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US elections: Party platfoms offer insight into candidates' views on AGOA

Published date:
Thursday, 21 August 2008

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, or planks.

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.

Both parties support extending the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act

"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, and AGOA.

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 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 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], terrorists from North Africa have been infiltrating the south and the Republicans will want to emphasize cooperation in fighting terrorism.

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.

Darfur refugees in neighboring Chad

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 candidates.

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