News and Notes

Issue Date July 1992
Volume 3
Issue 3
Page Numbers 163-65
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British Set Up Westminster Foundation for Democracy

In an October 1991 address, British foreign secretary Douglas Hurd announced the formation of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. This new political aid foundation aims to “promote the development in emerging democracies of pluralist democratic institutions such as political parties, trade unions, the media, and voluntary organizations.”

Following the example of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Westminster Foundation is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that will receive most of its funding from the British government. Like its American counterpart, it gives all of its grants openly, and the board of governors (which includes representatives of all political parties) makes its decisions independently of the government. The Westminster Foundation was formally launched on 10 March 1992. Its budget for April 1992-March 1993 will be £1 million.

Sir James Spicer, MP (Conservative), is chairman of the foundation, and George Robertson, MP (Labour), and Sir Russell Johnston, MP (Liberal Democrat), are vice-chairmen. Other members of the board of governors are Timothy Garton Ash, St. Anthony’s College; Tony Clarke, Union of Communications Workers; Margaret Ewing, MP; Professor Peter Frank, University of Essex; Lady Howe, BOC Foundation; Ralph Land, Esq.; Gavin Laird, CBE, Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union; Patrick Nicholls, MP; Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Brunel University; Ian Taylor, MP; and Carole Tongue, MEP.

Elections Held in Iraqi Kurdistan and Kosovo

In May of 1992, two national movements conducted elections in their own regions despite the opposition of the governments that have ruled them. Foreign observers monitored both elections. [End Page 163]

Kurds in northern Iraq held elections on May 19 to select a 105-member Kurdish National Assembly and a leader for the Iraqi Kurds. An estimated 1.2 million Kurds turned out for the balloting, which was generally recognized as free and fair although the Iraqi government considered the election “illegal.”

The election effectively resulted in a draw, with the two main parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, each winning 50 seats in the legislature. The remaining 5 seats were reserved for deputies from the Christian minority. Other smaller parties such as the Socialists and the Islamists failed to reach the 7 percent threshold required to win seats.

In the contest for the leadership, Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who divided the vote almost evenly but both fell short of a majority, reached an agreement to share power until a runoff to determine the leader is held within two months. New legislative elections are scheduled for October 1992 following a new round of voter registration. After years of sporadic infighting, many Kurds welcomed the compromise and the hope it holds for greater unity among Iraqi Kurds.

Presidential and legislative elections were held on May 24 in the mostly Albanian Kosovo region of Serbia. The province, which renamed itself the Republic of Kosovo, held multiparty elections despite Serbian protests that such moves are illegal.

Ibrahim Rugova, chairman of the Republic of Kosovo, ran unopposed and gathered 99.5 percent of the vote for president. His party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, won 96 of the 100 contested seats in the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo. About 30 other seats are set aside for deputies representing members of other nationalities in Kosovo. Most Kosovo residents boycotted the official May 31 elections to the Serbian parliament.

Strengthening Democracy in Thailand

The fragile and partial nature of Thai democracy was underscored by the May 1992 demonstrations against the new military-dominated electoral system, and the initially violent response by the armed forces. The Institute of Public Policy Studies (IPPS) in Thailand is developing a number of new projects that seek to deepen and institutionalize democratic political participation, representation, and accountability. Earlier efforts of the Institute were discussed in an article by its director, Chai-Anan Samudavanija, in the Fall 1990 issue of the Journal of Democracy.

Although the Institute’s parliamentary development programs were interrupted by the 23 February 1991 military coup, it continued to expand its network throughout the year to include both governmental bodies and national [End Page 164] and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Its goal is to foster policy dialogue and create a tripartite partnership among government agencies, members of parliament (MPs), and NGOs in specific issue areas.

In November 1991, the IPPS brought together the Office of the Prime Minister, the Third Army Division, and conservationist NGOs to discuss management of forest land and to consider a policy paper IPPS had prepared on that subject. The meeting gave rise to an ongoing working group with participation from all three sectors and IPPS. This achievement was quite significant given the violent confrontations that had taken place between the Army and the NGOs over a land-resettlement project in the northeast in early 1991.

With the March 1992 elections, which ushered in the largest number of new MPs in recent history, IPPS resumed its parliamentary group seminars (which bring together MPs, government officials, and NGO leaders) with an emphasis on social and cultural policies. Reform of the controversial new constitution, which gives the military extensive power, will also be a major focus. Research will be conducted on the recent elections as well as a number of policy issues, including land distribution and rural employment and poverty.

Among the activities planned for the 1993-95 period are: training programs for new MPs and their assistants; revision of the IPPS parliamentary newsletter to analyze certain pending legislative issues in depth; a quarterly bulletin on the policy-related activities of the parliament, government, and NGOs; and video programs both for mass democratic education and for parliamentary committee briefings.

Conference Focuses on Relationship of Islam and Democracy

On 15 May 1992, the United States Institute of Peace sponsored a symposium in Washington, D.C., on “Islam and Democracy: Opportunities and Challenges in the Middle East.” After opening remarks by Institute president Samuel Lewis, sessions followed on religion and politics; democratic values and Islamic teachings; Islam, politics, and Middle Eastern regimes; and Islam and political change.

Participants in the symposium included Shaul Bakhash, George Mason University; Richard Bulliet, Columbia University; Muhammad Faour, a Peace Institute fellow on sabbatical from the American University of Beirut; Mohamed Khalil, a Peace Institute fellow and former dean of the faculty of law and shari’ a at Khartoum University; Clovis Maksoud, American University, Washington, D.C., and former ambassador of the League of Arab States at the United Nations; Ann E. Mayer, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and Robert B. Oakley, U.S. Institute of Peace. [End Page 165]


Copyright © 1992 National Endowment for Democracy