UK democracy assistance: Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017

By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive

This year saw WFD turn 25 (we were established in 1992). As 2017 draws to a close, I would like to recall some of our best results and lessons learnt over the last 12 months.

January: making politics affordable in developing countries

We presented findings and recommendations from WFD research into the cost of politics in Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Senegal and Ukraine.

Recommendations on how to reduce the cost of becoming a legislator and being a political representative were given to members of parliament, electoral commission and parliamentary officials gathered in Abuja.

We are now working on a follow-up paper on the cost of politics in Ghana, in partnership with the Center for Democratic Development (CDD) with support from DFID. This will look at solutions that could be tested in the Ghanaian context and will be published in January.

February: peace in Colombia

We shared lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with Colombian legislators and civil society to help inform reconciliation efforts following the peace deal between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

The parties of Northern Ireland, along with representatives of the Church, women’s organisations, and the British government presented their experiences to Colombian counterparts in a series of meetings and workshops organised by WFD’s Multi-Party office.

The experience of Northern Ireland and the role parties and parliaments can play in addressing conflict remain highly relevant for WFD going forward, especially with reference to countries such as Myanmar and Venezuela.

March: the role of civil society in East Africa

We convened a conference in Kenya with civil society, parliamentary and governmental organisations to respond to growing threats against the role of civil society in several East African countries, where governments have taken actions to restrict and limit the autonomy and influence of non-governmental organisations.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), participating organisations agreed to coordinate national responses and take action at regional level, in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), to support civil society.

(Photo: Participants discuss the closing civil society space phenomenon at a conference organised by WFD’s research programme in Nairobi in March 2017.)

April: tackling corruption in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

We unveiled the first anti-corruption strategy in the Kurdistan region of Iraq after facilitating engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.

Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions.

Our future work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will depend on political progress following the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. We continue to monitor developments very closely but we believe that the training we delivered to beneficiaries and the relationships we built can have a lasting and positive impact.

May: building citizens’ trust through open government

In May, WFD co-sponsored the Global Legislative Openness Conference, which is part of the Open Government Partnership. The conference took place in the Ukrainian Rada and was opened by the Lord Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee.

Open and transparent parliaments can contribute immensely to effective democratic governance. WFD supports partner parliaments to become more transparent and build the confidence of their constituents. At the conference, WFD presented the achievements of the Western Balkans Network of Parliamentary Committees, as well as recent work on civil society participation in the budget process in Georgia.

June: protecting women and girls in Arab Countries

Between April and August, Jordan and Lebanon repealed legislation that protected rapists by allowing them to marry their victims and escape prison. Tunisia also passed landmark legislation to promote gender equality. These landmark advances were the subject of long campaigns by WFD’s partner, the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women, which is supporting parliamentary initiatives in 13 Arab countries.

In June, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition, reported on the process to draft a Convention to Combat Violence Against Women, which earlier this year was formally submitted to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.

Alongside the Coalition, WFD supports a number of regional networks where effective South-South cooperation takes place. These include networks of activists and political parties such as Tha’era, Women’s Academy for Africa and CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans (all supported by the Labour Party International Democracy Programme funded by WFD) and Rae’dat, which is being supported by the SNP’s WFD-funded programme.

(Photo: Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee opens the Global Legislative Openness Conference with a key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”.)

July: giving young people a say in how Nigeria is run

In July, the Senate of Nigeria adopted legislation to lower the minimum age for candidates to certain political offices – an important step on the long road toward constitutional reform. This milestone took place as WFD launched its programme to increase political participation and representation of young people in the country.

WFD Nigeria’s Youth Empowerment Programme focuses on cementing consensus around constitutional reform (the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign is run by our local partner YIAGA), supporting Nigerian political parties in creating effective youth wings, and enabling civil society to engage more young people in the democratic process.

The ultimate goal of this programme is best summarised by the words of Kate Osamor MP, chair of the UK House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria. At the launch in Abuja she said: “Nigeria’s success as a prosperous and progressive country depends on enabling young people to get involved in the political system, shaping the agenda and taking decisions about the future of their country. That is what the WFD programme will focus on.”

August: giving a voice to persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone

On 7 March 2018, Sierra Leone will go to the polls to elect the President, Parliament and local councils. This August, working in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), we launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process.

The agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed.

As this historic election approaches, our work continues to ensure minorities and vulnerable groups are involved in the campaign by competing parties. Following the election, our work will continue in parliament.

September: a new strategy for WFD, a new partnership for elections

In September, WFD launched a new strategic framework for the next five years during a two-day conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Houses of Parliament which reviewed the UK’s role in promoting democratic values globally and marked 25 years since WFD’s establishment.

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – remains central to our mission (we are now delivering parliamentary programmes in over 30 countries worldwide).

In addition, WFD will partner with other institutions with different skills, methodologies, and approaches, working together to find ways our programmes can complement one another and address the challenges of strengthening democracy from different angles.

As a leading member of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), we remain committed to working closely with this network of democracy-support organisations and other European institutions. We will also expand our partnership with institutions from the Commonwealth and around the world, in particular from the global South.

We were therefore delighted to use our 25th anniversary conference to sign a new partnership for electoral assistance in Africa with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
October to December

(Photo: The National Agenda for People with Disabilities was launched in Sierra Leone in August 2017 following a series of consultations with people with disabilities across Sierra Leone.)

In the last three months of 2017, we have:

What’s next for WFD?

In 2018, WFD will begin to implement our new strategy. This will coincide with the negotiations on a new partnership with the EU which, as the PM’s Art.50 letter said, will include our shared democratic values. I have attended half a dozen discussions in the past few months about the future of Britain’s role in the world. My clear conclusion is that Britain’s democratic culture will be a critical asset not just in setting a clear direction for the future of our country but also in securing our global relationships. This is borne out in the daily interactions that I and the rest of the WFD team have with our partners in Britain and around the world.

A review of 2017 cannot end without heartfelt thanks to all of you who support our work. I wish you all a very peaceful and restful Christmas break and a Happy New Year.

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New parliamentary benchmarks endorsed by Commonwealth Conference

On 6 November, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, endorsed a recommendation by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)  that “Parliaments should use updated Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures as a tool to ensure their contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 16 (on inclusive and accountable governance)”.

The launch of the Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in 2006 by CPA and partners was a ground-breaking step to strengthen parliaments through the creation of a set of standards for parliaments across the Commonwealth.

Now, at a time of increased scrutiny of parliaments and of parliamentarians, the focus on measuring impact and the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of legislatures is even more relevant.  However, the original Benchmarks were conceived as minimum standards rather than performance benchmarks and there has been limited take up by parliaments.

A decade on, SDG 16 offers a unique opportunity to revisit the expectations of an effective and democratic parliament. Last year, WFD and CPA convened a study group of leading experts in the field of parliamentary strengthening to review the Benchmarks and continue with this seminal work in setting standards for parliaments. The group discussed the development of a tool to help parliaments craft their reform agenda in line with the aspirations of the Commonwealth Charter and the SDGs, and more frequently self-assess their effectiveness and the extent to which they are becoming more transparent, inclusive and responsive institutions.

In the first half of 2017, WFD and CPA prepared updated Benchmarks that reflect these new international frameworks. In November, WFD’s CEO, Anthony Smith, was invited to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka to present this initiative and seek the endorsement of parliamentarians for their implementation. In the panel discussion, parliamentarians from Nigeria, Malaysia, Australia, and Canada noted that the use of self-assessments by Parliaments to demonstrate their performance and to highlight areas in which the organisation can improve was useful. It was also made clear that the Benchmarks are not about ‘shaming’ Parliaments as there is no grading system but that the Benchmarks allow Parliaments to consider their own culture and history in development and use the results to improve their own processes.

Conference delegates enthusiastically endorsed WFD’s recommendation on the updated benchmarks as well as three other recommendations related to the adoption and implementation of the Benchmarks. This strong support for the initiative reflects a growing appetite among parliamentarians for tools to measure their effectiveness and impact.

Going forward, WFD and CPA will convene a reference group comprising representatives from the nine CPA regions to finalise the updated benchmarks. These will be accompanied by a set of indicators of impact that would refer particularly to SDG 16 and a field guide for parliaments to use when conducting assessments using the benchmarks and indicators. WFD will use its parliamentary support expertise to advise Commonwealth parliaments throughout the process and assist in effecting improvements as they are identified.

