Director of Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) through 9 years, Roel von Meijenfeldt, has retired from NIMD. In his farewell address he stresses the universality of democracy and need to focus on the vital role of political parties in emerging democracies.
“Emerging democracies are too often either dominated by one well established party, set to perpetuate its dominance, or by parties which are the chiefdoms of individuals who own the party as a potential gateway to power” Roel von Meijenfeldt stresses to friends and colleagues, attending the farewell reception on 22 June, hosted by board and staff at Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
Given the struggles of political parties in upcoming democracies, von Meijenfeldt points to the linking of the development of political parties and support of multi-party systems of NIMD as both an innovative and proper approach.
Democracy can not be exported
NIMD was, however, first met with widespread criticism, von Meijenfeldt explains, and points to the deep suspicion about perceived potential foreign intervention in domestic affairs as one of the key accusations.
Scepticism is, according to von Meijenfeldt, understandable when operating within such a sensitive field as democracy support. Therefore, the focus on local ownership has been a vital part of NIMD’s approach:
“Democracy can not be exported and has to grow from within the countries concerned if it is to be sustainable” he emphasises, thus stressing the importance of resting full ownership of the programmes with the prospective partners: the leaders of the political parties.
The Impact of NIMD
As Director of NIMD since the launch of the institute in 2000, Roel von Meijenfeldt is well experienced in support of emerging democracies. Among the many programmes implemented by NIMD over the last 9 years, three lasting legacies are highlighted:
First of all, the institutionalization of the inclusive political dialogues in the form of the Centres for Multiparty Democracy (CMDs), which are platforms where political party leaders regularly meet to analyze and to find agreement about needed reforms and about the agendas for implementation. These have been launched in most NIMD programme countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.
Secondly, Roel von Meijenfeldt points to democratic reforms such as the support of constitutional reform processes and related legislation in countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Mali, Bolivia and Ecuador as among the key achievements of NIMD and its local partners, the Centres for Multiparty Democracy.
Lastly, the democracy education programmes, the so-called democracy schools, are highlighted. Through community meetings, role play, debates, in-class meeting, modules and organizing public debates, the education programmes seek to generate a group of committed, capable and democratically active citizens in the global south.
The Fourth Wave of Democracy: The Arab World
Finally, von Meijenfeldt emphasises the importance of what might turn into the Fourth Wave of Democracy: the pro-democracy revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, which resulted in the resignation of Egyptian President of more than 30 years, Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian counterpart, Ben Ali.
The Arab Spring points, according to Roel von Meijenfeldt, to the fact that people the world over are born with a democracy gene and should as such be welcomed as a historic opportunity to engage with partners in the Arab region.
In conclusion, von Meijenfeldt describes the NIMD model of Dutch parties working together to support the advancement of multi-party democracy in emerging democracies as a most “rewarding laboratory in which innovative approaches have been tested and more tangible impact achieved than could have been foreseen at the start of NIMD”.
NIMD is a democracy assistance organisation of political parties in the Netherlands for political parties in young democracies. It was founded in 2000 and is currently working in 16 countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe.