“Bridging the Gap – Democracy: Between Old Models and New Realities”. This was the theme of the first edition of the World Forum for Democracy organized by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg this week. In view of recent developments in the Southern and Eastern European Neighbourhood the Council of Europe initiated a debate on the state of democracy in the world by bringing together political leaders, national and local elected representatives, civil society activists as well as academics and journalists. The forum was marked by the presence of Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations as well as Ms. Tawakkol Karman (Yemen), Nobel Prize winner (2011). Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom was a partner in the forum and together with the European Network of Political Foundations (ENoP) co-organizer of the round table “Moving beyond Electoral Democracies – Furthering Level Playing Fields in the Electoral Process”.
How can we ensure respect for civil and political rights of all actors engaged in the elections? What is the role of the European Union in supporting democratic processes? How do you address a certain “election fatigue” that is felt in a lot of partner countries of the EU? These were some of the questions addressed by the panellists in the discussion, which included FNF partner, Chito Gascon, Undersecretary for Political Affairs in the Office of the President of the Philippines, Emilano Rosales, Founder of the Mexican NGO “Participando por Mexico”, Mikko Majander, Professor of Political History at the University of Helsinki and Director of the Finnish Kalevi Sorsa Foundation as well as Ingrid Wetterqvist, European External Action Service. The discussion was chaired by Anne de Boer, Coordinator of ENoP.
Ingrid Wetterqvist (EEAS) highlighted that while the European Union has achieved a strong voice for human rights, a lot still needs to be done in the area of democracy support. “The message should be the promotion of our fundamental values that guide our actions inside and outside of the Union,” said Wetterqvist referring to Article 21, Treaty of the European Union.
Chito Gascon shared with the audience the Philippine experience on its path towards democracy. He mentioned a number of criteria that need to be fulfilled in order to succeed in holding free, fair, efficient, and transparent elections such as the importance of having an independent election institution as well as independent security and police authorities. “Furthermore, free and fair elections require collective efforts of multiple stakeholders working together not only during the election days but also in-between elections,” said Gascon.
The panelists agreed that focusing only on electoral democracy and neglecting all the other areas, in fact weakens electoral democracy itself. It is important to focus on political capacities and this is where the political foundations play a critical role. They empower the citizens to have a voice in society as well as through creating a channel of dialogue between local CSO-s and government as well as political parties in the partner countries.
Picture 1: From l. to r. Rosales, Gascon, de Boer, Wetterqvist, Majander
Picture 2: Chito Gascon