Democracy Assistance Dialogue (DAD): Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the broader Middle East and North Africa

Final Declaration and Recommandation - Venice, 21-23 July 2005

At the conclusion of the Workshop on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the broader Middle East and North Africa, organised by No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), in partnership with the European Inter-University Centre on Human Rights and Democratisation, attended by more than 120 participants, including political and civil society leaders from nineteen countries of the region (Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen), held in Venice on 21-23 July 2005;
Considering that the Venice Workshop on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the broader Middle East and North Africa is part of the Democracy Assistance Dialogue (DAD) Program, sponsored by Italy, Turkey and Yemen in the framework of the Forum for the Future and implemented by No Peace Without Justice, Italy, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), and the Human Rights Information and Training Centre, Yemen (HRITC):
In order to develop specific recommendations for an agenda of dialogue between non-governmental actors and governments in the context of the DAD, including the forthcoming DAD meeting planned in Morocco and the Forum for the Future meeting planned in Bahrain, to foster productive dialogue between civil society, governments and parliaments of the broader Middle East and North Africa, integrating participation of intellectuals, political leaders, media representatives and civil society activists and facilitating specific initiatives on issues relating to political reform, democracy and human rights;
Considering that the workshop developed through three panels, respectively on Standards, status and role of Political Parties, Electoral systems and rules, passive and active electorates, electoral monitoring, and Access to the Media for political parties and civil society organisations, that have resulted in a number of recommendations endorsed by the plenary at its final session on Saturday, 23 July 2005;
We, the participants, recommend that
The principles emerging from the Workshop Panels be the starting points of the dialogue between governments and civil society in the region as part of the Democracy Assistance Dialogue program.
We, the Participants:
Express appreciation to No Peace Without Justice for convening and organising this Workshop on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the BMENA Region and for ensuring a fruitful working environment, as well as to EIUC and chairs, rapporteurs, discussants, speakers and all those who have taken the floor and/or given written statements for having contributed to the outcome of the workshop;
Thank the Italian Government for facilitating the attendance of participants, the two other DAD Governments sponsors, Turkey and Yemen, for their participation in the Workshop, as well as government donors for providing the resources necessary for the organisation and follow-up of this Workshop.
Done in Venice, 23 July 2005.

