Democracy and development
DEMOCRATIC political systems are generally seen as best suited to protect and guarantee human rights and to deliver social and economic development. From that point of view, it is also accepted that a democratic process is vital for addressing the political aspect of poverty. Being accountable to citizens, enable democratic governments to chart a political course supported by people and to be able to change it when needed. This will however be possible only if we are able to bring together a broader understanding of democracy where there is juxtaposition of the procedural and institutional aspects with the delivery element.
The very question of the ability of democracy to deliver on citizens' needs and expectations has gradually emerged as a major challenge across the world. Development partners all over the world are now re-examining their experiences over the past decade.
It is this factor that led the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), based in Stockholm, Sweden, for the past year, to carefully examine the nexus between democracy and development. This exercise has led them to carry out dialogues with partners in Latin America, in the Arab world, in South Asia and in Southeast Asia. Intensive discussions have also been carried out with senior officials of the Organization of American States, the League of Arab States, past Secretary Generals of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation and ASEAN.
There is consensus that development is increasingly being understood as a general improvement of the 'quality of life' for the majority of the population and as such it includes not only GDP growth but also the effective fulfilment of human rights, including civic and political rights. Democracy is also being understood as a value that needs to be pursued not only for its own sake but also as a system of governance that is expected to deliver better opportunities that will enable citizens to attain a higher standard of living. In this context, it was also observed that in Latin America as well as in South Asia, evidence is surfacing that point towards large disparities in income distribution and the failure of governments to deliver on economic issues and basic services.
The next factor that has been taken cognisance of is the role of civil society. It has been found that the role of such an actor is important but sometimes excessive emphasis on representatives from civil society undermines the functions of other actors in political systems-such as parliaments and political parties.
Another significant conclusion has been the awareness that countries that have succeeded over time have invested in developing long-term visions. In this regard it was also found that they created the institutions to translate long-term visions into reality, supporting them and following up.
Accordingly, there was general agreement among the participants that development cooperation agencies within the European Union and elsewhere should shift towards the inclusion of democratic politics in their development policies, moving beyond just a focus on the executive and the judiciary, to include a stronger emphasis on parliaments and political parties as key institutions, that should be involved and supported in the development of the country.
This supposition was accepted after taking into consideration that globalisation is a fact and that economic, political and strategic challenges are no longer confined within borders. This also led to the assumption that there is a corresponding need for states to act in cooperation and in real partnerships to face them. It was suggested that it might be a good idea to focus on nurturing homegrown initiatives on issues of common interest in the partner regions. In this context, it was felt that the best way to face such global challenges would be through cross-regional cooperation and recognition of neighbours' and partners' needs and perspectives.
Sharing of experience from different regions also underlined the need to shift from 'a realist, zero-sum approach to a positive-sum paradigm'. It was agreed that an approach based on mutual benefits for both parties would be more sustainable and effective, securing motivation for all parties 'to buy in to the process'. Such a paradigm shift would, in all likelihood, also provide the platform for the development of 'real' partnerships.
We in SAARC need to take serious note about how the European Union is approaching the concept of democracy and successful regional integration. The EU is creating working structures and mechanisms for regional cooperation. Their intra-dialogue and exchange of ideas is also based on equal partnerships. This is helping it to meet regional challenges more efficiently and to solve problems with the aid of neighbours. This is happening despite the bureaucratic approach of the European Commission.
It would also be worthwhile to point out here that democracy building is part of the solution, not a hindrance to objectives such as trade and security. Capacity building of democratic institutions encourages participatory engagement and creates connectivity. That assists in making the dynamic more sustainable.