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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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 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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What does power asymmetry mean for decentralisation?

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

An organic milk factory in the rural heartland of Ukraine may seem an unusual place to contemplate the impact of power asymmetries. However, on the way to a workshop on the local experience of decentralisation, I witnessed a sense of physical exclusion that was connected to a feeling of political disempowerment among participants.

This location provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the forms of power asymmetry identified in the 2017 World Development Report: exclusion, capture and clientelism.

We were greeted by the local mayor, newly elected following the process of community amalgamation that was the subject of our visit. He was clearly proud of his town but also acutely aware of its limitations and challenges. There were ambitions among the local council to use decentralisation as a means of reducing the impact of exclusion, but this would not be a simple endeavour. Early evidence from surveys in Ukraine suggest that initial reforms are improving service delivery and increasing citizen trust in local government. Yet, despite this progress, the process of decentralisation remains incomplete, with key legislation stalled in the national parliament.

The main stumbling block for decentralisation in Ukraine is clearly the conflict in the east. The process has now become linked with the implementation of the Minsk II Agreement, meaning that action in any direction is bound to alienate either the Russians or significant sections of the Ukrainian public who don’t wish to see any concessions made to the separatist regions. Below these context-specific headlines, however, the political manoeuvrings around the rollout of existing decentralisation legislation are all too familiar and illustrate two further elements of power asymmetry explored by the WDR17: capture and clientelism.

There is a temptation among development actors to perceive decentralisation as principally a technical exercise, to be addressed through the provision of capacity-building. Ukraine’s experience suggests another approach is needed. While there is undoubtedly a need for expertise in local structures to manage the new financial and service provision responsibilities, the main obstacles to the institutionalisation of decentralised governance are largely political. Different sides of the debate believe that the other is trying to capture the decentralisation process. Proponents of decentralisation see the government’s plan to appoint ‘prefects’ as local executives as a power grab by the central state, designed to undermine local power. By contrast, critics of decentralisation argue that local elites will or have already captured the existing financial decentralisation process and are undermining efforts to reduce inequality and exclusion. Reconciling these competing visions will require political, as well as technical, support.

But this is complicated by the kinds of clientelism highlighted in the WDR17. At the local level, Ukrainian politics is dominated by prominent individuals who shop around for a political party with which to campaign, based on likelihood of victory not ideology. As such, the relationship for constituents operates at a personal rather than party institutional level, facilitating the formation of patron-client linkages. Many of these emerging leaders are likely to play a prominent role in the 2019 elections. At the national level, politics is immensely expensive, not only excluding vast swathes of the population but also distorting the incentives of politicians once in office. A WFD report on the cost of politics in Ukraine found that while the situation was improving from its nadir in 2012, there is still a long way to go. In the past, the Ukrainian legislature has passed a modest number of relatively well thought-out laws that were supposed to prevent the spread of political corruption in the country. Unfortunately, many of them were never implemented.

This is a common theme in Ukraine. The parliamentary culture is very legalistic, with even minor changes to process or policy requiring legislative action. WFD’s recent work providing research and evidence to the parliamentary committee on local self-government is likely to result in a flurry of bills; the extent to which they will be implemented in is less clear.

So what about decentralisation in Ukraine in the coming years? The mood on the ground is mixed. Local and international actors are pleased with the progress made on fiscal decentralisation and the community amalgamation process that has begun. There are concerns, however, that even these gains are under threat as the 2019 elections approach. As long as the outstanding constitutional amendments remain stalled, the sustainability of Ukraine’s reforms seems tenuous. Those looking to move the process forward will need to operate within the tight confines of international diplomacy dictated by the Minsk II Agreement. But they will also have to consider the power asymmetries that operate beneath this top-level, whose influence is likely to play a far greater role in determining whether even the existing decentralisation reforms will last.

 

(Photo: embroidery festival and organic milk factory in a local community outside of Kyiv, Ukraine)
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Engaging sceptics : parliamentary communications in a post-truth era

Anikka Weerasinghe, WFD Research Associate and former Head of Media Relations, UK House of Commons

With a minority government in power and Brexit looming on the horizon, for the next two years, all eyes will be on Westminster. Renewed public interest in parliament will accentuate its responsibility to communicate with, and engage citizens in, its work.

As part of our broader open parliaments and democratic space agenda, WFD has partnered with the House of Commons for a research project to explore what effective parliamentary communications looks like. Over the next six months we will be working together to add to the body of work on the impact of parliamentary communications to provide insight and observations for policymakers inside and outside the UK.

