Democracy is only as strong as the political participation of citizens and this must be increased for world peace, social cohesion and development, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
Marking the International Day of Democracy on 15 September, IPU is calling for a major stepping-up of efforts to involve the public more deeply in formal political processes and institutions, including parliaments. It is also urging parliaments to be more open and accessible to their citizens, and representative of society as a whole.
“Democracy as a concept is based on the right of every individual to take part and be represented in the management of public affairs and the decisions that affect them daily,” says IPU President Saber Chowdhury. “Although there are 190 parliaments in the world with the vast majority of parliamentarians directly elected, much more progress needs to be made on the actual practice of democracy.”
Too few women, young people, minorities and indigenous people are represented in parliament and government. According to IPU data, women account for just over 22 per cent of all parliamentarians in the world and less than 18 per cent of all government ministers.
IPU figures for young people’s political participation reveal an even more worrying picture, with less than 2 per cent of all Members of Parliament (MPs) below 30 years of age.
Although indigenous peoples make up 5 per cent of the global population and account for one third of the one billion extremely poor rural people, an IPU survey in 2014 found that out of more than 45,000 MPs in the world, fewer than 1,000 were indigenous people.
Mechanisms such as quotas or other special measures have proved effective in many countries to increase women’s representation in parliament, particularly when the concept has been enshrined in national constitutions or set figures established in electoral laws.
A new trend that offers collective opportunities for different groups, such as women, youth and minorities, to be elected to parliament and make it more accessible and representative is, however, slowly emerging. Greater take up of such an approach would provide a solid foundation for more rapid progress on the political engagement of all voices in society.
However, representation of all sectors of society in parliament is but one aspect of political participation in democracy.
With public apathy or disillusionment often undermining democracy, IPU is also calling for people to participate more actively in political decision-making and reassert their aspirations for a more democratic world.
This includes voting in elections, petitioning, joining political groups, providing input into draft legislation or allocation of resources in national budgets, or simply being better informed in order to make reasoned political choices.
Social media and other new technologies are increasingly being used by politicians and their constituents alike to communicate with each other and on politics. IPU is encouraging the public, parliaments and politicians to build on these and other means, such as community outreach and consultations to strengthen political participation among the public.
“There is no democracy without the voice of the people driving the political decision-making. It is essential that people play their part in making this a truism. But it is just as essential that governments and the international community listen to and act upon the people’s decisions through parliament if their faith in democracy is not to be lost,” adds IPU President Chowdhury.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global organization of national parliaments. It works to safeguard peace and drives positive democratic change through political dialogue and concrete action.
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Jemini Pandya, Director of Communications
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