After the opening ceremony of the International Conference on Campaign Financing and Democracy, held at the headquarters of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) on Thursday (11 June), Yves Leterme, Secretary-General of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA International) and former Prime Minister of Belgium, presented the Keynote Speech of the event, called “Elections and Democracy”. Leterme stressed that, in a democracy, there are positives and negatives to the use of money in politics.
According to him, money is important to put policies and campaigns in place that help candidates bring their proposals to the voters, among other factors. However, Leterme maintained that money in politics also has its "downside", when it subverts the free choice of votes, gives advantages to certain parties and eliminates equality between citizens, among other issues. “There is also the issue of trust, because people realize that money has a very important role [in politics]," he said.
“When the candidate is supported by a company with a great deal of money, it means that that politician will have a solidary attitude [to requests coming from such company]," he said.
Leterme also cited the rising costs of political campaigns and illicit financing (coming from criminal sources) as some of the main negative impacts of money in the electoral process.
When speaking about the financing of parties and candidates, the Secretary-General of IDEA International highlighted the need to increase public confidence in the functioning of democracy.
Leterme stressed that 22% of countries have banned campaign financing by companies. Another approach, he said, would be not to ban, but rather limit donations from companies, something that 30% of countries have implemented in their electoral law. “The lack of limits on donations ends up endangering the quality of the people [elected], as well as of the [social] controls," said the leader of IDEA.
According to him, a legal framework on the matter needs to regulate equal political funding for all candidates, be transparent, define responsibilities, limit campaign and donation periods and electoral spending as a whole, among other topics.
Yves Leterme also said that, according to a report by the Institute, nearly two thirds of countries have legislation or regulatory measures defining accountability requirements for parties. Also, the vast majority of countries considered democratic has this kind of regulation, he added, albeit with many variations, including accountability on the part of candidates.
Making another point, he highlighted the lack of gender balance in politics and the need for mechanisms that promote it. “Research shows that women want to participate," said the Secretary-General of the Institute.
The Secretary-General of IDEA stated that democracy, in essence, is a system in which the government is controlled by the people, and in which all citizens are considered equal in exercising that control. Leterme stressed that democracy is the system adopted by most governments in the world, and added that there are 3 billion people entitled to vote on the planet, and that more than 2 billion participate in the electoral process. “It is not just a matter of quantity, but quality," cautioned, however, the director of the Institute.
He said that full liberal democracies require a government, a parliament, an independent judiciary, the exercise of constitutional control and the rule of law. As such, he concluded there are still democracies in some countries that only exist on paper. “On paper everything is perfect, but in reality we realize that [what these countries have] is an autocracy.”
He mentioned States under conflict (between 40 and 50), where almost a third of the country is convulsed, which prevents the advancement of democracy in these regions. There is also, he said, the so-called 'fragile States' in democratic terms. In other words, said Leterme, one needs to look carefully at the quality of the democracy adopted by countries.
The Secretary-General of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA International), Yves Leterme, has led the organization since June 2014. In his home country of Belgium, Leterme exercised all the more prominent political functions, including representative, senator, Minister of Budget and Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister. During his tenure as Prime Minister, he occupied the Presidency of the European Union