Interview: WFD’s Nejib Jeridi on the Tunisia National Dialogue Quartet’s Nobel Peace Prize win

Nejib Jeridi, WFD’s Country Representative in Tunisia, was interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme. Here’s a transcript of the full interview with presenter Mark Mardell; or listen in to the version broadcast on the programme from around 22 minutes in.

Does the Quartet deserve this prestigious award?

Yes. The effort that they have made and the impact that they have had on the Tunisian transition towards democracy is so big that they deserve it.

What have they actually done? How did they operate?

It was an initiative they took in 2011 –  a moment where Tunisia was risking the failure of its process of transition towards democracy. In 2013 had faced a difficult moment. At that time there were difficulties and a crisis of legitimacy in Tunisia. They intervened at the right moment with an initiative to bring all the political actors together and to try to find a consensus solution – and they have succeeded to do so.

So they stepped in at a critical moment and they represent lawyers, big business, union?

It [the Quartet] is made by the four most influential and legitimate civil society organisations in Tunisia and they just stepped in to help legitimate institutions to find a solution for the problems.

So they stepped in at a critical moment. How did they do that? What did they do – bang people’s heads together, or what?

The initiative was to invite the key political parties – those who are represented at that moment in the constituent assembly; those who were not represented but still influential in the Tunisian political scene; then, in addition to themselves the four civil society organisations; and to come together and sit on a roundtable and try to reach a consensus in an informal way.

And how is the state of Tunisian democracy at the moment?

At the moment huge steps have been taken. The constitution has been adopted with a vast majority of 200 out of 216 MPs.  Three elections – the two rounds of presidential elections and the legislative election has been done fairly and successfully and the establishment of a new parliament, the election of a president for the republic and new government which is now making the rest of the steps that have to be done in order to make the transition towards democracy succeed.

And are the Quartet still active?

Not as they were before the adoption of the constitution, but they are still there.  They meet for time to time to find solutions for some problems and to try to support the achievement of consensus and I think they still have a role to play in Tunisia.

How are people reacting to the news in Tunisia?

I’m in London currently, I’m not in Tunisia to know how people are really reacting.  I guess people will be happy with this – they will see this as a recognition of the efforts that have been done, for the peaceful transition, and for the Tunisian model of reaching consensus. We have avoided bringing problems to the streets.

What were the problems? It was quite a violent time.

Actually in 2013, Tunisia has lived through some very difficult moments.  At that time we had two political assassinations. There was a dispute over the legitimacy of the constituent assembly and the government in place at that moment – a constitutional misunderstanding about the legitimacy of the constituent assembly.  There were some people that were afraid that what happened in Egypt at that time would be duplicated in Tunisia and at that’s why I said in the beginning that the Quartet stepped in at the right moment to prevent that to happen and to keep the solution political.

When we look across at what was known as the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the one place where it seems to have worked out well.

And I think this is what justified this Nobel prize award – I mean part of the credit for this peaceful transition comes back to the Quartet in addition of course to the other political actors.  But the Quartet also has the merit of bringing these two political parties together and helping them to reach a consensus.

For press enquiries about the Nobel Peace Prize or on WFD’s work, please contact Head of Communications Alex Stevenson on alex dot stevenson @wfd.org

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Sizing up Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Council: ‘WFD’s analysis shows the real picture’

As Kyrgyzstan’s new Parliament settles into its work, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has briefed new MPs on the state of the factions system – and the positive prospects for the years ahead.

“Kyrgyzstan,” says Akylbek Sarbagyshov, WFD’s Programme Manager in the country, “is an island of democracy in an authoritarian ocean.” Its Parliament has come a long way since the First Convocation met 20 years ago. The slow emergences of a genuine system of factions leapt forwards after the 2010 constitution, as our analysis – prepared by local experts Gulmira Mamatkerimov, Kurmanbek Turdaliev and Medet Tulegenov – outlines.  “For the first time in the history of independent Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz parliamentary system, the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council) became the subject of power,” it concludes. The fifth Parliament saw a functioning opposition that worked hard to hold the Government to account. “It can be said with confidence that not one of the previous convocations of Parliament has been put in conditions of such increased demands and expectations by society,” our analysis added, “as well as ongoing stringent monitoring by civil society organizations.”


