Political parties form a cornerstone of democratic society. They aggregate the interests of the public, articulate them in the form of policy options and provide structures for political participation. In an emerging democracy like Myanmar, however, policy positions are often not recognized by the public and political parties often lack the capacity to collect citizens’ interests and voice them in political debates and policy decisions.
In young and emerging democracies, political leaders are often elected on the basis of personal characteristics as opposed to a strong political party. Another important driver in electoral dynamics can be identity-based backgrounds that link competing parties to groups of voters on non-issue-based grounds, such as relationships based on patrimony or clientelism (patronage).
The STEP Democracy programme aims to deepen and expand democratic values and practices by enhancing political parties’ capacity to operate as policy based and responsive parties and support political parties as they move towards an emphasis on internal and external debates on the policy positions that parties take.
Demo Finland and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) through the EU funded STEP Democracy programme hosts ‘policy-based and responsive parties’ trainings to prepare political parties to understand the relevance of a well-developed party policy orientation. This is key to nearly all elements of daily political party life: from internal party management and electoral strategy to party identity and external outreach.
In July 2019, Demo Finland and NIMD provided two four-day trainings on policy-based and responsive parties in July 2019. A total of 60 high-level politicians from 30 registered political parties across the country participated to discuss working together in a multiparty setting.
Earlier trainings were held in March and targeted high-level politicians who learned about tools to work responsively, effectively and be accountable towards the public.
The trainings aims to deepen and expand the democratic values of political parties. By enhancing capacity, political parties can more effectively operate in professional, transparent and responsible ways, can better compete in elections, reach out to the public and advocate for policies to improve society.
The ‘policy-based and responsive parties’ trainings are the first in a process for parties to become more programmatic and inclusive. As political processes are more vulnerable when they exclude important groups in society, empowering participation in political processes forms a cornerstone of STEP Democracy programming.