ANNUAL REPORT 1999, Democratisation Programme

18 July 2005




While the number of multi-party democracies has nearly doubled in many parts of the world since the 1980's, formal liberal democracies are in crisis. Despite authoritarian tendencies, new forms of opposition that test the limits of traditional political representation are emerging as the fragmentation of communal politics demands a more pluralistic approach to political representation. Increasing citizen demands for greater transparency and accountability in governance as well as those explicit examples of revolt against neo-liberalism point to the human desire for a more substantive form of democracy. This is happening at the local level, but also at regional and global levels, as witnessed in November on the streets of Seattle.

The protests against the WTO symbolized the culmination of years of strategizing, political education and organization by networks of NGOs and social movements North and South against the threat to democracy posed by the neo-liberal transformation of the state and economy and the rise of corporate political power. The new information technologies are proving a boon in connecting movements internationally, publicising struggles and mobilising solidarity. Globalisation is both the context for these new struggles, and the condition for the newly emerging international civil society.

The threat to democracy posed by the on-going corporate revolution and an examination of the character and strategies of various counter movements world-wide, formed the analytical basis for TNI's 1999 Democratisation Programme. One team of TNI fellows focused their work on local-level strategies aimed at fostering participatory democracy with the intention of redefining the role of the state and its relationship with citizens and organisations throughout the process. Another team have analysed the process of transition from authoritarianism to formal elite democracy across the East Asian region revealing that increasing economic disparity undermines formal political equality. The third major area of work in 1999 was concerned with the notion of "building civil society," and has questioned whether methods commonly used are the most effective means for strengthening democracy in post-conflict, post-authoritarian societies. While the regional case study, in this third area of work, was Central America, the theory and lessons apply more generally. A fourth dimension of TNI's Democratisation Programme involved the, 'Bring Pinochet to Justice Campaign,' and the implications for the application and extension of international human rights law.

Please find below more details on TNI's Democratisation Programme in 1999. Specific dimensions included:


Corporate Threat to Democracy

A number of TNI fellows - notably Susan George, John Cavanagh, and Walden Bello, have for years argued that the hegemony of neo-liberal ideology and the entrenchment of corporate power is the single biggest threat to democracy today. Stripped of economic sovereignty, states subordinate the interests of citizens to those of multinational corporations. Also, the erosion of national tax bases through the increased mobility of capital reduces fiscal resources available to governments for maintaining or instituting social welfare systems.

Addressing a Council of Europe conference on participatory democracy and responsible citizenship in May, Susan George quoted from Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation (1944), in which he said, "To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment...would result in the demolition of society." George demonstrated that this precisely what is now happening as the neo-liberal project unfolds. She urged citizens and their governments to act politically striving to confine the market to its rightful place; reaffirm the essential role of the public good and the democratic state; and enlarge the concept and scope of responsible citizenship to encompass the international sphere.

George argued that the anti-worker, anti-social policies discernible around the world now are the result of a conscious effort to reverse the gains of the past 50 years. The driving force she argued is the international class of TNCs, large private financial institutions, foundations and think tanks, and in the public sphere, the World Bank, IMF and WTO. Citing a Swedish economist working for Lehman Brothers in London as saying, "People must understand that global financial markets are on a religious crusade to roll back social democracy around the world." Governments once capable of protecting their own citizens are now called upon to sacrifice their sovereignty and their citizens to the interests of maximum shareholder value. National public institutions that stand in the way of this goal must be abandoned, demolished or in current discourse "deregulated."

Driving her point home, she quotes David Rockefeller (Newsweek, February 1999) as saying, "In recent years, there has been a trend toward democracy and market economies lessening the role of government. But the other side of the coin is that somebody has to take governments' place, and business seems to me to be a logical entity to do it." To this, George argues that any counter-balance to the rise of corporate rule, must be organised by citizens linking across borders, sharpening their transnational response to what is essentially a transnational threat.

