Over the next few weeks, millions
of people around the world will be watching the conventions of the two main
political parties in the United States. At each convention, delegates will vote
on the party's platform, or set of principles, that shows voters where the
party stands on issues. Reporter William Eagle looks at
the platforms and what they may mean for developing countries.
Platforms reflect party
positions on political issues like reproductive rights, health care, the
economy and globalization. The platforms are created by committees made up of
people representing the party's various factions. Later, convention delegates
vote to approve or amend the platform and its positions on individual issues,
Platforms as Indicators
Platforms can often give voters an
insight into the direction of the candidate. For example, recent Republican Party platforms have supported the
African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA – an effort to increase African
exports to the US by eliminating trade barriers.
J. Peter Pham is the director of
the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison
University outside Washington, DC. He's also an adviser to the Republican Party
on African issues.
"In the platform of 2000,says Pham,"AGOA was
supported, though it was an initiative that had been begun under Clinton. The
Republican Congress subsequently renewed and extended it," says Pham. "The platform also
called for new aid mechanisms that reward [a country's] progress on objective
indicators [such as good governance and economic reform]. [That effort led to
the creation of] the Millennium Challenge Corporation, [which makes
development] funds available to countries that show significant progress."
Democrats, in their recently
released platform, also support the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the MCC,
Witney W. Schneidman is the
unofficial adviser on Africa to the campaign of Barack Obama. He was also the
deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton
administration. Schneidman says the Democratic Party's platform includes
improving the effectiveness of the MCC.
He says there are many who say it's a
good idea but has underperformed. "A number of commitments have been made but it
has been slow in getting resources out the door," says Schneidman. "That will have to be looked at, how we can accelerate the MCC's impact on the continent."
More Development Assistance
The Democrats' platform commits
the party to supporting Africa's political, social and economic development. It
calls for two billion dollars to be spent on a Global Education Fund that would
help provide free basic education for every child in the world.
It also renews the party's
support for women's reproductive rights, including a lifting of the US
government's ban on funding for groups that support abortion. And, the platform
calls for the US to reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund,
the UNPFA. Congress has approved millions of dollars to the agency for family
planning projects. But the Bush administration has withheld funding in response
to allegations that the UNPFA supports abortions coerced by the Chinese
government. The UN agency denies the charge.
The Democratic Party platform also
calls for a doubling in the size of the Peace Corps, and the creation of a
volunteer Civilian Assistance Corps. It would be made up of engineers,
agriculture specialists, doctors, city planners and other specialists to
intervene in humanitarian emergencies in failed states.
The platform also calls for $50
billion dollars to be spent by 2012 to help in the global fight against
tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, avian flu and other diseases. The figure
represents a doubling of the current funding.
The Republican Party platform has
not yet been made public, but party activists say it will also mention
development assistance. They note the success of humanitarian efforts such as
the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and The Global Fund To
Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Presumptive nominee John McCain has said
the elimination of malaria would be one of his top priorities.
Open Markets and a Strong Defense
Professor J. Peter Pham says the
Republican platform will also renew the party's commitment to free trade and
open markets, including a show of support for the Doha Round of global trade
talks. They have stalled partly because the developing world has not removed
trade barriers that protect their agricultural markets from cheaper
imports. Also, Western countries have
not removed subsides to their farmers.
"Senator McCain." he says, "has not hidden that
he opposes farm subsidies. He was one of 22 senators to vote against the
current agriculture bill. His position is quite clear. Republicans [at the
convention] from agricultural states will beg to differ, and they will have to
work out language that states the party position in a way that is acceptable to
suit both the candidate and the majority of the party."
Herman Cohen was the Assistant
secretary of state for Africa during the administration of Herbert Walker Bush,
nearly 20 years ago. He says the Republican Party platform will also likely
emphasize the continuing war on terror.
"While Africa has a lot less
terrorism [overall]," says Cohen, "terrorists from North Africa have been infiltrating the
south and the Republicans will want to emphasize cooperation in fighting [them]."
Cohen says that includes support
for AFRICOM, the new Defense Department command responsible for US military
operations in Africa, including anti-piracy and counter-terrorism efforts.
Other security-related issues may
be mentioned in the Republican Party platform. Among them is McCain's call for
the creation of a League of Democracies to help Africa and other regions
dealing with political and humanitarian crises.
McCain has also called for a
no-fly zone over Sudan's western province of Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of
civilians there have fled fighting between rebels and Arab militias linked to
the Sudanese government. In addition, McCain has expressed support for the
International Criminal Court's pursuit of those responsible for attacks on civilians.
Similarly, the Democratic Party
platform says it will "champion accountability for genocide and war crimes."
The platforms may reflect the parties' views on
issues, and even their intentions, but they are not officially binding on the