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The Political Party Assistance Peer Network: Lack of funding despite democracy support for political parties being more relevant than ever before

DEMO Finland participated in the debate and exchange of experiences on present and future political party support in the Political Party Assistance Peer Network Meeting in the oldest city of Sweden, Sigtuna, on 10-12 June 2013.

The peer meeting brought together over 80 professionals representing the donor community, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), research institutes, political party foundations and political parties working on democracy assistance in developing countries. Important conclusion of the meeting was that political party support is an increasingly important element of democracy assistance that raises interest among donors and development cooperation experts and that new interesting actors are entering the field. The vitality and strength of political parties is key for functioning democracies; support to traditional democratic institutions such as parliaments is important but not enough to boost democratic transitions and democratic consolidation. Political parties are key to channel peoples’ interests, needs and aims in the political realm. National politics matter more and more for the development discussions.

Common challenges

The peer network identified common challenges improving its systems for monitoring and evaluation since traditional ways of measuring result and impact are not always optimal for measuring changes in political settings and processes. Political actors act in quickly changing societies and circumstances. The peers meet challenges of not being able to react quickly enough because of the limitations of the funding instruments as well as common challenges of attribution of results and impact in interlinked politically sensitive circumstances. The peer organisations also face similar challenges of meeting public suspicion of interfering in countries’ internal political structures and explaining the reasoning behind political party support, which is still a fairly unknown area of development cooperation.

There is a clear need to work on political party support also in high risk volatile societies, but the risks need to be carefully analysed and the “do no harm” principle should lead the way for the intervention. Support for political dialogue was given special attention as a useful tool of democracy support. Key for the success of dialogue programs is building trust between the partners, ensuring inclusiveness, transparency and local ownership. The programs should have holistic long term goals but must be flexible in their nature. Ideally the programs could combine party dialogue with intra-party dialogue and include capacity building aspects. Capacity building alone does not result to sustainable impact.

Democracy support and in particular political party support is highly underfunded despite the high priority that is given to democracy in strategy papers, position papers, and high level political speeches. Finland lies behind other Nordic countries devoting less than 5% of its development cooperation resources to democracy support while for instance Sweden, while struggling with shrinking budgets, still channels 28% of its Official Development Aid to programs in support of democratic governance.

Demo Finland’s work presented in the meeting

DEMO Finland’s Acting Executive Director Tiina Kukkamaa-Bah’s presentation of best practices and experiences from DEMO’s projects in Tanzania, Zambia and Nepal raised interest in a panel on how to bring more women into political party work. The peers were interested in DEMO’s contribution to the establishment of cross-party collaboration among women politicians and advocacy for gender equality in politics as well as in the hands-on approach and bringing together actors from local, national and international levels.

The peer network meeting was hosted by Swedish International Liberal Centre, IDEA International, and the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The meeting was an expansion and follow-up of previous peer meetings in Stockholm 2009, Wilton Park United Kingdom 2010 and The Hague, the Netherlands in 2011.

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