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DPNS and SNLD join forces to develop peace policy

As part of the Danish Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) partnership with the regional network SocDem Asia, a three day seminar and workshop session on policy-making was held in Yangon, Myanmar, from January 18-20, 2017.

This article is written by Iben Merrild, International Consultant at the Danish Social Democratic Party, as a report on their ongoing partnership with SocDem Asia.

A social democratic partnership

The partnership between the SDP and SocDem Asia seeks to bring the social democratic values, themes and processes from the regional network of SocDem Asia to the national level of the participating political parties. As such, the partnership works directly with the Akbayan Citizen’s Action party in the Philippines, Nepali Congress in Nepal and the parties Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in Myanmar.

The political parties in each country have chosen a specific theme to develop a policy on during the project which runs until the end of 2017. Nepali Congress opted to work on social inclusion in the newly ratified constitution, Akbayan selected universal healthcare and in Myanmar DPNS and SNLD decided to work towards developing a policy that could feed into the ongoing peace process in the country. According to the DNPS leader, the topic was chosen due to the fact that it is impossible to have democratization without peace and vice-versa.

Narrowing the focus on peace

Drawing on input from local resource speakers including the SNLD representative and second secretary in the Union Peace Dialogue Joint-Committee, Sai Kyaw Nyunt, regional speakers on the peace processes in Nepal, Basu Gautam, and the Philippines, Rechie Tugawin, as well as the Danish social democratic experience of inclusive policy making presented by the Danish social democratic, MP Lars Aslan Rasmussen, the participants from the DPNS and SNLD embarked on three days of issue analysis and agenda setting, as well as policy formulation and development on the topic of peace.

Lars Aslan Rasmussen (SDP) giving a presentation during the SocDem Asia seminar in Yangon.

Working on the issue of peace is no simple feat and the ongoing peace process in the country is complex to say the least. As such, the participants, who ranged from the leadership of the two parties, female state and union MP’s, youth wing leaders to ordinary members, were inspired by the Social Democratic Party’s method of using debate tablecloths to identify what they considered sub-themes and challenges to achieving peace. The sub-issues that need to be dealt with to achieve peace were identified as being the following: lack of democracy, inequality, lack of self-determination for ethnic groups, role of the military, national disunity, lack of political leadership, the 2008 constitution and issues around culture/caste.

Through subsequent workshops participants conducted a mock stakeholder analysis and attempted to narrow the policy focus further by identifying actions and measures that need to be brought about to deal particularly with the three issues of self-determination for ethnic groups, inequality (in various forms) and the role of the military. Going forward the project team in Myanmar will use all the documentation and input provided to by the participants to settle on a single sub-theme and concretise it further to ensure that it can be made into a draft policy ahead of sectoral consultations later in the spring.

An inclusive peace dialogue

With the new government under Aung San Suu Kyi, the chance for peace is the highest in almost 70 years of conflict. Indeed at the 21st Panglong Peace Conference in August 2016 nearly all armed groups attended. The next bi-yearly peace conference is expected to take place next month. This process is however faced by many challenges. While a very positive step, so far only eight ethnic armed organisations have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015, while other major armed organizations have yet to join the agreement, and armed conflict is still escalating among some groups. Moreover, some feel that there can never be real peace as long as the military occupies 25 per cent of the seats in government in accordance with the 2008 Constitution.

For parties liked the DPNS which only returned to Myanmar as a party in 2014, after having been banned since the 1990s, with members and leaders imprisoned or forced into exile at the Thai border, an inclusive peace process and dialogue is alpha omega. This can be a difficult task to ensure as there are an estimated 90 political parties in Myanmar. Currently the Panglong Peace Conferences and the Union Peace Dialogue Joint-Committee only involve parties in Parliament. Therefore, the DPNS and SNLD, the latter of which does have representation in Parliament, are advocating for a more inclusive peace dialogue that will involve all interested political parties, ethnic groups and civil society organisations. Until this happens the intention is that the policy developed will be used by SNLD MP’s and feed into the UPDJC via the SNLD to the extent possible, and that former DPNS members that are now NLD members in Parliament will take note of the policy when they participate in the peace process.