Another TNI fellow, Hilary Wainwright, in an editorial for Red Pepper, cites the struggle against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) as a recent example of what is possible when citizens organise transnationally. The sense of powerlessness can, as was evident in this example, lead to the discovery of new sources of power and new constituencies of popular support. Resistance to the MAI filled a vacuum left by governments that had abandoned their role as custodians of their citizens' interests. Wainwright argued in this editorial that the MAI, intended as a low profile, high stakes measure to eliminate all constraints on multinational companies thus rendering government regulation insignificant, exemplified the fact that no single government had the will, guts or economic clout to stop it. An international movement of diverse networks evolved using, as their modus operandi, the Internet, to share information transnationally and to organize virtually. This resulted in strengthening national movements as well as supporting movements transnationally which contributed to the evolution overall of a consciousness which countered conventional forms of nationalism, often used as leverage points by TNCs. Out-smarting the opponents through the use of this modern form of activism and communication, in addition to the invigoration felt by the successful outcome, also served to bridge generation gaps between activists and to re-energise older organizations, trade unions, and local authorities.

Towards Participatory Democracy

Wainwright, along with, Joel Rocamora, Marcos Arruda and associate TNI researcher, Daniel Chavez, have been concentrating on the question of how to achieve genuine participatory democracy in the context of a prevailing ideology, which undermines even the formal political equality achieved in the 20th century.

Wainwright, In an inspiring editorial for Red Pepper (June 1999), points to the idea of combining electoral successes with the innovations of militant resistance to create more democratic structures of power. Examples from the past decades range from pushing for self-management in the workplace to more recent efforts at participatory budgeting at local government level, such as those stimulated by the Workers' Party in Brazil and Frente Amplio in Uruguay. In Europe, she cites the many experiments in democratic self-management where municipalities influenced by green, feminist or radical trade union movements delegate power and resources to support communities with very specific needs or issues. These experiences have challenged the monopolistic grip on policy of politicians-the domain they most often do not want to relinquish. These examples reflect a shared desire for fundamental transformation while recognising that change actually happens through the act of people taking control of their own lives.

Wainwright argues that participatory democracy requires that power be stripped from those 'professional holders' of political power and those 'un-elected holders' of economic power. Wainwright suggests that overturning traditional power relations presumes that the knowledge and capacities of workers, consumers and citizens is as relevant to the management of a democratic economy or to the knowledge of an economist and probably even more relevant than that experience of a professional politician. She argues that the only feasible democratic economy is one based on self-management and decentralised planning, and that the failure of Soviet planning taught us that state ownership and control does not necessarily make an economy more accountable to the needs of citizens.

In November 1999, these issues were discussed at a number of different forums organised under the umbrella of the TNI Festival of Ideas: At the Edge - Towards a 21st Century Internationalism.

An important international seminar will be co-hosted by TNI and the Instituto del Estudios Transnacionales (NET) in Cordoba, Spain November 2000, to discuss further questions of participatory democracy, the future of states and political parties, and the role of coalitions of social organisations operating from local to global levels in forging a new democratic politics. Practitioners, political analysts and activists from Latin America, Asia and Europe will be invited to share their experiences in instituting participatory governance frameworks at local and regional levels. They will work toward the development of an alternative political vision to that offered by neo-liberalism and Third Way ideologues, while drawing lessons from and attempting to go beyond traditional social democratic and left models.


The "economic miracle" of the Newly Industrialising Countries (NICs) of East and Southeast Asia was accompanied by a shift from authoritarianism to formal elite democracy between 1986 and 1992. Constitutional democracies were established or re-established in the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand yet, at the same time the gap between rich and poor became ever wider. Today, the Philippines and Thailand claim the dubious status of having the worst disparities of wealth and income in the region thus begging the question as to how meaningful formal democracy has been if increasing inequality is the end result.

