UK MP’s constituency work inspires Ukrainian MPs to engage with public

“It  was extremely interesting and useful to learn more about how British MPs work in their constituencies”, says Yuri Levchenko, Member of Parliament in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (VRU) reflecting on his experience in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy exchange programme.

By bringing together Ukrainian MPs with their UK counterparts, the programme aimed to motivate new MPs in Ukraine to move away from the poor practices of the old Parliament. “One of my priority goals as a politician is to increase the general public’s trust towards Ukrainian politicians”, Mr Levchenko added.

Partnering with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine (Westminster) and the UK-Ukraine Friendship Group, the programme engaged a group of 5 Ukrainian MPs from different political groups. Ukrainian MPs were twinned with a cross-party group of Westminster MPs and witnessed parliamentary life in Westminster as well as the work of UK MPs in their constituencies. Policies relevant to the Ukrainian MPs political interest were also explored as part of the visit.

“As a member of the Budget Committee, I was particularly impressed by the level of legislative oversight in select committees”, Mr Levchenko reports. “All these matters are dealt with differently in the Verkhovna Rada. I believe the standards of Westminster are far more preferable”, stresses Yurii.

The innovative approach mixing institutional access and peer-to-peer support allows for on-going discussion and mentoring between the members of parliament. Initial feedback from the MPs involved points to successful outcomes. The WFD programme has, in the words of Ukrainian MP Nataliya Katser-Buchowska, “established a solid platform for further dialogue between parliamentarians in our respective countries”. It allows an “in-depth understanding on how discussions within the British parliamentary committees are conducted”, she added.

Viktor Halasiuk, head of the VRU Committee for Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship, reported that observing “the unique combination of stable traditions and rapid development and adaptiveness” was a useful model that he will take back to Ukraine. The Committee’s legislative and oversight operations have now been enhanced through increased outsourcing of research support and tighter oversight mechanisms that Mr Halasiuk was exposed to in the UK. This can been seen through the Committee’s work on draft legislation for small and medium-sized business and the regulation for processing timber.

The success of the pilot program in Ukraine has allowed expansion of the buddying-style scheme in other countries, to which WFD brings the British experience through parliamentary support programmes. Over time, we hope this will encourage behavioural change among a wide range of parliamentary and related participants. Strengthened parliamentary capacity is essential for achieving effective governance changes globally.

(Photo: l to r: Jeffrey Donaldson MP; Sergei Alieksieiev MP; Yuri Levchenko MP; Philip Davies MP; HE Natalia Galibarenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK; Sir Gerald Howarth, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine; Natalya Katser-Buchkovska MP; Jonathan Djanogly MP)
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Are we measuring what really matters?

Susan Dodsworth

Research Fellow – International Development Department University of Birmingham

At Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent conference – Deliberating Democratisation: Examining Democratic Change and the Role of International Democracy Supportone of the more contentious panels addressed the role of research in democracy support.

During that panel, I discussed how the quality of evidence available to academics shapes its utility to practitioners and policy-makers.

There’s both good news and bad news in this area. The good news is that there have been significant advances in how democracy is measured. Thanks to work like that of the Varieties of Democracy Project, we now have much more transparent, more finely grained indicators of democracy. The bad news is that measures of democracy only tell half the story. We also need better measures of democracy support.

This is bad news because our primary source of data on democracy support is the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) database on aid flows. For academic researchers, this is the ‘default’ approach to measuring democracy support. Why? Because this is what we can access. Organisations that support democracy are often very reluctant to share their data, in part because it can put those they are trying to help at risk.

Our reliance on OECD data constrains research and limits its usefulness in three ways. First, reducing democracy support to money spent tends to produced recommendations along the lines of ‘spend more on X and less on Y.’ This has some value, but there are limits to its utility. Ultimately, it’s more useful to know how to spend money, rather than how much money to spend.

Second, we are limited by what is – and is not – captured in the coding of these databases. The OECD data only captures the primary purpose of aid. But we know that aid generally, and democracy support in particular, is often multi-purpose. Aid flows have also been reported in a way that creates blind spots. As I pointed out in a recent policy paper, it’s essentially impossible to calculate how much democracy support is invested in civil society – a significant problem given how important civil society is in democratisation.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we might be missing what really matters. When you talk to democracy supporters about their work they will explain that ‘You can’t buy political will,’ or emphasise that ‘It’s not about the money.’ Instead, they (and their strategic documents, like this one) stress the importance of relationships, or of intangible resources like respect and recognition. The difficulty, of course, is that these things are extremely difficult to measure.

