Working with Ghana’s Parliament: ‘Our democracy is about inclusiveness’

Democracy is about consensus-building, inclusiveness and participation.

They’re great principles that unite the British and Ghanaian views of what a Parliament should be – and a great starting point for renewed cooperation.

In 2015 WFD has returned to work with old friends in a West African country renowned for the stability of its democracy.

We had operated a targeted project providing support to Ghana’s Parliament in 2011, running training courses for its research team and new MPs. Now we are beginning to implement a much broader programme and deepen our work with the Parliament and its leadership.

“WFD has a longstanding relationship with the Ghana Parliament and we’re delighted to be working in Ghana once again,” Senior Programme Manager for Africa Majda El-Bied said.

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The Ghanaian Parliament in session. Photo: World Bank

Our new three-year programme links up our experience supporting parliaments’ officials with our political party colleagues’ links with sister-parties in Ghana. “We were really sad that you phased out, so your return is really welcome news,” the Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Majority Leader, told us. “There are a lot of things we had to do which we thought were incomplete before you left. So your comeback is really exciting to us.”

The integrated nature of the programme was reflected in the cast list of the Ghanaian delegation which visited London in late November; its senior leadership journeyed to Britain for meetings with key UK counterparts in and around the Palace of Westminster.

ghana inward 4The Ghanaian delegation with Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith and Lords Reading Clerk Simon Burton

The Majority and Minority Leaders, together with the Majority and Minority Chief Whips, were able to hold meetings with their sister parties, with whom they have strong links. The Ghana Parliament’s Director of Research, as well as its Clerk and Principal Assistant Clerk, held similar meetings with their counterparts. And the Speaker of the unicameral Ghanaian Parliament, the Rt Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho, met with both the House of Commons’ Speaker John Bercow and the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza. “Any opportunity which offers itself to build a steady parliament and make it relevant to the aspiration of the people we represent is a good opportunity,” he said. “We are keen to see how we can strengthen parliament.”

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House of Commons Speaker John Bercow with Ghanaian Parliament Speaker Edward Adjaho

Visitors to Ghana are always struck by the consensual approach adopted by its politicians. Some countries might see Parliament as a place for bitter partisan warfare, but in Accra they pursue a different approach. As the Majority Leader, the Hon. Bagbin puts it, this is a very different institution from Africa’s other representative bodies. “We’re building on the principle that democracy is about consensus-building,” he says. “Democracy is about inclusiveness, it’s about participation. So the first thing you do is to build consensus, not to vote. And in reaching consensus, there have to be compromises.”

ghana inward 3Margaret Hodge met with the delegation to discuss her work with the Public Accounts Committee

One of the challenges facing the Parliament is finding ways to strengthen parties’ parliamentary groups. There will now be a concerted effort to strengthen relationships and do more to ensure party policies are understood by the party caucus. This is something the UK parties can help with; by having a space within Parliament, they can work closely with the party caucuses.
WFD hopes to contribute to the Parliament’s ongoing work more widely, too. The biggest single element of this side of our work will be in improving its Research Centre. We’re also keen to work with a parliamentary strengthening coordination group. And, in parallel with our efforts, the UK parties will continue to offer their support to their sister parties. Our goal is to enhance the capacity of the Parliament by linking its experienced officials with British expertise – and we’re delighted that the key players in Ghana are keen to work with us once again.

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Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan: ‘I’m excited to use the knowledge I got’

It doesn’t matter which parliament you’ve been elected to – starting out as a new MP is always a disorienting experience. The induction training in Kyrgyzstan has helped a remarkably young intake get to grips with their important new roles.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is committed to helping Kyrgyzstan as it steadily develops its democracy. Our analysis of the state of multi-party politics, presented at a Bishkek event in September, showed that the evolution of the factions system remains a work in progress. After the election of the Sixth Convocation of the Parliament this autumn, there’s a real opportunity for some big steps forward.

A developing parliament, though, is all about the people inside it – and it’s clear the new arrivals are committed to making a difference. “For me as a pedagogue, and a person who always doubts and questions things, it is important to find the truth and act sincerely and correctly,” Evgeniya Strokova MP of the SDPK faction tells us. “So I’m looking forward to deliver good results of my work and feel excited about that.”

Above: Evgeniya Strokova MP of the SDPK faction

She and the other MPs who participated in the November 20-22 induction event removed themselves from their offices to a neutral venue where they could escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday politics. They received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, will fit in.

“The training is timely, because for new MPs it is important to perform in the Parliament in the right way,” the Bir Bol faction’s Lunara Mamytova MP tells us. Whatever their faction, all the new arrivals find themselves grappling with a very complex institution. Understanding the roles and functions of parliament, legislative processes, outreach work with the electorate, and mechanisms of cooperation with civil society: there’s certainly a lot for new MPs to get on with.

“Before being inducted it was really difficult for me as a new MP to understand the structure and work of the Parliament, regulations,” Aisulu Mamasheva MP of Ata Meken says. “We needed this training in order to perform well and I think we are prepared now to start to function as a qualified parliament.”

