International Seminar Post Conflict Democratization
The key dilemma has arised, that can be summarized as follows: How best to simultaneously advance peace and democracy, when we realize that there is an inherent tension between the two? Indeed, efforts to promote peace – in the sense of security and stability – may sometimes compromise the values of democracy. And democracy in turn – in the sense of pluralism and competitive party politics – can exercise a destabilizing influence. In this presentation I would like to discuss the implications of this dilemma for political party assistance organizations such as NIMD and explore how NIMD can best support political parties to play their crucial role in as democratic agents: representing the interests of citizens; peacefully managing conflicts of interest; contributing to a democratic culture of consensus seeking, without stimulating them to Reinforce societal divisions and raise tensions; and to consolidate their wartime structures and behaviour.
I. Inclusion versus exclusion
Firstly, a trade-off exists between inclusion and exclusion of former warring factions. The crucial choice either to include or exclude certain factions from the peace agreement – and consequently to recognize them as legitimate players in the political game – is made long before NIMD enters the scene, but has far reaching consequences for our work.
The study just presented by Luc van de Goor provides us with important insights into the challenges faced by political parties that emerged out of former rebel movements. The study suggests that party assistance organizations such as NIMD should more actively support their transformations.
I cannot but agree that we need to deal with former warring groups transforming into political parties, given their critical role in both the peace building and the democratization process. But the critical question that we continuously need to ask ourselves in post-conflict situations is:
Will we, as NIMD, indeed help to advance democracy if we include these newborn political parties in our programmes with the aim to support their institutional development and their functioning within the multiparty system?
Or do we actually risk to thwart the democratic process by supporting formerly armed and militarized groups (some might not even have completed the demobilization process), given their often militant, hierarchical and internally undemocratic nature?
There is no single answer to this dilemma, all depends on the specific context in a given country. Therefore, one of the guidelines that we have set ourselves is that an in-depth context-based assessment should be a starting point. On the basis of such assessments, NIMD has adopted rather different approaches in Afghanistan and Burundi: in Burundi NIMD will work in an inclusive manner with all parliamentary parties, whereas in Afghanistan NIMD has decided not to support the former mujahideen or other political parties at this point, for a variety of reasons:
1. The current political landscape is extremely blurred, and no consensus exists on the mere concept of a political party;
2. The electoral system is not conducive to the development of political parties;
3. Political parties seriously lack popular support, and have not been legitimized as parties during the elections;
4. None of the parties that was involved in the Afghan wars seriously started a transformation process and their disarmament remains unlikely in the near future.
At this point, supporting parties in Afghanistan would indeed risk to thwart the democratic process, to further consolidate a warlord’s democracy and to raise tensions. Whereas there is little rationale for supporting political parties at this point, there is however a need to assist building the preconditions for political party formation and strengthening. In a bottom-up approach, NIMD will therefore at the regional level support a political education programme. This programme will target the youth and focus on democratic competition in a multiparty system.
In Burundi NIMD has chosen a rather different approach. In Burundi NIMD does work in an inclusive manner with all political parties, including former warring factions CNDD and CNDD-FDD. As opposed to Afghanistan, political parties in Burundi can very well be identified, they have been legitimized as parties by the electoral process and know a minimal level of organization, despite their major shortcomings. The main former rebel movement, ruling party CNDD-FDD, is internally undemocratic and divided, and has not broken all ties with the armed militias, but it has at least started the process of transformation by successfully disarming its armed fighters. CNDD-FDD is playing its role as a political party.
More importantly, political parties in Burundi are the key to stabilizing and depolarizing the political system. Political instability in Burundi is directly linked to internal divisions and a to the lack of institutionalization of the parties. Parties are without any doubt part of the problem, but in any case part of the solution as well.
Tensions are still high, and mutual distrust prevails. To avoid a relapse into violent conflict, it is essential that all parties engage in an open dialogue about the functioning of the new political system and the long-term restructuring of society. In order to build trust between and within parties and to stimulate them to build consensus on contentious issues, NIMD will facilitate a multiparty dialogue platform. This can only be effective when it is an inclusive exercise, that is when all political parties represented in parliament are involved, including the less democratic ones. Peer pressure has indeed proved rather effective to encourage parties from moving away from habits that question their credibility.
However, peer pressure is not always sufficient to keep parties on board…
II. Local ownership versus international intervention
This brings us to the second instance of the key dilemma: that of international versus local control of the process of democratization and peace building. The international community is nowadays strongly involved in the move from war to peace, brokering peace deals and deploying troops to keep the peace. But the move from an authoritarian to a democratic political system can only be generated from within societies. Democratic transitions cannot be driven by outsiders. As Thomas Carothers rightly notes in one of recent articles: the democracy promotion community does not in most cases drive or even shape political transitions in the world. Instead, it backs them, trying to help domestic actors achieve what they have already decided they want for themselves.´
This remark underlines once more that we should be moderate, both in our attitude and goals; our role is never decisive, but hopefully we can sometimes give democracy a boost.
For NIMD the principal of ownership is indeed crucial and nonnegotiable. Ownership is critical at at least three levels:
1. Regarding the question: Who has the right to determine which parties are to be considered legitimate political actors in the post-war political game? In principle, it should be the level of popular support, expressed during elections, that should legitimize or delegitimize parties. This is why, NIMD works in principle with the political parties represented in parliament.
2. Regarding the question: Who has the right to assess what is needed to advance the democracy and to improve the functioning of political parties? Political parties should be empowered to draw their own picture and assess their own needs. To this end NIMD has developed a specific methodology for an interactive assessment, that has successfully been implemented in Georgia and Nicaragua, and will be used in Uganda.
3. Regarding the question: Who has the right to determine the overall agenda? Technical approaches of international donors, tend to depoliticize what is inherently a political process. The key stakeholders, the political parties that ought to aggregate and articulate the citizens´ interests in the public decision making process, are disempowered. Despite their shortcomings, they should not be bypassed and neglected.
Local actors should be in the driving seat when it comes to democratization. But in reality local capacity and expertise is often limited. Local ownership should thus never be an excuse for the international community to take its hands off the democratization process. Local ownership becomes an empty shell when it is not effectively backed, in a long term commitment of the international community in terms of money, expertise and people. Democracy is not cheap, as former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano stressed once again last month.
Given the potential tensions and risks, and the large variety of actors and agendas involved, donor coordination is necessary. Embedding political party assistance in a broader international assistance framework is critical to ensure that democratization and peace efforts are indeed mutually reinforcing and do not work against each other. In practice, this means that NIMD’s work should be complementary to the efforts of Embassies, the UN agencies, the EU, and other NGO´s, and vice versa.
III. Short-term versus long-term objectives
A third and final instance of the dilemma of balancing the objectives of peace and democracy concerns the trade-off between long-term and short term approaches. Conflict managers tend to focus on ending the violence in the short term, and to consider peace as a precondition for democracy. The democracy promotion community concentrates on long-term democratic stability, and considers democracy as a precondition for lasting peace. Both are partly right. A minimal level of peace (in terms of the absence of violence) is needed for democratic reforms to take off. But in the long run, democratic governance offers the best guarantee for durable peace.
Again, there is no readily available answer to the question which level of security is needed to initiate this or that democratic reform, or when support for political parties should start. Good timing depends on a good knowledge of the context.
However, two general remarks can be made:
Too often, the international community has pushed for rushed and premature elections, when former warring factions haven’t made sufficient progress in the process of disarmament and transformation. Under pressure of their own electorate to pull out, foreign governments consider post-conflict elections as the beginning of their exit strategy. But elections should mark the beginning of a long term commitment to democratic peace building.
The possibilities for supporting political parties to play their role in the aftermath of civil war should be explored and, if deemed appropriate, initiated at a much earlier stage than is commonly the case. Already during a peace process an inventory should be made of the prospects and needs of the various political actors. In order to minimize the risks related to the first post-conflict elections, they should be accompanied from the earliest possible stage. For without functioning institutions, such as political parties, a relapse into conflict becomes likely.
According to the World Bank, 40 percent of the countries emerging from a war face the risk of relapsing into conflict within a decade. To reduce the high risk of war recurrence, democratic consolidation is the best option in the long run. And no system of democratic pluralism has yet been able to function without political parties. Supporting them to more effectively respond to and account for the demands and interests of the broader electorate, and supporting a more constructive cooperation between parties is thus of the utmost importance in societies that are extremely polarized and unstable. But the long term democratic objective should always be balanced with the short term objectives of peace and security. This is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of well-considered timing, prioritization, and coordination.