Gulmira Mamatkerimova – one of the researchers

It was the fast-moving situation in Kyrgyzstan – there were four coalitions in the last parliament alone – which prompted WFD to conduct baseline research at the start of the Sixth Convocation. Our analysis was presented to Members of Parliament, the leaders and staff of the faction secretariats, INGOs and civil society organizations at the Park Hotel in Bishkek on 11 September. “We are the first ones to this kind of research,” Akylbek explains. “We did a thorough analysis of the fifth convocation of the parliament, and wanted to use this for an induction for the next one.” The research sought to establish the legal framework around how the Jogorku Kenesh operates – and what the reality of the situation is right now.

The analysis contained some challenging findings for the Kyrgyzstan Parliament. Factions still have little understanding of their roles and functions in a parliamentary system. There isn’t a strong link between a party’s manifesto and its behaviour in coalitions, and parliament continues to bear many hallmarks of a presidential majoritarian system. The opposition in parliament lacks the capacity it needs to provide really forceful scrutiny of the well-resourced majority coalition’s activities.

These findings were met with approval by those who heard them on 11 September. “I agree that the analysis shows the real picture on the factions and its secretariats,” Ulugbek Kochkorov MP said. “It’s important to develop and integrate mechanisms of cooperation between Parliament and civil society organisations.”

Member of the Parliament – Mr. Ulugbek Kochkorov

Having identified these challenges, WFD believes it can address the problem. In the 2010-15 parliament our work focused on improving committee hearings in the regions. “Now we are going to strengthen faction activities,” Akylbek says. “We are going to introduce their offices to the Westminster system.” By engaging with new MPs at the start of the parliament, it’s hoped they will be keen to accept our proposals. “We are on the same page together, right from the beginning.”

In the coming months and years, WFD will work with the secretariats of the factions to help boost their effectiveness. A focus on communications and public relations, the development of reporting mechanisms and work to better link up the electorate with the factions representing them will all feature in our activities. “Things may change with the new convocation if the secretariats have a strong capacity and can be more efficient,” Marat Tairov, head of the Ata Meken faction secretariat, said. “That is why they need induction training.”

Head of Ata Meken faction secretariat, Marat Tairov

Kyrgyzstan sums up what WFD does best: helping parties develop their capabilities in a parliamentary context. For Akylbek, who has long been a tireless advocate of the need for engagement in his country, praise for WFD’s work means a lot. “I didn’t give up, I wanted to demonstrate how important this is,” he says. “I am passionate about this.” Providing this kind of baseline research as a precursor to meaningful and targeted programme activities shows that WFD is “on the right path” and can achieve “small but real things” in helping improve the state of democracy. Akylbek says getting recognition is rather satisfying, too. “When I see MPs coming up to us and saying ‘this analysis is very important’, I feel really good.”

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Promoting women’s and girls’ rights in Uganda: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Ending sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality in Uganda isn’t easy. But by helping local leaders and civil society organisations bring women together through the country’s first ever Women’s Parliament, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping gather momentum behind the campaign for real change.

In recent years, Uganda has taken some big steps to implement the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It’s passed a raft of legislation in recent years to that end. But as we’ve heard, implementation is proving difficult.

“Most women have been blocked by culture,” Olive Gidugu, a union activist based in the Sironko District, told us. Their education is neglected during childhood because “in our culture, girls are prepared to be housewives”, she explained. Illiteracy in adult life is coupled with a culture that demands, in Olive’s words, that “if a man comes to you, you can’t deny them”.