Increased interest presents a positive opportunity for parliamentary engagement. The rise in voter turnout and use of social media in the general election last month hints at increased appetite from the public to know what parliament is doing, but still the perception remains that more must be done to address the relatively low levels of political engagement and trust.

Was there ever a golden age of politics?

In part, as a result of the 2009 Expenses Scandal, the UK Parliament has put considerable effort into increasing transparency, public engagement, education and communications. Yet many wrongly assume that there was a golden age of politics before the Scandal where an unquestioning public revered their politicians and democratic institutions. In actuality, trust in the UK Parliament has held at roughly the same level for the past decade, with the Expenses Scandal acting as only a blip in the public’s attitudes towards their representatives.

“Faced with increased public scepticism, apathy and rapid technological change, parliaments around the world are increasingly interested in engaging citizens in the democratic process and are asking searching questions about what really works”

Studies from the UK and abroad reveal that citizens’ feelings about their democracy and the individual actors and institutions that make up their constituent parts are varied, as are their causes and effects. For parliaments in particular the literature is even less revealing. There are only a handful of studies that examine citizens’ trust and satisfaction with parliaments, but even these cannot tell us the full picture. While policymakers often make assumptions about what a healthy democracy looks like, if the public has revealed anything to us over the past 18 months, it is we cannot readily assume to know what they want. We simply do not have sufficient evidence to solve the major ills of democratic decline, and this makes the role of communications professionals who are tasked with the job of fixing this reputational gap, incredibly challenging.

Countering political malaise

Unfortunately, the challenges of low political engagement are not unique to the UK. Faced with increased public scepticism, apathy and rapid technological change, parliaments around the world are increasingly interested in engaging citizens in the democratic process and are asking searching questions about what really works. As discussed at the recent Global Legislative Openness Conference in Kyiv, parliaments are traditionally slow-moving institutions and uptake of new methods of communications to increase trust with the public has been slow to pay dividends.

In part, this may be because many assume that the traditional communications approaches that apply to corporations, governments or non-profit organisations will also work for parliaments. While there are valuable lessons to learn from other professional communicators, parliaments are complex stakeholder environments with competing, politically nuanced communications agendas. Furthermore, the nature of legislatures means that there are a limited number of similar institutions from which colleagues can share good practice or learn from one another.

“This means changing how parliaments communicate, moving away from the passive sharing of information to a more active approach that puts citizens at the heart of their work”

Parliaments, however, cannot simply wait until the prevailing winds tilt in their favour. Instead, they must find new ways of building trust. This means changing how parliaments communicate, moving away from the passive sharing of information to a more active approach that puts citizens at the heart of their work, a trend that is clearly growing and where the UK Parliament is a global leader. Crucially, it also requires further research to better understand the conditions under which citizens trust or do not trust their parliaments and what factors influence this behaviour, positively or negatively.

The challenges facing our political institutions are perhaps the greatest in a generation, and the public needs to trust and engage with their democracy more now than ever before. Public sector communicators generally, and parliamentary communicators in particular, need as much support as possible to tackle the problem of low political engagement. The first step in addressing this growing challenge is to widen the evidence-base and enhance discussions with practitioners in this field in order to provide the best outcomes for the public to participate in their democracy.

 

(Photo: Students from England and Wales take part in a learning event about democracy in the UK House of Lords © Parliamentary Copyright (Open Parliament Licence v3.0) Image: Mark Dimmock)
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Re-thinking governance for development

Graeme Ramshaw, WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, participated in the European Partnership for Democracy launch event of the World Development Report 2017  in Brussels last week. Here are his takeaways on what this means for democracy support.

The World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report “Governance and the Law”, encourages its readers to rethink governance for development. The authors are upfront in admitting that very little of its content is new and draws heavily on the efforts of those who have been arguing for a more political approach to development for more than a decade. But that the World Bank has taken the leap in endorsing a thinking and working politically framework is highly significant. For institutions like EU, the principal audience for the launch event last week, the opinion of the World Bank carries weight in ways that we as smaller implementers do not.

For those of us already converted to the political approach to development, the report offers a useful framework for challenging commonly held assumptions around the challenges of institutional reform. How many times have we heard these phrases?: ‘the reform failed because it didn’t follow best practices,’ ‘the reform failed because of a lack of capacity,’ or ‘the reform failed because of a lack of political will.’ These are the go-to excuses for many unsuccessful governance programmes and are littered throughout the copious evaluations of this sector. But how explanatory are they?

