocco – the first of its kind in the Arab world.

Tunisian MPs and around 20 staff interested in the legislative process also attended. WFD’s programme in the country focuses on strengthening the committee responsible for the oversight of financial expenditure.

The conference concluded with a declaration of ten recommendations. These were lodged with the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and have subsequently been accepted in Tunisia – an excellent outcome from a successful event.

A parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is a step in the right direction for oversight and transparency, something WFD is ready and able to promote in parliaments around the world.

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openDemocracy partnership: Shaping parliaments, shaping democracies

Announcing our new partnership with openDemocracy: How do parliaments shape democracy (and democracies shape parliaments)?

Democracy, wherever it’s found in the world, is a work in progress. The same goes for democracy-strengthening – and it’s time for all those involved in this work had an open conversation about what works best.

However many programmes any one organisation actually involved in tightening up the nuts and bolts of democracy operates, it can always learn more. By mid-2016, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy will have parliamentary strengthening programmes in about 22 countries, and political party programmes in around 40 countries. We have a track record in improving policy, increasing citizen participation, promoting accountability and bettering representation. But that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly of knowledge on what works best.

This is why WFD, as well as supporting countries as their democracies develop, is looking to contribute to public knowledge about effective democracy-strengthening. This is partly about making the details of our work available to researchers; we are funding a post-doctorate research fellow at Oxford University who will take forward this work throughout 2016. But there’s more to it than that. We want others to contribute too.

The problem is that the many actors which contribute to this work are necessarily dispersed. Some are focused on development; others have a regional or sectoral focus. None have quite the same approach as WFD, which offers British expertise in both parliamentary- and political party-strengthening.

So our aim is to use the openDemocracy platform to encourage others to offer their views on what works and, as they do so, explore some of the most pressing issues facing the sector:

What, for example, are the big obstacles to parliamentary and political party strengthening? We’re more interested in the surmountable problems than the intractable roadblocks. For those actually trying to promote democracy, how can these biggest obstacles be overcome?

We believe that the question is not whether to support parliaments and parties but how.  The needs in a post-conflict country are different to those in a more stable country; those in a country with a dominant party are different to those in a country with large numbers of small parties. What guidance would others offer to policymakers about when to focus on parliaments and parties?

Many are worried about the overall trend of democratic ‘backsliding’ – a problem which applies in countries in every part of the world. We’re focused on exploring more about how parliaments respond to – and sometimes reinforce – the closing spaces for civil society to operate within.

Much of WFD’s work focuses on gender issues – a pressing problem of human rights and politics as much as one of representation and political participation. We want to explore views about what approaches work best.

Finally, we’re interested in the relationship between countries with established democracies and those developing. Both have a lot to learn from each other – and WFD wants to explore these lessons more closely.

WFD’s vision is of the universal establishment of legitimate and effective, multiparty, representative democracy since 1992. How we get there, we believe, should remain a subject for constant discussion. We’re hoping you’ll join us as we open the conversation up to openDemocracy’s readers in the coming months.

Photo credit: Tim Green
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Research in 2016: Taking the challenge head-on

WFD’s research in 2016: Taking the challenge head-on

Graeme Ramshaw, WFD Director of Research and Evaluation, outlines WFD’s plans for expanding its research and learning in response to calls for better evidence on parliamentary and political party strengthening. Though the context for democracy assistance remains challenging, he is certain our initiatives will contribute to generating substantive knowledge on this topic.

A year ago, the Carnegie Endowment’s Tom Carothers posed a choice to those supporting democracy internationally. They could scale back, reducing risk and ambition. Or they could work harder, investing in learning and arguing more effectively for the benefits democracy brings.

We at WFD have chosen the bolder, if more difficult, option. Using the lessons we have learned from our experience and our evaluations, we have re-dedicated ourselves to our mission of fostering democratic culture and practice in our partner parliaments and political parties.

A big part of that is investing in our learning, both from our own work and from that of others. “Parliamentary strengthening work needs to pay closer attention to political party strengthening and to reflect the local context,” our CEO Anthony Smith has previously argued. ”More evidence is needed on what works in the field of parliamentary and political party strengthening.” As WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, I’ve been working to put those words into practice through our research programme.