Nearly 200 women participated in the first ever Women’s Parliament in Kampala

We’ve heard real-life experiences of a whole range of problems: unfairness to women in the a corrupt legal system, denial of access to and control of resources, limited participation in decision-making, and many others. Looking back at the two three-hour plenary sessions of the first Women’s Parliament, Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said she was “touched” by the story she heard of the teacher who had to give up her job because of sexual harassment. Milly Molly Omach of Oyam district recalled the story of a woman who left her alcoholic husband. “He was very drunk and hanged himself. The day after, the in-laws blamed her. The culture here always blames the women. The women who want to help her don’t know what to do as they are not aware of their rights.”

The consequences of these attitudes are far-reaching, as the statistics show. Sixty-eight per cent of married women aged 15-49 in Uganda have experienced domestic violence. In the Eastern region, 85% were found to be aware of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010, but there awere reports of people avoiding arrest despite continuing the practice. Property ownership is also problematic: Furthermore, 90% reported that the clan leadership dominates decision-making over property ownership – so when land is distributed to sons after a death in the family, for example, the views of mothers and daughters are largely ignored.


Left to right: Ms Rosette Sayson Meya (EU); Hon. Jovah Kamateka (chairperson, human rights committee); Hon. Safia Juuku Nalule (national representative for women with disabilities)

Changing this means bringing people together. And that is what happened on 7 July 2015, when over 150 women from across Uganda gathered in Kampala for the Women’s Parliament. The project, a bid to create an all-inclusive platform for dialogue on gender issues, is part of WFD’s EU-funded 30-month programme to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Uganda’s northern and eastern regions.

It aims, as WFD’s programme manager Dorine Lakot puts it, to “increase the political discourse on women’s rights and issues”. Her goal was to make the Parliament “a vehicle for sharing good practice on local implementation of legislation with all other regions in Uganda, and to also feed into future policy issues and legislative amendments”.


Dorine Lakot (second from right, front row) with Women’s Parliament participants

As the Women’s Parliament progressed some striking stories emerged. Betty Bwamika praised a speaker who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was nine. “She was able to stand and talk in front of everyone – it’s [speaking out like this is] very important for her to get hope for her children.” Another contributor explained she had become pregnant while in school, but her parents had put her back in school after she gave birth. “That’s inspiring and rare,” one attendee said. Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, spoke of her own efforts to expose a fraudster who had stolen millions from the government. “I was pregnant and scared to lead this investigation… I escaped some strong threats against me,” she said. “I resisted and won the case for the government, but it was hard.”


Outside the Parliament building in Kampala

It’s hoped that by raising these issues in a single forum, their prominence in the debate across Uganda will spread.   “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika said afterwards. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.” It’s not just a handful of delegates who can follow her lead, either. Around 200 stakeholders including legislators, development partners, journalists, academics and representatives of regional parliaments and central government, among others, gathered at the Women’s Parliament in July to hear these stories. They heard calls for more “sensitization” to the issues. They heard calls for women to gain more financial independence and for more girls to stay at school; currently just one in three girls manage to complete four years of secondary education. And they heard warnings about the dangers of women leaving Uganda’s poorer districts for work, only to find themselves trafficked to China or elsewhere.


Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, presided over the session

Increasing the political debate around women’s and girls’ rights  is a key goal of the civil society groups whose work WFD’s programme is supporting – particularly the Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) organisation and the Gender Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (Gender REACH) organisations. The Women’s Parliament also supports the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association, a parliamentary caucus of women MPs. WFD is working closely with its staff to help it become a critical generator of political debate, oversight and scrutiny.

These organisations are steadily growing in confidence. “Where we have been implementing through WFD/EU funding,” explains Beatrice Chelangat, director of Gender REACH, “people are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.” The gradual spread of understanding about the UN CEDAW convention is being facilitated by the activity of the Women’s Parliament and WFD’s broader programme in Uganda.


A young contributor makes her point during the plenary session

Attention is now shifting to the Ugandan Parliament, which campaigners hope will accept the recommendations of the Women’s Parliament. An important message from the July event is that more activity is needed at the It is seeking more activity at the regional level, where capacity-building, coaching and mentoring efforts will be most effective – especially when that work takes place in cooperation with local civil society groups like GWED-G in Gulu. Its executive director, Pamela Angwech, says: “We’ve taught local leaders to empower them to become more active on this matter.” Gulu is quickly moving up the regional rankings as a result of implementing the Domestic Violence Act 2010.

