Countries are not poor because of democracy. On the contrary: policy makers increasingly acknowledge that democracy is an important prerequisite for improving human security and development. Incorporating the links between democracy, development and security in the way international assistance is provided is one of the major challenges on today’s international cooperation agenda.
Acknowledging the importance of well functioning, pluriform political systems and the value of institutionalised political parties within democratic societies is gradually gaining ground. These systems and parties are meeting the challenges of fragile or failing states and of societies in perpetual violent conflict.
In the past year there have been numerous authoritative articles on a what is seen as ‘backlash’ against democracy around the world. The unprecedented spread of democracy during the 1990s has slowed down significantly during the current decade. Many democratisation processes came to a halt and now appear stalled. The war in Iraq, which was instigated under the pretext of promoting democracy, created the perception that support for democracy necessarily entails change of regime. Competition for scarce energy sources has increased the leverage of energy exporting countries, many of which are autocratic or downright dictatorial. In short, the context in which we operate is becoming more and more challenging and is placing ever-greater demands on those engaged in supporting the advancement of democracy.
Helping political parties to take greater responsibility for democratic political reform within their countries and regions as well as for their own institutional development is at the core of NIMD’s work. Partnerships with political parties spanned a total of 17 countries across the world during 2006, including 152 political parties. Through NIMD’s strategic partnerships with multilateral organisations, the potential for new programme activities was investigated and preparations were made for new programmes in Ecuador, Burundi, Afghanistan and Moldova. In addition, a special programme on Democracy and Media was launched in Latin America, in cooperation with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, FreeVoice and IYS, the Latin American Institute for Press and Society.
The programmes we support increasingly combine a number of the following activities: ensuring that elections are transparent and proceed without conflict; supporting constitutional reform processes; enhancing the institutional capacity of political parties; promoting the inclusion of women, youth, indigenous populations and people with disabilities in the political process; promoting state funding for political parties; supporting internal party democracy; improving relations between political parties with civil society and media; and, institutionalising inter-party cooperation for consolidating democracy.
Early in December 2006, the new NIMD office was officially opened by the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Mrs Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven and by the Kenyan Minister for Local Government, Mr Musikari Kombo, on behalf of the NIMD partners. With this new facility, which is situated close to the Dutch parliament and, even more importantly, with the trust that has grown between our partners and ourselves, NIMD appears well equipped to take its challenging democracy support mandate forward at the beginning of the new four-year programme (from 1 January 2007).
By Prof Dr J.A. van Kemenade