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“It does what it says on the tin” – Reviewing laws to advance equality

What do a 1994 TV advert for wood stain and the legislative process have in common? The importance of delivering on a promise.

Opening a Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) expert seminar to explore a gender-specific approach to scrutiny of legislation, the Scottish Parliament’s Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame said:

“There is an obligation on governments when passing legislation to allow it to be put into practice and see if it does what it says on the tin.

 

The only way to do that in my view is through post-legislative scrutiny, where we can ask: is this doing what our parliament intended?”

Christine Grahame’s question is particularly important when it comes to matters of gender equality. Globally, substantial legislation has been passed that should lead to better lives for women and girls. Sadly, many of these laws are not being implemented.

As a young institution with a strong commitment to inclusion, the Scottish Parliament provided the perfect setting for the 10 November investigation into whether a more gendered approach to post-legislative scrutiny can help bridge this growing gap between what a law commits governments to do and what actually happens. 

The seminar brought together leading experts in parliamentary procedures, policy development and gender equality from more than six countries to explore what best practice might look like in integrating gender analysis and post-legislative scrutiny – two key aspects of good governance. Together, they identified six recommendations to lawmakers in every country.

  1. Start early

Rather than waiting until a law has been passed and then trying to assess who it might have helped or hurt, gender analysis should be embedded in the policy development and legislative processes from the very beginning.

Restructuring these processes to ensure an equality lens is applied from the earliest stages is not only good practice, but saves parliamentarians from the most dreaded of fates: legislating in haste, but repenting at leisure.

Equality impact assessments (EQIAs) are used by many parliaments as an ‘early warning system’. While they’re not perfect, they do offer a useful mechanism to identify and address potential problems at the outset of the policy development cycle.

  1. Get the numbers right

Measuring equality and inequality is a developing science and it depends on high-quality data, which isn’t always there. Identifying what data needs to be collected and in what forms is an important part of getting both gender analysis and post-legislative scrutiny right.

Equally important is having people in the relevant institutions who understand how to read and use the data – not just what the figures say but what this means in terms of peoples’ ‘lived experience’. As Dr Angela O’Hagan remarked, “Just because you have a gender doesn’t mean you understand gender.” Collaboration among parliamentary committees and/or government departments can help improve the range of evidence used for gender analysis of legislation, as can pro-active collection of useful data by statistical agencies.

  1. Impact assessments should have impact

Interestingly, there were differences of opinion as to whether the findings of an EQIA obligated legislators to act, or if bad news from an EQIA was little more than a ‘heads up!’

The majority agreed that when potential inequalities are found, members of parliaments and other legislatures should be compelled to either address these or change the course of the policy or law.

  1. Outreach and inclusion should be deliberate and active

One of the reasons that legislation has historically created disadvantages for women and girls – and other groups as well – is that they are vastly under-represented in decision-making processes. Addressing this is not just about getting more women elected, but it is also about making sure women are integrated into all aspects of the policy process. This means actively ensuring that they are called as expert witnesses by legislative committees, that they are fully engaged in policy consultations, and that they have a chance to help decide what the most important issues are.

Achieving this requires parliaments and government departments to seek out women and girls of all backgrounds – pensioners, disabled young people, recent immigrants, rural women, and so on – to ensure their experiences inform decision-making processes. They should not be invited to engage only when what are perceived to be women and/or family issues on the table, but no matter the issue under consideration.

  1. Money offers profound evidence of commitment

Want to know how genuine a government’s commitment to equality is? Follow the money.

Gender budgeting is often misinterpreted to mean spending more money on policies that will help women. But it is really about measuring impact and ensuring that government is spending and raising money in ways that are fair and that advance equality. Austerity measures, for example, frequently have a vastly disproportionate impact on women’s income.

  1. Political will makes a difference

Both equality and good governance make real progress when there is strong leadership behind them. Even if this type of leadership is not present at the top, government departments, legislative committees – the executive and parliament – can find ways to collaborate to advance equality through legislation, policy and good practice. Sharing techniques to monitor and report on equality-related issues is essential for progress to be made quickly.

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Time to stop talking about ‘closing space’ for civil society?

