International Women’s Day: female Opposition Leaders

A shout out for all women in politics on IWD. It is hard job even without the stress of speaking out as a woman in a traditionally male environment.

The modern era records 52 women as leaders of the official Opposition. They include Aung San Suu Kyi, Sonia Gandhi, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Adern, Takakao Doi, Margaret Thatcher, Emily Lau, Ines Arrimadas, Nancy Pelosi, and most recently in Canada, Candice Bergen.

The Opposition International office in Dhaka, headed by Probashi Mahmud, points out that Babgladesh has two of the longest serving female leaders of the Opposition (and Prime Ministers) Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.

Nature of Political Opposition 2021

Professor Ludger Helms provides a typology (and more) of contemporary opposition.

It will be on the reading list for our political opposition course. The list of modules include: 1) Setting up an effective research and analysis network, 2) Impact Planning for key political and leader tour dates, 3) Budget economics without help from Finance Department, 4) Forensic Opposition: analytics and accountabilities, 5) Strengthen Backbench contributions, 6) Media strategies to offset government disinformation campaigns aimed at you, 7) transform government data into electoral integrity tools, 8) Scandal management their’s and your’s, 9) Polling: spend less and use it more, and 10) Motivation in defeat and victory.

We, the backroom’s backroom, are hard at work on the full course. Have any suggestions or contributions? Send it to

Think you could teach a course module, send your name and a short note. We will assist you with Zoom and high quality audio production. Thanks in advance.

Good Question

A colleague asked in an exchange:

What makes for a good opposition?

I am going to work an answer to him. Anyone with a view is welcome to chime in. Responses could be posted. Please send your thoughts.

Thank you. Merci.

IDEA on Canada

Opposition International focuses on the regions and countries where opposition parties face systemic pressures including surveillance, censorship, banning, and imprisonment.

Canada stands out as among best countries in which the Official Opposition may operate.

The blog here sourced from IDEA, a pre-eminent democracy organization, covers Canada and the recent invoking of the Emergency Act by the government.

It is posted here as a good example of how IDEA uses its democracy indicators index to produce an overall analysis of state and progress of democracy in a country.

We recommend that students of democracy study and learn from IDEA’s excellent work.

Elections to watch in 2022

The International Parliamentary Union has released a handy list of 31 national elections this year. A metric they are following is the number of female MPs, now at 26.9%. Opposition International will rely on our correspondents for comment. We follow closely the Electoral Integrity Project headed up by Professor Norris of Harvard University.

Must Read – EU Democracy Support: Carnegie Europe

What is unique to study is that examines not just the state of democracy and human rights indices, but the support the European Union provides to related democracy projects. The scope is worldwide.

The Equivalent Data for the United States Government, principally USAID, NED, and the Department of State branch, DRL, is searchable. A later post will examine US data sources.

Democracy Is Open to Comment East/West and North/South. So, How Does Keir Starmer Rate as a UK Opposition Leader?


Democratic support is seen as a subset of development aid. Thus one might expect that Opposition International would focus solely on democracy-conflicted states. OI explicitly rejects that dualism of us (developed) and them (developing) when it comes to democracy.

Authoritarian regimes and dictators, strong today, remain caged within the democratic continuum. A change is gonna come. No 1000 year Reich ever existed. The Roman Republic lasted longer effectively than the Roman Empire. A categorical longing to live free guided by the will of the people, the Social Contract, binds the limits of all experiments by leaders and rulers.

We all share the goal of democracy. We are all in the same boat, on separate seats. OI invites all readers and supporters in Asia, Africa, South America, and Eurasia to send in their views. You have as much right to comment on British or American democracy as vice-versa.

All that is worth saying. Nonetheless, the biggest challenges to the health of democracy are not found in Shoreditch and Sacremento.

Okay, on to Sir Starmer

Earnest critics declare it’s superficial to treat politics like a horse race, Sorry, what’s superficial is to compare horse racing to politics, at least as far as statistics are involved. A turf account runs in his head Bayesian analysis and Monte Carlo simulations while watching the ponies run. Public Experts rank leaders while guessing where they bought their suits. Not one has explained the odds in a boxed trifecta of Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer, and Sir Ed Davey. It is a delight then to read how 85 political scholars rank the post-WWII Opposition leaders. LSE British Politics and Policy July 13th, 2021

It The league table of post-war leaders of the opposition according to academics: Corbyn not the worst and Starmer trending below Kinnock

“The ultimate test for a Leader of the Opposition is to win a general election and move into government. Those in the bottom part of the ‘league table’ are mostly the ones who failed to get into Number 10 in the first place together with some who were kicked out as prime minister and then failed to get back in.”

