In times of anti-democratic backlash and increased political polarization, public trust in political parties is worryingly low. Parties are increasingly perceived as elite-driven and unrepresentative of the public because of corruption, populism and greater financial costs of engaging in politics. While political parties should play a key role in democratic governance – responsibly aggregating citizen’s concerns into policy as well as; vetting, selecting and influencing political leaders – they often struggle to do so, further alienating the public.
In order to earn citizen trust and serve as champions for inclusive democracy, political parties need not only to act in the best interest of the public; they need to demonstrate how they are achieving this by regularly assessing and reforming their internal processes to be more “integrity-based.”
To assist with this process, NDI developed Win With Integrity: Earning Citizen Trust in Political Parties, a novel self-assessment and advocacy framework that guides parties as they evaluate internal structures, procedures and practices with a critical lens in order to rethink and reshape processes to improve party integrity. The framework covers five key dimensions to party integrity:
- Organizational structure and internal processes, which examines party constitutions/bylaws and inclusion of marginalized groups and sub-national branches;
- Organizational culture, which examines decision-making, responses to misconduct and leadership behavior;
- Candidate vetting and selection processes, which examines processes that vet candidates prior to their selection and running candidates from marginalized communities;
- Diversity, equity and inclusion, which examines decision-making, pro-policies, quotas and financial support for women, young people, persons with disabilities, LGBTI+ and ethnic/religious minorities; and
- Fundraising and finance management, which examines bans on raising funds, disclosure and transparency practices.
NDI piloted the Win With Integrity framework with 12 political parties (across the political spectrum) and 16 civil society organizations in Colombia and North Macedonia. Participants, or “integrity advocates,” included members of parliament, local councilors, party directors, leaders of women and youth wings, party branch officials and people of various positions in civil society organizations. The majority of participants belonged to historically underrepresented communities, identifying as women, young people, LGBTQI+, belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, or with identities that insertected across them.
Political Parties Strengthen Internal Integrity
The 12 participating political parties took an online survey examining their internal integrity processes and any disconnects between written rules and actions occurring in practice.
In Colombia, two parties, Partido Cambio Radical and Partido de la U, used the results of their assessments to make changes to their strategic planning. They adopted a combined total of ten new integrity reforms in key party documents. The Secretary General of Cambio Radical shared: ”When we put together a self-assessment tool for strategic planning [...] the integrity methodology that the National Democratic Institute taught us was vital to successfully develop this work.”
The reforms adopted by the two Colombian parties focused on several reforms, including improving those centered around inclusivity. A Senior Advisor from Partido de la U reflected that “thanks to this process, we were able to realize that the LGBTQI+ sector, the victims sector, and the disabled sector did not have an institutional and formal space within the party. [...] In the party’s renewal process, these groups were included within the national leadership.” Both parties also used the assessment to advance women’s positions within the parties. Partido Cambio Radical recently presented their candidate lists for the senate election in 2022, in which 47 percent of the candidates are women compared to 30 precent in the last election. In Partido de la U, the candidate highest up on the list for the senate election is for the first time in history an Afro-Colombian woman.
Likewise, several political parties from North Macedonia pursued integrity reforms following their assessments related to restructuring candidate vetting and selection processes; and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion of historically underrepresented communities in advance of the October 2021 local elections.
A senior party leader representing the Alliance for Albanians, highlighted the importance of party integrity, saying: “I think that integrity largely is based on ethical laws, on the basis of which we are able to organize ourselves [and] to respect each other [...] The topic of integrity is very important and this is something that needs to be pursued in the future for our own good and for the good of [citizens]."
Civil Society Organizations Advocate for Political Party Integrity
Civil society organizations have an important role to play in enhancing party integrity – a central component of the program. During the pilot, NDI convened representatives from civil society organizations to talk about their community engagement with party members. As a result, Cambio Radical in Colombia invited a youth civil society organization to educate party members on the needs of young people. Similarly, the Liberal Democratic Party in North Macedonia invited representatives from LGBTQI+ and persons with disabilities organizations to attend their internal commission on human rights. A youth leader from the National Youth Council in North Macedonia explained the benefit of the engagement, saying that “it was really successful as consensus was reached between the youth sector, political parties and international partners. Although the process was quite long, we came up with a quality solution together.”
Another participant In North Macedonia, a representative from the Ohrid Institute for Economic Strategies and International Affairs, concluded overall that “not only should political parties open up to civil society organizations; civil society organizations should also open up to political parties. There should be a contact person for political parties at each civil society organization. In this way, expertise can be provided to parties by civil society organizations.”
The success of Win With Integrity is notable and growing. NDI is working with parties and advocates in Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico and Côte d’Ivoire.
Author: Hedvig Tindberg is a Fellow on the Political Parties Team.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.