As reviewed, amended and endorsed by the final Plenary Session of the Workshop on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the broader Middle East and North Africa, on Saturday 23 July 2005.
To governments of the region:
Recommendations on “Standards, Status and Role of Political Parties”
· Countries of the region should work towards the promotion of a wider framework of political pluralism in order to allow for a genuinely free and fair democratic participation;
· Countries of the region should ensure that appropriate legislation regulating the establishment and running of political parties as good legal basis for a truly legitimate democratic process;
· Countries of the region should allow the effective participation of the people in the political process of their societies. In order for this to happen, political parties must be allowed to exist as a vehicle to take part in the general political life, in local and national elections;
· Political parties laws should prevent any interference with the lawful activities of political parties, which should all have equal rights before the law;
· Countries of the region should abolish laws that restrict financing of political parties from abroad;
Recommendations on “Electoral systems and rules, passive and active electorate, electoral monitoring”
·                    Governments of the region should allow international monitors to operate without undue restrictions and facilitate local monitors to operate as part of the political process;
·                    Governments of the region should allow free access to the media and ensure there is sufficient time in advance of elections for public opinion to be formed;
·                    Governments of the region should review the civil service, so that there is continuity and so that improvements and useful programs introduced by previous governments are not lost;
·                    Governments of the region should guarantee and encourage the participation of women, as well as youth and people from rural areas, in political life and notably in the election processes by the means appropriate in each circumstance. Quotas for women’s participation in elections and government bodies should be considered as a temporary measure, to narrow the gap between the participation of men and women in political life and decision-making processes, while quotas for women’s participation in the governing bodies of political parties should be welcomed as an appropriate political choice by the political parties themselves;
·                    The role of Parliaments in promoting and adopting reform measures should be recognised and encouraged;
·                    Governments of the region should ensure that civil society organisations and individual human rights activists are free from persecution and prosecution on political grounds and should release all political prisoners, as a matter of urgency;
·                    Governments of the region should review relevant international human rights instruments and take all necessary steps to ratify and implement these instruments;
Recommendations on “Access to the Media for political parties and civil society organisations”
Governments of the region should:
·                    abolish the laws that limit freedom of expression and freedom of access to the media and to amend laws that may be retained in accordance with the various international regulations and agreements in this field;
·                    allow independent national and regional institutions committed to monitoring the respect of the freedom of the media and linguistic democracy as well as the right of access of political parties, non governmental organizations and citizens;
·                    ensure an impartial mechanism for monitoring the media, especially public owned media but also private media, before and during elections. Impartial media coverage is as important as access to the media; (Most of the participants underlined the necessity that such monitoring mechanisms be carried out by civil societies’ representatives.)
To the international community:
Recommendations on “Standards, Status and Role of Political Parties”
·                    Assist in the development of human and political resources for political parties, including training on issues such as effective campaign management, of candidates and members of the campaign teams; dealing with the media; running a financially sustainable campaign; identification and management of campaign messages; constituency outreach; campaign polling; voter registration; voters turnout and other relevant electoral issues;
·                    Support initiatives aimed at increasing access of women in parliaments and governments in the BMENA region, as part of a wider objective of increasing the participation of women in the debate on political reform also on issues not related to women’s rights;
·                    Encourage countries in the region to open up their societies and, in particular, to safeguard the freedom of association and political pluralism;
·                    Support networks of organisations that will commit themselves to supporting the non-violent approach, tolerance and the acceptance of the culture of others;
Recommendations on “Electoral systems and rules, passive and active electorate, electoral monitoring”
·                    International election monitoring should take place before, during and after elections, at all polling centres, and should encompass a review of basic human rights and principles to determine whether elections are free and fair;
·                    National election monitors and others require training to boost capacity, in relation to undertaking electoral monitoring and in relation to the day-to-day administration of organisations and institutions;
·                    The European Parliament and the United States Congress, as well as other national and regional Parliaments and organisations, should organise hearings on elections and receive briefings and reports from international and local monitors and others, particularly in those areas where international monitors are prevented from observing the electoral processes;
·                    The Forum for the Future should create a permanent secretariat to follow the DAD process, which should consult regularly on reform efforts and follow-up the recommendations made during various meetings on democratic reform in the broader Middle East and North Africa;
·                    The international community, in particular the European Union and its Member states, should support reform efforts emanating from people in the broader Middle East and North Africa, whether they are working inside or outside the region;
·                    The international community should contribute to an appropriate independent and specific funding mechanism for civil society activities to support democracy and reform, reflecting a commitment to the principles of civic engagement and democracy.  The mechanism would provide technical and financial support for civil society programs, in the transitional or aspiring democracies in the whole of the BMENA region, with no exclusion, to be led by leading democratic civil society figures from BMENA and other participating countries;
Recommendations on “Access to the Media for political parties and civil society organisations”
·                    the participants call upon the governments on the region and the governments of the G8 that are members of the Forum for the Future to set an agenda with a clear time frame for the legal and institutional reform of the media that takes into account the differences between countries;
·                    Such an agenda would represent a mechanism for monitoring the performance of these countries and their commitment to the implementation of the general agreements that were signed by these countries;
·                    The participants also called upon these governments to create a mechanism that commits them to dialogue with civil society organizations on issues of relevance;
To political parties, media and civil society in the region:
Recommendations on “Standards, Status and Role of Political Parties”
·                    Political parties should set standards of internal democracy as - it was often noted - democracy cannot be possible without democrats. To this end, mechanisms should be adopted to allow internal elections, active participation of women at all level of party life, exchange and/or rotation of leadership, the growing and inclusion of young generations of politicians in the decision-making process and activities of the parties;
·                    Political parties should provide citizens with a clear and transparent platform to express their political opinions;
·                    Political parties should have some consistency and credibility in their decision-making processes and represents their members' ideas and ideals;
·                    Civil society and political parties should consider creating and restructuring movements that focus on non-violence and adopt a tolerant approach;
Recommendations on “Electoral systems and rules, passive and active electorate, electoral monitoring”
·                    Political parties should publish their manifestos and ensure they are freely available to those who wish to consult them;
·                    Civil society should engage young people in the democratic process and in all relevant civil society activities, including through shadow elections, shadow parliaments and similar activities and should set quotas and timeframes for increasing such engagement;
·                    Adopting the conclusions of the Symposium on women’s participation in public life in Istanbul in June 2005, civil society, in particular women’s associations should develop means to enhance women’s participation in electoral processes, including through women’s leadership training programs;
·                    Workshops and training on electoral processes should be held in every country represented at the Workshop to encourage public dissemination and debate. Adopt a critical process and identify the real flaws in the system, including through performing comprehensive reviews of best practices and lessons learnt at the national and regional levels, including through the establishment of regional electoral monitoring networks. Concentrate on the spreading of information concerning elections in order to get to real reforms that can provide greater legitimacy;
Recommendations on “Access to the Media for political parties and civil society organisations”
The participants recommended that civil society organizations at national and regional level
·                    adopt a strategy in which the objectives, means of access to the media and the priorities are clearly stated and placed at the centre of the desired reform;
·                    contribute to outlining a legal and structural alternative in view of liberalizing the media and guaranteeing freedom of expression;
·                    support a network in which media operators in the region come together with other media operators from other countries, exchange opinions and express solidarity when under pressure;
·                    underline the importance of developing electronic means of information (most of all trough internet websites) which represent new tools for expression and allow everyone to overcome the obstacles and the control network created by the governments in the region;
·                    proposed, within this framework, the creation of a series of electronic web sites within the region and outside, and the training of the personnel within political parties and NGOs in the use of electronic media tools as part of the DAD initiative. The participants also suggested to use the websites already created in order to facilitate links amongst reformers in the Middle East and to share information and ideas;
·                    requested training programs and initiatives for journalists for the development of their capacity and their knowledge of the legal aspects related to their rights and duties, with the aim of enabling them to carry out their duties in a more effective manner;
·                    called for the enhancement of exchanges between local and foreign media in the fields of sharing expertise and spreading information, in order to overcome the obstacles to the access to the media in the region;
Within this framework the participants
·                    call upon the foreign media to cover the programmes proposed by the democrats in the region and the activities carried out by such democrats, which ultimately allows for additional space to address the public opinion in the region and elsewhere
·                    stressed the essential importance of the protection of journalists and reporters from threats to their personal safety and from the possibility of loosing their jobs, and even their liberty. To this end, a suggestion was made for the creation of a fund for the support of the freedom of the media and of reporters was put forward. Such a fund should intervene in aid of reporters when their rights are violated.
create a podium for civil society, with particular engagement of the youth, to enable civil society to reach the broader public, for example through radio or television.