If research is to play a constructive role in democracy support, we need to have better measures of it. The challenge is to work out how we can get those better measures. This won’t be an easy task and, unless researchers and practitioners work together, it will probably be an impossible one. That’s why I hope we’ll see more events – like WFD’s conference – that create opportunities for better dialogue and – hopefully – more sustained collaboration between researchers and practitioners.

Highlights from Deliberating Democratisation conference

(Photo: Jo-Ann Kelly)
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The New International Strategy of the Scottish Parliament

Fergus Cochrane

By Fergus Cochrane, Head of Scottish Parliament’s International Relations Office

As a young and evolving parliament, the Scottish Parliament is keen to share its experience with other parliaments across the world and our increased engagement with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) over recent years has contributed to that aim.

The Scottish Parliament’s International Strategy sets out how our international work can support the Parliament’s strategic objectives. We want to maintain our reputation as an open, accessible and participative Parliament, willing to learn from and assist other legislatures whilst supporting the development of our own international relationships.

There are three elements to our Strategy: Policy, Parliaments; and Organisations. The Policy element identifies the issues that are central to us and on which we will seek to develop relationships with, and learn from, other parliaments. Our Strategic Plan ensures that the issues important to us as a Parliament are at the core of our international relations activities. It is these issues which will largely inform why, when and who we seek to work with internationally. However, we have developed strong and meaningful partnerships with other parliaments, through our key partnership with WFD and its parliamentary strengthening programme and look forward to supporting this work in the future. This falls neatly into the ‘Parliaments’ and ‘Organisations’ elements of our Strategy.

A key part of this work has been consolidating relationships with other parliaments in areas where we can offer expert advice such as financial oversight, research support, and strategic planning.
For many of the parliaments we work with, this relationship begins with a visit to Holyrood where delegations are exposed to ‘how we do things here’. As an evolving Parliament, and where there has been a devolution of further powers since 1999, it can be interesting for delegations to see how the Scottish Parliament, as a unicameral parliament, scrutinises the use of these powers. For example, how our committees (and procedures) are responding to the newly devolved tax powers. However, it is also of interest and importance to learn about other parliaments, to hear and learn of their approaches and how they do things.

We have been involved with the Western Balkans network for a few years now although since 2015 that has been focused on the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and its establishment, through the WFD, of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) which will support more effective financial oversight by the Assembly and government accountability.

Colleagues here have partnered with WFD’s Belgrade office on the preparation and implementation of the first 100-day work plan of the PBO, including developing its training academy and modules, supporting the secondment to the Scottish Parliament of the PBO researchers in March 2016 and general support (and friendship), on-the-job coaching and mentorship sessions.

Jordan is another example where we have provided key support and started to build fundamental relationships. David McGill, Assistant Chief Executive at the Scottish Parliament, has provided instrumental support on strategic planning for the House of Representatives in Amman, meeting with the Secretary General and the leadership of the Parliament as well as all the Heads of Departments. He has been able to ascertain and collate the needs and priorities of parliamentary staff to feed into a strategic plan modeled on the Scottish Plan. By conducting comprehensive sessions on our strategic planning experience, the principles behind strategic planning, and the methodologies for implementation and monitoring and evaluation, David has provided comprehensive feedback and mentoring to the House on the final draft of the Strategic Plan that was submitted to the Secretary General for consideration in late September 2016.

David has also collaborated with WFD in similar work with the House of Representatives in Morocco and in March the Scottish Parliament will proudly host both parliaments for joint discussions on this important issue.

In the coming weeks and months, we will work with the WFD and its programmes in Montenegro, Kenya, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka. We look forward to working with the WFD, and its parliamentary partners, in the future, adding value where we can and sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences.

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New WFD partnership to support historic change in Burma

Burma’s democratic transition was one of the most watched in the world in 2016. After over 50 years of military rule, the national parliament faces the challenge of delivering change in line with citizens’ expectations.

Starting in 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) will partner with Burma’s legislative body, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Parliament), to assist with the development of an efficient and open parliament.

Burma has suffered long periods without a sitting legislature and parliament lacks the facilities and systems necessary to support effective law-making, oversight and representation. Building the capacity of parliament to help a large number of new MPs and parliamentary staff fulfil their functions is also needed.

