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Demo Finland and NIMD: Political parties essential in democracy assistance

Together with the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), Demo Finland organised a discussion on democracy assistance on the 1st October. The themes of the discussion were Finland’s support for democracy and the experiences of Demo and NIMD on the multiparty approach in democracy assistance to political parties.

The Acting Executive Director of Demo, Tiina Kukkamaa-Bah gave the opening speech, after which Deputy Director General Riikka Laatu from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs spoke about Finland’s policy paper on democracy assistance that is currently being prepared in the Ministry. Other speakers of the event were Executive Director Hans Bruning, Director of Programmes Pepijn Gerrits and Programme Manager Maaike van der Werf from NIMD and Senior Adviser Sari Varpama from Demo.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is preparing a policy paper on democracy assistance that is based on Finland’s Development Policy Programme published in 2012. One of the most important aims of the policy paper is to decrease the fragmentation in Finland’s democracy assistance, said Riikka Laatu. Finland will increase the support for the sector, but the overall amount of projects will be reduced. Supporting democracy is one of the priorities of the Development Policy Programme and Finland aims to strengthen the coherence and efficiency of its democracy support. However, the new policy paper focuses on democracy assistance in a broad sense and for example does not mention support for the political elements of democracy, like political parties.

Flexibility and long-term commitment key words for the programmes of NIMD

Executive Director Hans Bruning from NIMD reminded of the importance of political parties in a democratic society. According to Bruning, parties should not be overlooked in democracy assistance, because democracy cannot be arranged without functioning parties that are committed to the principles of democracy. Good governance with all its technical elements is needed, but to achieve that, functioning political parties are necessary, said Bruning.

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Director of Programmes, Pepijn Gerrits talked about the working methods and principles of NIMD. Interparty dialogue is one of the most important strategies in NIMD’s work, and the organisation always works on a local initiative. In all its activities, NIMD follows the principles of inclusiveness, local ownership, impartiality, flexibility and context specificity, partnership approach and long-term commitment.

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In fact, NIMD has been working in some of its programme countries for more than 10 years already. According to Gerrits, thinking about project cycles does not work with democracy assistance because it takes time to gain sustainable results. NIMD also has concrete results of its programmes, for example the still ongoing interparty platforms whose work and foundation NIMD has been supporting in several countries.

Cooperation and sharing between Demo and NIMD

Programme Manager Maaike van der Werf, responsible for NIMD’s activities in Tunisia, talked about NIMD’s work in practice. In Tunisia, NIMD works in partnership with Demo Finland, Bulgarian School of Politics (BSoP) and Centre d’Etudes Méditerranéennes et Internationales (CEMI), which is a Tunisian organisation. Demo and NIMD work closely together in the planning and monitoring of the programme, and new ways to deepen the cooperation are also studied.

Together with their partners, Demo and NIMD support the Tunisian School of Politics which offers politically active young people knowledge of and capacity to work in a democracy. Practical skills, like how to build a political campaign, are also taught. Each course lasts one year and consists of 10 two-day sessions. In addition, the students also participate in public debates. According to van der Werf, an interparty approach is also included in the programme, and it will also further be strengthened.

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Senior adviser Sari Varpama from Demo mentioned that NIMD has been an important partner for Demo ever since Demo was founded, for the organisations have a lot in common in their working methods and principles. However, compared to NIMD, Demo is much smaller in size and funding, and suffers from a lack of flexibility in its funding. Varpama also brought up Demo’s disappointment in the fact that political parties are not mentioned in the draft of the new policy paper on democracy assistance. Although governmental actors cannot support political parties in other countries, Demo as a non-governmental organisation can. Therefore it could work as a complementary actor in Finland’s democracy assistance. “There is no point in supporting parliaments if we do not make sure that everyone has an equal chance to get elected to the parliament”, Varpama said.

Varpama also mentioned the importance of democracy assistance in conflict management, for legitimate and inclusive politics also supports sustainable peace. As far as fragile states, for example, are concerned, democracy assistance should not be neglected as it has a positive impact on peace and development.

In the conversation that followed, challenges of democracy assistance were discussed as well as Demo’s activities with Finnish youth politicians and the post-2015 process from the point of view of democracy. So far, good governance has been included in the post-2015 conversations and according to Hans Bruning, it is important that democracy organisations continue to be active in keeping it on the agenda.

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