Representation in the Age of Populism: Ideas for Global Action

By Devin O’Shaughnessy, WFD Director of Programmes

On 18-20 June, WFD supported a conference on populism in partnership with International IDEANetherlands Institute for Multiparty DemocracyOSCE/ODIHR and REPRESENT. The event, held in the Belgian Senate, saw leaders from politics, civil society and academia from across the world gather to shape a “Global Agenda for the Renewal of Representation”, a guide aimed at reinvigorating the relationship between people and democracy.

What stuck with me most was the diversity of views around the table on what populism actually is, whether or not it was a dangerous trend or a flash in the pan, and what impact populism in Europe and the U.S. was having in the developing world. I felt there was strong consensus that our democratic institutions needed to be better – more open, more representative, more accountable, and more participatory – or people would continue to lose faith in them. I was also inspired by the passion in the room for defending the principles of liberal democracy, of the importance of educating people, especially the younger generation, of what democracy protects, defends, and promotes: human rights, freedom, protection of the vulnerable.

Yet, despite these positives, I was also concerned that we weren’t addressing the elephant in the room, the main driving force at the core of populism. Despite the economic growth that democracy, globalisation, and free trade brings, Western democracies have failed to prevent these gains from going primarily to a narrow elite, the 1% and multinational corporations. “Whose GDP?” was the response of an average citizen when asked why she was upset with her government despite delivering decades of steady GDP growth.

Even worse, elites are increasingly manipulating the democratic system to lock in their gains, using their access to political leaders – often gained through large campaign contributions – to ensure that policies they oppose are never even discussed. For example, in the U.S., a recent study showed that only 4% of policies that the elite strongly oppose are ever adopted, while nearly 50% of the ones they support are enacted. The lack of repercussions for those who caused the 2007 financial crisis, and the increasing dilution of the already weak reforms put in place after the crash, is a direct result of a system where the wealthy and powerful shape the rules in their interest. Meanwhile, the average citizen suffers and is nearly powerless to fight back, which fuels the growing populism we see today.

Clearly a combination of economic and political reform is needed to even the playing field, to make sure all citizens’ views are represented and that there are opportunities for everyone to succeed. For this to happen, a sustained, global effort is needed. More research to better understand the drivers of populism and possible solutions. Joined up efforts by political leaders, civic activists, academics, media and NGOs to change the way politics works, to ensure that all voices are given equal hearing and not just those of the powerful and well connected. New policy ideas to manage the negative consequences of globalisation, automation, and climate change.

WFD must play its part in making these reforms happen. Through our programming and research, we must contribute to reforming political institutions to be more open and participatory. We must ensure that all people are empowered – particularly women, youth, people with disabilities, and the LGBT+ community, but also the economically marginalised, refugees, and other vulnerable groups. Political parties and parliaments, two of the main vehicles for representing and defending citizens’ interests, need to be refreshed and move back to the centre of political life. We can be a critical part of a wider, UK effort to reinvigorate liberal, representative democracy around the world. In doing so, we can beat back the worst instincts of populism, while retaining what is good: a yearning by all citizens to be heard and shape their own futures.



(Photo(s): International IDEA/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Continue Reading

Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures updated at Wilton Park meeting

On 18-20 June, representatives of Commonwealth parliaments met at Wilton Park to review and update the 2006 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures.

The meeting, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) under the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D), brought together representatives from the Maltese, Canadian, Indian, Pakistani, New Zealand and Australian Capital Territory parliaments, as well as from UNDP and NDI.

The CPA Benchmarks have provided a minimum standard to be met by all Commonwealth Parliaments and a description of how a Parliament should act, behave and function. They reflect the deep democratic traditions across the Commonwealth and help Parliaments to strengthen their procedures in response to changing practices and political developments in their own countries.

At Wilton Park, the delegates reiterated the Commonwealth’s strong commitment to deepening the democratic systems in each member state as reflected in the Commonwealth Charter. This commitment applied to all the Commonwealth’s parliaments, which included some of the smallest and some of the biggest in the world. The work to update the Benchmarks needed to reflect this diversity and to incorporate a range of commitments that the international community had made in the past 12 years, particularly in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Delegates agreed that responsibility for addressing improvements in procedures remained with each parliament but the Benchmarks should be a helpful tool for them, and for civil society and other organisations in supporting them with this work.

The updated CPA Benchmarks include measurements for Parliaments to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the recommendations contained in the Commonwealth Charter.

SDG 16 centres on the peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and the role of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Effective parliaments are one of the principal institutions of any functioning democracy and they are central to the attainment of SDG 16, the development agenda and all the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2018 and 2019, the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy will promote use of the benchmarks in 18 Commonwealth focus countries. Reform-minded parliaments will be able to carry out self-assessments to identify areas for action. The benchmarks will also benefit political parties and civil society organisations who wish to campaign for reform at national level.