The partnership between the Danish Social Democratic Party and SocDem Asia is funded through DIPD’s Political Party Support Window.

More information

Read more about DIPD’s work in Myanmar, where we are part of the EU supported STEP Democracy Programme.

Contact International Consultant at the Danish Social Democratic Party, Iben Merrild: iben@socialdemokratiet.dk

Contact Project Coordinator at DIPD, Mathias Parsbæk Skibdal: maps@dipd.dk

DIPD supports parties to prepare for by-elections

Myanmar’s first by-elections since the 2015 general elections will take place on 1 April. These by-elections, which will involve over 2 million voters, represent an important test of Myanmar’s democratic processes under its new government.

To support parties’ participation in the by-elections, DIPD, together with its partner International IDEA, organised a training session on 19 January for 70 candidates from the 17 parties (+ independents) who will contest the 19 national and state/regional parliamentary seats up for elections.

In cooperation with the Union Election Commission, DIPD and IDEA led discussion sessions on campaign finance reporting, the political party code of conduct and ethical campaigning, election dispute resolution, and preventing hate speech and violence during campaigning. DIPD also provided sessions for dialogue with the UEC on contentious topics including monitoring campaign finance expenditure, the transparency of the campaign and electoral process, the role of the military in the electoral process, and the challenges of the voter list update and advanced voting process. Through the interaction, the UEC gained insight into the prominent concerns of political parties, and was able to indicate reforms they have made, how to manage likely challenges, and how to communicate with the UEC in case of any concerns arising. For example, the UEC Director General noted the increased opportunities for observing the advanced voting process.  The DG also mentioned steps that the UEC is taking to ensure better information flow between the Union level and its sub-commissioners at the state and regional levels. Parties appreciated the valuable opportunity to raise their concerns to the Commission and the steps that the UEC is taking for continued improvement of the electoral process. DIPD will be providing support to parties throughout the by-elections process to support democratic and accountable campaigning, effective party monitoring of electoral processes, and ethical campaigning.

In closing remarks, U Tin Tun, the Director General of the Union Election Commission highlighted: “In a country like Pakistan where security is tight due to bombings and shooting over the campaign, the polling stations were largely peaceful as voting began and parties showed respect to each other as competitors and not enemies…it is an experience I like best.”

Campaign training for candidates to 2017 by-elections was made possible with the generous support of the European Union through STEP Democracy. DIPD will continue to support dialogue and technical assistance sessions for political parties to organize their campaigns. As part of this initiative, DIPD will hold dialogue and consultation sessions between parties and election commission in each target state/region, trainings for candidates, and polling agent trainings to parties next month.

More information

Read more about DIPD’s work in Myanmar, where we are part of the EU supported STEP Democracy Programme.

Contact DIPD Myanmar Country Coordinator, Khin Thazin Myint: ktzm@dipd.dk

Contact DIPD Senior Advisor, Hanne Lund Madsen: hlm@dipd.dk

Nepali leaders look to Denmark ahead of local elections

With the 2017 Local Elections approaching, leaders of JOMPOPS member UML seek inspiration in the Danish experiences with political parties at local level.

Thirteen kilometres outside Janakpur city – one of the cultural, administrative and political hubs of Nepal’s southern plains – local-level leaders of Nepal Communist Party-Unified Marxists-Leninists (popularly known as UML) gathered on 12 January 2017 to brainstorm for the next two days on “Sambidhan Karyanwoyanma Rajya Samrachana” (State Restructuring In Implementation of Constitution) following the passage of Nepal’s new statute in September 2015. UML is the second biggest party in the parliament.

In a first such gathering since the new constitution, some 77 key leaders braving the cold winter had come from 34 districts – some of which were as far away as two days of bus travel –  from three of the seven provinces that the new constitution has laid out the federal country that the 75-district Nepal now is.

Elements from the Guide

In drawing up the agenda for the two-day event, the organising unit of the party – Federal Affairs Department – had integrated some elements of modules of the Guide on “Political Parties at the Local Level: Danish Experiences for Inspiration”. The Guide was prepared jointly by Danish local politicians and Nepalese politicians in the six-party Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS), DIPD’s partner in Nepal, with support from both Danish and Nepalese political consultants.