At WFD, we want to better understand the inherent challenges we face in strengthening parliaments and political parties. We want to know more about how our staff and our beneficiaries can be best supported to overcome those obstacles. Through a research partnership with the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations, WFD is exploring the political economy of democracy promotion. This involves first reviewing the evidence from our own work and then situating it in the broader context of international democracy assistance. A first publication focused on lessons from parliamentary strengthening is expected in March.

Photo: University of Oxford’s Professor Nic Cheeseman discussing the impact presidential coalitions have on democracy.

We also want to know about specific contextual issues that shape the way parliaments function, but also constrain their role as democratic actors.

Following on from our successful work under the Westminster Consortium, we’ve been assessing Human Rights Committees in a number of our partner Parliaments. There is a growing international consensus about the importance of the role of parliaments in the protection of human rights. The ambition for our research is to give elected politicians a framework to apply these standards in their work.

We’re also worried about the rising cost of politics and the possible distortions this factor brings to parliamentary function and outcomes. WFD’s research in this area aims to create a data set that can deepen the donor community’s understanding of electoral incentives. We hope our work will inform future programming aimed at improving democratic outcomes from elections. The evidence from primary sources will also be mapped against existing campaign finance regulations to generate policy-relevant recommendations.

Finally, we want to understand better the intersection of political party strengthening and parliamentary development. Parliaments are fundamentally political institutions and need well-developed political parties to function effectively. The development of these political parties has proved a particular challenge in the Middle East and North Africa, perhaps preventing more substantial democratic gains from the Arab Spring. WFD’s research will investigate the parliamentary-political party relationship in the region and look for ways to encourage complementary development.

There will be more to come. But these are a few of the ways WFD is looking to establish itself as a recognised source of policy-relevant evidence in the fields of parliamentary and political party strengthening. To stimulate further debate on these issues, we will soon be launching a partnership with openDemocracy on ‘Shaping democratic parliaments.’ We will welcome your contributions as we continue to deepen our own learning and cultivate knowledge about democracy assistance.

Photo: ZackLee

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Party focus: East Africa Green Federation

Party focus: East Africa Green Federation

We spoke to Green Party project coordinator Jess Northey about her party’s WFD-funded work with the East African Green Federation (EAGF).

When did the Greens’ work with the East African Green Federation get underway?

This is one of our most exciting programmes. It began in 2014, when the Smaller Parties Office of WFD helped put our international coordinator in touch with the European Greens and with Dr Frank Habineza of the African Green Federation (AGF). Over the last few years the AFG has decentralised and organised regional structures, with the idea of being more effective in terms of training, experience-sharing and logistics. Frank Habineza is now part of the EAGF, which was very keen to work with the Green Party of England and Wales. They are very dynamic, interesting and inspiring, so most of our work has been focused on East Africa.

What’s the background to green politics in the region?

For years the East African green movement was dominated by Wangari Muta Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Kenya suffers her loss very deeply, but its green party has a lot of experience. If you go to Kenya you really feel the influence of a strong green political movement on citizen engagement.

The Ecological Party of Uganda was formed more recently, which makes it very dynamic – they’re excited by being a very new movement, they are learning quickly from regional partners. People are beginning to make the link between social justice, economic inequality and protecting the natural world. There are natural linkages between their experience and ours, as we’ve had a huge surge in Green membership in England and Wales

What are the big challenges for Green parties in East Africa?

The discovering of new oil wealth is a big one. Lake Victoria, which borders a number of countries in the region, poses shared challenges relating to natural resource governance. Then there’s the view held by the members and leaders of the region’s green parties that we need to move towards political parties which reject populist, ethnic-based politics and instead focus on good strong policies which tackle both social and environmental injustice. Questions of democratic representation, freedom of speech and the ability to challenge the current system are big issues – the parties are fighting a brave battle on this. They are able to support each other and work together on challenges when, for example, there are large agri-businesses which are polluting water resources.

