Identity-based parties vs. mainstream parties

The moderator started the session by pointing to the fact that the IPU-UNDP survey of parliaments suggested that 28% of States prohibited identity-based political parties and asked whether this was good. Most participants agreed that in a democracy, identity-based political parties should not be prohibited.

As to the question of whether or not identity-based parties were more effective than mainstream political parties for ensuring the representation of minorities and indigenous peoples, the following points of view were given: 

  • Identity-based parties are necessary (especially for indigenous peoples) as traditional parties have failed to take on their agenda and to defend them. Several indigenous participants found them to be more effective because in mainstream parties, the majority voice comes through and not the indigenous voice. Identity-based parties enable indigenous peoples to advance towards the construction of their rights from a position of power, to fight poverty and to maintain their identity. Traditional parties were all about creating divisions.
  • However, building coalitions with mainstream parties is important. Some participants spoke of a social pact to be concluded between indigenous peoples and mainstream parties. In this context, it is important to educate mainstream parties about indigenous culture.
  • Alliances with social movements and organisations are also important. It was through social movements that in Ecuador for example, indigenous issues came to the forefront and resulted in the adoption of progressive policies.
  • Participation in mainstream parties is sometimes seen as being more attractive, as it provided better career prospects.
  • One of the Belgian participants spoke in favour of mixed party lists as they provide a good opportunity for minorities to get elected. The success of one party’s initiative to include a minority candidate on its list encouraged other parties to follow suit. The example of Guatemala was mentioned where the draft electoral law provides for lists alternating men and women, Mayas and mestizos.

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