Democracy assistance programmes have gradually included support for political parties in addition to support for civil society, parliaments and the electoral process. But, does international party assistance contribute to party and party system institutionalization? This analysis addresses the issue of impact of external support for political parties using the case of one donor, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) and the impact of its activities in Malawi and in Zambia. NIMD's stated objectives are to promote party system institutionalization as well as the institutionalization of individual parties. Its funds are spent to support parties in three ways: strengthening inter-party dialogue, strengthening party organizations, and improving party-civil society linkages. This contribution assesses what NIMD hoped to achieve with their party support programmes and how recipient party representatives in Zambia and Malawi evaluate the support provided by NIMD. The analysis suggests that there are significant challenges for international party support. While the political parties indicate a priority for bilateral support, NIMD views such bilateral support as less effective for their overall ambitions. The discussion shows furthermore that enhancement of civil society–party relations through external funding modalities may be particularly challenging.

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