According to the WDR, not very. These statements do little to interrogate the underlying causes of stalled reform efforts and paper over serious gaps in our understanding of problems and our perceived solutions to them. By allowing ourselves to stop our analysis at this level, we are depriving ourselves of the real learning and depth of engagement that might bring about real change in future programmes.

To remedy this, the WDR suggests three principles for rethinking governance for development:

  • Think not only about the form of institutions, but also about their functions.

  • Think not only about capacity-building, but also about power asymmetries.

  • Think not only about the rule of law, but also about the role of law.

The WDR’s assertion that function matters more than form, in many ways is intuitive. In nature, form generally follows function, yet we, as development practitioners, have laboured for years on the premise that function follows form, particularly in parliamentary strengthening. This WDR asks why ineffective policies persist; a useful corollary might be why ineffective approaches to institutional development persist. For the democracy assistance community, the answer is likely to be one of the following:

Form is simpler than function: We don’t have an ideal parliament in terms of function; there is too much variation in how effective parliaments around the world conduct their business. What we do have are models of what effective parliaments/parties look like. This ‘good form’ is used as a proxy for ‘good function’ to reduce complexity.

“Form is simpler than function: We don’t have an ideal parliament in terms of function”

‘Best practice’ is more measurable/predictable: Work with parliaments and political parties is already viewed with scepticism by many in the development field, particularly in some donor agencies. Being able to present ‘best practice’ provides some reassurance that we can justify our programming and be held accountable for its performance in the context of heavy scrutiny of aid.

Nevertheless, the WDR argues that to see improvements in policies/outcome we need to change people’s behaviour. Rather than view institutions as monolithic entities, organisations like WFD should conceive of them as a conglomeration of individual actors, each with their interests, assumptions, and incentives. Change is likely to come not in transformational bursts but in hundreds of tiny shifts in how individuals think and behave. This is a welcome statement from an institution like the World Bank and validates a lot of what democracy assistance organisations have been arguing for some time. Incremental change is sustainable change.

So, how should WFD and others respond to these recommendations?

The WDR suggests three functions that institutions should master: commitment, coordination, and cooperation. These resonate with a lot of what WFD has highlighted in our theory of change:

  • Commitment – This is about building relationships, creating environment conducive to change. WFD has put this at the heart of its work for a long time, investing its relationships with parliaments and political parties; our new monitoring and evaluation tools now provide opportunities for these activities to be captured more rigorously.
  • Coordination – This is about changing expectations across institutions and individuals: change is the new normal. Parliaments, in particular, have a certain amount of inertia about them. Some new planning methods that WFD is piloting create opportunities for parliamentary leaderships to think creatively about the change they want to see. Our focus on bringing different groups together through networks and communities of practice also helps build momentum for change.
  • Cooperation – The goal of institutional reform is to induce voluntary compliance, encouraging scale up of change out of direct beneficiaries. WFD’s experience is that parliaments and parties respond best to peer learning and learning by doing. We have been working on mentorship programmes that link MPs and political party leaders with counterparts elsewhere. Following this up through alumni networks encourages these participants to share their experience more broadly.

What the World Bank’s WDR is proposing is not revolutionary. The Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice has long been championing a programming model that emphasises process and function. But if we apply the WDR’s logic on reform to changing development practice, this report represents a rallying point for progress toward coordination and cooperation around a political approach to governance work.

Prioritising function over form requires a change in programming for many democracy support organisations. Capacity-driven models, while remaining part of the toolkit, can no longer be the default option when designing interventions.  Rather we must move toward more adaptive styles that look to improve function by whatever means, in whatever form that emerges.

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Why does research on democracy support neglect success?

Susan Dodsworth, Research Fellow – University of Birmingham 

If we focus too much on examples of failure, how can we learn to succeed?

This question sparked debate on 9 June, at a ‘Policy Day’ hosted by the University of Birmingham’s International Development Department (IDD). The Policy Day featured research from the Political Economy of Democracy Promotion Project – a collaboration between IDD and Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).

On the day, Duncan Green – a Senior Strategic Advisor to Oxfam – pointed out that the solution to getting researchers and practitioners to work better together is not always more research. I agree with Duncan’s argument that practitioners may often benefit more from some kind of ‘institutional memory support,’ than new research products. However, I also think there are questions to be asked about where academic research tends to focus, and how that might limit the utility of that research to policy makers. Specifically, we need to be wary of the tendency to focus on failure, and pay more attention to cases of success.

