NDI Press Conference at the Yemen Times [Archives:1999/24/Law & Diplomacy]

June 14 1999

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The press conference was opened by Mr. Walid A. Al-Saqqaf of the Yemen Times, who welcomed the attendants and the NDI members:
“I would like to welcome you to this press conference which was organized by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in order to highlight the Emerging Democracies Summit which will be held between the 27-30 of this month. In the name of the Yemen Times and its staff and its publisher, the late Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, I would like to welcome every one to this meeting, but first I would ask every one here to please pray for the soul of the deceased Abdulaziz Alsaqqaf.” NDI was represented by Mr. Derek Butler and Kendall Dwyer. Chris Eccel, Information and Cultural Attache at the US Embassy, was among the attendees.
Mr. Derek Butler:
“We are meeting here in honor of the late Dr. Saqqaf, a friend of many of us, and a true son and a patriot of Yemen.
Let me begin with a word on behalf of NDI. As many of you know, it is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1983 to support democracy around the world on a non-partisan basis. We work to support democratic institutions and values and we work in six areas: Parliaments, Political Parties, Elections, Civic Education, Local Administrations, and Civil-Military Relations. We have 30 to 40 offices around the world. What we do is bring together people who are like-minded and working to achieve similar goals. We don’t come with our own agenda, what we are trying to do is to facilitate exchanges between nations and understanding between peoples striving together to improve their situations. For example, in a parliamentary program we bring members of parliament from Europe, America, Africa or Asia and they sit with Members of the parliament in Yemen and discuss their experiences.
The Emerging Democracies Forum is a unique program not just for NDI but for the world. It is a first event for us, and will provide support and encouragement for democratic transition and economic reform in newly emerging democracies. This morning I have good news to inform you of. It has been confirmed that the former Prime Minister of Canada, Ms. Kim Campbell – Canada’s first female Prime Minister – will participate in the conference. We can also confirm that the heads of states and heads of governments from a number of countries are attending. Namibia and Mali from Africa, and the former president of Bolivia. Of course we have many others attending as well.
I think there are three themes I would like to stress in this press briefing. First, this is a unique event in the history of the world because we are bringing together the actual decision makers and the key public figures who are faced daily with their nations problems, such as the economic reforms. We will gather participants from 16 countries, and 8 to 12 people from each of these countries will come together to share experiences. So we are bringing together for the first time, a unique set of countries represented by key decision makers, to provide them with a forum to analyze and address their achievements as well as the obstacles facing those countries.
The second theme we are focusing on is to bring attention to these countries. We all know the story of South Africa, the Czech Republic’s success, Hungary’s achievements. But, the rest of the countries listed in the press briefing are not getting international coverage, so I think a huge benefit of this forum is that we can bring these countries together and place them in the spot light of international attention and support. The third theme that I would like to stress is that the NDI has engaged a broad coalition, a foundation of support for this undertaking. Key embassies, international organizations, the key donor governments of Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom and others are all involved in this event. We also have the United Nations Development Program, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in London. I would like to speak on one final point. I think that there is a long term and a short term value in this kind of program. The long-term value, to use an analogy, is like watching a tree grow and if you sit and watch it grow you don’t see its growth. Democratic and economic reform is a process, and the decisions made today by these respective nations will create the legacies for the future generations. This conference will generate the legacies, new ideas, new initiatives and new momentum in democratic and economic reform. In the short term we can see what the benefits are, particularly to Yemen as the host country. In this respect, we have already succeeded in generating substantial news coverage, we had an editorial in the Washington Post, an editorial in the International Herald Tribune in Europe, and we will be bringing together a large conference of international donors, around 150 delegates and participants, media representatives, national, regional and international. I think this will put Yemen on the map and I think that’s good for Yemen and its achievements.”
Question and Answer Session:
Here are some selected questions & answers from the press conference:
(Abdulqader Mousa – Yemen TV Ch1)
Q: What is the background to identifying the emerging democracies?
A: We developed a set of criteria of countries which have recently begun holding elections, and which have started building democratic institutions, among others. I think we have chosen a unique set of nations, we have tried to be careful that these countries represent various regions as well as various case studies.
(Hafidh Al-Bukari – Ukaz Daily)
Q: How do you account for the absence of countries like Egypt, Jordan and Iran. Are they more than emerging democratic nations?
A: The countries were identified for representing certain regions as well as a certain degree of success in the experience of democracy. As well, the countries taking part in the Sanaa Summit don’t get attention like some of the countries you named. So that’s at the heart of our motivation.
(M. H . Al-Qadhi – Yemen Times)
Q: Why have you chosen Yemen as the host? How far do you think the summit will help promote some democratic values like the freedom of the press? My second question is, some organizations are opposed to holding the summit in Yemen, basing their arguments on the unfavorable reports issued by the American Embassy, Amnesty International and the Committee for Protection of Journalists. What do you think?
A: The reason we chose Yemen as the place for the summit is because the idea has its beginning in Yemen.
In respect to your second question, I think the meeting will be a good chance to exchange ideas, discuss and find ways around them as people are facing similar challenges. I think it is too early to talk about the results of this conference. But I think the meeting will come up with recommendations and resolutions and identify solutions to issues such as the one you raised.
As for your last question, we are very happy to hold this conference in Yemen, as we are happy with the progress Yemen has made since 1990. We work with countries experiencing democratic transitions. What we think this conference does is to allow us to address issues, it allows the participants to share their experiences together, either from formal institutions or civil society, and find ways to address the challenges you mentioned. So democratic values that you referred to like the freedom of the press and the role of woman in the civil society are among these issues that we will be raised specially in the working sessions.
(Abdullah Saad – Al-Wahda Newspaper)
Q: Are the delegations taking part in the conference representative of the government as well as the opposition parties in their countries?
A: From the government and the opposition. From civil society and formal institutions. We have identified key people from all sides. This process of identification had been a challenge for us, but I think we have succeeded.
Q: What is the special pattern for democracy that you set up to tell democratic from non-democratic countries? What kind of support do you extend to countries which are called democratic or classified as such?
A: I think we look for a certain number of ideas and values such as representative governments, transparency and the rule of Law. I think each country taking part in this meeting has its own orientation and concepts on these values so they will be able to put them forward during the meeting to explore and discuss.
(Qa’ed Saleh – Al-Thowry)
Q: We are passing through an important electoral stage in voter registration. However, it happens that in some cases the process of identifying the voter is not correct as he/she is not asked to present his/her ID but rather to bring some people to identify him/her. What do you say about this? My second question is what is your assessment to the Yemeni Democracy in light of the unstable situation the country is passing through, particularly during the last few weeks in which more than fifty people were killed.
A: As for your first question, I think the purpose of the upcoming conference is to look into these kinds of issues, and to see how can we circumvent these problems and promote the experience of democracy. In respect to your second question, let me say that the discussions that will be taking place during the conference will be animated, open and direct, and I hope to see your question included in the lists of the topics to be discussed.