East Africa Green Federation, Kampala, February 2015

What sort of exchanges have the English/Welsh and East African Greens engaged in up to now?

It’s been a two-way process. We’ve learned very much from the parties in east Africa. What we offer to the parties over there is our technical skills and expertise. What we’ve tried to do is work with the Smaller Parties Office of WFD to organise regional training meetings to develop their strategic planning. Laura Bannister, a fantastic campaigner and very committed member of the GPEW, came over and assisted in a planning meeting.

We also want to support their media and communications strategy. It’s a very different context – African politicians are very bored by our elections. You’d have to up your game significantly and be speaking to thousands and thousands of people. Obviously there’s different scales, and ways they can inspire us: democracy in this country is challenged in a number of ways. We can learn from their very brave campaigners as to how we have to fight to get across these messages and represent people who are at the bottom.

How much experience have you shared about the particular difficulties and opportunities of operating as a smaller party?

We need to look at what are the specific challenges of a smaller party in each of the different contexts. In the UK, it’s hard to get past that threshold to get representation in parliament. That’s not the case in other countries; under a proportional representation system they may be able to grow quicker. In the UK, we’re concerned by the potential changing of electoral borders. We need to learn from what campaigners are doing in Africa, so all parties have a voice and are able to get representation in parliaments.

How is the Green Party in England and Wales’ work with WFD helping achieve our four outcomes – around policy, accountability, representation and citizen participation?

For me, one of the reason why I’m so proud and happy to be a member of the GPEW is the way we make our policy, which while not always easy is a very democratic process at our party conference. We allow all our membership to be part of the process. Our East African colleagues have been invited by the party to the last conference we had, participated in that process, and saw how we function and develop our policies.

In terms of representation, we’re exchanging ideas and looking at how to represent the whole of society – and the country, the planet and natural world that we’re inherently linked to. We encourage young people and women to be very much at the forefront of our political party. We have the youngest greens, the largest young party in the country, and we very much want to encourage that elsewhere. And our leadership is Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas. We have female leaders in part because of the way we function at a local level; we try to aim for 50% candidates across the board, and suggest as much to our African colleagues.

It’s not a one-way process, though. The EAGF may be more representative of the ethnic and social diversity of the country than our party is; we need to increase our black and ethnic minority representation. That’s something we’re working on and trying to improve. It’s a two-way process. We are improving as a party and they can benefit from our experience. In return we can try to share how we captured the passion and the willingness of people to join up and pay fees.

Finally, what ambitions do you have for the East African Green Federation in the year to come? What do you think is possible?

I also work at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, teaching about non-military solutions. Any way I can strengthen the region’s Green parties’ capacities to work on peaceful solutions to conflict – particularly regarding natural resources – is a key ambition for myself. As a Green party member, I’m delighted to be able to help do this directly by working directly with the East African Green Federation. We know we’re operating in very difficult conditions in East Africa, but we also know we will absolutely continue to support them morally and intellectually; I very much see this as a long-term cooperation and exchange programme over the coming years.

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The ‘golden thread’ of good governance can help achieve all the SDGs

By Kerrie Doogan-Turner

As the dust settles on the post-2015 sustainable development goals, International Development Secretary Justine Greening has made clear her belief that the British contribution to achieving them means looking for support from beyond her department.

The Department for International Development (DFID) needs to draw on expertise from across all parts of British society, she told the Commons’ International Development Committee earlier this week.

Making progress, she suggested, requires an evolving approach. The new goals have shifted in focus; they now incorporate not only traditional markers of development like health, education and the environment but also broader ones like inequality, gender and governance. So to succeed DFID needs input not just from private sector and civil society but also, MPs heard, from “all our [British] institutions, heritage and experience to help other countries build their golden thread”.

The ‘golden thread’ was first outlined by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012, and referenced again by him in his speech at the United Nations in September 2015. He had outlined Britain’s commitment “to build accountable and transparent institutions and representative decision making to ensure everyone has a legal identity and access to information and to protect basic freedoms”.