“In addition, academics were asked to rate the performance of Keir Starmer so far as Leader of the Opposition. The survey was conducted in June this year so after Labour’s poor performance in May’s local and national elections, and the blow of losing the Hartlepool Westminster constituency to the Conservatives, but before retaining the Batley and Spen constituency on 1 July.”

“With his rating of 4.5 out of 10, Starmer is seen to be performing as well as Attlee did between 1951 and 1955, although Attlee failed to become prime minister again after he lost the 1951 general election. Starmer may be pleased that he’s regarded more positively than Ed Miliband (4.1), but he is trailing Kinnock’s rating of 5.6 – and it should be noted that neither Miliband nor Kinnock ever persuaded the British public to hand them the keys to Downing Street. It seems clear that Starmer is not yet seen as a prime-minister-in–waiting by the academics we polled, which ties in with contemporary public polling. He needs to improve on his current ‘must do better’ rating to make it to Number 10.”

In the lingo, who’s the “Bismarck?

Interview (2021) with Professor Jan Werner Muller on reviews of his new book, Democracy Rules

Jan-Werner Müller is a professor of politics at Princeton University. He is the author of Another Country: German Intellectuals, Unification and National Identity, A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought, Was ist Populismus? His Christian Democracy: A New Intellectual History, based on his Carlyle Lectures in Oxford, is forthcoming with Harvard University Press; his Democracy Rules was released in July 2021 by with Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

OI take: Warner-Muller’s nemesis, authoritarian populism, can undermine the constitutional protections of democracy. Kleptocrat rule by military juntas, theocratic dictatorships, Chinese and Russian electoral meddling, and Cold War left-overs already have robbef billions of people from any exercise of democratic rights and freedoms.

Professor Werner-Muller’s prescription is bang on. Foremost, the political parties need to get their Mojo back. Parties should revitalize the legislative branch by using constructive hard-nosed debate and strategic cooperation to reduce the destructive polarization brought about not only by populism, but also by the excessive accumulation of power by the judicial and the executive branch.

A long shot. OI is sending a letter inviting him to be a featured guest in our podcast series.

Actual Legislative Change Happens when Opposition and Civil Society Work Together — It Helps Government, Too.

A paradox of development aid is that donors support Parliamentarians to cooperate with their government on priority issues while funding Civil Society Organizations to confront those governments on the same issues.

Recently I was involved with an effort to coordinate the critique of human rights issues by elected politicians and CSOs, in South East Asia. For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot name the consortium that submitted the following concept note to the European Union.

The purpose of publishing selections from the concept note is to emphasize that the Opposition does not have to operate alone in the parliamentary bubble. Likewise, CSOs should not have to rely alone on social mobilization to be heard. MPs are elected as leaders within the broader polity of society. So, too, do CSO leaders have a political voice as citizens. You can understand donors not wanting to fund politicians criticizing government policies and not wanting the critics of policy they do fund to have political power. Not being seen to mix donor funding of parliament activity with funding for civil society advocacy is nonetheless an accounting fiction.

It may be necessary fiction. Yet, I argue the forces for change work most effectively when united, not compartmentalized. Moreover, the distinct funding of different sectors could be unfair to the government. The split support for political/CSO agendas makes it difficult for the government to craft a workable and sustainable policy and political compromise.

To loop back to the mission of Opposition. International. The premise is that the political passage of legislation through the clash of Government and Opposition is the reality of change, actual change. Civil Society has a vital role to play in informing and mobilizing the public. Critical, but not absolute as Parliament alone mediates the balance of interests, not just examines the facts.

The Government — and the Opposition— need the expertise, experience, and enthusiasm that Civil Society can bring. Each brings their agenda and interests. There is no conflict when transparency and accountability are respected.


CONCEPT NOTE: A Submission

European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR):

Our Southeast Asia consortium is confident that the EU’s commitment to cooperation with ASEAN Human Rights CSOs is principled, practical and pragmatic. The EU has observed that the “space” for human rights and CSO dialogue has shrunk. We note the recent statement: ”Ultimately, the Partnership (EU-ASEAN READI Human Rights Facility) Facility will allow the EU to strengthen its political outreach and promote ideas and ideals, in a competitive environment in which other partners often project opposite views.” In response to the EIDHR Global Call, our concept note proposes a means to mutual benefit in support of stronger, more effective, human rights in the ASEAN region.