A project starting in 1995 entitled "Democratisation in Asia: The View from Below" was initiated by TNI, Focus on the Global South (Thailand), the Institute for Popular Democracy (Philippines) and the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives (Hong Kong). The project took on a different significance in the aftermath of the Asian crisis in 1997, when a second wave of democratisation swept across the region, with President Suharto falling in Indonesia and the Anwar Ibrahim debacle fuelling popular opposition in Malaysia.

National Case Studies

The project involved five national case studies: Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea. Researchers analysed the agendas and programmes, the dynamics within state, market and civil society interactions and those key actors in the democratisation processes.

The results of the study, Transitions to Democracy in East & Southeast Asia were jointly published this year from the Philippines. Written from a Southern and activist perspective, Transitions offers a useful overview of what has been achieved to date while exploring that, which is required to turn elite democracy into substantive social democracy. The volume outlines the common challenges facing East Asian countries in the democratic transition process, while highlighting the very different priorities in each national case. Common themes woven throughout include:

  • the impact of the Asian financial crisis on ordinary people;
  • the institutionalisation of formal democratic processes such as competitive party systems;
  • the struggle among political, economic, and bureaucratic elites;
  • the intervention or non-intervention of the middle class and popular classes in the political process;
  • the role of civil society agents.

In his foreward, Walden Bello argues that 'formal democracy,' defined as 'political equality' in liberal, Western terms ignores the contradiction of significant wealth and income disparity. The result is that formal democracy without a reduction in the wealth gap tends to legitimate the rules of the rich and powerful in the interests of that same group. He also takes issue with Western human rights commentators choosing only to see the human rights abuses in countries such as China or Vietnam, without acknowledging the achievements in eliminating gross economic inequities. Bello stresses that political equality is meaningless without substance, which is economic equality. He argues that both political and economic equality are essential principles of substantive social democracy.

Transitions, is widely used for popular education purposes within the region and for example in Malaysia certain relevant parts were translated into Malay and used by NGOs as voter education material during the elections.

Regional Impact

The consolidation of regional blocs, sub-regional trans-border development programmes, and inter-regional relations has further impacted the democratisation processes in East and Southeast Asia. The interaction of democratic and authoritarian governments at the regional level has been a second major area of interest within the Democratisation Project.

Particular attention has been paid to monitoring the social movements organising at regional and inter-regional levels. One forum in which this is taking place is the Asia-Europe People's Forum (AEPF), which is a network of NGOs and people's organisations from both regions. The AEPF is building solidarity within and between the two regions, and is working towards the construction of an alternative people-centred vision of regionalism, which counters corporate-driven globalisation.

Solidarity in Europe

From the home base in The Netherlands, TNI has been active in promoting European solidarity with democratisation struggles in Asia, particularly with regards to East Timor and Burma. TNI hosted a well-attended public forum in October entitled "Storms in the Eye of the Tiger: Popular Movements and their Role in the Democratisation Process in Southeast Asia." Speakers included leading activists from East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, who were in The Netherlands as part of a European lobby tour organised by TNI through the Asia-Europe People's Forum efforts on ASEM.

East Timor

In the course of 1999, East Timor finally won its independence from Indonesia, paying for it dearly with departing Indonesian soldiers ravaging the island as UN monitors stood back and the world looked on. TNI organised a September demonstration and vigil in Amsterdam in solidarity with the people of East Timor, which culminated in a press conference where recently returned referendum monitors spoke of their 'on the ground,' witnessed experiences.

Dr Jose Ramos-Horta addressed an audience of more than 350 at the opening evening of the November TNI Festival where he discussed the role the United Nations played in East Timor. It was on this occasion that Ramos-Horta publicly announced his return to his homeland after decades of exile. TNI also organized a press conference, where he pleaded with Europe to stop selling military equipment to Indonesia.


A particular issue that has arisen over the past year, particularly in the context of ASEM, has been the matter of Burma. The most notorious military dictatorship still in power today, Burma is a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and was recently granted observer status at the Asia-Europe Meeting. Burmese solidarity organizations have been working through the Asia-Europe People's Forum to put pressure on ASEM to isolate Burma until such time as democracy prevails in the country.