Caryn Peiffer, a Research Fellow at IDD, dealt with this in her presentation on anti-corruption initiatives – pointing out that research tends to focus on why such initiatives have failed. In contrast, her project on ‘Islands of Integrity’ is deliberately engineered to explain success, focussing on institutions that have made a surprising degree of progress in implementing anti-corruption reforms. As Caryn pointed out, it’s worth paying attention to these ‘positive outliers’ because they may help policy makers to design better interventions in the future.

This struck a chord because – just like research on anti-corruption – research on democracy support often centres on explaining why things went wrong, or just failed to have any impact at all. There are several reasons for this. For a start, academics worry they’ll undermine their credibility if they look like ‘cheerleaders’ for policy makers.  There are also more fundamental reasons grounded in methodological concerns. Academic ‘best practice’ is to avoid selecting cases on the basis of their outcomes (the ‘dependent variable’), but this sometimes creates problems. When dealing with something like democracy support – where the difficulty of the task makes success rare – this means we look at failure far more often than we look at success.

This has been a big issue in research on closing civil society space. Governments around the world – some already quite authoritarian, some less so – are increasingly using a wide variety of tactics to restrict, control and harass civil society organizations, particularly those seeking to improve the quality of democracy in their countries. So far, most research on this topic has focussed on cases like Russia, Egypt and Ethiopia, where efforts to defend that space have clearly failed. This goes some way to explaining why we’re still struggling to develop sustainable, long-term interventions that ‘get ahead of the curve’ (a problem that Richard Youngs recently pointed out in a review for the European Parliament).

Our project’s next policy paper for WFD – which we’ll be launching in Brussels this autumn – will tackle this problem head-on, paying more to cases in which international and domestic actors have worked together to persuade parliamentarians to defend civil society. This will not only ensure we’re getting the full picture, it will make our findings more valuable to policy makers. It’s useful to be told what not to do, but – ultimately – it’s far more useful to have advice about what to do instead.

 

(Photo: Democracy success story: following the 2011 Tunisian revolution, the country held the first direct presidential election in 2014 © Aya Chebbi (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence))
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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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Access to politics: Cost as a barrier

Encouraging broader political participation has been a cornerstone of international democracy support since its early days.

This has involved working to reduce barriers to entry to politics often based on gender, age, ethnicity, and other contextual factors. Over the past decade, however, an emergent barrier that has received less attention is the cost of politics.

The more expensive a political system is, the less accessible it becomes, and therefore the less representative and accountable. And the global evidence suggests that the costs for individuals moving from private life to public office are increasing, sometimes substantially. This means those with limited access to resources, such as the poor and many women and youth, cannot participate in the political process.

Moreover, in a country where the cost of politics is high, candidates pay large amounts of money in exchange for their constituents’ support and, in many cases, incur great amounts of debt to cover their expenses. Once in office, many will be tempted to take advantage of their access to state resources to pay their debts and, eventually, to finance their reelection – thus spiraling a vicious cycle of corruption.

To address the problem of the increasing cost of politics, countries need to examine their political systems and bring about the necessary changes through cross-party consensus. This is unlikely to happen unless stakeholders find means to break the pattern of incentives for candidates to spend vast amounts of money to get elected and maintain their seats once in office.

Given the detrimental consequences a high cost of politics can have on the democratic development of a country, WFD wants to contribute to addressing this problem through a three-staged approach:

  1. Conducting robust research on the drivers of the increasing cost of politics and encouraging dialogue among relevant stakeholders to discuss findings and conclusions
  2. Supporting multiple cross-party working groups to agree on what changes can be made in the political system to create greater affordability, transparency and accountability
  3. Providing flexible support to political parties, parliaments and executive bodies in the implementation of reforms necessary to address the causes of the increasing cost of politics
(Photo: Campaigning for President Magufuli’s 2015 win in Tanzania)

WFD is currently working on the first stage of this long-term strategy. After doing background studies in 2016 on the cost of politics in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, and Ukraine, WFD is now conducting a six-month long primary research study on the cost of politics in Ghana.

WFD is implementing this project with funding from DFID’s Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) Initiative and with the assistance of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD). The study seeks to understand how the incentives and constraints that shape the behavior of constituents, political parties, candidates, and sitting MPs in Ghana before, during and after election periods can help explain the increase in the cost of politics in the country and inform strategies to develop a more affordable and accountable political system.

