6th – 8th November 2014, Dead Sea, Jordan
Global Partners Governance Fourth Regional Conference on “Political Parties and Parliamentary Blocs: Representation, Organisation and Delivery” and “The Role of Parliaments in Conflict Resolution”
Global Partners Governance held its fourth regional conference on the themes of “Political Parties and Parliamentary Blocs” and “The Role of Parliaments in Conflict Resolution” at the Dead Sea, Jordan on 6th – 8th November 2014. The event brought together politicians, parliamentarians and international experts from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Tunisia and the United Kingdom for a series of discussions and debates on these two topics of critical importance to the Middle East’s diverse yet interconnected transitions.
Political Parties and Parliamentary Blocs: Representation, Organisation and Delivery.
The first two days of the conference dealt with the topic of: “Political Parties and Parliamentary Blocs: Representation, Organisation and Delivery”. Four major themes emerged:
1. Political Reform and the Centrality of Debate and Good Organisation
Although, historically political parties emerged as a clear response to an identified problem, they are now often seen as a part of the problem in many parts of the world. Yet despite being the subject of scepticism and cynicism, opinion polls demonstrate that people from all regions still believe that political parties are key to representative democracy. As such, it was argued that political parties must adapt to new circumstances, and a key challenge for them is how they are organised and managed within parliament. Other lessons included the importance of political parties being clear with voters about what they stand for, the centrality of debate and even dissent within the party structure, and good systems of organisation to manage internal tensions and dynamics.
2. Communicating with Voters and Managing Expectations
Participants discussed how parties and blocs can manage and respond to the demanding expectations that voters have of them, in particular how parties and blocs can engage with the public and develop policy manifestos, without making promises that cannot be delivered. A mismatch between the expectations gap – the difference between what is expected of politicians and what they can actually deliver – and the perceptions gap – the difference between what people see and hear about a particular issue and what the reality of the situation is –undermines a political system.
Yet members are elected to use their judgement and should guard against becoming merely a conduit for the opinions of others. Of concern is the expectation voters have of parliamentarians playing a more direct local service delivery role and demonstrating less concern and understanding of the legislative and oversight role of parliament.
3. “The Art of Compromise is an essential part of the Science of Politics.” Cross-Party Relationships and Coalitions
Participants discussed the importance of caucusing, setting out party ‘red lines’ and processes of negotiation between different parties that work in the interest of the people.
Compromises must not be seen as signs of weakness, but rather demonstrate a willingness to act in the national interest, provided those compromises fit within the party’s core values. Furthermore, internal democratic processes are critical to ensure that that those chosen as negotiators enjoyed the trust of all elements within their own party but also of their opposite numbers. Other participants described the detrimental impact of zero-sum politics, where discussions remain ‘identity-based’ rather than ‘platform-based’.
The Role of Parliaments in Conflict Resolution.
The theme for the third and final day of the conference was the central role that parliaments can play during turbulent transitional periods and in the process of reaching political settlements to protracted conflicts.
Insights from Northern Ireland, South Africa, Iraq and Libya
Former and current representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the South African, African National Congress, the Iraqi Council of Representatives, and the Libyan House of Representatives shared their experiences on the challenges of governance in times of conflict.
The role of parliament as a forum for bringing together former enemies as part of the democratic process was the central theme; the necessity for parliament as an institution to keep functioning despite difficult circumstances, was highlighted. In addition, the constitutional drafting process may provide a crucial period of negotiation and compromise that will underpin the future of the parliament.
The discussions that ensued were neatly summed up by one delegate who said three key themes were clear: that conciliation takes time with many failures before it works, that secret and behind-the-scenes talks between parties too hostile to one another to talk publically are very important, and that if unifying principles that transcend parochial interests can be identified then the likelihood of success would be increased.