Above: Aisulu Mamasheva MP of Ata Meken faction

One experienced Kyrgyzstan politician, ProfessorZainidin Kurmanov, a former Speaker, says the 120-member Jogorku Kengesh is now at the stage of its development where experienced and dynamic specialists are essential. Induction trainings like this, he suggested, are becoming an established tradition. “We were developing quite fast over the last few years, and we need to keep that going,” he explains. “We cannot wait until people change and become mature. It would be great if the Sixth Convocation of the Parliament played an active role in changing people’s lives. If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kengesh has changed a lot since it first met in 1991, but Prof. Kurmanov now believes the pace of change should be accelerated. “We need to move towards revolutionary changes, not evolutionary – we simply have no time for that and it would be even worse for us,” he adds. “The Parliament should lead the country towards positive changes and achieve our stated goals.”

WFD believes that supporting the secretariats of the factions, which face considerable challenges in fulfilling their roles and functions in a parliamentary system, is critical to this. Our analysis found there isn’t a strong link between a party’s manifesto and its behaviour in coalitions. Parliament continues to bear many hallmarks of a presidential majoritarian system as well as its Soviet legacy. The opposition in parliament, moreover, lacks the capacity it needs to provide really forceful scrutiny of the well-resourced majority coalition’s activities.

The new MPs at the induction event have a strong appetite for more assistance. “I would recommend you and other donor organisations facilitate meetings with factions and committees so that we can build up new dialogues and develop tools for effective work,” MP Emil Toktoshov of the Ata Meken faction, who says he “learned a lot” at the induction, urges. Aisulu Mamasheva, also of Ata Meken, adds: “Even more, I would rather ask you to conduct other trainings that could be interesting and useful for MPs. For example, it would be interesting for us to know how parliaments operate in other countries. I also understood that we need some instruments to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of factions’ work. We need to raise the capacity of secretariats. We are in the process of adaptation now, so we need such trainings, qualified staff in secretariats to become efficient as quick as we can.”

WFD’s programme in Kyrgyzstan aims to meet this demand. In the coming months and years, we will work with the secretariats of the factions to help boost their effectiveness. The new convocation offers exciting possibilities for WFD – and the new MPs who will be shaping it.

“I may have some confusions now,” Evgeniya Strokova adds, “because I’m a new person here, but I found the induction training extremely interesting. I’m very excited to use the knowledge I got, and I’ll definitely do so in my work as an MP.”

Above: MP Emil Toktoshov of the Ata Meken faction
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What does it mean to be a woman politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

What does it mean to be a woman politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

That was the question being discussed at the University of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina by a panel of four experienced women engaged in politics and public life.

The 21 October event was organised by Westminster Foundation for Democracy as part of our Promoting Women In Politics programme.

This was a chance for students of the University of Mostar, as well as the general public, to get informed about what the current political climate looks like when it comes to gender equality within institutions and all levels of government in the country.

The discussion addressed topics that concern women in politics – their obstacles as women and how to overcome them, as well as the advantages and how to use them in order to achieve political goals. How can women achieve adequate political promotion with voters and within political parties? What’s the best way of striking a balance between public life and private life? The panel also spoke on current problems of women and their representation in government, especially in the executive and legislative branch, as well as potential solutions to these problems.

Borka Herceg-Lukenda (HDZ 1990) argued they must use all mechanisms to which they are entitled inside their political organizations in order to assert themselves and be of equal importance to their male colleagues. She highlighted the importance of quotas, saying: “If there were no electoral quotas, we would not be present anywhere.” Even with all the obstacles that women face in BiH politics, they have to be the initiators of ideas and solutions, she suggested.

One solution which many support across the world is the introduction of quotas for women. But where this isn’t already the case women need to be prepared to seek change. Amra Babic (Municipal Prefect of the Visoko Municipality, pictured speaking above) spoke about her experience on the local and entity level of government, as well as briefly speaking about different factors that made her campaign in 2012 for Municipal Mayor successful. She highlighted the need to fight political battles inside the political parties – and how they are often more difficult than the external battles.

Irma Baralija (Naša stranka Mostar, pictured speaking above), as the youngest woman on the panel, spoke on how young women can enter politics be a positive factor within their community and political organization. She joined her colleagues in recognizing that political parties hold the main key for the promotion of women in politics. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar) mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented.

The university discussion was concluded by emphasizing that politics is not a man’s job; the equal representation of women, it was agreed, is crucial for achieving a proper and functional democracy. The panel also reiterated the importance of discussions such as this one for raising the awareness of women themselves of their capabilities and opportunities in BiH politics – and that examples of successful women are not rare.

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Targeting Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Zlatan Hajlovac

Gender equality was central to the sustainable development framework discussed last month in New York. It’s an issue at the heart of WFD’s activities, too, as our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows.

