Ranjan K Baruah
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
All of us in India pride ourselves on being the largest democracy. Words like election, ministers, parliament, government, etc are common for any Indian. Most of us are aware of the government system and we realize the importance of our parliament. Different countries have their own parliaments and functions or roles and responsibilities or power may vary from country to country. Out of 193 countries, 79 are bicameral and 114 are unicameral, making a total of 272 chambers of parliament with over 46,000 members of parliament.
There is no doubt that strong parliaments are a cornerstone of democracy. They represent the voice of the people, pass laws, allocate funds to implement laws and policies, and hold governments to account. They work to make sure that policies benefit all people, especially the most vulnerable. At present 25% of the world's members of parliament are women and 28.1% of the world's members of parliament are under 45.
Parliaments today have a key role as it is the central institution of democracy as the elected body that represents society in all its diversity, parliaments have a unique responsibility for reconciling the conflicting interests and expectations of different groups and communities through the democratic means of debates and dialogue. As the key legislative organ, parliaments are responsible for ensuring that governments are fully accountable to the people.
At the time of present crisis parliaments are also affected as members are unable to attend the sessions easily. In COVID-19 times, Parliaments and other government institutions are subject to the social distancing measures as other public and private organizations. Yet, in a time of crisis, the role of parliament is more vital than ever to pass emergency laws, allocate resources and scrutinize government action. Some parliaments are modifying laws and procedures to allow for remote working, some have continued meeting physically and some have recessed altogether. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is helping to facilitate inter-parliamentary coordination and solidarity by sharing examples of how parliaments can continue to legislate, debate and scrutinize the actions of government in a time of lockdown and social distancing.
June 30 is the day designated to celebrate the International Day of Parliamentarism. The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/72/278, recognized the role of parliaments in national plans and strategies and in ensuring greater transparency and accountability at national and global levels. It is also the date, in 1889, on which the IPU — the global organization of parliaments — was established. This Day celebrates parliaments and the ways in which parliamentary systems of government improve the day-to-day lives of people the world over. It is also an opportunity for parliaments to take stock, identify challenges, and ways to address them effectively.
The IPU, as the world organization of parliaments, connects national parliaments in order to promote greater transparency, accountability and participation at the global level. It began in 1889 as a small group of parliamentarians, dedicated to promoting peace through parliamentary diplomacy and dialogue and grew into a truly global organization of national parliaments. Today, it has 179 Member Parliaments, 13 Associate Members, and increasing numbers of parliamentarians from all over the world are getting involved in IPU's work. Along with other parliamentary organizations, IPU engages with the United Nations on activities that cover a broad range of issues, including peace and security, human rights and sustainable development.
The global goals which are focused on sustainability need participation from parliaments to make them a success by 2030. Parliaments and parliamentary organizations played an active role throughout the negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, advocating strongly, for instance, for the inclusion of goals related to democratic governance. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.
At the present time of crisis and to address similar crisis in future parliaments must have vibrant health policies for the welfare of the people. More focus is needed where people are vulnerable and poor. A strong political will of any parliament or parliamentarian and government can surely make arrangements in their nations to safeguard their citizens from pandemic. This day also brings opportunities in networking amongst parliaments for bringing solutions to global issues and achieving SDGs.
(With direct inputs from UN publication)