It is highly interesting to follow the global debate on democracy these days. Depending on what book and academic personality you read, you will be presented with different conclusions regarding the state of democracy and the recommendations on what to do. The same is true for the specialized institutions working to support democracy – including political parties – around the world. One of these is the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy [NIMD], which I have had the pleasure of working with during the years I worked for the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy [DIPD]. They have just recently released the 2017 Annual Report, which offers the interested reader a good overview of the challenges facing democracy programmes, as well as a good idea of what seems to work.

Download the full report here: NIMD-Annual-Report-2017

NIMD starts the AR 2017 with the obvious question about the state of democracy right now: After years of progress during the ‘third wave of demoracy’, are we now witnessing a decline? The following section is a direct copy of the introduction.


People seem to think so. World over, they are growing weary of politics and giving in to a sense of powerlessness. However, despite the challenges democracy faces today, we need to protect it. No other political system affords us the same protection, opportunities and freedom. Democracy gives people a much-needed voice in their country’s decision-making processes.

Which is why we have been working hand-in-hand with our partners worldwide to support and encouragedeveloping democracies to thrive. For more than 15years, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) has been bringing political parties together to strengthen the pillars of democracy, including dialogue, inclusiveness and peaceful elections. Over the years, we have found that establishing and maintaining a strong democracy that can withstand the test of time is a long-term commitment. And yes, there are some setbacks, but there are also successes.


Take post-election Kenya for example. In 2017, the country was plunged into political unrest after the judiciary’s decision to annul the result of the election due to lack of transparency. Encouraging multiparty dialogue, getting everyone around the table so all voices could be heard, was difficult in the aftermath of such developments. But it was crucial to the democratic process. So, withour implementing partner, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Kenya (CMD-K), we were able to convene ameeting that was attended by senior officials from the different political parties.

James Magara, Chair of CMD-K, said: “The meeting focused on the need for dialogue and compromise as the reasonable way out of the stalemate. At the time, the momentum for a dialogue on the elections could not be sustained. However, we were able to establish a multi-sectoral forum, where the political parties, labour organizations and religious organizations could continue to engage with one another.”

This persistence in employing dialogue as an instrument in the democratic process is echoed across borders in Ukraine by Marta Suprun, Chief of the International Department of the Samopomich Union political party, Manager of Lviv Security Forum and participant in an exchange visit to The Hague organized by NIMD. “I truly believe democracy is an ongoing process of dialogue inside society,” she says. “Finding consensus between different groups of people, different stakeholders, is not always easy, but it is the only way to find viable solutions. We employ dialogue both inside the party and with our voters on a daily basis. It is particularly useful for building unity while taking difficult decisions,” adds Ms Suprun.


In some cases, sitting around the table with political parties, especially those whose rhetoric in the past has been dominated by violence, is the first step into relatively unchartered territory. For instance, in Colombia, although the laying down of arms of the rebel group FARC is a Nobel Peace Prize worthy development, it is just the beginning of a long process. The country still needs to heal from past wounds.

As a result, in the run up to the 2018 elections, deep divisions among the people of Colombia are emerging. To address this and other challenges, and to strengthen the electoral process, a Special Electoral Mission has been put together.

Jorge Guzman, a member of this Mission explains: “We have to understand that the PeaceAgreement is meant not only to deal with the inclusion of the FARC but, more importantly, to attack the roots of the inequality. It targets the political and economic exclusion of one third of the population; and tries to promote the reconciliation of the Colombian population and establish stable and lasting peace.”

NIMD has been invited to support the Special Electoral Mission, which has been tasked with providing recommendations on how to build an inclusive political system in the country. So far, “NIMD has already made several successful efforts to reinforce the Colombian political scenario by working to strengthen political parties and candidates, in particular new parties,” says Mr Guzman. But, he adds, “more needs to be done to continue strengthening the political system for all parties, promoting new leadership within the parties and advocating for the involvement of more women.”