Now the golden thread is at the core of the UK’s approach – and is reflected in goal 16 of the SDGs. This looks towards “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”. Effective institutions and good governance are at the heart of universal democratic principles, after all. In Justine Greening’s view, this approach is pivotal. “Development can happen,” she said, “but if you do not have good governance it’s like a millstone around the country’s neck. You cannot get as far as fast if you have corruption.”

Financial and Economic Analysis Office established with Ukraine Rada

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy understands this. Parliamentary strengthening is a vital part of the bigger picture of achieving progress in countries transitioning to democracy around the world.
We work closely with institutions to identify how we can best establish lasting change. Our work on financial oversight and scrutiny, for example, is fundamentally linked to achieving progress at the state level in education and health. If a parliament can scrutinise financial legislation effectively it can question where money is going and how much is being put back into the country to address development needs. So in countries like Tunisia and Ukraine we’re helping parliaments get a better grip on the figures, by working with Public Accounts Committees and developing offices which analyse financial and economic information.

It’s not just goal 16 which our work contributes to, either. A number of our programmes aim to tackle the pertinent issues of violence against women and girls, as well as getting more women into decision-making roles. Both are targeted by goal 5. Like the spread of good governance, the increase of women as decision-makers carries benefits for the communities they live in and politics more broadly.

Women in Politics panel discussion at University of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

But how do you measure those benefits? For all the SDGs, though, tracking progress poses a challenge. Counting the number of women candidates and the number of countries that operate quotas is one thing; achieving and measuring a change in social norms is a little trickier. We all await the announcement of key indicators measuring progress against the SDGs, which will be announced in March.

Those working on the indicators will have to grapple, for example, with the question of how to measure progress against the aim to “leave no group behind”. When IDC chair Stephen Twigg raised this in relation to women, youth and religious minorities, Justine Greening pointed to lessons from DFID’s work on FGM and child marriage. Achieving a change in social norms “needs all parts of society and a country pulling in the same direction”, she said. That certainly resonates with our experiences supporting the Women’s Coalition across the Middle East and North Africa.

The realities of politics and governance can often get in the way, too. Elections can completely transform the makeup of parliaments. Military coups can simply remove the government of the day. Even the realisation that conflict is spreading across a country can render its institutions redundant. But that’s just the way it is in democracy and governance. Change takes time. Capturing it requires patience. As the UK Government said about its Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, this is “patient, long-term work”.

“What an achievement,” Justine Greening said of goal 16. “It’s there now, in black and white, something we can come back to and work from.” At WFD we’re committed to doing so in the years ahead. We’ll work from it in countries that are tackling the instability associated with extremism, extreme poverty and migration. And we’ll work from it in more stable countries that are tackling either the threat of autocracy or the curse of low economic growth.

“We are going to need governance,” Nik Sekhran from UNDP emphasised in written evidence to MPs,“and we are going to need peaceful societies, otherwise there cannot be development”. WFD’s mission of supporting democratic transition will contribute to that. We’ll contribute to the Prime Minister’s ‘golden thread’ and ultimately the achievement of all the SDGs, too.

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Here’s what International Day of Democracy means to our staff

As the world marks the United Nations’ International Day of Democracy, WFD staff describe how their recent experiences in the field have underlined to them the importance of democratic governance.

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive, on the impact of terrorism in Tunisia:

In March 2015 I was with Lord Steel in Tunisia, holding an induction programme for newly-elected members of parliament. Two weeks later gunmen shot dead 21 people, mostly European tourists, at the Bardo National Museum in the grounds of the parliament in Tunis.

During the programme, after visiting the Speaker, we had been taken on a visit to the Bardo museum itself. We were incredibly impressed by the commitment and dynamism of the new MPs. And so the shock of the terrorist attacks was very much increased by our personal engagement with the parliament, as well as with the staff of the museum. We knew how difficult it would be for the country to respond. We also knew how important it was that parliament itself responded in a way that reinforced democratic governance and democratic values.