The research study will include survey questionnaires with 300 parliamentary candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, as well as key-informant interviews with political party representatives, traditional chiefs, and members of civil society. By interviewing a wide array of stakeholders, WFD seeks to gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of Ghana’s political system.

The study will be completed by July 2017. Its findings and conclusions will inform a national dialogue conference that will bring together stakeholders to discuss the implications of the increasing cost of politics to the development of Ghanaian democracy and to seek a consensus on how to change the pattern of incentives that is currently driving up costs.

This research study is the first comprehensive in-depth assessment of the cost of participating in politics conducted in Ghana. WFD hopes to replicate it in other countries and eventually draw conclusions that can improve the donor’s community understanding of political incentives and inform future programming on democracy strengthening.

More information on our Cost of Politics research is available here

(Top photo: A women casts her vote in the Ghanaian Presidential elections in December 2016)
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Closing civil society space in East Africa

(Above: Working groups discuss trends within the East Africa region and their effect on CSOs operating space: funding, legislation, freedom of information and human rights)

It has been said that democracy is not a spectator sport.

Good governance is rarely bestowed; it must be demanded and defended by active citizens participating in democratic processes. More often than not, the channel for this participation is through civil society organisations (CSOs), which give citizens the opportunity to engage constructively with government on a wide variety of issues.

But all across the world, civil society is under pressure. In many countries, both democratic and autocratic states are systematically restricting the work of civil society. These developments, collectively known as “closing space”, have become a global trend.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in collaboration with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), hosted a two-day conference on 13 and 14 March in Nairobi, Kenya, to explore opportunities to create a consistently open legislative environment for CSOs at the regional level. The event brought together CSOs, CSO Standardisation bodies, Government and academia to formulate draft principles toward the development of a regional bill to promote and protect CSOs.

Within East Africa, crippling legislation has been passed that severely limits the remit of CSOs. From the need for CSO activities to be approved by the government in Burundi to the inappropriate utilisation of the Cybercrimes Act (2015) in Tanzania, it is a challenging time for civil society. Davis Malombe, Executive Director at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, asked critical questions about overcoming negative legislation: “How do we consolidate the space for CSOs and show governments’ the space is ours and our inalienable right, how do CSOs organise themselves better?” he said.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), the region’s parliament – the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) – presents an opportunity for CSOs in the partner states to articulate their needs and interests as a block. Advocating nationally for supportive legislation and joint advocacy for harmonised legislation for CSO regulation within the partner states provide two options.

Zaa Twalangeti, Program Manager at Tanzanian CSO TAANGO, highlighted the importance of CSOs’ ability to promote and mobilise resources domestically to secure a power base within society: “CSOs assume they are representing citizens but has this been tested? What are we doing as a sector to ensure that we are entrenched as the voice of citizens and so that citizens demand our [CSO] space?” Jimmy Gotyana, South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), asked: “How can CSOs ensure their struggles are expressed within Parliaments and reach the right audience?”

Concerning trends emerging from the research paper and discussions included:

  1. Restrictive definitions of CSOs to only those concerned with service delivery and not advocacy;
  2. Lack of clarity and unreasonable conditions surrounding the registration processes of CSOs;
  3. Increasing regulation limiting funding to CSOs;
  4. Utilisation of various pieces of legislation i.e. cyber security, anti-terrorism, to undermine progressive CSO legislation;
  5. Lack of independence of CSO regulatory bodies and challenges with self-regulation and standards;
  6. Limited access for CSOs to participate in government or legislative processes, especially around the budget and policy;
  7. Lack of protection of CSOs and human rights defenders.

At the end of the two-day conference participating CSOs agreed that regional solidarity is needed and eight draft principles were agreed upon to form the basis of a draft regional bill. Stakeholders must now collaborate across borders and take proactive steps to engage with EALA in order for the draft regional bill to materialise.

This bill can ensure that CSOs operate in a more enabling environment with a dedicated framework for human rights defenders’ that will promote greater accountability from respective governments. The East African experience has the potential to contribute to the global discourse and provide a practical example of how this issue can be overcome.

This conference was organised by WFD’s Kenya Team, based in Nairobi, contact maureen.oduori@wfd.org for more information. 

The WFD-EACSOF Commissioned Research on this topic which triggered this event will be available in coming months and is part of WFD’s wider research around this topic.

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