Cooperation between Dutch political parties on the issue of internal party elections has been applied in Burundi, to the benefit of local parties there.
While three Burundian cabinet ministers flew to The Hague to meet with Dutch politicians at the NIMD offices, their political party colleagues in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, were trained in how to organise internal party elections.
In a training session developed by Dutch PvDA (Labour party) politician Berend Jan van den Boomen but then delivered by Fabien Nsengimana (pictured, left) and Dutch D66 party trainer Dennis Hesseling (pictured, right), Burundian politicians heard about how candidate lists for elections are set up.
The training was designed to help parties come to grips with the various options for such elections. For example, candidate lists might be chosen by the party executive, or alternatively might be drawn up following greater consultation with party members.
However, this second option often poses logistical problems, such as the unreliable postal system impeding complete member participation.
More pointedly, Burundi’s electoral law poses grave impediments to greater member involvement. Writing in a forthcoming issue of the D66 party newsletter, Hesseling outlines these limitations:
There is much debate about the system of "liste bloqueé" which resulted from the peace agreement in Arusha. There it was agreed (under international pressure) that of the first three people on a candidate list, one must be from a different ethnicity to the other two (that is, Hutu or Tutsi). In addition, of the first four people on the list, there must be one woman.
To maintain this system, voters should not be voting for one person, but for one voting list. Some participants complained about this, because they believe that this weakens the tie between voters and representatives. Although they are basically right about that, I indicated that in the Netherlands we have a list system where voters can vote for a candidate, but where the link between voter and representative is also weak.
The plenary discussion, in which the group analysed the obstacles to internal elections in the Burundian context, proved especially valuable.
In conclusion, the training session was a clear example of Dutch political parties ‘practising what they preach’, at least in terms of knowledge sharing and cooperation. According to Hesseling:
At the end of the two days we asked the participants what they thought of the training. One of the participants said: "I did not know exactly what to expect. I have often had similar trainings from international institutions, usually monopolized by the speaker.
"But this was different: everybody stayed until the end, and no one fell asleep!" The others nodded approvingly. With a temperature of 38 degrees outside, and only the wind as air conditioning, it sounded like a really big compliment.