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Danish political culture inspires Nepalese leaders

On August 25 and 26, the Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS) organized multiparty discussion workshops with support from DIPD, inspired by the Danish political culture of collaboration on issues of common concern.

Report by Shrishti Rana, DIPD Representative in Nepal

On August 25 and 26, the Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS) organized multiparty discussion workshops with support from DIPD, Inspired by the Danish political culture of collaboration on issues of common concern, the Steering Committee members of JOMPOPS decided to organize multiparty dialogues on important issues of the ongoing constitution-making process. These multiparty discussion programmes were decided by JOMPOPS members during the action planning session at the end of the study tour in June 2014 in Copenhagen.

The Nepali context

An election to the Constituent Assembly was conducted in April 2008 in Nepal to formulate a new Constitution. However, the Assembly got dissolved without finalizing the new Constitution due to lack of agreement among major political parties on restructuring of the state mainly involving issues of federalism, forms of governance and the election system.

In November 2013, an election to the Constitution Assembly was held once again in order to sort out contentious issues and finalize a new Constitution for Nepal. Nevertheless, even after nearly nine months of election of this body, major political parties have not been able to agree on major issues related to restructuring of the state.

During the study tour in Denmark this June 2014, the Steering Committee members of JOMPOPS, who are mostly influential leaders and important position holders inside major political parties of Nepal, were inspired by the Danish political culture of cross-party dialogues and their tradition of political collaboration on issues of common concerns. Accordingly, JOMPOPS members decided to organize multiparty workshops with an objective to explore proposals for agreement on major contentious issues in the new constitution-making process of Nepal.

JOMPOPS members were also inspired by multiparty practices of Danish democracy such as members from competing parties presenting jointly on common issues, observed by Nepalese leaders during the study tour in Denmark. Drawing on such practices, JOMPOPS members decided to also organize joint presentations of representatives of two or three competing parties on some of the issues to be presented in the workshops. Tis practice of multiparty collaboration is quite uncommon in Nepal and carries a great symbolic message for nurturing the culture of multiparty collaboration.

Major challenges

So far JOMPOPS members have organized activities on issues of common agreement such as strengthening multiparty democracy, local party units and promoting women in politics; all JOMPOPS members agreed on these themes and were committed to them. By deciding to organize workshops on issues that JOMPOPS members disagreed significantly with each other, JOMPOPS had subjected itself to a huge risk. And challenges were many.

To start with, it was difficult to reach any agreements on both the methodology and content of these workshops among JOMPOPS members. The position of each JOMPOPS member on these issues was different and was almost contradictory. During the preparation meeting on 15-16 August, passionate discussions surfaced among JOMPOPS members continuing till late night.  At times, it seemed that no agreement would be reached among the members and the whole concept of conducting workshops on contentious issues was too ambitious for a platform like JOMPOPS.

Unexpectedly, in the end, JOMPOPS members were able to come together and reach an agreement on the planned workshops. It was possible when they realized that they have to rise above their respective party position to explore a new space for agreement. As one of the JOMPOPS members Dinanath Sharma from the Maoist party argued:

We have to break our party position to create a new space for agreement among major political parties.”

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Cross-party collaboration

Around 50 senior political leaders including Members of Parliament actively participated in two-day multiparty discussion workshops. The representatives of the Embassy of Denmark and representatives of the new Governance Facility also observed the programmes. The Chief Election Commissioner also attended the workshop on a special invitation from JOMPOPS.

The first day of the workshops started with presentations on federalism, forms of government, and the local government by two experts – CK Lal and Prof. Krishna Khanal. Both Lal and Khanal are well respected by political parties and their facilitative role among parties on such difficult contentious issues was well appreciated by the participants. Each presentation was followed by comments from the Steering Committee members of JOMPOPS which was also their attempt to present possible proposals for agreement. Then, participants were divided into three groups according to the three aforementioned themes. Each group worked out new proposals on contentious issues to reach a common agreement.

The second day started with remarks from Hon. Neel Kantha Uprety, the Chief Election Commissioner, on the contentious issues relating to the election system proposed in the new Constitution. His remarks were followed by a thorough presentation by an election expert Bhojraj Pokharel who was also the former Chief Election Commissioner. Pokharel explained the issues of disagreements relating to the new election system to be proposed in the new Constitution and presented a few alternatives for a common agreement. His presentation was followed by open discussions in which participants discussed on possible proposals for common agreement on the election system among major political parties.

Workshops on both days were chaired by Hon. Jeetendra Narayan Dev, the JOMPOPS Chairperson. Binod Bhattarai, JOMPOPS Vice-Chairperson also facilitated the sessions as necessary. During the opening remarks, the chairperson emphasized that the workshops have been conducted with a commitment to rise above partisan interest and to create an open mind for multiparty discussions necessary to reach a common agreement among major political parties.

