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Global Leaders Study Democracy in Denver

Political leaders from more than 100 countries joined the Democrats at their national convention. As VOA's Kent Klein reports from Denver, the visitors have been taking part in a forum on the democratic process, and they will return home with new ideas about ways to strengthen their democracies.

More than 500 elected officials, current and former heads of state, cabinet ministers, party leaders and diplomats are part of the International Leaders Forum. A non-profit group called the National Democratic Institute sponsors the forum every four years, in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention.

The leaders have been hearing from American experts, and talking with each other, about how to make and keep democracy strong. Nigerian Senator Ken Nnamadi, a former Senate president, says he has learned a great deal in the forum seminars, and has learned even more from watching the Democrats' convention.

"There is a lot for the world to learn from the United States, their democratic process," he said. "Here we have come to learn that the process is a lot more important than the outcome."

Seminars at the forum concentrate on numerous aspects of American democracy. Among them are the role of debates, the news media, and television advertising in U.S. campaigns. They also include a look at the U.S. role in the world, and efforts to fight global poverty.

The visitors have been hearing from speakers such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the Institute's chairman.

Hanna Teteh, the communications director for an opposition party in Ghana, believes interacting with other countries' political leaders will help her country solidify its young democracy.

"We are continuing to have to cope with those challenges, including how to ensure that our democracy remains credible, in spite of the various interest groups and pressure groups that come together to try to achieve a particular result," said Teteh. "So to that extent, I think that the interaction has been very useful."

Nicaraguan opposition lawmaker Edmundo Jarquin also finds strength in talking with supporters of other developing democracies.

"In several places democracy is facing problems," he said, "but there is enormous solidarity between all the democratic movements here in this hemisphere and around the world. Nobody chooses giving up, in regard to the problems democracy is facing in their countries."

Among the leaders observing the American democratic process in Denver is the prime minister of Mauritius, Navinchandra Ramgoolam. He says he hopes to continue working with the National Democratic Institute to make changes at home.

"We need to strengthen procedures for elections in Mauritius," said Prime Minister Ramgoolam. "It's very good, it's very transparent, but I think we can improve on them. And in fact, NDI is bringing a team to have a look at where we can improve our system."

The nomination of Senator Barack Obama as the first African-American major-party presidential nominee was of particular interest to many of the visitors, especially those from Africa. But Nigeria's Ken Nnamadi says the story resonates around the world.

"Regardless of your color, your age, your shape or size, if you work hard and have a big dream, America is a country that shows that you can realize your dream here," he said. "And that means a whole lot for the rest of the world. It's not just because of Obama, it's for everybody."

The International Republican Institute conducts similar programs in conjunction with the Republican Party, and the two organizations often work together.