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International Visitors Observe Democratic Convention First Hand - 2004-07-29

Roughly 600 political leaders from more than 100 countries are in Boston to observe the proceedings of the four-day Democratic National Convention. The foreign observers were invited by the non-profit National Democratic Institute, which runs democracy development programs around the world.

Fauzia Wahab, a member of Pakistan's national assembly, has a burning question she has not yet gotten an answer to.

"There is this general perception among the [Pakistani] public that whenever the Democrats are in power, we feel that Pakistan is neglected and India is given preferential treatment," she said. "So, on that basis, I wanted to ask, would there be a change this time if a Democratic government is in power. So, would there be a change toward Pakistan? Would there again be preferential relations with India."

She had just come out of an international relations panel discussion where time had run out before she was able to ask her question. She was still hoping to track down someone who had the authority to give her an answer.

Felix Ulloa, a Salvadoran who works for the National Democratic Institute in Haiti, says the forum was organized specifically to help facilitate two-way communication. He says, though, most of the exchanges focus on differing political systems.

"That is a great opportunity in both ways," said Mr. Ulloa. "People from abroad can better understand how the Americans elect their candidate for the president and for the Americans [to have] better understanding how the worldwide leaders deals with democracy and also electing officers and representatives."

Learning about the American political process is the main draw for foreign observers.

Taiwan's Ching-fan Chong, from the People First Party, says he is getting a very good education that he hopes will be relevant back home in the island's often chaotic democracy. Mr. Chong compared the relative uneventfulness of U.S. presidential elections to recent polls in Taiwan where the president was re-elected with less than one percent of the ballot, one day after surviving a controversial assassination attempt.

"I think that American political system is much more mature and stable," he said. "In Taiwan, we are learning the process. You probably heard we had this very controversial elections process just happened this March. We still have a lot of things to learn."

Another international visitor, Italian Pia Locatelli the president of the umbrella-group Socialist International Women, says this is the second U.S. political convention she has attended as an observer. She says she supports Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for his international credentials.

But, she adds that she is not so happy with the convention's show business-type hoopla and production, which remind her negatively of Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi.

"I am a bit surprised, well not so much because I also attended the other convention," she noted. "Here, the convention is also a good deal of show, which I don't like very much. Also, because it is Berlusconi's way of doing politics. And, I mean, politics is a serious thing and I prefer to attend [a] roundtable [meeting] to discuss politics more than having this show."

Meanwhile, Pierre Ngayap, Secretary-General of Cameroon's National Union for Democracy and Progress party, said he was most struck by the difference between the presidential systems in the United States and his home country.

"For me, that in the U.S., the terms are very short," he explained. "[A] president can only stay two terms in office. Instead, in our country, a president can stay 20 years. That is too much. It's not a new thing for me, but its a major difference for a democracy to let people turn [over] and let others continue the job."

Mr. Ngayap said he is interested in Senator Kerry's much-touted promises to work more closely with other countries, if elected. He adds that he believes President Bush does not have such a good record with the international community.

"Yes, what is new is that Senator Kerry is just a candidate. He is promising things. We know George Bush, as president of the United States. We know what he is doing, what he expects to do in the future if he is elected again," he added. "What is important to know today is is he going to change his policy or will he continue the same policy?"

International Republican Institute spokeswoman Anne Marie Mullen says the group will not host a similar foreign visitors program at the Republican convention next month in New York. But she added that there will be one panel discussion to examine her party's foreign policy on August 30, the first day of the convention.