Democracy Support

Democracy support or democracy assistance includes all activities that help to introduce, strengthen or enhance democracy in a country, usually with the help of an international or foreign organization.

Ballot boxes and voting cabins (Southern Azerbaijan, 2010)

As Programme Officer at International IDEA in Stockholm (2006–2008) I

  • advised policymakers internationally on matters of democracy support
  • wrote policy documents and reports
  • spoke at conferences and workshops on aid effectiveness, party financing, and related topics
  • raised funds with international donors such as CIDA (Canada), Sida (Sweden), and AusAID (Australia) and implemented them
  • designed and delivered capacity-building for political party leaders, government officials, and assistance providers through workshops and courses

As part of the German experts’ roster for civilian personnel in peace operations and election observation missions, I have served as an elections observer for the OSCE in Kyrgyzstan (2009) and Azerbaijan (2010).

What is democracy support?

The assistance can deal with every aspect of democracy, such as elections, political parties, constitution building, conflict management, gender and minority rights, media, and civil society.

Democracy support activities involve three types of direct stakeholders: donors, who fund activities, assistance providers who carry them out and recipients or target groups who receive the assistance. All partners are equally important and assistance activities are normally planned and implemented jointly with all direct stakeholders.

International IDEA

There are many actors in the field, both private and public. One of them is International IDEA, an international organization based in Stockholm. International IDEA assists stakeholders around the world by generating and facilitating knowledge, presenting policy options, and initiating reforms. International IDEA is the only intergovernmental organization exclusively dedicated to democracy support.

Effective Party Assistance

Assistance to political parties is an important part of democracy support. Despite the importance and considerable amount of resources spent there was very little systematic definition of objectives and evaluation of the effectiveness.

As a response, in 2006 International IDEA launched the Effective Party Assistance Initiative to discuss these questions together with partners in the area—donors, implementers, and recipients of assistance. Its purpose was to develop a new approach towards international assistance to political parties primarily in transition countries and young democracies.

I was responsible for conceptualizing and planning the initiative and managed it until I left the organization in August 2008. In November 2007 we presented the policy paper Effective Party Assistance: Stronger Parties for Better Democracy at an international conference in Ottawa (Canada) which was jointly organized by International IDEA and the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada).

Policy Paper

Matthias Catón 2007: Effective Party Assistance: Stronger Parties for Better Democracy. Stockholm: International IDEA.

Also available in Spanish: Asistencia eficaz a partidos políticos: Partidos más sólidos para una mejor democracia and French: Une assistance aux partis performante: Des partis plus forts pour une meilleure démocratie.


I wrote my doctoral thesis on the effect of contextual factors on the relationship between different types of electoral systems and a country’s political party system:

Catón, Matthias 2009: Wahlsysteme und Parteiensysteme im Kontext: Vergleichende Analyse der Wirkung von Wahlsystemen unter verschiedenen Kontextbedingungen, Heidelberg.