The destruction and ethnic tensions which accompanied the bloody conflict of 1992-95 continue to have a significant impact on the way politics is conducted in the country. But 20 years of peace have resulted in some progress. Landmarks like the meeting of the 40% quota for female candidates at the 2014 elections highlight just how far Bosnia and Herzegovina advanced on the road toward inclusive democracy.

However, there is still a long way to go. Despite the introduction of quotas only one woman, alongside 17 male candidates, ran for the Presidency. There is a greater focus on local, rather than national politics, which has had a significant impact on the level of representation of women in decision-making positions.

With the formal adoption by world leaders of the sustainable development goals at the United Nations summit, we have to ask: what is WFD doing to address the gender imbalance present in the electoral process in Bosnia and Herzegovina? How are we working towards implementation of Sustainable Development Goal Number Five: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all girls’?

Our ‘Promoting women in politics in BiH’ project aims to tackle the problem that women are significantly underrepresented in different governmental bodies on all levels. The WFD Bosnia and Herzegovina team are supporting a range of different activities including training courses and public debates involving women politicians from local councils. These will feature discussion of concrete issues affecting their local communities. We’re also running activities which boost confidence in women’s ability to effectively participate in politics. Following a public discussion in the Visoko municipality earlier in September this year, the participants told us that the public discussion was a great opportunity for women elected in the municipal bodies to speak directly to citizens concerning their political activity without the interruption of their male colleagues.

We work with the media to ensure balanced media representation of women politician’s campaigns during the pre-election period. Moreover, through our party-to-party work, WFD is working directly with the main political parties in the country to make sure they are implementing their commitments toward gender equality. The overall aim of the WFD project is to ensure an increased representation of women in the decision-making process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a result we cannot assess until the 2016 local elections take place.

In the meantime we continue or work to help achieve positive results for the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including shaping the future of their country. It is an apt time to consider the reflections offormer MP Besima Boric on the important impact women had in the post-conflict situation when engaging in politics:

“Women were the first who had a normal conversation with two MP’s who were on the other side of the war. In ’96 and ’97, this was a big deal: women talked and worked together  – women from two entities.”

The impact women can have in politics should be felt more broadly, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but globally. The SDGs call for “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” – and we hope we’re contributing to ensuring that in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Having an equal proportion of women and men in politics and in governmental bodies is critical in order to achieve an inclusive democracy. To achieve this goal, the programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has developed the free publication “Politics in Our Backyard”.

This gives basic and detailed information on the local level of self-government including the authority of local self-government, the description of duties and rights of elected officials as well as other useful information for potential candidates and the general public.

The publication was handed out to visitors, participants and speakers on all public events under the organization of WFD, as well as to all local offices of the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina including Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Brcko and Banja Luka. It was also distributed to participants of events in the organization of Inicijativa 50% – an initiative for equal gender representation of councillors in the 2016 local election. The electronic version of the publication was distributed to political parties working with WFD in the programme and was published on official websites and the social network profiles of SDP, SDA and Naša stranka. The publication was also promoted by Mreža Mira (Network for Peace) and non-governmental organizations such as the Boris Divkovic Foundation and Youth Initiative for Human Rights. This approach resulted in a substantial reach of the publication to many people all across the country who are interested in the local government system and its status within the governmental system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We’re also providing campaign training for potential women candidates and sharing sister party expertise from the UK with engaging sessions that took place earlier this year. During those training sessions we trained 20 bloggers and 40 potential candidates for the 2016 local election who appreciated the user-friendly format of the training and experience from the UK councillors, as well as gaining knowledge on general information concerning the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and tips on how to have a more successful political campaign.

These practical steps to empower women in politics engage multiple political parties, the various legislative tiers, universities and the media. By broadening the range of policy issues addressed by women in politics and better capturing the relevance and value of their work through media, their role in politics can be more widely promoted and gender stereotypes challenged.

Here at WFD we’re committed to helping women become more active in parliaments and political parties across the globe, because we believe this fundamentally contributes to more legitimate and inclusive democracy. Many of our programmes globally encourage greater gender cohesion, including the inspiring work our colleagues have been doing in the Ugandan parliament and within the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women.

The next phase of project activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will include public debates in local communities on topics that will help connect with the local community. We want to increase the dialogue between women councillors and potential candidates and the community which they represent to the arena of women in politics. These debates will involve elected women from municipal councils, representatives of women’s organisations, NGOs that focus on human rights and potential candidates for the upcoming local elections in 2016.  We want to encourage any interested individuals to come along and participate in an active discussion about what women politicians can do to shape local politics.

And now is a good time to do so, for 2016’s local elections are not very far away.  WFD will launch an advocacy initiative with the major media outlets in the country, aiming to secure their commitment to feature women and men candidates equally and fairly in their coverage. We’re already engaging with political analysts and bloggers to ensure their work covers women candidates and their issues in an inclusive manner in the campaigns to come. As the global development community turns its attention to how to make progress on the new SDGs, WFD’s programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has already got its work underway.

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