Since then, I have felt a strong connection with the people who had to respond to that attack, and to the separate attack in June. They have had to maintain Tunisia’s democracy and help their society as a whole to respond to this crisis. They have also helped me to see how important it is for parliament to lead the way in maintaining commitment to the rule of law and tries to ensure both reconciliation and decisive action in response to those challenges.

Ellen Shustik, Senior Programme Manager for Elections and Programme Development, on elections in Ukraine:

Ellen (third from right) with polling station officers in eastern Ukraine

I was an elections observer in the east of Ukraine for last year’s presidential election in May 2014 – right after the Maidan protests – and also in October for parliamentary elections. What struck me was the incredible level of enthusiasm, even within the smallest rural communities where people walked for miles to cast their votes, in the post-Maidan political environment. There was a real excitement about the country moving in a new direction and the reforms that these elections could potentially bring.

From 18-year olds voting for the first time to people in their 80s, I witnessed the pride and joy that people take in casting a ballot in countries where democracy is not taken for granted. It was a stark reminder that people elsewhere have to fight hard to get that right. How moving it is to see the right to have one’s voice heard exercised in a way that is full of enthusiasm and commitment.

Janet Bamisaye, Programmes Accountant, on local government in Kenya:

One of the reasons I joined WFD was because I wanted to help give people who don’t have a voice a say. In August 2014, when I was in the office of the Honourable George Ndotto, Speaker of the Kitui County Assembly in Kenya, hearing him speak so passionately about the contribution we’d made to his work gave me a lot of joy.

We’d been providing the assembly with training to help Kitui’s local politicians develop a five-year strategic plan for the county. Mr Ndotto was excited about the difference our work had made – bringing ambitions in line with approved resources, capturing feedback from the grassroots, etc.

It meant a lot to him, and to hear him talk about it meant a lot to me. Hearing the Speaker talk so passionately about it was, for me, a personal fulfilment. It felt like we were making a big impact to ensure democracy, equality and fairness in local politics.

And the training has made a difference, too. The assembly was able to come up with a recommendation on a realistic county development plan which was eventually passed in the Kitui assembly. The plan is currently being applied and is the main framework for planning and resources allocation until 2017.

Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes, on the case for democracy assistance:

Photo: Dean Terry

Three visionaries – from Bangladesh, France, and the UK – have helped crystalise for me why democracy is a universal principle worth defending.

Amartya Sen: “Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its principal means.”

Democracy is not just a luxury for citizens from wealthier countries to enjoy, but it is both a fundamental human right and a means towards greater and more equitable development.

Alexis de Tocqueville: “When the principle of equality spreads…not only within one nation, but at the same time among several neighbouring peoples, the inhabitants of these various countries, despite different languages, customs, and laws, always resemble each other in an equal fear of war and love of peace.”

Democratic countries will rarely if ever go to war with each other; the more democracies, the greater likelihood of world peace.

Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

A crucial reminder; though democratic politics can be rough and tumble, slow, frustrating, and even a bit dirty, democracy is still the best option we have, and everyone should do his or her part to make it better.

I am proud to have made contributions, even if small, to helping defenders of democracy from parliaments, political parties and civil society build their own democratic institutions in some of the most difficult contexts imaginable. Helping new MPs in Somalia, provincial councillors in Afghanistan and civil society organisations in South Sudan has brought me great personal fulfilment, knowing I am doing my best to help make the dream of global democracy a reality.

Kerrie Doogan-Turner, Communications Assistant, on women’s rights in Afghanistan:

In September 2014 Amnesty International, where I was working, sought to highlight the lack of women participants at the NATO summit in Wales. Their ‘talk to me, not about me’ campaign really resonated as I’d previously worked to support women in Afghanistan who were promoting and defending human rights in their country – in a bid to strengthen Afghanistan after its very turbulent past.

One of the things that’s made me interested in working at WFD has been appreciating just how strong the connection between participation in democracy and progress on human rights really is. It’s only by being part of the process of government that you have a say in your future and the future of your country. You can’t build peace by leaving 50% of the population out – that’ something that’s always stuck with me.

