In pursuit of more meaningful relationships between political parties and citizen movements across Asia and Europe, the Hanns Seidel Stiftung Myanmar, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and Asia-Europe Foundation collaborated to publish a book entitled “Political Parties and Citizen Movements in Asia and Europe.” A wide gamut of experiences are narrated and analysed in this book: from institutionalized political party-CSO relationship in Sweden and Norway, to non-engagement in the case of Spain, to CSOs-turned-political-parties in the Philippines and India. The book also gave special focus on possible recommendations for political parties who wish to rebuild citizen confidence in a time of growing citizen protests.
The first launch of this publication was held here in Manila last February 27, 2015. This Philippine book launch was made possible through cooperation with the Active Citizenship Foundation. Members of civil society, the diplomatic corps, academe, and government agencies were in attendance during the launching, which was held at the Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg Center in Ortigas.
Among the distinguished guests were the German Ambassador, His Excellency Thomas Ossowski; Berthold Leimbach, resident representative of ACF’s partner, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; Thierry Schwarz, director of Asia-Europe Foundation; Jules Maaten, resident representative of Friedrich Naumann Foundation; Paul Schaffer, resident representative of Hanns Seidel Stiftung; Daniel Edralin, SSS Commissioner; Gio Tingson, chairperson of the National Youth Commission; and former COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.
Sam Vander Staak, Senior Program Manager of the Political Parties Team of International IDEA discussed the project objectives and findings of the publication. He argues that generally, there has been a gap between citizen demand and the delivery by their elected representatives from political parties. This gap, which basically revolves around hampered democratic freedoms, corruption, and failure of socio-economic policies, he says, is the reason for increasing citizen dissatisfaction and distrust towards political parties. Citizens are now becoming more inclined to articulate their demands through citizen movements rather than through party membership. Thus the recommendations include engaging with citizens throughout the electoral cycle, diversifying civil society partners, clearly identifying and communicating the level and type of engagement, improving internal party democracy and financial transparency, and improving all venues for communication with the citizens.
Two case studies were also presented in the launch. The first presenter was Kristin Jesnes, a researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies who studied the nature of cooperation between the social democratic parties and trade union confederations in Norway and Sweden. This century-old relationship is interesting because their engagement has institutional mechanisms like representation of labor organizations in the party executive committee, coherent practices, regular formal meetings, and joint committees. This of course, is not without challenge since there has been declining electoral support from labor unions, changing trends in the labor force and decreasing political activism.
The next case presentation narrates the experience of a local party which transitioned from being a consortium of civil society organizations and citizen movements into a political party, which was eventually able to enter government through a newly-introduced electoral law that redressed the limitations of proportional representation. The continuing challenge, according to the presenter, Sabrina Gacad of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, is the struggle with its status as a political party and a citizen movement. Despite this, she expresses, the party has been able to maintain a high level of party democracy with strong bottom-up structures while affiliated non-government organizations remain to enjoy relative autonomy from the party.
Making up the Panel of Reactors were Prof. Josephine Dionisio of the University of the Philippines Diliman; Rafael Alunan III, a former senior government official; and Ramon Casiple, the Executive Director of Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms. By the end of the program, solidarity messages were delivered by representatives from different Philippine political parties: Atty. Marjorie Martin, Deputy Director General of the Liberal Party; Atty. John Castriciones of PDP-Laban; and Risa Hontiveros, Chairperson of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party.
The book is also available online to download.
Photo Credits: Tristan Gomez