How should donor support be provided to political parties in developing countries? This paper from the Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) outlines the current status, modalities and practices of donor support to political parties and recommends core principles by which such assistance should be provided. Current donor assistance hampers political party capacity building by failing to integrate and harmonise party support with democracy support.
Political parties are indispensable for good governance, and thus eligible for donor support. However, many political parties and party systems in developing and transitional countries have deep-rooted political, structural and institutional problems which make donor support necessary, but also difficult. Specific problems include authoritarian leadership, an emphasis on private interests and gain, corruption and embezzlement, lack of organisation and weak funding.
Once considered a preserve for party foundations with strong ideological overtones, political party assistance is increasingly being taken over by governmental development agencies and non-governmental organisations. However, donor support runs the risk of actual or perceived manipulation of party assistance, increased polarisation among parties, and the tendency to conserve established parties to the detriment of newcomers. As a result, direct support to political parties has often raised suspicion and is very rarely given by donor agencies. Two indirect methods of supporting political parties are preferred: via support to broader democratisation processes and via political parties and party organisations in the donor countries.
The bulk of donor assistance is now conducted by foundations and institutes located in Europe and the United States:
- Foundations are typically one-party, maintain close party ties and often have links to labour unions and cooperative associations. Some provide party assistance in developing countries.
- Institutes generally include several parties, maintain close ties to official donor agencies and are organised explicitly to deliver democracy and party assistance to developing countries.
- Foundations and institutes most active in party assistance in developing countries are based in Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States, Sweden and Norway.
- Virtually all party assistance provided by these organisations is funded by their governments.
Political party assistance is increasingly seen as a critical element of comprehensive democratisation process. As such, donors need to strengthen the range and quality of their support through:
- analysis of party systems, party regulations, circumstantial factors and political systems in recipient countries
- development of full partnerships between donor and recipients
- increased parallel support to political system reform
- cooperation and harmonisation, including internal coordination of support criteria, analysis and implementation and external coordination with other donors working in the same recipient country or region
- better monitoring, quality control and evaluation of assistance programmes.