On 26 September 2017, the research collaboration between the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the University of Birmingham launched a new policy paper at the European Endowment for Democracy in Brussels. 

WFD Research Fellow, Susan Dodsworth reflects on the discussion at the event.

 

In the last few years there has been mounting concern about the state of democracy around the world. Experts have expressed fear of global democratic recession, authoritarian leaders have become more savvy in resisting democratisation, and Western democracies have become vulnerable to ‘hollowing out’ as an increasing number of people become disillusioned with, and disengage from, their political systems. While it’s probably a bit too pessimistic to claim (as some have) that ‘democracy is dying’, it is clear that democracy is under mounting pressure.

Policy-makers and practitioners tend to talk about this problem in terms of ‘closing space’, with the relevant ‘space’ defined in terms ranging from civic, to political, to democratic. Indeed, this is the kind of language that Nic Cheeseman and I use in our latest policy paper for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). In that paper, we examine when parliaments protect political space by rejecting (or reforming) restrictive civil society laws.

In the discussions that followed the launch of our policy paper, Richard Youngs (one of the leading experts on democracy support) expressed his dissatisfaction with the language of ‘closing space’. As he explained – and I found myself agreeing – talking about the repression of opposition political parties, or attempts to constrain the activities to civil society groups, in such terms obscures the fact that these things are not accidents of chance or products of circumstance. Instead, they are the products of deliberate decisions made by political actors.

This made me wonder: is it time to stop talking about ‘closing space’? There is a real risk that this term, though fashionable, is encouraging us to ignore or underestimate the agency of political leaders. This is important because if we ignore agency, we’ll never understand incentives. This matters, because it’s generally incentives that explain why certain interventions (be they diplomatic appeals, or democracy support programmes) work, while others do not.

Photo: Susan Dodsworth presenting ‘Defending Democracy: when do parliaments protect political space?’ at the European Endowment for Democracy.

Understanding the incentives that are driving the phenomenon of ‘closing space’ won’t be easy. They’re likely to vary, not just between countries but also between individuals. As our policy paper highlights, things like the nature of the electoral system can have a significant influence on what motivates legislators to resist – or facilitate – the passage of laws designed to restrict the political influence of civil society. So too can the historical legacies of colonialism, which continue to shape debates about the legitimacy of groups reliant on donor funds and those who defend them.

It may also be hard to find the time and attention required to understand incentives properly. In some parts of the world, political activists face real threats – threats of harassment, imprisonment, and serious physical harm. There are good reasons why the attention (and funding) of many policy makers and practitioners has tended to focus on supporting and protecting these front-line defenders of democracy.

Despite this, it’s critical that we invest time and resources in better understanding the incentives that are driving the closure of political space. If we don’t understand why some political leaders are adopting laws, policies and practices that undermine democracy, we don’t have much hope of helping others to fight against them in a sustainable and successful way.

Read: Defending Democracy – When do parliaments protect political space? in full. 

 

Photo (main): Support for LGBT+ rights has been used to discredit civil society groups in several countries, including Russia and Uganda (credit: Marco Fieber)
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WFD and UK Government support reform of Macedonia’s parliament

On 15 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the UK Embassy to Macedonia launched an enhanced partnership with the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia.

The partnership will support an agenda of reforms to ensure parliament fulfills its role of representing the people and holding the executive to account following a time when public confidence in democratic institutions was low.

The Freedom House overall democracy score in Macedonia has been steadily deteriorating since 2011. In spring 2017 only 5% of Macedonian’s felt that the political situation was peaceful and stable in response to prolonged  crisis and violence in the parliamentary building. However, according to a new International  Republican Institute survey in August the percentage increased to 44%, following the formation of a new government.

While recognising this increase in optimism, the Assembly has decided to undertake internal reforms to regain and retain public confidence.

WFD has been present in Macedonia continuously since 2008, working with the parliament and civil society organisations. The Foundation currently works to strengthen engagement between civil society, state agencies and decision-makers to improve public policy and enhance transparency.

The new programme, funded by the UK Government, and implemented by WFD will support reform initiatives led by the offices of the Speaker and Secretary-General, including:

1. Assisting in developing budget, strategic planning and human resources capacity.
2. Enhancing financial oversight through detailed assessments and implementation of recommendations.
3. Improving the culture of openness and transparency through improved internal and external communications.

