GPMD member The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) organised a debate on the question “Can we have democracy without political parties?”, in cooperation with the Society for International Development – Netherlands Chapter (SID-NL) and the International Institute of of Social Studies (ISS).

The debate, which took place in The Hague, the Netherlands, is part of a series entitled “Doing Democracy Differently”. This initiative aims to respond to the emergence of populism which seems to downplay the role of parties, while also exploring new ways of “doing democracy” outside the realm of the (established) political parties.

Dr. Will Derks, NIMD Innovation Advisor, participated in the debate as an introductory speaker. He was joined by Dr. Gerorgina Gomez, Senior Lecturer at ISS, and Dr. Loes Keysers, a member of the Jan en Alleman political choir and a former ISS lecturer.

The speakers (left to right): Dr Loes Keysers, Dr. Georgina Gomez and Dr. Will Derks.

The speakers each made a brief introductory statement on the central question. Dr. Derks argued that, although political parties are so deeply embedded in our society that they are here to stay, we are witnessing the start of a new era, with the emergence of new political parties who want to do things differently. These parties, he argued, are open and porous, emphasize self governance and hold a long term vision. To him, this could be an exciting new development, a way to rethink the traditional political party, increase trust, and ensure all voices are heard.

“Ensuring that political parties adapt to the world of the 21st century is an absolute priority” Dr. Derks

Dr. Gomez, however, advocated strongly for the fundamental role political parties play in our democracy. She argued that they are an essential tool to channel people’s ideas, organise societies and therefore ensure that people have a voice.

On a different note, Dr. Keysers argued that political parties are more of a hindrance than a help in today’s democracies, that true democracy is more than simply well-functioning parties and parliaments. She called for different forms of direct democracy and new movements to ensure a more effective form of representation.

Democracy is more than parties and parliaments. Our western notions of good governance are too limited” Dr. Keysers

The introductory statements were followed by a lively and interactive discussion with the participants, who included students, NGO representatives, public servants and diplomats.