The WFD programme will offer expertise from the British parliamentary experience in partnership with the House of Commons, provide English language training through the British Council and help develop the systems and infrastructure a modern Parliament needs.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by WFD and the Hluttaw, the House of Commons will second experienced parliamentary specialists to offer day-to-day support and coaching to committee and research staff.

(Above photo: Hon. U Win Myint, Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, participates in best practice exchange with UK counterpart, John Bercow)

Using a combination of MPs, parliamentary staff and experts from the UK and the region, the programme will share experiences that will support the capacity of the Hluttaw in a number of areas.

To help MPs carry out legislative research and wider learning and to foster international relations, we have partnered with the British Council to provide an English Language Enrichment Programme.

We will also work with the Irrawaddy Policy Exchange to propose ways in which existing facilities can be better used, to make best use of the space.

On 23 January, the Hon. U Win Myint, Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw marked the beginning of this important collaboration with an official visit to the UK Parliament. The visit focused on the Westminster committee system, how Prime Minister Question Time works, and the role of the Whips office and will inform the next stages of the partnership.

Speaking at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, WFD’s CEO Anthony Smith CMG said:

“We are honoured to be working with the House of Commons and the British Council to support the Hluttaw as it increases its skills and begins to play a full part in this country’s political, social and economic development.

“The Hluttaw will play a critical role in ensuring that all citizens are properly represented, that the many policy challenges are fully debated, and that there is clear accountability by government.”

Check out www.wfd.org for regular updates about the programme and follow WFD on Twitter to keep up to date with all of our programmes.

(Top photo: Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Hluttaw)
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“Positive change” in Province Orientale

(Above: Training of trainers event with the RCPP in Kinshasa.)

“The WFD has brought a lot to Province Orientale. With every WFD seminar comes positive change.” So says Mr Germain Mbav Yav, Head Clerk to the Legal and Administrative Committee and member of the Réseau Congolais des Personnels des Parlements/Congolese Network of Parliamentary Staff RCPP. And what’s more, “all the MPs and officials are now committed and eager to improve their work.”

Mr Mbav Yav’s comments came at the end of four years of work by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) supporting the RCPP which was established in 2009 as a network of parliamentary staff across all of the DRC’s legislative bodies. By providing parliamentary expertise to instill parliamentary practices and approaches, the WFD programme sought to support the emergence of a dynamic and vibrant parliamentary culture that would be attentive to the needs of the provinces.

Germain has worked in the senate since 2005 in various positions but since 2012 he has worked in the role of Head Clerk. During this time, he has received various trainings from the French National Assembly and the UNDP but it was not until WFD became involved with the senate that Germain was truly able to realise his potential, “WFD allowed me to put into practice the training that I received in legislative drafting, not only by supporting me in drafting the module on legislative drafting but WFD also went ahead and published my work afterwards.” The example module Germain refers to was reviewed by Alistair Doherty a former UK House of Commons Clerk for over thirty years. Using British parliamentary expertise in this case has led to concrete, practical tools that can be used for learning after the programme ends.

(Above: Germain delivers training on legislative drafting to other members of the RCPP.)

Furthermore, before attending the ‘training of trainers’ seminars, Germain was unsure how to ensure his training sessions were of practical use to the trainees. “The tools of this training provided by WFD have really helped me to focus more on the effectiveness of a training session rather than just simply developing an activity that has no real objective and gets no tangible results,” he says. Instilled with this new level of confidence, and possessing new and effective training insights and skills, Germain has been able to make a positive impact on his colleagues. “Since this training, I make an effort to give my staff advice and suggestions, so that they can express their talents and shine.”

But it is not just Germain who has seen the fruits of WFD’s labour. At a broader level, there have also been noticeable positive changes and improvements. Germain has noted how officials and MPs are keen to learn and improve and, crucially, officials are now more cognizant of the fact that in their official capacity as parliamentary officials they need to remain politically neutral even if they do belong to political parties. Furthermore, following a study visit to the provincial assembly of the former Katanga province, Germain highlights how “MPs are working hard to respect the rule of procedure more consistently.”