Welcoming the adoption of the new benchmarks, the Chief Executive of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), Anthony Smith CMG, said:

“Feedback from legislators is clear: the updated CPA Benchmarks constitute an invaluable international reference which can help develop more effective and inclusive democracies.

“Under the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy, WFD and its partners are ready to support Commonwealth parliaments who wish to carry out reviews based on CPA Benchmarks and SDG16 indicators.”

About the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D)

The Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D) aims to build trust in democratic institutions and support the political engagement of minorities and vulnerable groups in 18 developing countries across the Commonwealth.

The £4m two-year programme was launched by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the 2018 London meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government. It is managed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and implemented by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (secretariat and UK branch) and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum.

Continue Reading

New Chairman of WFD appointed by Foreign Secretary

New Chairman of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), Richard Graham MP, says time for democracies to see off both new and traditional threats to accountability

Following his first official engagement, meeting the Speaker of the Parliament of Albania on 29 May, Richard Graham MP said “in these divisive times the temptations of autocracy to government as a less ‘messy’ way of delivering investment and growth are considerable. But the virtues of democracy – above all accountability to the people and an independent rule of law – are enormous. We need to help each other see off both the new threats of elections distorted by the manipulation of digitalisation, data and social media as well as the more traditional threats to the decision making of Parliaments and voters alike.”

Richard Graham MP added “the next five years are vital to how democracy can flourish in both strong and fragile economies across the world”.

Meeting Richard Graham MP, after his appointment, Foreign Secretary Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP said:

“WFD was founded to help democracies thrive, and since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has never been a more important time for this work. There are real challenges – as well as successes – to be faced, and Richard Graham brings huge experience and commitment as new Chairman to help WFD continue to make a real difference through its projects in over 30 countries across the world.”

About WFD

WFD partners with UK political parties, parliaments, electoral and financial audit institutions to help development countries make their governments fairer, more effective and more accountable. Current WFD initiatives include: helping protect women from violence in the Middle East; engaging women, young people and people with disabilities in politics in sub-Saharan Africa; and building trust in democracy in the Western Balkans.

Last month, at the Commonwealth summit in London, the Foreign Secretary announced a £4 million WFD-led partnership to strengthen democracy and broaden political participation across 18 Commonwealth countries.

(Photo: Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets WFD Chairman Richard Graham MP and WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith CMG.)
Continue Reading

WFD and CPA UK, together for Gambian National Assembly

Less than one year after democracy was restored to The Gambia, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, agreed a partnership programme with the National Assembly at a function in the House of Commons in the presence of the Rt. Hon John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, Hon. Mariam Jack-Denton Speaker of the National Assembly and Sir Henry Bellingham MP, Chair of WFD.

The partnership will share UK parliamentary experience to support members of the National Assembly in The Gambia with establishing effective parliamentary oversight of the executive, making better laws and engaging the public. It follows early programmes launched in response to demand for support following the general election of April 2017.

Over the last nine months, WFD and CPA-UK:

  • Organised a four-day induction programme for new members of the National Assembly in Banjul.
  • Enabled the parliament of Sierra Leone to share lessons in Banjul and inform a review of the official record of parliamentary proceedings (Hansard), based on recent training they received from the Parliament of the Isle of Man (Tynwald). Tynwald also assisted directly with an induction session on the use of digital equipment.
  • Facilitated an inward visit from the leadership of the National Assembly to Westminster and Cardiff to learn more about legislation, devolution, constituency outreach and the committee system.

Taking part in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Assembly and CPA UK, Sir Henry Bellingham MP said:

“We have never had anything but a great deal of mutual understanding and indeed respect for the Gambian people and Gambian parliamentarians, who during difficult years consistently stood up for democracy and human rights.

“We [UK parliament] are not perfect by any means, but where we do have knowledge, skills and experience, we want to impart that to other parliaments and maybe you can learn from some of our mistakes.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

“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.

Continue Reading

How strong democracy can help make development sustainable

This month we interview Tina Fahm, Commissioner at the Independent Aid Commission and recently appointed WFD Associate.

Establishing effective and legitimate multi-party democracy, is not something one organisation can help achieve in isolation. That’s why we are building a community of associates who can contribute advice and support to our programmes. With a background as an auditor, Tina brings over thirty years’ experience in governance, transparency and anti-corruption to WFD.

Tina, how did you start out working in international development?

