I am happy to be able to comment on the 2018 Annual Report published in June 2019 by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy, the organization I helped set in motion as the first Director 2011-16.

Download report here: DIPD-Årsrapport-2018

Overall, I am happy to note that DIPD continues to work with many of the parties and multi-party platforms that were developed during the first two three-year funding phases. This reflects an understanding of the time needed to introduce change into systems that are not easily changed; and for allowing new ideas the time required to root themselves in often very unfriendly or outright toxic soil. Activities in countries like Bolivia, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Kenya, Malawi and Swaziland have been progressing slowly, at times in a two-step forward and one backward cycle, and at times also periods of one step forward and two backwards. Such is the nature of any change, and for political change it seems that progress is of a particularly elusive and vulnerable nature.

One key reason for time playing an important role is of course that you need to build trust with your partners, including party officials at many levels of the party and the political system in general. You also need to repeat much of the information and experience you bring with you from Denmark, simply because elections [just like in our own system] tend to bring in new faces and new leaders. This is a feature of change that is often underestimated, and while you can sense the importance of this in the DIPD 2018 report, I would have liked to see it being addressed in more detail.

Another issue that you need to reflect on when doing a report on political systems and political parties in different parts of the world, with characteristics and histories very different from our Danish experience, is how you manage to portray the politics of a country in an accurate and honest manner, without doing harm to the partnerships because you have been too blunt or undiplomatic. As the DIPD Director, this was always a concern of mine, and I take full responsibility for the many occasions when I have decided to be less honest that history might judge that we should have been. Simply because my assessment was that being more honest could have resulted in doing damage to the partnership.

I therefore understand and accept the “light-footed approach” taken in the political presentations of the countries [pages 9-15]. However, regarding Myanmar, I am a bit surprised that no critical remarks have found their way into the text, with no mentioning of the ethnic conflict that has sent a wave of anger through the world, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing into Bangladesh – leaving behind the many who have been killed. Yes, I do understand the consequences of being vocal and direct about this, and from my own meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi back in 2014, I know that she is not gifted with the ability to accept any wrongdoing. There is no doubt that Myanmar can benefit greatly from the Danish ideas brought to the country by Danish parties. However, part of the DIPD approach has also been to establish a ‘robust’ dialogue, allowing for criticism. Where to draw the line is always difficult to define, but I think it is possible to make a strong case stating that the line has been reached or maybe even overstepped already!

Another country in the region has moved forward in a very different manner. This is Nepal, which featured more than 25 political parties in 2011, when cooperation with DIPD started. Today the number is down to two dominant parties plus a few smaller ones. But what I find most exciting in the write-up in the annual report is the Democracy Fair that took place in Kathmandu in September 2018. The idea started sommering in the minds of key politicians several years ago, when a delegation visited Bornholm during the days of “Folkemødet”. Here they saw the culture of Danish democracy unfolding, with members of parliament, private sector leaders and hundreds of civil society organisations meeting for informal discussions, trying to find common ground on issues that often polarise rather than unite. Reading about the Democracy Fair in Kathmandu is an eye-opener on how ideas can inspire over distances of thousands of kilometers. Both the partners in Nepal and DIPD deserve praise and credit for investing in this type of activity.

Let me then comment briefly on two of the partnerships/countries that have been chosen since I left DIPD.

First the choice of Burkina Faso, a development partner of Denmark in Western Africa through several decades, and a country with a name that can be translated as “land of the honest (incorruptible) men”. Former President Blaise Compaoré ruled for 27 years, starting with a military coup in 1987 and ending in October 2014. He offered stability to the international community as well as his people, but the people got tired when he, like other African Presidents, tried to engineer and amend the constitution in such a way that he could extend his 27-year rule. I am happy to see a multi-party partnership develop, to supplement the partnership between the Social Democrats and the ruling party of Burkina Faso, MPP. Considering the history of the country, it is useful that all parties are involved in the process. I also hope that DIPD is set for a long-term investment, because this is a troubled region of Africa, and there are likely to be smaller – and larger – bumps on the road.

From my point of view, the decision of the Liberal Party to engage with the opposition Democratic Party in South Africa is a bit controversial. Not because DIPD and other democracy and party institutions from the North should not engage in and with South African parties. Others have done so for decades, long before the release of Nelson Mandela and the first election that brought ANC to power. Social democratic parties in Europe have supported ANC for many years. However, I have personally been critical of this support, because I have understood that it was effectively impossible to have any ‘democratic’ influence on the ANC, which has increasingly become infected by personality infighting, nepotism and corruption. While it might be easier to get genuine ‘access’ to the leadership within the liberal opposition party DA, what remains is the involvement of external actors in what is increasingly becoming a more competitive and at times rather ruthless two-party system [with the DA still trailing far behind the ANC, it should be added]. Fortunately, the focus for the DIPD supported activities seems to be on the local government level rather than the national.

Regarding the future, the 2018 Report mentions Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi as three new countries for appraisal of possible activities and partnerships. From a superficial perspective, they are all relevant and indeed interesting. But also highly complicated! I have followed developments in all three countries through European institutions that are already engaging actively for many years, and from friends and colleagues who have worked with parties and politicians in the countries. None of the countries offer an easy territory for political change, and all of them will require very experienced and mature people from both the institute itself and the Danish political parties to be able to navigate the real dangers hidden in the territory. I would also argue strongly for working closely with others in all three countries, both to ensure the political strength needed to engage, and to ensure that the level of resources will be commensurate with the challenge.

With this report, DIPD has offered the public a substantive, interesting and quick overview of activities undertaken in 2018. With the Newsletter now being published [in July 2019 for the first time and so far only in Danish for some strange reason], DIPD seems to be offering the public a higher level of information than has been the case so far. Congratulations!

On an issue that might seem less important, but is an issue of principle for me, I would like to suggest that the next DIPD Annual Report will be different with regard to the choice of photos and photographers. With so many Danish political parties working with partners, and so many visits being undertaken in both directions, I find it difficult to understand that it should be necessary to use outside sources. Getty Images offer many fantastic photos from all around the world, but DIDP should be able to feed its own publications with its own photos!

Finally, I would like to suggest that readers also visit the 2018 Annual Reports from two institutions that DIPD has worked closely with and share values and approaches with. One is the UK based Westminster Foundation for Democracy [WFD], and the other is the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy [NIMD]. Both have much larger budgets at their disposal than DIPD, and they therefore also have the luxury of working in areas that may not be possible for DIPD due to limited resources. However, it should be noted that both WFD and NIMD define their ‘territory’ as much broader than DIPD is doing in its present strategy, including parliaments, civil society organisations and think tanks. The annual reports clearly document why this is a useful approach, and I hope that DIPD will not completely forget these parts of the democratic culture.

Download WFD Annual Report: https://www.wfd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WFD-Annual-Report-final-web-201819.pdf

Download NIMD Annual Report: NIMD-Annual-Report-2018