TNI, together with the Burma Centre Netherlands (BCN), organized a conference on "Strengthening Civil Society in Burma: Possibilities and Dilemmas for International NGOs," at the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam two years ago. The contributions to this conference were finally published as a booklet of the same title in 1999.

Strengthening Civil Society in Burma (TNI/BCN, with Silkworm Books) describes the conditions of repression in Burma, particularly in ethnic minority areas, the nature of the democratic opposition forces, and clearly explains the dilemmas facing international NGOs working in solidarity with the people of Burma. Do advocacy groups undertake humanitarian missions inside Burma and risk legitimating the junta, or do they make the political commitment, as is the preference of Aung San Suu Kyi, to work from locations other than Burma in their support for the opposition movement? The booklet is being used by humanitarian NGOs in Europe for their policy discussions on how to deal with the complexities of human rights abuses in Burma.


During transitions from military dictatorships to democracy in Latin America from the 1980s onwards, the concept of "civil society" re-emerged in left-of-centre political discourse. By the late 1980s, the concept was adopted in Central America and referred to popular organisations linked to revolutionary opposition movements. These movements, in anticipation of the civil wars ending, believed in their eventual participation in governments of national unity. By the 1990s, the term "civil society" had been adopted world-wide as a political slogan for a variety of purposes by conservatives, radicals and neo-liberals extolling civil society organizations as the building blocks for democracy, as a means of deregulation and state downsizing, and for preserving or transforming social traditions.

Between 1990 and 1996, TNI fellow Kees Biekart meticulously studied transitions from authoritarianism to democracy in Central America. He identified a major difference between Southern and Central America as being that the former transition implied a return to a previous system of democracy, whereas the latter often meant constructing a democratic system and a civic society for the first time. Biekart then went on to look at why and how European non-governmental aid agencies understood and supported the "civil society-building" project in the region, and to what effect.

In 1999, the results of his research were published as The Politics of Civil Society Building: European Private Aid Agencies and Democratic Transitions in Central America (TNI/International Books, Utrecht).

The first part of the book reviews the current definitions, theories and debates about civil society, and traces the evolution of the international NGO movement. The second part examines what aid agencies actually did in relation to civil society during the crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, their motivations and the shifts in policy that occurred over time. Four case studies of successful NGOs in Central America, strongly supported by private aid agencies in Western Europe, are presented: Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de Honduras (CODEH); Comisión Permanente de Debate Nacional (CPDN), in El Salvador; Fundación de Desarollo Educativo Social y Económico (FUNDADESE), in Guatemala; and the regional, Indian peasant organisation, Asociación de Organizaciones Campesinas Centroamericanas para la Cooperación y el Desarollo (ASOCODE).

Case Studies

The case studies illustrate the impact these NGOs had in their own societies in terms of building civil society. They also show how the northern private agencies first funded southern NGOs on the basis of solidarity, with low amounts of funding geared to achieve a high impact, and later shifted towards a relationship marked by notably higher funding, but contingent on proven effectiveness of results that southern NGOs find hard to demonstrate. Biekart criticises the narrow concern with measurable output and outcomes, rather than with impact on sustained social change in the long term. Of course, such impact is difficult to gauge, and is often only visible long after project funding has ceased. Biekart goes on to offer a participatory methodology for measuring long-term impact, while stressing the importance of factoring in the influence of the local context, aid chain dynamics and other external factors.


Ultimately, The Politics of Civil Society Building concludes that European (and Canadian) private agencies, and the projects they supported, did make a significant contribution to democratic transitions in Central America through their support for oppositional and progressive local movements, at a time that political parties were ineffectual in countering the economic elite and military interests. They also provided channels for policy advocacy at a transnational level, and helped to offset the more conservative orientation of North American NGOs and their local counterparts, portrayed as part of the state-induced counter-insurgency and economic stabilisation programmes.