Following my studies in politics at university, I developed a deep interest in geopolitics particularly that which related to emerging democracies. I was delighted to be appointed to the WFD Board by the Foreign Secretary. Though I had no prior experience in international development, my skills and expertise in corporate governance, organisational and leadership development were quickly made use of in WFD’s programmatic work and I soon found myself supporting the development of parliaments, political party structures and civil society organisations working alongside MPs and parliamentary colleagues in Europe, MENA and Africa.

Working at WFD helped to clarify my understanding of what constitutes effective governance, which I have come to regard as a dynamic framework encompassing leadership, culture, standards of conduct, risk management, internal control and democratic accountability in decision-making involving service users and stakeholders. I believe it is a key determinate of institutional effectiveness and of the quality of services provided. This way of thinking continues to inform my work in international development.

In 2017, we heard a lot of talk about the failure of democracy. Should we accept other forms of government can also deliver?

Sure we are living in interesting times! The rise of populism has triggered a global debate that has put democracy under considerable scrutiny. To some it may seem as if democracy has failed, to others recent events have highlighted the need to remain vigilant and not take democracy for granted and for governments to ensure inclusion and shared prosperity for all. I think there can be no better way to achieving this than through accountable and responsive democratic institutions mandated to meet the needs of citizens.

Personally, I don’t believe that any other form of government is able to deliver as well as democracy. I agree with an often quoted remark by Winston Churchill in which he says that ‘democracy is not perfect and unlikely to provide all the answers’. However recent research reported that the majority of people around the globe are still in favour of democracy as the best form of government. We just need to find ways to make democracy work for everyone.

Then, what role should democracy-strengthening organisations play?

Fostering improved democratic processes, bringing together individuals and institutions and encouraging them to work together to solve concrete problems based on democratic values and practices should lie at the heart of democracy-strengthening organisations.

But let’s not underestimate the enormity of the task. Democracy strengthening is complex and multifaceted and rightly involves a wide range of different interests including parliaments, public institutions, political parties, electoral commissions, audit authorities, anti-corruption agencies, civil society, universities, traditional authorities, media and increasingly the private sector. Each actor has their own culture, understanding of governance, different power structures working through formal and informal frameworks. Democracy building organisations need to remain agile, flexible and adaptable. It goes without saying that an ability to bring people together and create spaces to foster enlightenment and understanding is vital.

When I was a member of WFD’s Board we recognised and accepted that democracy building takes a long time. There are no short cuts. But if you get it right the benefits are enormous. Democracy can be its own return on investment.

Understanding local context in emerging democracies is key to the success of any initiative. Unfortunately, in many cases women are excluded from the political process. What is the best way to help address inequality?

Though many constitutions ban discrimination on grounds of gender, it frustrates me that women continue to face barriers to political participation across the world, and nearly every country (including our own) has yet to achieve gender parity in the political process.

There are a number of  ways to help address inequality and support women, starting with more emphasis on building skills, competencies and confidence, working with political parties to help promote greater participation of women in politics, working with women at a local level through civil society organisations and facilitating engagement with government.  Working directly with parliaments and legislatures to address issues of structural reform, especially those relating to legal and human rights can help secure long term changes that deliver a future where women are treated as equals in society, the political process and in public life.

WFD has made great inroads in tackling gender inequality and I have had the privileged of working on a range of programmes since 2007 including, in the MENA region working with the Coalition of Arab Women MPs on changes to laws on domestic violence, and with civil society organisations in Sierra Leone and in the Democratic Republic of Congo which resulted in an increase in the number of women entering politics.

The nature of democracy means that one election can change everything. That’s why we work with political parties as well as civil society. Does politics matter or should we focus on less transient and politically-neutral institutions?

I agree, one election can change everything, but isn’t that the nature of democracy?

Politics matters because it affects the daily life of every citizen. In order to have a well functioning democracy it is not an either or consideration, we need both. Democracy building is not easy, particularly in fragile states and countries that have undergone conflict, which is why the input of a specialist organisation like WFD is so important for state building and sustainable development. As an Associate, I am delighted to once again have an opportunity to support WFD in the attainment of its vision ‘the universal establishment of legitimate and effective, multi-party representative democracy’.


Photo: Tina Fahm (centre) with participants of a WFD workshop for women leaders in DRC in 2014.
Continue Reading

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.


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.)
Continue Reading

Contributing to the development of democracy across the globe

Patrick Grady MP

The development of inclusive democracy worldwide is a monumental task.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy staff and partners, as well as my fellow parliamentarians and governors, do an incredible job working to promote effective parliaments and multi-party politics in countries transitioning to democracy.