Conclusion

The agreed proposals of these two workshops on four contentious issues will be summarized by the concerned experts and shared with the Steering Committee. Accordingly, SC members will suggest changes as necessary and the final version will be submitted to the Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly by the JOMPOPS Chairperson. Moreover, the summary report will also be submitted to the Chairperson of concerned committee inside the Constituent Assembly. In addition, SC members will also inform their respective party leaders about the possible proposals for agreement.

One of the findings of the workshop was that political parties have not contemplated on the issue of local government adequately in the new Constitution. Therefore, participants suggested to organize more discussions on this topic as local government is the heart of any successful democracy.

Overall, these two workshops may not settle differences on critical issues of Nepal’s new Constitution but these multiparty discussions can be considered as a step forward towards that direction because it created a space for open multiparty discussions which is vital to reach an agreement on any issues.

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DIPD: IDEAS THAT CAN INSPIRE – a new DIPD strategy for 2014-17

Parliament has approved new funding for DIPD for the three year period starting July 2014. To guide the work of the institute, the Board on 22 May 2014 approved a new strategy that builds on the experiences and lessons learned during the first phase.

 

Read the full strategy in Danish and English.

Or take a look at the Danish and English versions online.

The mandate and vision

When the Board discussed and finally approved the new strategy at its meeting on 22 May 2014, the Chairman Henrik Bach Mortensen concluded as follows:

DIPD has adopted a new strategy that is true to the overall mandate set by the law of May 2010; the strategy draws on the experiences and lessons learned from the first phase; and it provides clear and visionary guidance for DIPD’s work during the next three years.

Vison: To contribute to the development of well-functioning democratic political parties, multi-party systems and other institutions as central stakeholders in the democratic culture of selected developing countries.

Mission: To establish partnerships with political parties, multi-party platforms, and other institutions through the active involvement of Danish political parties, Danish stakeholders, and international partners.STRATEGY_DIPD_PDF_1

A strategy in the making – a process

In January-February 2014 – following the Board’s discussions of the final review report of DIPD in November 2013 – a working group consisting of members of the Board started an intensive strategy formulation process, which culminated in a full day strategy seminar for all Board members in February. Finally, in May 2014 the new strategy was approved.

A key dimension of the process was to define what you could call the DNA of DIPD. What is it that sets DIPD apart from other institutes working with political parties? What is the common ground between DIPD’s party projects and the multi-party projects, and how do they differ?

In the process, DIPD held consultations with the political parties and also engaged with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and partners.

The overall objectives

Two overall programmatic objectives are defined in the strategy:

Objective 1:

DIPD shall contribute to the strengthening of the capacity of political parties to function democratically, and to parties being representative and accountable.

This concerns in particular that democratic parties need capacity to manage a multitude of functions and responsibilities. The institute will give particular priority to results in a number of areas, including involvement of women and youth, internal democratic procedures, and local level representation and accountability.

During a seminar with DIPD partners from Nepal and Bhutan one of our partners – Tshewang Tashi, Vice President of BKP from Bhutan – commented:

“Accountability of political parties is really key. How can we make parties more transparent and how can we have a more proactive role in preventing abuse of power and corruption?”

Objective 2:

DIPD shall contribute to the strengthening of the political dialogue and cooperation among parties in a multi-party system.

DIPD recognises that in young democracies and highly polarised countries, dialogue and cooperation are critical to supporting peaceful political processes and to seeking common solutions to difficult challenges. The institute will give particular priority to results in a number of focus areas including multiparty platforms for dialogue and cooperation; codes of conduct for parties and party members; and democratic reform initiatives.

The principles of DIPD

The strategy is very clear on the basic principles and values that are at the heart of how DIPD should operate.

One important principle is the partnership principle which permeates the whole strategy and which underlines that DIPD works in partnerships characterized by long-term cooperation, mutual trust and transparency, and not least objectives and results agreed and formulated on the basis of thorough analysis and dialogue.

Another fundamental point of departure in DIPD is that democratisation builds upon and is strengthened by the respect for human rights, in particular the civil and political rights, and rights like freedom of assembly, freedom to organise, freedom of expression and the protection of minorities.

Theory of change

The strategy also presents the framework for DIPD’s theory of change. Political parties are seen as important vehicles or channels of citizens’ voice into government, and DIPD therefore focuses on the relationships regarding representation and accountability, the core democratic functions of political parties, rather than focusing only at the party as an institution. The change perspective of DIPD is thus informed by established political party theory as exemplified in the party government and party linkage paradigm.

Moreover, DIPD is seeking to work with capacity development in a manner that is now recognised as a guided changing approach as opposed to directed or planned change. A guided changing approach is well suited when operating in unpredictable contexts, with high levels of political dynamics and conflicts of interest, and where negotiations on the intended outcomes are necessary.