We start by asking, “How can emerging technologies be channelled towards both strengthening human rights in SE Asia and deflecting internal and external threats.

Our consortium represents an emerging trend in human rights  SE Asia –  consistent with the EU’s stated goals – the defining and enforcing of a digital “social contract” between the governing and governed. 

The conventional course of treaty rights and reactive standard-setting nears completion. Sarfaty, Posner, Moyn, and others argue for greater emphasis on prevention. “Although the main obstacle to preventing human rights abuses continues to be a lack of political will on the part of states, big data can facilitate action when the political will does exist by closing information gaps.” One role model is the Amnesty International/s DataKind project, which relies heavily on reporting networks to a central data facility.

We start from the premise that society is not a blank undifferentiated mass.  There exist profound differences in identity, opportunity, condition, and voice.  Equality before the law does not mean that justice is blind.  Nor can a society proceed safely from a view that the present is somehow Year Zero. 

At the root of our approach to human rights is the documentation and witness of important characteristics such as gender, indigenous and ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and youth. The aspiration is not for apartheid-style separate rights but equal rights for the full diversity of pre-existing, socially relevant communities….

The codification of European-centric human rights in the colonial era did not abrogate pre-existing communal rights of practice, but neither did the formal laws give organic relationships a form and a voice amenable to consistent application and enforcement. …

Yet, out of the emergence in SE Asia of modern rule-based polity, a form of accountability has emerged. The parliaments throughout ASEAN, of varying degrees of conformity with global democratic standards, still serve their communities as a means of loyalty, voice, and, yes, exit vis a vis claimed authority. Accountability depends on media freedom. Power may yet be held to some account in its absence, though the danger persists of sudden and violent mandate shifts….

In the absence of open data, digital opportunities emerge unchecked to exploit public sentiment. In the last twelve months, South East Asia has witnessed a sharp acceleration of passive (censorship) and aggressive (misinformation) threats. At heightened risk is the use of digital communications as an open, secure, and productive means to conduct social, civil, and political discourse. Repercussions have included censorship through blocked sites and detention of dissidents, activists, and advocates. Part of the responsibility for maintaining the quality of open data is also the exposure and refutation of patently false disinformation. …

The outcomes of our project include:

  • Incremental steps towards a greater awareness of the pre-existing identity and role of IEM populations within the oral tradition of communal accommodation,
  • Continued engagement of LBGTQ+ groups within a framework of traditional cultural tolerance,
  • Increased sophistication of disaggregation and distinct interpretation of open gender data,
  • Further solidification of the movement for the accountability of political decision-making within national parliaments through the transparency and accessibility of open data, and
  • Making a compelling case that human rights accountability includes not just identifying what the government has done or is doing, but also exposing internal and external threats based on corrupted information and data.

The beneficiaries will be a combination of Rights-Bearing Actors (RBA) including 

  • Indigenous and ethnic minority populations,
  • Marginalized communities such as LBGTQ+
  • Women as independent legal persons,
  • Victims of misplaced communal targeting through “fake news.” 

Anyone initiative can only make a limited overall impact with the citizens of a country: our activities could reach and strengthen the individuals and groups committed to just and inclusive social outcomes. Outreach must also engage the political sphere.

Political Will through Parliamentary Accountability

Lot 3 Objective: “Advocate for accountability in service delivery and the management of public funds (Accountability)”

The focal point of accountability continues to be the legislature/parliament itself.  Malaysia is recognized as a leader in the field.  Within Malaysia, itself, the SINAR Project is a leading practitioner….

Regional/country partners

  • Support existing regional multi-stakeholder platform: Citizen Congress Watch, through international Supervising Congress events, is working to build a regional Open Parliament community of practice which also includes open legislative and transparency data partners.
  • International multi-stakeholder platforms
  • Open Parliament which is supported by NDI, Sunlight
  • International Budget Partnership (
  • ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • Open Hluttaw initiative, Ananda Data (Myanmar) (, are volunteer pioneering efforts at opening legislative data and building applications for civil society.


  • Supervising the Congress – International Parliamentary Monitoring Conference (CCW)
  • Open data/civic tech regional workshops on open government and parliamentary monitoring (knowledge sharing and capacity building)
  • International Parliamentary Union (IPU) holds annual conferences with government attendees and civil society working on initiatives such as e-Parliament


  • Open budget and legislative guidebook on publishing parliamentary/legislative information as open data, open standards, and parliamentary digital services – best practices, case studies, consultations with government and civil society actors.
  • Supporting action-based research for development, outreach, and reflective studies of their work in opening the space for and using legislative open data.