The WFD programme has also achieved impact at the national level in the DRC, especially on missions carried out by the RCPP, the operations of the technical unit, the influence of the administrative secretariat and the functioning of the provincial assembly of the former Province Orientale. More specifically, the seminar on parliamentary institutional communications that was organised in 2010 in Matadi by RCPP and WFD, was noted to be particularly successful. As a result of this seminar and the support provided by RCPP and WFD, protocol and communication services began to really take shape in the provincial assemblies. So impactful was this seminar that the Rapporteur of the Provincial Assembly for Bas-Congo (who attended the seminar in its entirety) informed the President of the Provincial Assembly of the work that the RCPP and WFD were doing. Germain was extremely happy to observe that “it was following this seminar that he (the President) came to understand how important it was for the MPs to rely on and work with the administration.”

The work that WFD has been doing in DRC in supporting the work of the RCPP fits well with the overall mission of WFD. In helping the RCPP to instill effective parliamentary practices and approaches, the work carried out by RCPP and the WFD has resulted in an increased professionalism and more fruitful relationships amongst staff and MPs, and furthermore, as Germain notes, “finally, and for the first time, the DRC has books on legislative drafting, parliamentary chancellery and the drafting of parliamentary documents.”

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Expert engagement series: Tom Carothers & Richard Youngs

(Above: Tom Carothers from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace talks to WFD staff in the latest expert engagement series)

If there is such a thing as a celebrity in the world of democracy-strengthening, as WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation Graeme Ramshaw put it, then Tom Carothers is probably it. This explains why staff were so keen to hear Mr Carothers speak at WFD’s London headquarters last week.

Mr Carothers first visited WFD one year after its establishment in 1992, at a time when the “air we breathed” was full of positive assumptions. Democracy was full of momentum, had no serious challengers, and doors were wide open to international democracy support.

How things have changed. By the second decade of the 21st century, those assumptions are being challenged. The same doors are “literally being closed to people”. Yet Mr Carothers is upbeat. “There’s something profound about the idea that people can work across borders to help each other figure out solutions to political problems. I still believe that’s possible, and necessary, for a better world,” he adds.

Mr Carothers and his team at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have spent recent years researching ‘rising democracies’: countries like Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia which have begun promoting democracy abroad in their own, distinctive ways. Carnegie’s conclusion on their work is balanced. While these states are doing more in a quiet, under-the-radar way than many give them credit for, their approach is not quite as original as they claim.

“They always say ‘we have a distinctive approach’,” as Mr Carothers describes it. “You say, what is it? What they describe sounds like an EU document on democracy support. They describe a consensual, non-confrontational approach [driven by] values, harmony. They’re working against a caricatured idea of western democracy support.” In extremis, this caricature ties all western democracy-strengthening work to the foreign policy of George W. Bush’s White House. Richard Youngs, a senior colleague at Carnegie Europe who has previously engaged with WFD on his work, adds: “They have a perception of western democracy support as being about regime change, whereas they are defending democratic regimes against an unjust global system.”

(Above: Professor Richard Youngs of Carnegie Europe addresses WFD staff)

Part of the problem, Mr Carothers suggests, is that non-western democracies feel like they are being asked to do the “hard things first”. Why should South Africa transform its relationship with Zimbabwe, for example, because the USA wants it to? Would the USA respond positively to an equivalent request – for it to shake up its relations with Saudi Arabia, for example?

Getting over this barrier appears difficult, but comments from WFD staff at the session suggest it is at least plausible. Much of WFD’s work is about encouraging south-south learning; as with the recent trip by Iraq’s Anti-Corruption Commissions to their counterpart organisation in Indonesia. “Positive peer pressure,” as WFD’s Director of Programmes Devin O’Shaughnessy puts it, can work wonders. But funding this work is difficult. “No-one’s thinking in a more creative way about how we do provide funding to build those kinds of relationships,” he said. “Your research encouraged us to look more at south-south work, to build a community of people who want to defend democracy.”

WFD understands that each country approaches democracy from its own perspective; it’s why we take pride in being able to share the full breadth of the UK’s unique democratic experience, but also why we recognise that other countries’ approaches are just as unique. Carnegie’s new research has highlighted the unique nature of non-western democracies, like Brazil, and the different experience they bring from their own democratic transitions. Brazil, for example, has been interested in peacekeeping, while Korea and Japan see democracy through the lens of economic modernisation.

But, this leaves organisations like WFD left to wonder whether the scope for western democracy promotion is ending. Tom Carothers and Richard Youngs remain positive about the potential role of rising democracies. “We think there is still merit in trying to build up triangular networks with these countries,” Prof Youngs says and WFD agrees wholeheartedly.