Biekart's work has been extremely well received in NGO and NGO aid-watcher circles. His book and articles have been widely reviewed in relevant journals and magazines in Europe, and Biekart has been a regular guest on radio broadcasts in Europe and Latin America. As a result of the publicity surrounding The Politics of Civil Society Building, Biekart has been in high demand from NGOs and research institutions to present his theories, methodology and conclusions in the USA, Europe, Scandinavia and Latin America. He has also been contracted by the major Dutch private aid agencies to undertake further impact assessments of their programmes in Central America. Biekart also contributed chapters to two new edited volumes on the subject of civil society-building published this year in The Netherlands and in Spain, respectively.


After years of international campaigning to bring General Augusto Pinochet of Chile to justice for crimes against humanity committed during his military dictatorship, Pinochet was finally arrested in Britain toward the end of 1998.

TNI and IPS launched a joint website to monitor developments in the case, serving also to distribute joint press releases, articles by those in the TNI community and briefings by the lawyer in the Spanish case, and long-time associate of TNI and IPS, Joan Garces. The site quickly became a major resource for journalists and activists the world over.

TNI organized two very well attended public events this year in Amsterdam to publicise the Pinochet case. In May TNI, the XminusY Solidarity Fund and the Committee Against Impunity in Chile hosted a public meeting and panel discussion at de Balie Political-Cultural Centre in Amsterdam on 'The Chilean Dilemma: Impunity, Democracy & Human Rights.' Speakers included TNI and IPS fellow, Saul Landau, who has spent many years researching the dark forces behind the assassination of former TNI director, Orlando Letelier and IPS press officer Ronni Moffit in Washington in 1976; Chilean Lawyer and Human Rights activist, Fabiola Letelier, the sister of Orlando Letelier; Spanish Lawyer for the families in the case against Pinochet, Joan Garces; Chilean Socialist Party representative Oscar Vallespir; and the chairperson of the Dutch Chilean Committee, Jan de Kievid. The panel discussed the consequences of the extradition procedure for the future of democracy in Chile.

The second major public event was held during the TNI Festival of Ideas, also at de Balie, in November 1999. Another high calibre panel of experts were invited to lead a session on the implications of the Pinochet case for international human rights law. They included Garces; Geoffrey Bindman, representing Amnesty International in the British case against Pinochet; Professor of International Human Rights Law, John Dugard of South Africa; author, Hugh O'Shaughnessy; and TNI Advisory Board Member Peter Weiss, who represents the family of the slain Charles Horman, immortalised in the famous film "Missing". Ariel Dorfman, the brilliant playwright, poet and literature professor, was also invited to discuss his award-winning Broadway play, "Death and the Maiden," set in Pinochet's Chile and adapted for the movie directed by Roman Polanski. Isabelle Letelier, wife of Orlando, former IPS Fellow and long time friend of TNI, introduced the film based on the play to a packed house at the festival, while Dorfman entertained questions from the audience for hours after the film had ended. Proceeds from the film were donated to the efforts of Joan Garces and the extradition team working pro bono in Spain.

While Pinochet was under house arrest in London, TNI fellows rallied in support of the "Bring Pinochet to Justice" campaign. They wrote numerous articles for the press and provided resource material for radio and television programmes. TNI's sister organisation in Washington, IPS, campaigned for Pinochet's extradition to the USA and re-investigation of the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt.

International Human Rights Law precedent

The Pinochet case is widely heralded as marking a new era in the enforcement of international human rights law, and in the development and application of international law. TNI is planning to host an international workshop in 2000 with lawyers, activists and academics to analyse the Pinochet case in light of other dictators, national case law, and international law with the intention of exploring multilateral legal possibilities for future work within the international human rights context. Corporate behaviour and accountability, the illegality of nuclear weapons, and the global commons, will be discussed within these new, post-Pinochet, frameworks.