During the seminar with DIPD partners from Nepal and Bhutan mentioned above, one of our partners – Mr. Sonam Jatso, representing the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Bhutan – commented:

“I really like DIPDs approach to political parties as channels and vehicles for citizens voice into government – this also means that parties do not need to be big and expensive organisations. We would like to learn more about government- party-citizen linkages.”

Change path through Party-to-Party partnerships

Political parties are key intermediaries to facilitate citizen’s voice into government in democratic societies. Yet, they are frequently the weakest link and also often the most ignored link in international democracy support.

DIPD therefore establishes bilateral democracy partnerships with political parties interested and committed to improve their democratic performance in representation and accountability. DIPD assists the parties in assessing current strengths and weaknesses and identify avenues to enhance the parties’ capacity to better represent and be accountable, and to hold governments to account.

Change path through Multi-Party partnerships

Competition is a core element in the work of political parties. Thus a lot of electoral support is offered through a variety of sources. Equally important but often overlooked is party dialogue and cooperation. DIPD assists political parties in establishing a trusted and safe space for dialogue, where relationships that make room for cooperation and identification of joint issues of concern can be developed, such as reforming the regulatory framework for political parties or the electoral framework or improving political parties’ democratic performance. During the strategy discussions it was highlighted that :

’’Experience indicates that political dialogue will lead to more political tolerance, less political violence and political conflicts. Political dialogue leads to joint reform initiatives making the overall regulatory framework more conducive for the work of political parties and for human rights and democratic processes in the country as a whole, and enhances political parties democratic performance in representation and accountability.’’

Third actor partnerships

Recognizing that political parties are key to mechanisms of representation and accountability between citizens and the government, DIPD supports third actors that can provide critical support or advocacy for parties or multiparty initiatives to perform better. The support may entail the provision of voter surveys, democracy films, or political analysis that can inform and qualify the representative role of political parties or the support to civil society groups and think thanks that critically monitor and advocate for the accountability of political parties.

Organisational efforts

The strategy also outlines how DIPD will strengthen its own organisational capacity to deliver on objectives and results. Three areas will be in focus:

  • DIPD will continue to develop initiatives that support the development of professional and organisational resources in the Danish parties.
  • The secretariat will strengthen the capacity to cooperate with many different types of partners.
  • DIPD must develop a simple and manageable system for reporting on objectives, activities and results.

Regarding the latter, it is recognized that DIPD is one among many institutions contributing to democratic development, and it will therefore always be difficult to isolate our particular contribution. It is nevertheless useful and necessary for DIPD and its partners to obtain an overview of the results of our common efforts. A consistent and intelligent system for reporting on activities will document how we use our resources effectively and deliver results. And importantly, it will help us and partners tell the good stories of the ideas we had and the changes we made.

Read the full strategy in Danish and English. Or take a look at the Danish and English versions online.

Nepal: JOMPOPS SC member Asta Laxmi Shakya elected Vice-President of her party

In the recent convention of the Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) party, Asta Laxmi Shakya – member of the JOMPOPS Steering Committee – was elected Vice President. She has been the SC member of JOMPOPS since its formation in early 2010 and was the first elected Chairperson of the JOMPOPS platform.

Report from Shrishti Rana, DIPD Representative in Nepal

Ms Shakya has been active in the communist movement of Nepal since 1970s. It may be relevant to note here that most of the communist parties in Nepal are different from the perception of communist parties in the western context. Nepal’s communist parties like Communist Marxist Leninist or CPN-UML are committed to multiparty democracy and to an open economy like moderate left parties in the West. Therefore, it can be said that Ms. Shakya has been involved in the democratic movement of Nepal since she started her political career.

As the first Chairperson of JOMPOPS, Asta took active interest as well as necessary actions to ensure that the pilot project supported by DIPD in Nepal became a success. She was instrumental in fostering a strong sense of both ownership and leadership of local partners in the JOMPOPS project. During her term, she introduced the practice of conducting the Steering Committee meeting in the respective party office on a rotation basis, which created a lot of positive response from local partners.

Most importantly, her role to promote women in politics through the JOMPOPS platform has been significant. She was the Coordinator for the national seminar on gender and democracy in April 2013in which top leaders of all six parties committed to gender equality inside their respective party. This event was also attended by the Danish Minister Ulla Tørnæs. Asta also had a key role in mobilizing JOMPOPS members to coordinate on a multiparty campaign on violence against women in 2014 supported by DIPD. Moreover, she conducted a number of programmes to promote women’s leadership at local level in her own party in partnership with DIPD.

By securing the position of the Vice President inside the Marxist Leninist Party, Asta Laxmi Shakya has become the highest ranking party leader inside the JOMPOPS platform. And DIPD has reasons to celebrate as her success is a small example of what DIPD aims to contribute in Nepal.

Shakya was elected as the Constituent Assembly Member in November 2014. Despite her busy schedule as the Vice President of the party and the Constituent Assembly member, Shakya continues to be actively engaged in activities supported by DIPD in Nepal.