Postscript: Another brilliant proposal gathering digital dust in Brussels.

My colleagues and I hope to revive the project in some format.

The Formal Meaning of Opposition

Opposition has both a general and a specific formal meaning. The Latin root is ponere to place and opponere to place in front of. In its general sense the opposition are those placed in front of a group or individual blocking movement.

In the Westminster parliamentary form of government, the Opposition, formally Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, are the Members of Parliament who sit opposite the Treasury Bench (composed of the Cabinet). Their role is to block the passage of bills of expenditure until the House of Commons has had a chance to examine them, usually in committee, and to vote on them at three stages of being read aloud in the chamber. That the members of the chamber are elected makes the procedure the product of democracy. The will of the people is expressed as indirectly.

When Winston Churchill in 1947 said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” he likely had in mind parliamentary democracy, but his focus was on the essence of democracy, “the little man with the little pencil,” rather than its forms. It matters little that Common Law differs from Civil Law, if the result is seen as justice. The same is true about the differences between parliamentary and presidential government, if democracy prevails. Still, parliamentary democracy has some unique features.

Off the top, as Walter Bagehot pointed out, parliamentary democracy separates the “ceremonial” from the “effective,” rather neatly. The arrangement allows for a final check on the executive far more easily wielded than impeachment. Alleged abuses may happen (Gough Whitlam episode in Australia 1975 and King-Byng Affair in Canada 1926), but rarely do.

Further, Bagehot noted, that Parliament has no separation of legislative and executive powers.  If the PM has the confidence of the House, he or she may pass all manner of legislation. In America, the President proposes, and the Congress disposes.  However, as my old colleague Professor Ian Brodie points out in his new book (shameless plug) At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits on Political Power, a PM faces many restraints in the House.  The opportunity for swift resolution rarely escapes rigorous accountability.  Accountability is the working principle of a parliamentary system and a process essential to democratic government.

The face of accountability in a Westminster system is the formal Opposition. It is why the Leader of the Opposition is a member of the Queen’s Privy Council and may request a personal audience with her during a State Visit.

St. Augustine wrote that evil is the absence of God.  By the same measure, corruption is the absence of accountability. Key is political accountability. Government safeguards fail because political safeguards fail. Political accountability comes into force through formal and informal means: the primacy of confidence of the House, the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, detailed and enforced procedures, impartiality of the Speaker, a protocol for “conscience” votes, and the power of the Public Accounts Committee to compel witnesses and produce documents.

Often overlooked in discussing political accountability is the role of the political parties.  Perhaps unloved, parties play the vital role of transforming factions into force, and coalitions into governments. Parties in a parliamentary system have institutionalized written platforms and stated mandate questions. These features inform the public and hold governments to scrutiny.

“You cannot choose between party government and Parliamentary government. I say you can have no Parliamentary government if you have no party government; and therefore, when gentlemen denounce party government, they strike at the scheme of government which, in my opinion, has made this country great, and which, I hope, will keep it great.” Benjamin Disraeli,

Nothing unsavoury can be construed by opposition to the government. The modern tendency is to exalt the state as a force for progress. So it may be, but the government of the day is not the state personified. The government of the day are the men and women entrusted for the moment by the people to guide the awesome powers of the state.

The people’s trust is rarely absolute. The people elect the Opposition to look make sure the Government is looking after just the people’s interest. The Crown too depends upon the watchful eye of the Official and Loyal Opposition.

To aid the Opposition needs no apology.

Good global 2022 advice from an Egyptian 2014 poll; Political Parties and Public Opinion in Egypt by GPG’s Greg Power

Global Partners Governance, a leading U.K. consultancy, stands out for its deep and clear thinking.

Their 2014 report on a survey conducted in Egypt provides an example of good and useful research. The authors were:

Mohammed el-Agati Nick Sigler
Nick Harvey MP
Poll study by Sobhy Essaila

Greg Power, the founder of GPG, wrote a forward . The following passages from his Challenges for political parties in transitional elections – organisation, policies and identity

explain the “challenges” faced by all political parties. Opposition International addresses its outreach more narrowly to Opposition parties, who are the most challenged.

I copy a selection of passages to remind myself to check whether OI’s actions follow the good advice.