State restructuring in Nepal’s present context also means party restructuring because of provincial and local level geographic demarcations to be followed soon by much anticipated first elections under the new constitution; therefore, in providing inputs to the agenda of the interaction, JOMPOPS Steering Committee members of the party decided to include elements of management of a political party, election campaign and gender considerations, based on the developed modules of the Guide.

By a coincidence that JOMPOPS Steering Committee member Parshuram Meghi Gurung termed “happy”, the venue happened to be a local organisation known as Life School Centre, built by Danida in 2010 as part of a watershed and natural resources project, and which now functioned as a resource and meeting centre.

The resource persons for the Janakpur event had travelled from Dang the day before after a two-day interaction there on January 9 and 10 on the same broad theme for some 65 top local leaders from districts covering the provinces 4, 5, 6 and 7.

In Dang, Mr. Gurung, who is a politburo member of the party and Head of the Federal Affairs Department, sought to familiarise his colleagues about Nepal’s federalism which has unique specialities and about what is the way ahead for the party in making federalism successful. The form and contents of Nepal’s future local governments was the topic on which federalism expert Mr. Krishna Prasad Sapkota spoke in detail. Dr. Deepak Prakash Bhatt, a security expert, gave a presentation on international relations, including regional security. Ms. Dhan Kumari Sunar, the party’s gender focal person who works closely with DIPD on various issues around one of JOMPOPS’ key areas of work i.e. women in politics, gave participants a tour of Nepal’s constitutional provisions on women’s rights, and discussed women’s participation and representation in politics and the challenges that the party should deal with in this context.

Awaiting Local Elections

Another resource person Federal Affairs Department Secretary Mr. Shiva Gurung – who is one of the trainers trained in the contents of the Guide at the four-day Training of Trainers that JOMPOPS had organised in April 2016 with participation of a group of politicians from Danish municipalities as resource persons – talked about how to be effective in local election campaigns and presented different aspects of Danish experiences and practices that he had learnt at the ToT. With the impending local elections occupying the minds of district leaders, Mr. Gurung’s presentation struck a timely chord with them.

Participants in Janakpur, 550 kilometres east from Dang, were equally interested in how the executive and legislative branches of local level units (now called Village Body/Municipality) would function, what new powers they had compared to now, and how the party should prepare itself for the upcoming elections, expected to be announced any day. They were eager to learn from the resource persons who seemed to have prepared well for the interaction to impress upon the participants how important it is for top local-level leaders to be oriented on how the federalism is unfolding at the local level.

So, when federalism expert Mr. Krishna Prasad Sapkota gave examples of how elsewhere the local governments function, including how Denmark’s local units have the authority to spend a large share of the national budget, it was clear the participants began to appreciate the road ahead where the local level units were going to have a number of powers in diverse fields like education (up to high school), health, cooperatives, local tax and a number of other services. They also heard from Ms. Sunar how they had the onus of preparing women to be effective in local politics and run for office, after she gave a rundown on constitutional provisions on women’s representation from the bottom to the top of state structure.

For Janakpur interaction, the organisers had asked DIPD Senior Adviser Murari Shivakoti to conduct the session on “Chunabma Safal Huna” (Winning Elections), also based on his experience as a media expert. Mr. Shivakoti in his presentation drew from the Danish way of tackling local elections, as contained in the Local Guide, starting with how a systematic planning, well in advance, was vital to build a political strategy. But he focussed mostly on campaign activities and communication means as employed by the Danish parties for local elections, contextualising them where possible with Nepal’s practicalities, and giving examples from the mediascape of Janakpur municipality.

Message and Medium

In a quick feedback later, participant Mr. Sudhir Shah, a local youth leader, said the message he took away from the session was how proper planning was key. “Competitive politics require meticulous preparations, step-by-step”, he said. “There were inspirations from Danish practices on how to do it, and do it creatively.” Mr. Sabin Bahadur Thapa, another youth leader, thought the session was interesting because he learnt of the elements of a successful election campaign. “I also saw how social media tools can be useful in targeting particularly youths, and dealing with media in general”, he said.