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Development Effectiveness and the Sustainable Development Goals

(Above: Delegates attended the conference from across Asia, as well as North Africa – Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Laos, Timor Leste, Indonesia and Morocco were represented)

From alleviating extreme poverty to reducing the impact of climate change for future generations, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – agreed by world leaders last September – comprise a broad and challenging set of commitments for all states.

Steps must now be taken to ensure that the goals are implemented by 2030.

But what role can parliamentarians play?

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) supported the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption’s (GOPAC) regional conference in Jakarta on 30 and 31 August 2016.

Hosted by the Indonesian House of Representatives, the conference brought together parliamentarians from countries across Asia and North Africa to discuss the oversight role they can play to ensure successful implementation of the SDG framework.

(Above: The first panel session provided an overview of the 2030 agenda for development)

The conference had the dual purpose of raising awareness of the targets within the SDGs and also encouraging discussion on best practice for monitoring the progress made towards achieving the goals. It introduced a handbook developed by the IDB in partnership with GOPAC for parliamentarians on the oversight of development funds.

Parliamentarians from across the region expressed a desire to learn more about what the SDGs actually are and the steps they can take to tackle them. Parliamentarians noted this area was usually tackled by the executive, leaving parliament with a limited role in achieving successful implementation.

Encouraging south-south exchanges on implementation is crucial to the success of the goals. The first day of the conference saw representatives from different regions share their experience with sustainable development. MPs from Morocco spoke about the implementation of a new healthcare system that made services more accessible for the under-privileged. Representatives from Indonesia explained how a new taskforce had been introduced to tackle the SDGs, including the introduction of approximately 30 bills currently being passed by parliament. A delegate from Laos welcomed the help from WFD and GOPAC on this issue, noting that the best way to achieve the SDGs was through creating links between countries with different capacities and levels of technical support.

(Above: Moroccan delegation included representatives from both Houses and parliamentary staff )

Post Legislative Scrutiny and achieving sustainable development

Whilst passing legislation is often the first step towards reform and such efforts should be commended, it is not the only step to ensure real improvement to the lives of citizens.

It is not uncommon that the process of implementation of legislation is overlooked. In several countries, it is a hazardous phenomenon that laws are voted but not applied, that secondary legislation is not adopted or that there is no information on the actual state of implementation and effects of the law. All of which could have a fundamental impact on achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030.

WFD is well-placed to facilitate best practice exchanges with countries in Asia because of our expanding presence in the region. With the wealth of British experience on post-legislative scrutiny, WFD can draw not only on the Westminster example of departmental and parliamentary scrutiny but also on the different experience of the Scottish Parliament’s scrutiny through regular committee work. Our global presence means we can also provide insights into different systems and help individual parliaments as they seek to identify the model which best suits them.

(Above: Dina Melhem, WFD’s Regional Director for Asia and MENA)

Dina Melhem, WFD’s Regional Director for Asia and MENA, outlined WFD’s experience with post legislative scrutiny and its development of an assessment tool for parliaments. This will provide a comparative methodology for ensuring successful monitoring and evaluation of legislation.

WFD’s assessment tool and the handbook developed by GOPAC and UNDP will be extremely helpful in the years to 2030 to ensure parliaments play a key role in implementing legislation that achieves the sustainable development goals. Participants welcomed the introduction of the handbook and the development of the assessment tool, noting that regional examples would be extremely useful.

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Interview: Mr Rachid Talbi El-Alami

(Above: WFD’s Head of Communications, Alex Stevenson interviews Mr Rachid Talbi El-Alami, President of the Moroccan House of Representatives)

Under Mr Rachid Talbi El-Alami, President of the House of Representatives, the Moroccan Parliament has made great progress in turning the promise of 2011’s constitution into reality.

“Today the Parliament is a power – it was not before,” he says. Westminster Foundation for Democracy has been privileged to support Mr El-Alami in this work. Ahead of the EU Twinning launch event on Monday 13 June 2016, the Speaker granted an interview with WFD’s Head of Communications, Alex Stevenson, to discuss the progress made – and the challenges still to come.

“People ask why Morocco was not as affected by the Arab Spring,” Mr El-Alami says. “The simple reason is that we have institutions.” But these were not “modern, professional, effective”. The new constitution offered the opportunity to change this. It is, the Speaker says, “an ongoing process, and a positive process”.

Under Morocco’s new separation of powers, the Parliament has been established alongside the executive and the judiciary system. Embedding such a significant change, however, is not straightforward. In total, 25 organic laws were required to complete the constitution. “We are at the beginning of the process, because it is not easy to change quickly,” the Speaker explains. Take the judiciary system: after four years of negotiation, including two in the parliament, the process of debating the details of the changes continues. But the Parliament, Government and the Palace have worked together to ensure the process has proceeded smoothly and effectively.

There are many elements to this work. Giving the public’s representatives the opportunity to initiate legislation; finding ways to build all of Morocco’s languages and dialects into the Parliament’s work; and developing a new approach to the budget and to financial scrutiny are all important in shaping the Parliament’s new role. “We have learned a lot from Westminster Foundation for Democracy that helped us,” Mr El-Alami kindly adds. “The Parliament is a place for responsible, positive, constructive debate. As I told my friends, the MPs who are sometimes not aware of the progress we are making: this is the first time in history we have voted more than 350 laws in one small period.”

(Above: WFD Governor, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, delivers speech on behalf of UK Speaker John Bercow at launch of EU Twinning programme)

It is an amazing achievement, especially because it comes alongside efforts to develop fresh approaches to the Parliament’s new expanded responsibilities for holding the Moroccan Government to account. Mr El-Alami has made public policy evaluation a personal priority. “It should be based on figures. It should be rational. It should respond to [citizens’] demands.” The new procedures which underpin this work are not yet complete. Again, though, the Speaker’s commitment to completing the job in the best possible way is clear. “I prefer to be late and make something professional, rather than hurry it.”

Another theme of Mr El-Alami’s approach is his determination to raise the professional standards of the Parliament. “To achieve these reforms, we need a stronger administration,” he says. New information and communication technologies have been introduced, enabling the digitisation of the parliamentary archives. Civil society and the press are now able to connect with the Parliament’s work more readily. And MPs now receive information “as quick as possible” to enable them to decide their position before votes. “All this we have done without any problem,” the Speaker says. This new system has not been exported from any other country, but rather built to “fit the Moroccan context, the Moroccan culture,” balancing the country’s conservative and progressive elements. Striking the right balance is not easy, but the Speaker is confident his approach is the right one. “I believe that Moroccans want the change and we are making this change.”

Throughout our conversation, Mr El-Alami’s conviction about the need to connect the Parliament with ordinary citizens is very clear. His approach, it seems, is as much about serving the interests of the Moroccan people as it is about establishing the technical processes of accountability. “Yes, the Moroccan people feel that we do not take care of them,” he says. “We have to change this image, this perception.” A better-functioning Parliament can achieve greater credibility, the Speaker believes. “We have to produce information instead of giving them the opportunity to go to rumours… and the information should be produced institutionally and professionally.”

The pressure for parliaments to respond quickly in the digital age is a common theme encountered by parliaments around the world. “We are not going to face it alone – we should do it with our friends,” the Speaker says. “For that reason, we believe that the most helpful is Westminster Foundation for Democracy.” This is about how Morocco and Britain – together with France and the other partners of the new EU Twinning partnership – can be “strong” and “credible”. For this reason, he explains, “we have worked with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and it’s a lot to thank you for – we have learned a lot.” The Ninth Committee, “copied from the British Parliament” and the work of its Public Accounts Committee, is an example of this; another is the evaluation of public policies. “The parliaments should not waste a lot of time to understand something we can provide quickly,” the Speaker adds. “The process, the timing, the connections, the challenges, the future – this is why we work with Westminster Foundation.”

(Above: WFD’s Regional Director for MENA and Asia, Dina Melhem signs MOU with Mr El-Alami, President of the House of Representatives in March 2016)

This sense of urgency is very striking – and reflects Mr El-Alami’s awareness that while constitutional issues are important, it is the real issues of everyday life which are most pressing. “Why are we accelerating the reforms and want to achieve them in this mandate, and finish with that?” he asks. “Because the real challenge is not the institution inside the Moroccan political system… the most important challenge is terrorism. The development of the Moroccan country – poverty alleviation – water – climate change – these are real challenges that the Parliament, the Government and other institutions should face.”

Yes, the Parliament now has new powers as granted by the 2011 constitution. But Mr El-Alami is not just interested in completing the process of establishing these for their own sake. He is doing so in order to achieve his overall vision of a Parliament which can use its new powers to help improve Moroccan citizens’ lives. Since 2011 the Parliament has become, in his words, the “central process of democracy”.

