Andreas Katsouris to YT : “We will focus our efforts on the upcoming parliamentary elections in April 2001” [Archives:2000/15/Law & Diplomacy]
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs’ (NDI) Sana’a office considers its role as one of most strategic importance. It focuses on the promotion of democratic orientation in Yemen to be an example for other countries in the region to follow suit. The Institute office in Yemen plays multi-various role in extending its activities and establishes close relations with a number of governmental and non-governmental organizations besides the parliament and political parties. The Institute has overseen two parliamentary elections and prepares itself to monitor the forthcoming elections of the year 2000.
Ben Sallam of the Yemen Times interviewed NDI’s visiting delegate Mr. Andreas Katsouris, the program officer for Yemen programs and filed the following:
Q: Can you give us a brief idea about NDI’s objectives? When did your cooperation with Yemen start and what is the purpose of your work in Yemen?
A: NDI is a non-profit, non-governmental and non-partisan organization based in the United States. We were founded in the early 1980s with the objective to support democratic development.
We provide technical assistance and various kinds of support and advice to democratic political parties, parliaments, civil society organizations to give them some greater experience and democratic practices elsewhere in the world. We are also involved in election monitoring to ensure that electoral processes are based on democratic standards.
Q: Who supports the NDI financially?
A: That changes from program to program. Generally, NDI receives financial support for its programs from a variety of sources. Some of those sources are through mechanisms of the US government, mostly through the United States Agency for International Development. Also through the National Endowment For Democracy, an organization set up specifically to support these kinds of programs. We also received support from sources outside the United States, from the UNDP, for instance, and from various foreign governments such as Canada, the Netherlands and Britain, Japan among others.
Q: How many NDI offices are there? What are the general activities of the Institute?
A: That changes from month to month depending on our activities. We are at present active. I am not certain of the precise number, but it is over 40 countries worldwide, in the middle East and North Africa. In addition to Yemen, we have offices in Morocco and the West Bank and have other programs in Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon.
Q: It is rumored that the NDI’s activities are meant to serve the United States’ interests; What is your comment?
A: I think that is a complicated question. Obviously, a great part of funding comes from the United States government; I think this is the reason to say that.
I think it is important for your readers to know that we are entirely independent of the United States government. We have around independent board, around independent management and we make around decisions about whether a particular program is worthwhile or not. We do not take directives from any government, let alone the United States government.
Now, very often when we feel there is a possibility to do a good work and our friends in the United States government feel the same way, and when those interests converge, we are happy to cooperate. But we make around judgment independent from the United States.
Q: What are the NDI’s future plans in Yemen? Is it planning to open offices in other governorates?
A: No, we have no plans at this point to open any other offices other than the one in Sanaa.
As for the future plans, at present we have an active program in the parliament, working with a group of legislators to give them some assistance in communication with their constituents and our program will continue for several months. From here on I would think of the next year. We will focus our efforts on the upcoming parliamentary elections in April 2001 and I am here in these two weeks to participate in some workshops that we have conducted with the major political parties here in Yemen on strategic planning for election campaigns, that is, to introduce them to some of the practices that democratic political parties elsewhere in the world have found useful when managing campaigns and running and trying to elect candidates in democratic elections. We hope to continue with that program throughout the year, working with the PGC, Islah, the Supreme Coordination Council on various targeted programs. We are also looking at the possibility of becoming involved in some fashion and contributing to a free and fair electoral environment. At this point it is not really certain what kind of assistance that might take, but your readers will recall that in 1997 we were active in both bringing international delegations to Yemen to observe elections’ day procedures and assisting domestic civic organization in conducting its own observation of the polls .
These are the activities we are considering again for the coming year, as well as other matters but it is not certain at this point what exactly we will do. We feel that we can provide helpful advice and some training for civic organizations to contribute to more democratic watch.
Q: A number of training courses have been held. Do you think that they have been successful?
A: Absolutely, our work with parliamentarians has been very successful. Most of the parliamentarians we are working with, when we started working with them have had little experience in meeting in public fora. A few of them have had broader and more public contacts and since we have helped them plan and think about how to do that effectively, many of them have done so.
In terms of political party activities, it is obviously early to say but the reception that we got last week from all the political parties is very encouraging. Many told us that they were thinking of adopting some of the ideas that our political party experts put forward. We were encouraged by that and we hope to continue that work.
Q: What have you prepared so far for the upcoming parliamentary elections?
A: As I said before, it is still sometimes away from the elections. We have not finalized our plans yet. But we are looking at the whole variety of activities that the NDI does worldwide to support the election process. That may take the form of international observations or support for domestic civic organizations to take part in observation or a contribution in a pre-electoral period to suggest potential reforms, changes in the law or, in practice, registration, which could contribute to a fair election. But we are just not certain yet which of those we will be able to do.
Q: How do you assess the democratic experience of Yemen? What kind of advice can you offer Yemen in this regard?
A: I think that if you look at what Yemen was 10 years ago, at the point of unification there has been tremendous progress in the democratic sphere. The country has held two parliamentary elections and a presidential election and it is preparing for the 3rd parliamentary election.
My own impression is that there is ever greater civic activism and interest in politics. I have seen that legislative develop slowly but start to develop to a sort of a political force to balance that of the executive.
I think that the overall picture is quite good. I would say, looking over the last years that more of those gains were made earlier in the decade than later. I think that the period since 1997 has seen less rapid progress; I think the presidential election presented something of a mixed record for the country. On the one hand it was the first time Yemen has ever held presidential elections. That is an important milestone. There was a challenger who spoke openly about some of the issues facing the country and there was some kind of policy debate in public and I think that is good. I think, on the other hand, there was a miss of opportunity in the presidential elections. The parliament could have selected a candidate with greater opposition. I think that would have been good for the country had that happened. I think that everything still points forward in Yemen. Probably progress could be more, perhaps, a bit more rapid, but I think that the country is moving in the right direction,
Q: It is said that the Institute will wind up its activities in Sanaa within two months and reopen it later on before the upcoming parliamentarian elections? What is your comment? What about the news heard about appointing a permanent representative for the Institute in Yemen?
A: There is a permanent representative and that is Nick Green. I have not heard those rumors and I am not sure what they are based on.
NDI operates from program to program and so we depend on funding for our programs to keep our offices open. When we are not able to secure funding, we would naturally need to close the office. But we expect that funding for the program will be available for the foreseeable future and since that we have no plans to close the office.
Q: Any last comments?
A: I want to mention for your readers a little bit more about follow-up to the Emerging Democracies Forum that was held in Yemen last June. I want to point, first of all, to the NDI establishment of a website dedicated to the Emerging Democracies Forum which is available through our own website at: www. ndi.org. You find on the website complete transcripts from the Emerging Democracies Forum and other things. We are also planning to gather some of the participants in the Emerging Democracies Forum for a sort of, not a real union, but reconvening to check the progress over the last years at Democratic Parties National Convention in Los Angeles in August. In addition we are at this point thinking about having a small follow-on to the forum in September or October at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. You’ll remember from the Sana’a Declaration that the countries participating in the forum made a recommendation of democratic politics we are taking into account when considering multi-lateral lending and we will be hoping to pursue that idea further with the IMF and the World Bank.