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

Emma Bonino: Speaking points - Venice, 21-23 July 2005

Emma Bonino: Speaking points

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here to Venice-Lido, to the Monastery of San Nicolò, for the second civil society workshop in the Democracy Assistance Dialogue Program and the first to be hosted directly by No Peace Without Justice.

Let me begin by thanking the organisers of this workshop, No Peace Without Justice, in partnership with the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation, who are hosting us in this wonderful venue. Special thanks also go to the Municipality of Venice, the Veneto Region, the Italian Government and the donors to the DAD Program.

The Democracy Assistance Dialogue program, which falls within the framework of the G8-sponsored Forum for the Future and which No Peace Without Justice conducts in partnership with the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and the Human Rights Information and Training Centre (HRITC) of Yemen, is designed to foster productive dialogue between governments and non-government organisations and individuals, including intellectuals, political figures, media representatives and others.

The Government sponsors of the DAD, Turkey, Italy and Yemen, and their NGO counterparts, have conducted a consultation process with a variety of actors in the region and with each other. The result of that consultation is this, the DAD Program, which was presented at the Forum for the Future meeting held in Rabat in December 2004.

The overall objective of the DAD Program is to facilitate your initiatives on issues relating to political reform, democracy and human rights. So it is just one part of the Forum for the Future, which was established to advance the universal values of human dignity, democracy, economic opportunities and social justice, but it is one of the most important parts: I strongly believe that democracy and the rule of law is the “least worst system in order to promote human and economic development�.

The DAD Program takes this overall objective and tries to break it down into more manageable parts that can be tackled productively by and in support of the growing momentum for reform in the region.

For this year, the DAD partners, in consultation with actors in the region, have identified two themes as the priority themes for 2005. The first, participation of women in public life, seems to answer a growing call as women are fighting for their individual rights across the region. In Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, laws have been brought in that provide basic rights for women when it comes to family law. In Kuwait, the appointment of the country’s first ever female minister is a major milestone and in two years time women will take part in parliamentary elections for the first time.

The second priority theme, political pluralism and electoral systems, also seems to respond to voices in the region that are becoming louder in their demands for recognition of these basic rights. With elections this year in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, and soon in Egypt, democratic processes are on the rise across the Middle East.

Responding to this drumbeat of political reform, the DAD partners have developed a program of workshops, seminars and network-building to address the myriad of issues raised within the two priority themes, with TESEV and the Government of Turkey taking the lead on the first theme and NPWJ and the Government of Italy taking the lead on the second. The Government of Yemen and HRITC will be most closely involved with the organisation of the grand finale for the first year of the DAD Program, a Joint Meeting of Governments and Civil Society Organisations to be hosted in Yemen, which will draw from all previous program activities and which will help refine the program for the following year.

The DAD program is designed to be a process of consultation, which as we all know is the only way to be sure it reflects your needs and your priorities. It is built on consultation with and between you and others from the region, with whatever assistance can be provided from those of us who are not from the region but who are committed to supporting your journey of reform.

What is interesting about the DAD program is that the process of consultation is not just part of the design, part of the methodology: it is, in and of itself, an important result. Back in January 2004, at the Sana’a Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court, many speakers commented on the uniqueness of government and non-government representatives sitting down together in the same room and talking through these very complex and often controversial issues.

I remember very well describing it as an innovative and exciting approach and expressing my own hopes – and the hopes of others in the room – that the Sana’a Conference would mark the start of a new trend towards open, frank and constructive dialogue. I think its fair to say that all of you here today are grasping the possibilities and the opportunities opened up in Sana’a and you are to be applauded for participating in this process of consultation, in continuing this new trend as part of a program devoted to opening and maintaining the channels of communications between civil society and governments.

So what part does this workshop play in the DAD program? Its an integral part of the program, the second workshop for civil society and the first one on political pluralism and electoral processes. This workshop is an important step towards the identification of your common needs and priorities and towards setting the agenda for the joint meeting between government and civil society.

We have all come here with ideas and goals of what we want to achieve, what we hope to get out of the next few days and what results we want to see at the conclusion of the workshop. The most important thing is that this is your workshop, you will shape the debate, the discussion and the recommendations that come from it. But since these are the welcome remarks and they have given me the microphone, I would like to share with you a couple of thoughts as you embark on your discussions.

One specific issue that is among the topics for the panel discussions is the notion of a passive and an active electorate. This reminds me of an old saying, with a new twist: you can lead a person to the ballot box, but you can’t make them vote. Simply having the right to vote, the right to stand for public office, the right to participate in public life, this is not necessarily enough to encourage people to do those things. In Italy, unfortunately, we know this too well and to be frank with you, I would like to hear some of your ideas on how to engage the passive electorate, how to make them active, how to involve people in their electoral systems. These are current and critical issues not only in your region but virtually everywhere: the solutions may not be the same, but the problem is a common one.

We in No Peace Without Justice and in the Transnational Radical Party have never believed in the clash of civilisations, never believed that there is a Western Democracy, an African Democracy, an Arab Democracy. There is just democracy, founded on the principle that the government of a country is based on the will and consent of the governed, promotes choice, voice and access to rights. How that democracy is expressed may vary, but the basic principle and core common issues remain the same.

And these core common issues are what you have the opportunity to discuss over the next few days: what problems do you face, nationally and regionally, in the expression of democracy? How does the role of political parties support the expression of the will and consent of the governed? What does the media need to function effectively and play its part in maintaining a democratic system? What are the problems that you can solve with common approaches? What are the issues that could most usefully be addressed through dialogue with government?

One thing is clear: democracy is an evolving process and it is a process that needs monitoring and care to help it take root and flourish. All of the questions I have just mentioned are questions that more-established democracies face all the time and they show very clearly that democracy needs constant vigilance to survive, with attention to the type of detail you will discuss over the next couple of days.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank you all for coming to this beautiful venue to devote your thoughts, time and energy to the critical issues we have come together to discuss. In the spirit of the DAD program, I will conclude by reminding you that this is first and foremost your event: the results of this workshop, through your willingness to discuss these issues in a spirit of frankness and understanding, lie in your hands.