Gulu’s  success shows why many of those at the Women’s Parliament are now seeking support for their cause at lower levels of governance. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots,” Asio Rose Mary declares. “This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believe they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change are being encouraged.

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Improving parliamentary performance in Pakistan

By WFD’s programme manager Ali Imran in Lahore

WFD’s programme ‘Deepening democratic engagement in the province of Punjab’ was designed to improve the effectiveness of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab – Pakistan’s largest province in terms of population and a major contributor to the national economy. By working with the Assembly’s members and secretariat staff the programme has contributed to a greater understanding of legislative, oversight and representative roles.  This has assisted the parliament to pass legislation after devolution – a highly significant development in Pakistan’s recent history when the constitution was amended to allow for greater distribution of powers to the provinces.

Delivering democratic reforms

The programme has delivered reform initiatives to improve governance, including the Assembly’s rules of procedure, making standing committees more effective, shaping policy and passing legislation that protects the rights of women and children.  There has also been progress in more cooperative relations between parliament and civil society.  In addition the programme benefited from ‘south on south’ engagement with parliamentarians gaining insights into how counterparts in other countries have made progress on issues of mutual interest such as greater representation of women in politics.

Ownership was an important consideration in designing the programme which required close consultation with the Speaker’s chamber and the Assembly’s secretariat.

Improving parliamentary performance

The timing of the programme was critical as it coincided with Pakistan’s first ever transition of power from one civilian government to another through the electoral process.  The greater devolution of power to the provinces created new opportunities for better governance of citizens in these provinces.  Welcome as these democratic developments were – they created clear need for support: a striking 55% of newly elected members had no previous parliamentary experience.  The programme succeeded in reaching more than 100 newly elected members through its training sessions which covered topics such as the Assembly’s rules of procedure and parliamentary techniques including questions, resolution and adjournment motions.  Once this understanding was developed the programme focused on other key areas such as budget analysis and developing a deeper understanding of devolution.

South-South engagement

In addition the Punjab Assembly members benefited from gaining insights into how other parliaments and politicians have made progress on issues such as the greater representation of women in politics and engagement with civil society.  WFD’s programmes in the Middle East enabled us to work with Iraqi politicians who shared their experience on forging stronger links between parliament and civil society organisations.  Similarly, a caucus of women members of the Punjab Assembly was able to benefit from the experiences of their counterparts in the Jordanian Parliament and explore how they have tackled adversarial debate to fight for greater legislation to protect women and children. This resulted in a particularly rewarding development when a member of the Punjab Assembly’s women caucus presented a resolution demanding stricter action against child marriage on her return from Jordan.  Earlier this month the government passed a bill to reform existing child marriage law.

                                                                 Britain’s democratic history and the ‘Westminster brand’

Members of the Punjab Assembly also benefited from Britain’s democratic history and were able to find out about parliamentary techniques deployed by their counterparts in the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons.  The concept of institutional accountability through the scrutiny of departmental standing committees was not only appreciated but also resulted in discussions about how to best reform the Punjab Assembly’s standing committees.  The work of Britain’s regional assemblies proved informative in enabling Pakistani MPs observe at first hand the work of the select committees, parliamentary procedures and how powers had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and regional assemblies.  Peer-to-peer dialogue was invaluable in advancing this understanding.

                                     Towards greater representation – from aspiration to reality 

Another key area of WFD’s work was in forging cooperative relationships between civil society and the Assembly which resulted in tripartite discussions between MPs, Assembly staff and civil society organisations.  This enabled a range of organisations to really develop their understanding of parliamentary work and seize opportunities for greater advocacy in political life.  In sum the programme resulted in reform initiatives and debates that demonstrate tangible evidence of improving parliamentary performance in Pakistan.  Although the programme is scheduled to close this month its work demonstrates a clear case for continuing to support Pakistan’s fragile democracy and turn more hopes into reality.

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