“Political parties play a vital role in determining the quality of any political system. They are the principal vehicles for representing and articulating public concerns, and at elections are the main way of offering voters a choice as to what the state should look like, and what it should provide to citizens. The organisation, effectiveness and policies of the political parties will go a long way to determining the wider political culture, and the way in which different sections of society engage with each other. Yet, despite their critical role, political parties are amongst the least trusted institutions in most parts of the world. Political parties, it seems, need to work harder to convince the public that they understand, and can provide the solutions to, the problems which citizens face.

Two key findings of the poll should be at the forefront of the parties’ thinking. First, despite disillusion, two thirds of the respondents stated that they were willing to accept the result, regardless of who won a majority. Second, more than two-thirds still have not decided who they will vote for.

In other words, the poll suggests that the people will give the majority party (or parties) a mandate, and the parties have scope to distinguish themselves in the public mind. All of the parties have the opportunity to maximise their votes if they can convince the public they are capable and organised, with a clear and distinct set of policy proposals.

But the political parties face three significant challenges between now and the election campaign around organisation, policy and identity.

First, is the challenge of organisation. New political parties, in particular, face the most basic of organisational challenges, and often have very few resources with which to manage these difficulties. Simply recruiting members, building databases and identifying reliable candidates is a time-consuming and laborious task. And this is before the party starts to set up its internal structures, decide policy, build an election manifesto, identify potential supporters and then start campaigning in earnest.

Yet, these tasks are fundamental to convincing voters. The poll shows that the public has very little confidence in any of the political parties to form a government and most people believe that the parties have little capacity to influence the political situation. A party that can convince the public that it is organised, efficient and can deliver on its promises is likely to win more votes.

Second, is the challenge of policy. The political parties need to be clear, not only about what they stand for, but which policies reflect those core beliefs. More importantly, those policies need to mean something to the public. They need to be rooted in an understanding of the public’s concerns. Here political parties with many members have an immediate advantage in that, first, the membership provides a sense of what is in the public mind and, second, offer an internal test as to whether the parties’ programme is likely to convince voters….

Third is the challenge of identity. Apart from parties such as [strict Islamist parties], the poll suggests that people found it difficult to distinguish between many of the other parties, and as a result depended on other factors to determine which way they voted.

It is clear that most of the political parties have policies on many of the key issues, but the bigger challenge is in a) getting the public to understand those policies, b) explaining how they differ from those of the other parties, and c) convincing the public that they will actually work. The lack of public faith in party policies reflects the deeper problem that the people simply do not believe what most of the parties say they can do.

Conclusion – Campaigns [ought to be] based on distinctive and realistic policies.

Its is clear that people want parties that are efficient, well- organised and to have a set of policies which they believe will address the country’s concerns. It is also clear that the political parties could be more astute in the way that they campaign and how they differentiate themselves from others.

Perhaps more importantly though, the parties need to convince the public that they are competent. Looking at the poll findings it would be tempting to develop a comprehensive set of policies to deal with every problem in Egypt. But the poll shows that the people don’t believe the parties will deliver.

The job of political parties is not just to respond to public opinion, but also to lead and shape expectations of what is realistic. Parties need to be honest with voters that deep-seated structural problems will take time to solve, and the ability of the parties to manage them is limited.

A party that makes modest campaign commitments, but which look more achievable, will distinguish the party from others, and increase its chances of winning votes. Serious political parties are judged less by what they do during election campaigns, than what they do between those campaigns. A political party that makes realistic campaign promises, and sticks to them while in parliament, is likely to secure a long-term future…”


Canada and South Korea’s Democratic Dreams

South Korea has a remarkable story to tell post the 1953 Armistice. Economic growth and social development accompanied by expanding civil rights and a jittery at first but now stable democracy. The strength of democracy in South Korea given its hard birth has made its transition one to study as a possible model of democratization to export. A new article by Simon Brun, a student at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco makes a well-reasoned case for democracy assistance to take a greater priority in the growing Korean development aid agency, KOICA.

Last June, Roland Paris, University of Ottawa, and Jennifer Walsh, Queen’s University, made the case yet again for Canada to up its game in democratic support actions Paris and Welsh make a strong case, but, as with Brun, they are not clear in what they are asking for.

Yes, they repeat as I have, the need for a Canadian democracy agency, tentatively given the name of “ Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government,” POGG being a phrase which the British diplomats stuck in all the post-colonial Acts to distinguish the Commonwealth countries from the Americans’ “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”