Taking on the role of SNP Governor for WFD is an unexpected, and somewhat bittersweet, opportunity. I’m following my SNP colleague, and former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Tasmina, and Alex Salmond, sat as Governors for the SNP as it became the third largest party in the House of Commons in 2015. They oversaw a significant scaling-up of our work within the Foundation and deserve our thanks for their efforts over the last couple of years.

As WFD nears a quarter of a century, we all have a renewed opportunity to ensure we do all we can to provide international partners with the expertise in developing parliaments, political party structures and civil society organisation – the vital institutions of a functioning democracy. I’m looking forward to supporting the continuing growth and development of our WFD funded SNP programmes, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Kurdistan and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, contributing to the increasing integrated work of WFD parties, and collaboration with likeminded organisations and stakeholders such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Much of my professional career has been spent in development, with stints in the charitable and public sectors, most recently as Advocacy Manager for the Glasgow based Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). Through this time, I was aware of and impressed by the activities undertaken by WFD and I have greatly enjoyed working with colleagues from the organisation since my election as Member of Parliament for Glasgow North in 2015.

Some of the most memorable moments from my career in development come from my time spent living in Malawi where I taught at St Peter’s Secondary School in the northern capital, Mzuzu. I was touched by the warmth of the welcome I received from the community in which I lived and I feel both lucky and proud to have retained close friendships with many of those I met. It has been a pleasure to welcome some of those – including teachers, pupils, priests and even a Bishop – on reciprocal visits to Scotland and the rest of the UK. The connections between Malawi and Scotland, in particular, go deep and demonstrate the importance of developing people-to-people relationships to complement those between institutions. I am very pleased that Malawi is now considered a priority country for WFD this year.

During the last Parliament, I was SNP International Development Spokesperson and was pleased to lead our case for the sector. I look forward to bringing this experience to bear as a Governor of WFD and am confident that my successor as SNP International Development Spokesperson, Chris Law MP, will continue to make the case for funding work in international development to ensure that we can alleviate poverty and, more broadly, meet the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Patrick Grady is MP for Glasgow North, SNP Chief Whip in the House of Commons and a Governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, having been SNP International Development Spokesperson in the last Parliament.


Continue Reading

Soft power: a culture of governance

Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive

‘Successfully communicating the attributes, values and outputs that gain for the UK both attractiveness and respect in the eyes of people abroad will be vital in maintaining the UK in positions of influence’ concluded a 2014 parliamentary report. However, the debate about how seriously we should take the notion of soft power isn’t settled.

A new report launched on 12 July by the think tank ResPublica argues that the two core elements of Britain’s soft power are, first, the attractiveness of our culture and institutions and, second, the level of our engagement with others. The report also argues that civil society rather than government is best placed to generate soft power. I agree with most but not all of that argument.

Take democracy. There is no doubt that Britain’s democratic culture is admired by many people in many countries, whether or not they share some part of Britain’s history, such as through the Commonwealth. I confess that in my close to three years at WFD I have been slightly surprised by the extent of that admiration and, in some cases, affection. Legislators from countries with presidential systems, with federal structures, and even from some one-party states, have all told me how much they like our parliamentary democracy with its strong scrutiny of government performance, its adaptability, its lack of corruption and its relatively inexpensive electoral system. Our democratic values are clearly of fundamental importance to us as a country and an attribute that makes us attractive in the eyes of others.

I also agree that engagement is critically important in generating soft power. Britain’s parliaments – in Westminster as well as in Scotland, Northern Ireland and in Wales – get a steady stream of visitors from other parliaments around the world. That on its own is worth something to the UK, but the depth of the relationships and the extent of the influence is even greater as a result of the willingness of our parliaments to engage more deeply with their counterparts. Through WFD’s programmes, the UK’s parliaments have sent staff and parliamentarians to share experiences, lessons and support with scores of their peers in other countries. They have never told their hosts what they should do, or to be what we are. That would be foolish and pointless. But they do want to talk, debate, listen and learn. That engagement leads to stronger relationships and, indirectly, influence.

The issue I disagree with in the report is that only civil society can generate soft power. Of course it is true that soft power is often associated with culture, especially pop culture, that is way beyond the scope of government (K-pop is, by the way, probably the single biggest driver in the rising demand to study Korean, at least at my daughter’s school). But there is also a culture around governance that can become part of the framework of values of a country, resonate with people in other countries, and consequently have real influence. Parliaments might have an advantage over governments in the soft power area since they are cross-party and have an identity that transcends the reputation of any single government. So at least in our corner of the state, I think that the official sector can hold its own with civil society. As it happens, our parliaments are also brilliant examples of the positive relationship between legislatures and civil society.

(Photo: Anthony Smith speaking at the launch of: Britain’s Global Future: harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions on 12 July 2017.)
Continue Reading