Foreign observers take inspiration from Danish local democracy

A group of 50 politicians and activists from ten different countries are on hand to observe this week’s local elections

As politicians make their last pitches and voters do the last-minute research to decide who to vote for in tomorrow’s local elections, a large number of international guests are on hand to observe the process.


Over the weekend, over 50 local politicians, activists and pro-democracy representatives from ten different countries gathered at the community centre Kvarterhuset on Amager to learn about the Danish local democracy and the 2013 council elections. The participants came from Bhutan, Bolivia, Egypt, Ghana, Myanmar, Nepal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 


The participants were in Denmark at the invitation of the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD), an organisation that views the Danish democratic model as a potential source of inspiration for young democracies struggling to build sustainable, well-functioning and democratic local governments.


“Compared to Bhutan, Denmark is a senior citizen in terms of democracy,” said participant Phuntshok Chhoden, the co-odinator of the Bhutan Network for Empowering Woman. “To us as newcomers to democracy, it seems confusing at times. I think there is a lot for us to learn from so that we can strengthen our own democracy. The way the Danish democracy is presented to us it seems very comfortable.”


A focus on women

After two days of learning, the participants will watch tomorrow’s elections unfold up close, as they meet up with activists and volunteers from the major political parties, gaining a firsthand experience of the campaign process.


“I really appreciate the way things are done in Denmark and I’m looking forward to the election on Tuesday,” Namgay Pelden, a local government official in Bhutan, said. “In Denmark I have learned that you don’t have quotas for women here, and yet the level of participation at the national level is quite good at 40 percent. I really appreciate this, and I would like to see more women elected at the local level in Denmark.’’


Denmark’s local council members are more than two thirds male, putting the country in dead last in Scandinavia when it comes to gender equality in politics. The concern over the participation of women in politics was shared by Chhoden.


READ MORE: Denmark rock bottom in local politics equality 


“Maybe an improvement [for Danish democracy] can be the level of representation of women in local politics,” she said. “Maybe that’s something you have to look at, because in one way we are looking at Denmark as an example on how to strengthen democracy, especially concerning women. But at the same time, the statistics are similar to Bhutan. Denmark is so progressive, yet the mindset is similar to where we come from. That is something your society should reflect on. ’’


Inspiration, not export

The head of DIPD, Bjørn Førde, said he hoped participants would leave Denmark with some ideas they can incorporate in their own countries. 


‘’The purpose is not to copy what Denmark is doing, but rather to be inspired by the Danish example,” he said. “We don’t believe in magic bullets, and we don’t believe that you can export or import democracy. It is hard work at the local level – but a bit of inspiration can be helpful.”