Working closely with parliamentary groups, staff and the media, the programme will produce recommendations, strategies and plans to improve the performance of the Macedonian parliament as the central institution of democracy in the country.

Better planning, monitoring and communications will help  build citizens’ trust and, in the long term, improve the quality of democratic governance.

Launching the new partnership, President of the Assembly, Mr. Talat Xhaferi, said:

“With this Memorandum of Understanding, we renew and continue the cooperation with the UK and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. The signing of this Memorandum demonstrates commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and above everything, strengthening of the function, the role and the responsibility of the Assembly as a legislative body which is directly elected by the citizens.”

Charles Edmund Garrett, UK Ambassador to Macedonia, said:

“The UK will continue to support Macedonia in its reforms for democracy and rule of law. As long as you see NATO and EU accession as strategic goals for enhancement of your stability, security and progress, we will support you in this regard. Our countries share the same interest in theses aspects.”

The Ambassador also noted that the timing of the programme launch could not be better as it coincided with the International Day for Democracy.

Attending the launch, Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, added:

“In every country, democracy needs to be built every day, that democracy needs to be refreshed every day, and that democracy needs to be re-energised every day.  For that, we need strong, inclusive and open institutions of democracy – parliaments, judiciary, audit authorities. We also need active and engaged civil society, and an open and free media. Democracy is everyone’s responsibility”.

 (Photo: Charles Edmund Garrett, UK Ambassador to Macedonia, Talat Xhaferi, President of the Assembly of Macedonia and Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive sign memorandum of understanding.)
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WFD launches new Strategy at 25th Anniversary Conference

On 12 and 13 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new strategy to strengthen democracy across a growing global network at a conference marking 25 years of WFD activity.

The strategy commits the Foundation, sponsored by the UK Government, to expand the remit of its programmes – working across a wider range of institutions, processes, and themes – to help reform-minded actors and institutions in developing countries to transform their own democratic practices.

Democracy UK: Global Values in an Uncertain World

WFD was founded in 1992 in a period of optimism about the prospects for democracy in the post-Soviet world. Twenty-five years later, the challenges to democratic values have evolved and, on the 25th anniversary of WFD, the conference focused on what lessons the world is learning about sustaining democratic change when democratic freedoms are being squeezed.

Almost 200 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas took part in the event, held in the Foreign Office and in Parliament in London, which was opened by a video message from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and keynote speeches by:

  • Mark Field, Minister of State – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Liz McInnes, Shadow Minister – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Hanna Hopko, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Parliament of Ukraine
(Video: Message from Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, opens the WFD conference.)

Panel discussions chaired by Baroness D’Souza, Dame Margaret Hodge and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heard interventions from Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chair of Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Dr Bronwen Manby (London School of Economics), Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement), Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Hakim Benchamach, Speaker of the House of Councillors of Morocco, Nikola Dimitrov, Foreign Minister of Macedonia and Alina Rocha Menocal (Overseas Development Institute).

The results of two days of engagement on the themes of democracy and development include:

  • The launch of a new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 which will guide the development of WFD and expand our range of work to cover electoral assistance and enhanced partnership work with civil society (building on parliamentary and political party support).
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which will help strengthen electoral processes in Africa.
  • Renewed partnerships with long-standing and new partners including the UK Government (FCO and DFID), the UK parliaments, the Parliaments of Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, the Government of Macedonia, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), BBC Media Action and others.
(Photo: Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP from Jordan addresses the WFD conference on 12 September.)

WFD’s New Strategic Framework 2017-2022

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – will remain a central part of the Foundation’s mission. Following nearly three years of expansion, WFD is now delivering parliamentary programmes in over thirty countries across Africa, Europe, MENA, Asia, and Latin America, and political party programmes in dozens more.

Recognising parliaments and political parties are only part of the picture and institutional strengthening is critical but rarely sufficient to transform political systems. Lasting change requires a wide range of actors to overcome significant obstacles – political, institutional, technical, logistical, and financial – to achieve their goals.

