NDI: Vital Contribution to Political Transformation [Archives:1999/13/Law & Diplomacy]

March 29 1999

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) plays an important support role in the transformation process of newly-democratizing countries. An arm of the Democratic Party of the USA, the NDI provides training, advice, international recognition and other forms of assistance to manmy countries, including Yemen.
Here in Yemen, the NDI has been active since the 1993 parliamentary elections. It has since engaged Yemen in a constructive way in order to make sure the process continues, and in a smooth way.

To shed more light on the role of NDI in Yemen, Hatem Bamehriz of Yemen Times talked with Andreas Katsouris, NDI’s program officer for Yemen in Washington DC. Andreas has just concluded a 3-week visit preparing for future NDI projects and cooperation in Yemen. Excerpts:
Q: Could you please tell us aboutyour visit?
A: I am here on a 3 weeks visit. There are a number of purposes. Fisrt, we have some on-going programs in Yemen, and we have an office with two field representatives stationed permanently in Yemen. My job in Washington is to oversee and manage these programs. So it is useful for me to come to Yemen every now and then to follow up on these program, and see the country.
Second, it is a good chance to talk to influential Yemenis that we are working with. This allows us to get an independent assessment of the democratic development here. Third, we discuss with our partners their views of our programs, and obtain feedback from them. For instance, on Tuesday 23rd March we had a one-day seminar in parliament on executive-legislative relations. This means interaction between MPs with people from executive branches to ministers. We brought a couple of international experts to talk about how to manage the relations between the two branches of the government, and so I am here to facilitate that and also to observe the work that we are doing here.
Finally, I am interested to discuss future plans.
Q: What are the main activities of the NDI all over the world and especially in Yemen?
A: NDI, is a non-profit non-governmental organization whose general mandate is to conduct programs that support transitional democracies all over the world. For instance, NDI organizes delegations to observe elections. When I say monitoring elections I don’t just mean we are there on election day to watch people put their votes in the ballot box, but we monitor the pre-election process, the registration of voters, the level of education the voters receive, etc. That is one activity.
In a longer-terms sense, we are also involved in training political parties and legislators by giving them some technical and institutional experience. We bring experts from countries that had longer-standing traditions of democracy. We also have programs with a small number of parliamentarians in their constituencies, to improve communication between the constituencies and members.
That is not to say there is only one right way to run a parliament, but we believe that countries that have been doing this for a long time can offer advice to countries that have just started this process. But, we don’t only work with parliament, we help political parties by offering help them help in party management, how to develop, etc. We also work with non-governmental organizations trying to strengthen them because we feel they are the foundation of a lasting democracy.
Q: How long do you remain in a country giving such support?
A: NDI remains in a country so long as there is need for its services and there is interest and cooperation from the host country. When NDI is no longer active in a particular country, it means it has a strong non-governmental civic community which keeps the process (of transformation and democratization) alive.
Q: You are planning a seminar some time in June, what is it all about?
A: This is something we are very excited about. It is called the ‘Emerging Democracies Forum’. We hope that it is the beginning of a series of such events. What NDI is trying to do is invite delegations of about ten persons from twelve emerging democracies worldwide. These are countries that are small, and which are in the democratic process and which don’t receive necessarily very much international media attention. We want to bring heads of states, opposition leaders and also civic activists from various countries to Yemen for a three-day conference which is scheduled at the end of June.
The topic of this particular forum will be the relationship between political and democratic development and economic development. We think that every country has different experience and they can share their expertise, share the experience of one another and we hope it’s the beginning of other events of this kind. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Yemen.
Q: Before coming to Yemen you must have had some ideas about our democracy, now you came and saw it in real life. Did you find any different between what you read and what you saw, and how do you evaluate our democracy?
A: I think Yemen has made a considerable progress and I think that is something all Yemeni should be proud of. I suspected from the inside that looks as if the progress is slow, but progress is slow in these kinds of process, and from the outside, outsider would look at Yemen and say look they have two successive parliamentary elections, there are vibrant political parties, there are civic groups that have different rule to advocate to their works, I think it’s very encouraging, but I think Yemen has also a long way to go in building the institutions of democracy, and also to educate the citizens on what their responsibilities are and what democracy is? And what to expect from the democratic process? I would say Yemen has made a lot of strides and has other strides to make. My worry is that people expects quick results from this sort of process without paying attention to how it works.
Q: The performance of the economy is an important factor in the democratization process. How does this feature in your pgroams?
A: I am not an expert on the subject, but I think it is understandable that people want their basic needs first. If you don’t have enough food to eat, whether the government is elected or not elected does not really matter at a certain point.
A democratically elected government will try to provide a better living standard to its people. So there is need on the part of responsible governments to do economic reforms. That tends to generate some suffering due to the adjustments and corrective measures. Unfotunately, the result is that people associate democracy with the economic hardships. In my opinion, the suffering is due to mismanagements and mistakes of the past, and which are addressed by a responsible system. Thus, the two phenomena – economic hardships and democratization are not necessarily related, but they both sometimes occur at the same time. You can say they are both what may be called a very dramatic change.
By: Hatem Bamehriz
Yemen Times.