Dina Melhem, Regional Director for MENA and Asia, on women’s rights in Iraq: 

MP Intisar al-Jubouri of the Iraqi parliament’s Women and Children’s Affairs Committee speaks out about her work combating violence against women and girls

Under a democratic system everyone is protected, especially marginalised groups. But amidst war and a lack of democracy, women are especially vulnerable – as events in Iraq in the last 12 months have shown.

In January and March this year, as the WFD-organised coalition against domestic violence met in Jordan and Lebanon, the testimony of two women MPs from Iraq was both impressive and striking. They have always been very active members of our coalition. This year we heard their report of conversations with a group of Yazidi women who had been attacked. Having the voice of women in parliament felt very important because they want to contribute to protect their women and girls from violence, as well as from the shame that victims may face even in their own families. We worked with women MPs on how to debate the domestic violence bill they are seeking to push through the Iraq’s Council of Representatives.

Coming from the region, I can very easily relate to what they have to say. I feel the outrage very acutely. It makes me appreciate the importance of our work. Democracy protects women, and having the voices of women in parliament can make that protection much more solid. It feels, after this year, that we need to do even more.

Charlotte Egan, Programme Officer for Africa, on Thai free speech trials

I come from a country where it’s hard to even understand that merely being a vocal opponent of the government is enough to get you in jail. When I was in Thailand last year, monitoring the trials of human rights defenders who faced ten years in prison just for saying something defamatory, I was shocked by what I saw.

But I was also impressed by the civil society organisations whose supporters stood outside the courts, even though they were potentially putting themselves in danger by doing so. Every single trial I went to was packed with people who were scrambling to get in. It made me think a lot more about how important freedom of expression is – and about how parliaments need a civil society space to be critical in order to function properly.

Majda ElBied, Senior Programme Manager for Africa, on the EU’s past:

I was in Brussels in June 2014 with a group of staff from the East African Legislative Assembly. They were trying to find out how the European Union aids regional integration via its policies. It was a very useful visit; the shared learning and new relationships were very valuable for EALA.

What really struck me was how lucky we are to live in a peaceful region. I’m from Belgium, so being in Brussels reminded me that Europe was created to bring people together for peace and security. We tend to forget about it. But images of the Second World War in the European Parliament building provided a stark reminder that the EU respects cultural and linguistic diversity and ensures that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced. European officials often get talked about in a negative way, but their work has helped a lot of people when it comes to democratic representation.

And let’s not forget that Brussels had once sent its staff to East Africa to explore opportunities for a common currency. Whichever way information flows, the purpose is the same: trying to share learning as we seek to establish and strengthen regional bodies.

Alex Stevenson, Head of Communications, on a fresh perspective on British politics:

After five years of writing about politicians’ varying degrees of rhetorical ability, and their ability to withstand some tough questioning, there was something ironic about my being asked to address a group of politicians in the final weekend of Britain’s 2015 general election campaign. This wasn’t a tired old local party meeting, though. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association had invited me to give a talk to their team of election observers, who had travelled to Britain from across the world, about the state of play in British politics.

When you’re immersed in a country’s domestic politics for many years it becomes hard to see the wood for the trees. Yet the fundamentals of democracy in a political party system don’t change much and this group of rather formidable MPs and senators quickly drilled down to the core issues. What struck me, as I stood there facing this cross-examination from parliamentarians from countries like Canada, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Rwanda and the Seychelles, was the calibre of their forensic questioning – and what that said about the strengths of their respective parliaments.

I was also struck by how doubtful they were about the certainty of a hung parliament in Britain; a scepticism which, it turned out, was entirely justified.

George Kunnath, Regional Director for Europe, Central Asia and Africa, on Maidan Square:

Seeing the memorials to the fallen in Maidan Square in Ukraine in May this year really brought home the reality that democracy is fragile, hard won and obtained at a great price.

Democracy to me has always been about my freedom to choose. The freedom to choose your leaders, your religion, your job, your future. This freedom is what many great people over the course of history have sacrificed their lives for.

While, on International Democracy Day we tend to remember the historical greats like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and others, we should not forget that daily ordinary people across the world are standing up against oppression and for their right to choose a better life.

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