ABC in how to dialogue between political parties

“Political Party Dialogue: A Facilitator’s Guide” was launched at the Oslo Center seminar last week. The Guide is enriched with practical lessons and tips for practitioners in their work on political development. It is based on global, comparative knowledge collected from the field, and is designed to be used as a practical tool to embrace political party dialogue as a democratic practice.

-The guide is developed to assist young facilitators who are keen to expand their knowledge, says Cecilia Bylsjø, a senior advisor at the Oslo Center, who presented the book at the Oslo Center seminar together with the co-editors International IDEA and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD).

Cooperation vs. competition
Political parties are a basic institution of representative democracy and they represent and aggregate diverse interests and aspirations. No other actor can play their role in a democratic state. Even though competition between political parties is inevitable and can be healthy for a democracy, equally so is political cooperation to address complex national issues. This is especially important in developing democracies that are recovering from or still experiencing conflict that have ruined their social fabric. In such highly polarized situations, political party cooperation – through dialogue – becomes an enabler for reaching compromise and ownership. Therefore it is important that political parties not only have the capacity to compete, but also know how to cooperate.

Inclusion of minorities
During the seminar, Keboitse Machangana from International IDEA explained how political parties can work as gatekeepers when it comes to gender equality in politics but also on issues of inclusion in general.

-More dialogue and less competition in a democracy lead to inclusivity of minorities, Keboitse Machanga said to the audience in Oslo.

Moreover, party cooperation can inhibit violence related to political elections. Pepjin Gerrits from NIMD talked about his experiences from party dialogue in Uganda, where NIMD worked to create safe meeting spaces for political parties in order to develop mutual trust before the elections in 2010.

A western idea?
Several important challenges face practitioners working with democracy development. One issue is how to avoid that democracy comes across as a western idea that can seem foreign for countries in other parts of the world. Pepjin Gerrits pointed out that democracy is a choice, and just like the UN declaration of Human rights, democratic values are universal. Keboitse Machanga replied that even though there are some basic democratic values, they will play out differently in different contexts.

Another challenge is how to facilitate political dialogue outside the capital and urban regions. Weak infrastructures and lack of internet access in rural areas are obstacles when trying to extend democracy programs to the rest of the country. Referring to his experiences in Uganda, Pepjin Gerrits explained that lack of funding was hindering them from extending the dialogue outside of Kampala. He proposed that there should be an increased focus on the structure of political party finance, where the local level has to be taken into consideration. Such a development would lead to a more sustainable system and would also help to institutionalize the parties, said Gerrits.

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