In Kenya, too, women need more support, according to Mr Magara. Violence against women in politics is prevalent. “By and large, violence against women has been normalized in Kenya’s political processes. Women candidates do not necessarily report violence because constantly reporting incidences makes them appear weak and unworthy of being part of the competitive political process in Kenya’s patriarchal society. The response mechanisms of political parties are insufficient. CMD-K should play an increasingly visible role in supporting parties to put mechanisms in place to address violence against women, including but not limited to, the identification and involvement of male champions” explains Mr Magara.

Kenya and Colombia are not alone. According to a UN report, only 19% of speakers in parliaments were women in 2017. This is not acceptable. NIMD works with political parties to influence national legislation. We help them with their internal party regulations and, last but not least, we try to foster an open and inclusive political culture through training and dialogue.


One way of fostering diversity and the political participation of women that has proven very effective, is setting up Democracy Schools. NIMD has Democracy Schools in 11 countries. In these schools, established politicians and future leaders from different political parties come together to build relationships and learn about human rights, equality, ethics in politics, social justice and other democratic principles.

The schools are firmly embedded in the local context of the countries we work in. Ms Ma Htet Oo Wai, our implementing partner in Myanmar, says, “The courses are tailor-made to suit the needs of the country and the participants. We meet the parties before the course and ask them what would help them take their country forward.”

Ms Ma Htet Oo Wai found that many participants apply what they learn from the course in their political life. Among other things, this includes learning how to deliver a speech, develop a systematic agenda for the party and create constructive dialogue. The elected Ethnic Minister from Lahu, Mr Yaw Thap, says: “Everything I have learned in the School of Politics in Myanmar (MySoP), I brought back to my community. Every step I take has a trace of what I learned. For me, the most important things MySoP taught me are political awareness, and how to prepare and deliver a speech that people will understand and that will make them feel empowered. I revised, analyzed and applied everything I learned in the multiparty training and used it to strengthen my party.”


Democracy is about having the right to vote, feeling safe and free to speak your mind and being included in important decisions in your country or community. People can be quick to take democracy for granted. Or to criticize it. But it’s the only political system that brings us all of these things. That’s why NIMD works to protect and promote these values around the world, together with James Magara, Marta Suprun, Jorge Guzman, Ma Htet Oo Wai, and many others.

To underline the value and importance of democracy, we launched an international online campaign called ‘Democracy is…’ last year. The campaign invites people, from democracies young and old, to share what democracy means to them. Our aim was to raise awareness of the
importance of a democratic government and why we cannot take the freedoms afforded by the system for granted. We hope our efforts will empower and encourage people around the world to join us in our mission to support democracies and invest in its institutions.

As one participant of our online campaign put it “Democracy is about engagement. It’s about equal opportunities, about the chances available to everybody. So I believe in democracy.”


NIMD is engaging with political parties in 21 countries, and some of these are of course more complicated than others. But it would also be fair to conclude that not a single country is ‘easy’. You could argue that Ghana and Jordan are less complicated than Zimbabwe and Myanmar, but as recent events in Jordan indicate, there are no guarantees for an easy ride even in countries that we have normally considered to be fairly stable and peaceful.

I know it is difficult to cover all aspects in an annual report, but I would still have liked to see a more realistic assessment of the political situation in the countries, when the key results are presented on pages 8-11. To state that “politics is often polarized” in Burundi seems to me to be an understatement; not to mention the issue of the Royhinga in Myamar as a challenge is an important omission; characterising the situation in Zimbabwe as “political turbulence” may also be to put things a bit mildly. If you know what is going on in all of the 21 countries, the presentations will work perfectly fine, but if the reader does not have the information, the text is definitely slightly soft and optimistic.

For me, the most interesting part of the report are the more detailed presentations from Zimbabwe, Honduras, Georgia and Mozambique. They offer the reader valuable insights about some of the personalities involved in the programmes. This is important, because at the end of the day, the success of democracy programmes often depend on a small group of individuals and their ability to convince others in the parties about the necessity of change and dialogue. This change does not happen from one day to the next, but often requires years of patient and persistent investment in meetings that can move the process forward inch by inch.