As the interactions came to a close, top provincial-level leaders like former minister and member of parliament from the district Mr. Shatrughan Mahato and Province No. 2 Deputy Head Mr. Nagendra Chaudhary in one voice said the two-day event was very beneficial and more such training needed to be conducted in different districts. That seems to be in the cards of the party. JOMPOPS SC member Mr. Gurung had earlier at the opening of the training on the first day had announced that the interactions in Dang and Janakpur also marked the initial launch of what he called a “School of Federalism” that the party will continue to work on for a formal establishment.

More information

Contact DIPD Country Coordinator in Nepal, Shristi Rana: shrishti@dipd.org.np

Thousands gather to promote marginalised women in politics

On 7 January, nearly 3000 people primarily from the Dalit community gathered in Kalaiya in the southern plains of Nepal to discuss and promote women’s active participation in politics, in order to overcome the massive discrimination still facing Dalit women.

The Joint Mechanism for Political Parties Strengthening (JOMPOPS) — DIPD’S local partner in Nepal — has been running a campaign on promoting women in politics since April 2013. As part of this campaign, JOMPOPS parties organize both multiparty and intraparty programmes at the central level as well as at the local level to promote participation/representation/recognition of women in politics.

In early January 2017, one of the JOMPOPS members, Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP), organized a mass public meeting to empower women from one of the most marginalized communities in Nepal: Dalit. The Dalit communities, treated as untouchables, are still socially discriminated and are considered among the most deprived in terms of access to resources and power.

According to a Dalit-based organization, almost half of Nepal’s Dalits live below the poverty line and their life expectancy and literacy rate are way below the national average. Despite constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination against Dalits, they continue to face multifaceted discriminations in practice, such as prohibition to enter into religious places or to touch water in public places.

Women from the Dalit community face additional discriminations, as they have been deprived from access to education, health and other resources. Often, it’s Dalit women who are victims of accusation of practicing witch-craft. Such women are often tortured and even killed. Last December, a Dalit woman called Laxmi Pariyar, near the capital Kathmandu, was beaten up, fed feces, and finally killed on accusation of witch-craft.

In this context, JOMPOPS Steering Committee member from the TMDP party, Jitendra Prasad Sonar, came up with a proposal to empower Dalit women to participate actively in politics so that they can influence the political process. DIPD decided to provide some technical support for the event in partnership with other local organizations.

Promoting women’s participation

On 7 January, nearly 3000 people including nearly 50 per cent women particularly from the Dalit community gathered in Kalaiya in Bara district in the southern plains of Nepal. TMDP President Mahanta Thakur was the chief guest of the programme and his presence gave a strong message for the importance of men to engage on women’s issues.

In addition to political speeches appealing women to participate actively in politics not just as voters but as leaders, two successful women leaders shared their personal journeys, talking about the key barriers they faced and the ways they overcome those barriers. The main objective of this sharing was to inspire Dalit women to strive for leadership positions.

Among the two key women speakers, one was Ms. Sheikh Chand Tara. Ms. Chand Tara is the former Chair of the National Women’s Commission, appointed from the quota given to the political parties.  Ms. Chand Tara emphasized on education and appealed to Dalit women to prioritize education. She also pointed out that gender equality is the cornerstone of overall economic prosperity.

Another speaker was a local woman community leader, Ms. Pinky Yadav. She shared her experiences and said that the situation for Dalit women has remained the same despite massive socio-political reforms in Nepal.  She concluded that Dalit women should come forward and take active participation in politics than just be voters.

In addition to sharing the personal stories by women leaders, the programme also focused on emphasizing the need for men to engage on empowerment of women. Both the Steering Committee members from JOMPOPS, Jitendra Prasad Sonar and Suresh Mandal, said that Dalit women should be empowered. They also spoke against the caste system and appealed to Dalit women to come forward without any hesitation.

Since very limited political party programmes focus on marginalized groups such as Dalit women, this programme generated a lot of enthusiasm among the Dalit women in the area, and which found expressions during the programme.

More information

Contact DIPD Country Coordinator in Nepal, Shristi Rana: shrishti@dipd.org.np

 

A new era for civil society in Bhutan. Civil Society Organisations receive National order of Merit (Gold)

DIPD partner in Bhutan, BCMD, recive a national order of merit as His Majesty the King recognised the work and importance of civil society.

Read more