Political parties play a crucial role in the functioning of democracy. As the intermediaries between political representatives and the citizens, parties hold the keys to ensure that institutions are inclusive and responsive. In essence, the policies and ideologies that parties uphold are designed to mirror the wishes and needs of the people, and the candidates that these organizations support become the voice for those ideas within elected offices.

The general distrust of political parties, and their subsequent weak legitimacy, is therefore one of the most pressing problems for democracy today. This phenomenon corrodes the precious relationship between citizens and politicians, thus destroying the basic fabric of representative democracy. The low levels of membership in political parties reflect this disturbing trend. Citizens are seeking alternatives, increasingly turning to the streets and forming citizen movements to voice their concerns. Recent protests in Asia, Europe and Latin America reflect this general dissatisfaction with the way democratic institutions in general, and political parties in particular, are tackling inequality, poor service delivery and, most importantly, political corruption. Indeed, corruption, partly fueled by illicit money, is arguably one of the root causes of citizen distrust in political parties.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), the Netherlands Institute of International Relations (Clingendael) and other partners are therefore committed to shedding light on how organized crime corrupts political parties. Injecting dirty money into political parties and pursuing alliances with key politicians and their intermediaries are some of the principal avenues these illicit networks use to penetrate democracy. This report provides insights into these issues, as well as potential strategies for preventing and mitigating relationships between criminals and political actors, by looking at the specific cases of Georgia, Mali and Mexico.

This report builds on comparative research that International IDEA has conducted since 2011 under the umbrella of the Protecting Politics project, which broadly focuses on the threat that organized crime poses to democracy around the world. In 2015 the Clingendael Institute joined International IDEA in exploring the particular dynamics that organized crime uses to engage with political parties and actors. Three other reports complement this study by looking at the related issues of elections, service delivery and local democracy.

Image: MINUSMA Supports Youth Theatre for Peace and Reconciliation in Gao, by UN Photo/Marco Dormino, posted on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0