As part of WFD’s new strategy, the Foundation intends to engage more directly with civil society and electoral and other independent institutions. WFD will help them strengthen their skills and partner with other institutions to achieve greater transparency and accountability, more credible and inclusive elections, improved policy making, citizen participation and empowerment, more inclusive representation.

Elections

In a side event during the conference, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme. The new partnership established a formal commitment to collaborate through information-sharing and development of key projects concerning Africa.

Recognising elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and trust, WFD and EISA agree there are still many challenges to overcome. The partnership will look at:

  • Providing immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions;
  • Developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process,
  • Building the ability to conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability.
(Photo: Chair of the WFD Board of Governors, Sir Henry Bellingham, Chief Executive, Anthony Smith and Executive Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Denis Kadima sign the Memorandum of Understanding.)

The Future of Democracy Support

With over 40 democracy assistance and development organisations in attendance, the second day of conference discussed the future of democracy support and provided feedback on the new WFD strategy.

Organised around six different themes (accountability and transparency, youth participation and leadership, security and stability, women’s political empowerment, political parties and elections), a ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ invited experts to highlight key challenges and ideas within these themes and the impact on broader democracy assistance.

Presentations were given on:

  • Political Parties – by Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking on behalf of all UK political parties working with WFD.
  • Security and Stability – by Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) and Chair of the European Partnership for Democracy Board.
  • Women’s Political Empowerment – by Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women
  • Youth Participation and Leadership – by Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
  • Accountability and Transparency – by James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
  • Elections – by Denis Kadima, Executive Director of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

From promoting a ‘universal’ notion of democracy, to integrating IT professionals into electoral support, the complete list of challenges, actions and ideas will inform the implementation of WFD’s Strategic Framework and provide a starting point for increased strengthening of effective, multi-party democracy around the world.

Conference proceedings

(Photo: Delegates discuss outcomes from the ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ in a parliamentary committee style session.)
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Human rights, the rule of law and global challenges to democracy

By Thomas Hughes, Independent Governor

Democracy worldwide is seemingly under increasing threat, with restrictions and repression on the rise. Well established democracies appear to be eroding their institutions and standards from within, whilst emergent democracies are failing to deliver accountability, broad participation and power-sharing. Leaders of faux-democracies have learnt how to rule with a ‘velvet fist’ to maintain an outwardly palatable veneer whilst suppressing internal opposition. Leaders of established democracies seem increasingly ready to jeopardise long-standing norms for short-term political gain.

If we cast our minds back only 20 years, the post-cold war period of 1990 to 1995 saw an explosion in democratisation, with over 120 nominally democratic countries by the turn of the century. Given this surge, the realisation that much of this progress has not been deep-rooted makes the regression more explainable. Although not an ‘end of history’ fatalist, I nevertheless believe the cards remain stacked in the favour of democracy in the long-term. Where democracy exists, it’s systems and institutions fail because individuals or groups manipulate and abuse them without accountability or recourse.

My reason for becoming an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is that it’s work to strengthen democratic institutions and political parties is crucial for reversing this downward trend. Alongside this, I believe the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law must also be central, with a focus on three areas. Firstly, closing the human rights implementation gap between international standards and national action; secondly emboldening national civil society and media; and thirdly strengthening judiciaries and legal communities.

Human rights, multilateralism and the closing implementation gap

A number of global and regional intergovernmental institutions play important roles in setting and monitoring state compliance with human rights. Among these is the United Nations Human Rights Council. When the Council was created a decade ago it was designed to be more relevant, credible and impartial than its predecessor. The Council has achieved important successes, but there is growing polarisation, as well as clear attempts by states to block or evade human rights scrutiny. The Vienna Declaration, unanimously adopted more than two decades ago, confirmed “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.” However, there remains an implementation gap between international agreements and national actions. As such, all states need to seriously pursue implementation of international human rights commitments domestically and must clearly and consistently hold one another to account for doing so.

Emboldening national civil society and media

A robust and protected civic space forms the cornerstone of accountable and responsive democratic governance. As seen by the growing prowess of civic campaigns and the colour revolutions of the past decades, civil society is growing in strength. However, according to the Carnegie Endowment, over the past three years more than 60 countries have passed or drafted laws that curtail the activity of non-governmental and civil society organisations, whilst 96 countries have taken steps to inhibit NGOs from operating at full capacity. This is being done with a ‘viral-like’ spread of new copycat laws targeting areas like finance, registration, protest, censorship and ‘anti-propaganda’ and independent media. To counter this, the rights to information, expression, protest and participation must be rigorously defended.

