Dec 07, 2006

UNPO President Addresses Conference on “Democracy Promotion: The European Way”

Statement by Mr. Ledum Mitee, President of UNPO

Democracy Promotion: Initiatives for Institutional Reform Inside And Outside The European Union

European Parliament, Brussels
6 – 7 December 2006


This conference, especially the discussions about democracy promotion: initiatives for institutional reform inside and outside the European Union, has profound and engaging interest amongst the members of the UNPO, of which I am the current president. This is so as UNPO members across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas are engaged in democratic struggles in various manifestations.

In discussing institutional reforms within and outside the EU that would help in the promotion of these struggles for democracy therefore, there is the overarching need for clarity of vision not only because lack of clarity of the institutions needing reform might have profound implications inside and outside the EU.

One issue that needs our clear understanding in the regard is that in several societies, especially in the developing countries, there is the blurred distinction between the state and resources and politics and economics. Politics have become a contest by a few elites to capture state resources to amass considerable wealth which they in turn use to capture political power and cyclically to capture resources. Where this occurs, it houses a pervasive regime of fear- that failure to grab power means loss of access to resources and the winner fears the return of the loser.

This phenomenon in turn leads to another blurred vision- the first preoccupation of those in power therefore is to annihilate the political opposition, or out of sheer survival instincts, the political opposition  commits suicide after an election since the government in power, targets their economic interests and deprives them of any entitlements or benefits.

In such situations, the space left for political opposition becomes occupied by what should be civil society and human rights activists for two related reasons - advocating rights, say for development or environment or even corporate responsibility, is perceived as, and indeed becomes, a threat to the resource capturers, and the struggle for these rights become inextricably mixed with         with system change.

Viewed against this background, reform of what would otherwise be institutions for promotion of democracy like political parties, legislature, electoral commissions etc becomes an exercise not only in futility, but viewed by the grassroots as compromises with undemocratic forces. This is why international support (like election monitoring) that targets only elections hardly receives the expected applause of the grassroots (in those countries) since most often than not, they end up giving a stamp of approval and legitimacy to an exercise already known by the people affected to have been intrinsically flawed. This is so as the governments in these countries invariably make some cosmetic reforms only intended to attract international support.

What needs to be reformed therefore might be more of the means of supporting credible struggles for democracy and democratic values rather than sterile institutions. The quest for institutional reforms therefore should be targeted at creating an alliance, not with the very regimes that frustrate, but with the peoples engaged in the struggle, at great risks, for the promotion of democracy and democratic values.

It is in this respect that suggestions already made about channelling support for Democratic promotion and consolidation through an independent European Democracy Foundation becomes most attractive. Since this has the advantage and capability of by-passing the official government channels and targeting communities and the peoples directly, it becomes more and more easily accessible and versatile. Channelling support through organizations, like the UNPO, that have the potential to create a multiplier effect in many parts of the world in the promotion of the struggle for democracy, will be one way of driving the needed reforms. The overall aim should be to leverage the needed reforms of institutions for promotion and deepening of democracy from within and outside the European Union.

Statement delivered by Mr. Ledum Mitee, President of UNPO, to “Democracy Promotion: The European Way”, held at the European Parliament in Brussels from 6