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Blog: Finding windows of opportunity for political reform

Susan Dodsworth, WFD’s research fellow, captures the discussion on political party support from an  event at Oxford.

In early July, at a workshop in Oxford, Nic Cheeseman and I hosted a small group of academics, policy makers and practitioners for a great discussion around our latest research paper that tackles the issue of political party support and democracy promotion more broadly.

Let’s be honest about objectives

Our research on the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s (WFD) political party programmes triggered a lot of questions. One particularly hot topic was what are the goals of political party support? While Nic and I have approached party support through the lens of democracy promotion, this is by no means the only end to which political party support might be turned. For some, party support is a way of spreading ideology and building the capacity of like-minded parties. This could help to improve the quality of democracy, but that’s not the primary goal. For others, political party support is about good governance, a term that is not synonymous with – and may not require – democracy. In some cases, political party support is less about delivering immediate change, and more about building relationships with political leaders over the long term. In those cases, the hope is that these relationships will provide a foot in the door if windows of opportunity for political reform emerge, or a seat at the table in times of crisis.

Honesty about the objectives of political party support is critical because it shapes our answer to another question: what constitutes success? For political parties, success tends to be defined in terms of electoral gains. Yet the rise of a single political party may have little impact on the quality of democracy in a country. If the goal is to build the capacity of opposition parties so that the electorate is presented with viable, programmatic alternatives to the ruling party, are we successful even if voters do not choose those parties? If the objective of a programme is to build relationships with political leaders, then different time horizons come into play. Success (or failure) will be evident only in the long term and will be contingent on a wide variety of factors beyond our control. Misrepresenting our objectives is dangerous because it makes it harder to demonstrate success. This, in turn, fuels scepticism about the effectiveness of democracy promotion, making it difficult to justify to the people who ultimately fund it: taxpayers.

Setting out a new research agenda

We challenged our audience to set out a new research agenda for democracy promotion. We asked them to tell us what they wished they knew, and how we might find out. Pretty much everyone was keen to know how we can detect and measure the impact of political party support, and other democracy promotion programmes. There are plenty of challenges here: questions about the comparability of different programmes, about what to do when ‘big data’ (the latest buzz word in both political science and international development) is unavailable, and the difficulty of conducting rigorous qualitative research in a field where (somewhat perversely) transparency is often lacking. Many of these problems stem from, or are exacerbated by, the relatively small number of programmes that provide political party support. This limits the pool of cases on which research can be based.

Some of our participants also asked whether previous research has had an impact on practice, and, more importantly, on results. In the last few years a number of researchers have suggested ways in which political party support and other forms of democracy promotion could be improved. However it’s not clear to what extent these recommendations have been implemented, or, where they have not been, why. As democracy promoters, including the WFD, respond to past research by adopting more innovative approaches (such as those that integrate political party support and parliamentary strengthening), researchers need to respond by helping them to evaluate the dividends delivered by these new tools.

Perhaps the most challenging question posed was whether democracy promotion can work in authoritarian settings. The first wave of democracy promotion took place in countries that had experienced reasonably clear-cut transitions from authoritarianism to democracy. In that context, the challenge was (to steal a line from Thomas Carothers) that of speeding up an already moving train. Today, an increasing amount of democracy promotion takes place in regimes where the political space is severely restricted or receding. The challenge is not to consolidate democracy, but to prevent the roll-back of earlier democratic gains and increase the chance that windows of opportunity for political reforms will be acted on, if they arise. At the moment, we simply don’t know whether this is possible.

This makes it important to consider whether there is an authoritarian threshold beyond which democracy promotion does not work. If that were the case, then it might sometimes be better for democracy promoters to do nothing. If it is not, then perhaps we should stay engaged in countries come what may, in the hope that this makes it more feasible to take advantage of future opportunities to promote reform, should they arise. This is an essential question to answer if we are to best target the time and resources of democracy promoters, but it remains an issue on which there is little clarity, and certainly no consensus.

Perhaps more worryingly, there’s also little to go on when it comes to avoiding unintended, negative side-effects of democracy promotion. Democracies don’t have a monopoly on political institutions (like parliaments) nor political processes (like elections); they can provide authoritarian regimes with legitimacy as easily as they provide it to democracies. A central task for any future research agenda is not only to identify where democracy promotion works best, but where it is likely to backfire.

 

More than elections, more than ideology – a strategic approach to sister-party support

 

(Featured image: Flickr Janneke Staaks)

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