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Political parties play a key role in developing democracy – Demo Finland’s work as a good example of functioning democracy support

Questions around the relationship between democracy and development, Finnish democracy support and the role that political parties play in developing democracy were placed under scrutiny in Democracy as a Prerequisite for Development? – seminar on September 16th in Helsinki, Finland. The seminar brought together international democracy experts and academics as well as practitioners from Nepal and Tanzania. The seminar was organised jointly by Demo Finland and Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. Opening remarks were delivered by Secretary of State Pertti Torstila and the lively discussions were facilitated by journalist Petri Sarvamaa.

Thomas Carothers, the Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the most renowned democracy experts in the world who has also been affiliated with Clinton and Obama administrations, started the seminar by providing a critical assessment of the state of democracy support in the world. He warned about the high expectations placed on democracy support and its delivery but noted also that scepticism about the efficiency, legitimacy as well as ostensible general lethargy of democracy in the world are over-stated. He urged practitioners not to withdraw however and described the current situation as a pause providing a welcome opportunity to stop and assess good practices and lessons learnt in democracy promotion. In Carothers’s opinion structural factors such as economic growth and expanding communication technologies are paving the way for democracy. He also noted that democracies make better partners than non-democracies. According to him, international development cooperation experts have started to realise that in addition to states and civil society, political societies and systems should also be taken into consideration when promoting positive change. In his talk Carothers also celebrated the successes by the international community in implanting democratic principles during the past 25 years and the progress done in the fields of good governance and transparency. In his speech and throughout the ensuing discussion Carothers never ceased to stress the importance of local realities and needs in democracy promotion and noted that there is no universal model of democracy.

Ambassador for Human Rights and Development, Sauli Feodorow, similarly emphasised the importance of taking recipients’ realities into consideration when promoting democracy abroad. He also highlighted education as a key to improving possibilities for democratic participation.

Cooperation empowers women and youth beyond political party affiliation

“Democracy should also be practiced within political parties”, noted the Tanzanian Member of Parliament, long-standing gender activist and chairperson of Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform Anna Abdallah, when describing the work of the platform in bringing women politicians together on a multi-party basis and beyond party affiliation. Abdallah stressed the importance of mobilising people at the grassroots and talked about the difficulties of such work under constrained resources. Similar concerns were also expressed by Hiranya Joshi, a representative of the Joint Youth and Student Platform, the work of which Demo Finland is supporting in Nepal.
A roadmap to European democracy support was outlined by the director of the eminent European think tank FRIDE Richard Youngs and the director of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) Carlos Hernandez. Both were calling for more strategic coherence between the EU member states and action that is grounded in local realities. Sari Varpama, the executive director of Demo Finland, gave a presentation of Demo’s work and successes in the field of democracy support, which both Youngs and Hernandez acclaimed.

Questions related to the interconnectedness of democracy and development, Finland’s possibilities of strengthening democracy in the countries it works in, as well as the role of democracy support in development cooperation dominated the panel discussion in the afternoon. The panelists were Thomas Carothers, Richard Youngs, Carlos Hernandez, Anna Abdallah, Sari Varpama, MP and the vice chairman of the Centre Party Timo Kaunisto, adviser on democracy and good governance at the MFA Johanna Jokinen-Gavidia, David French from the EPD and the director of the UNDP Nordic office Jakob Simonsen.

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