Strengthening judiciaries and legal communities

Legal communities and the judiciary remain a bulwark against the misuse of power. Recent examples include the East African Court of Justice, a relatively new court based in Arusha, upholding the rights of journalists in Burundi to protect the identities of their sources, and finding the country’s criminal defamation law as inconsistent with international law. In another example, in April the High Court in Kenya ruled that Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act, used to arrest and charge a number of social media users, was unconstitutional. As such, the judiciary is a cornerstone for the defence of human rights and democracy and must be respected and defended as such.

Whilst these are challenging times, the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law are essential for the creation and defence of healthy vibrant democracies.

 

(Top: Photo credit: Studio Incendo – Citizens in Hong Kong protest against proposed electoral reforms, in what became known as the “umbrella movement”

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Democracy and the role of impartial media

By Sue Inglish, Independent Governor

It is a great privilege to be asked to become an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I have been a broadcast journalist for most of my career covering elections at home and abroad and my experience has shown me that wherever you are in the world, a thriving democracy needs free, independent and impartial media.

As a producer for Channel 4 News in 1986 I was in the Philippines covering an election which pitted the corrupt and violent regime of President Ferdinand Marcos against the widow of one of his political opponents.

Benigno Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila airport as he returned to his country from exile. Cory Aquino, a woman of tiny stature and huge courage, dressed in her trademark yellow, campaigned fearlessly and drew huge crowds at her rallies.

For the international media flocking to Manila it was a great story and the eyes of the world were on the Philippines. The local media too, particularly radio, played a key role in the election.

As we filmed voters at the polling stations on election day, reports came in from election observers around the country of intimidation and blatant electoral violations by Marcos’s supporters. Despite Mrs Aquino’s undoubted popularity, Marcos was declared the winner. It seemed that dictatorship had trumped democracy and the will of the people had been ignored. But thousands took to the streets in a display of People Power. With the world’s media broadcasting every move in the drama, the US government abandoned its support for the regime, Cory Aquino was sworn in as president and Marcos and his wife, Imelda fled the country. One of the most telling images was of the crowds flocking to the presidential palace, staring in amazement at Imelda Marcos’s collection of thousands of pairs of shoes, a testament to 20 years of greed and corruption.

“For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate”

I left the country with a certificate proclaiming me, along with hundreds of other foreign journalists, a “hero of the Philippine People’s Revolution”. The course of democracy there has not been easy in the intervening years but in 1986, there was no doubt that the Philippine people were the real heroes.

Twenty years later as head of the BBC’s political programmes, I was responsible for political, parliamentary and election coverage. The BBC’s role is to provide all its audiences on television, radio and online with impartial, accurate and comprehensive news and information.

Impartiality in all its news coverage, particularly political journalism, is at the heart of the BBC’s values. Viewers expect the BBC and other broadcasters to examine robustly the policies of the political parties helping them to understand the complex issues of our time. Audience research carried out during the current general election, shows that the BBC is still the most trusted source of news and information.

In 2010 during the UK General Election campaign, for the first time, the leaders of the three largest political parties agreed to take part in three live televised debates. The programmes were watched by a total of 22 million people and were particularly popular among younger viewers and people who usually do not watch traditional political output. Viewers said they were better informed about the key issues as a result.

For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate. In an era of social media and so-called fake news, now more than ever, people need trusted sources of news and information.

I am looking forward to bringing my experience as a journalist to the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in strengthening democracies around the world.

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By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive

UK general election

April brought us the news of a snap general election here in the UK on 8 June. As the leading organisation providing insight into the UK democratic experience this is a great opportunity for our friends and partners to witness our electoral process in action.

The timing of the election means new dates for our anniversary conference: Democracy UK – Global Values in an Uncertain World, which will now take place on 12-13 September in the Foreign Office and Parliament here in London.

Jordan acts to protect women

This month we have also learnt how WFD efforts in the Middle East on ending discriminatory laws have led the government of Jordan to propose amendments to Article 308 of the penal code which protects perpetrators of rape from punishment if they marry the victim.

We are very pleased to observe this development and will redouble efforts to support reform of similar laws across the region in partnership with the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries for Combating Violence Against Women.

With support from the Coalition, MPs in Iraq have already put forward proposals to amend sexual violence laws in the country. WFD will continue to support initiatives to protect and empower women throughout the region.

New case studies from WFD programmes published

Today, we publish case studies from our programmes in Iraq, Kenya, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. This is a small sample from the 70 programmes we have implemented in over 40 countries over the course of 2016-2017. We will unveil further results in the coming months and during the Democracy UK conference in September.

The reports detail how, over the last 12 months we have:

Democracy UK conference (London 12-13 September)

This recent work illustrates the type of investment that WFD makes in strengthening democracies around the world. The payback on these investments can be slow but is critical in building stable democratic institutions in our partner countries.  The contribution from UK parliaments, political parties and others is invaluable.

These themes will be central to WFD’s two-day conference where policy-makers, academics and partners will debate how we can sustain democratic culture and practice at a time when democratic freedoms are being squeezed around the world.

The conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I hope will be a fitting way to mark the International Day of Democracy on 15 September, with contributions from government, opposition and analysts, as well as former and current Governors and friends of WFD.

We are currently in the process of sending out revised invitation letters and agenda. If you would like more details about our conference, please email events@wfd.org

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Supporting effective subnational government in Burma

Westminster Foundation for Democracy is committed to supporting the consolidation of democracy in Burma at both the national and regional level. Whilst our programme (in partnership with the UK House of Commons) with the Hluttaw in Naypidaw goes from strength to strength, our team in Burma looks to develop a complementary programme at the State and Regional level.

To ensure the programme delivers local government in line with citizens’ expectations and as outlined in the 2008 constitution, the team conducted a scoping visit to two States and two Regions earlier this year to determine how WFD can support the respective Hluttaws as they too develop their institutional capacity.

Although logistics and time did not enable the team to visit all 14 States and Regions the team were exposed to a range of different contexts and challenges. WFD was warmly welcomed in Sagaing and Magwe Regions, and the States of Kayah and Shan, all of which present a unique context for delivering parliamentary support.

Applying context to programme development

Sagaing is the largest of seven regions, located in the north-west part of the country which is predominantly ethnic Burman, but other minorities such as Zomi and Naga (forming the Naga Self-Administered Zone) reside within the region. It is also the second largest sub-national parliament in Burma after Shan.

Magway is the second largest of the seven regions and though part of central Burma, it is considered remote due to the lack of good transportation. The population is majority Burman with very small numbers of ethnic minorities such as Chin, Rakhine, Karen, Shan and Anglo-Burmese. Shan State, which covers roughly a quarter of the country’s territory, with the largest Hluttaw in Burma is also the most politically complex.

The Shan people are Burma’s biggest ethnic minority, but the growth of other minorities has led to the creation of 4 Self- Administered Zones which provide a certain amount of autonomy for the Danu, Pa-O, Kokang, Pa Laung, and the Wa people. Although small and mountainous Kayah State is no less complex with a number of different ethnic groups although the Karenni are the largest.

The programme will ensure an inclusive approach so that the interests of each ethnic group are represented within the Regional or State Hluttaw and also how in turn these Hluttaws interact with the national legislature in Naypidaw to deliver real change for citizens across Burma.

Next steps for developing the sub-national programme

WFD’s planned involvement with the States and Regional Hluttaws meets the needs of the changing circumstances in Burma as they adapt to the new political dispensation. The process of providing for Regional and State Hluttaws goes back to the 2008 Constitution that allocates a considerable amount of responsibility in the provision of services as well as in economic development, tourism and the environment to the state and regional level.

As new institutions, with newly elected Members, WFD wants to support the Hluttaws to fulfil their responsibilities. WFD will work closely with the Union Parliament, with which WFD signed an MoU in November 2016. Using the full breadth of the UK democratic experience, including the process of devolution, we work closely with the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to support countries transitioning to democracy. This experience has been utilised in our work with sub-national assemblies in Iraq, Kenya and Pakistan and we hope to bring the same experience to the programme in Burma.

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