2020 has been a year unlike any other. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world into turmoil, with the resulting lockdowns, quarantines and border closures bringing economies to a standstill. It has been endless; as societies sacrifice freedoms to subdue one wave, on comes another. And another.
Of course, the other challenges facing the world haven’t slowed. In fact, they have been exacerbated as attention and resources have been redirected to saving lives. Climate change, rising inequality, threats to security including terrorism and violent extremism, conflicts, famine, the crisis of multilateralism, and human rights abuses, including of parliamentarians continue unabated. These challenges will not fade with the pandemic.
Yet, 2020 also bore witness to incredible resilience and inspirational courage. Of the frontline workers toiling against impossible odds. Of the families dealing with loved ones’ suffering and death. Of parliamentarians making the difficult decisions on behalf of the people they represent.
We are especially heartened that most Parliaments have continued operating despite lockdown conditions, devising new modes of functioning to make sure that the people’s expectations continue to be addressed. This demonstrates the ongoing and resilient nature of democracy, its values and institutions.
The IPU has also committed to staying open for business throughout, to support parliaments worldwide. Our campaign, ‘Parliaments in the time of pandemic’ has been up and running since April, and includes numerous resources such as a compilation of parliamentary pandemic responses on a country-by-country basis for comparison and reference.
In June, we called on parliaments to stay open amid lockdowns. It’s clear that in these times we need parliaments to keep operating at full tilt. That we need democratic leadership now more than ever. This pandemic is changing our societies, sometimes beyond recognition. It is hammering our economies, destroying jobs and businesses, and exposing our inequalities.
Solutions won’t come from the hands of autocrats. Many of the world’s more autocratic leaders have failed to tackle this coronavirus effectively. On the other hand, women leaders appear to have managed the pandemic more successfully, thus demonstrating the value of investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Looking back at 2020, we can be proud of the IPU’s achievements. The IPU did not let international border closures limit its 2020 activities. In mid-August the IPU convened the first part of the Fifth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, a global conference that takes place every five years, in a virtual format. Over 100 Speakers adopted a solemn and aspirational political declaration setting forth their commitment to robust parliamentary action for a safer, healthier and more prosperous world.
Preceding the Speakers’ Conference, the IPU brought together the world’s top women legislators in the virtual 13th Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament. Efforts on gender equality are needed in parliaments, as currently only 20 per cent of the Speakers of parliament in the world are women. The participants pledged action to step up gender equality in all walks of life, building on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Then in October, the IPU Governing Council, our plenary decision-making body met, for the first time virtually, to adopt the IPU programme of work and budget for 2021 and elect a new president. If ever there was a prime example of digital democracy, then that election proved to be one. Participants voted in a secret ballot through a secure online platform, the results verified by an independent auditor. In the end, some 400 parliamentarians from over 140 IPU Member Parliaments were able to exercise their democratic responsibility, by voting electronically, during a 24-hour window.
2020 showed us that the IPU can nimbly adapt to the pandemic constraints and keep in uninterrupted forward motion. As President and Secretary General, we reiterate the commitment of IPU’s leadership in steering the IPU ship, the global parliamentary ship, through these stormy waters to calmer and more prosperous times.
We wish all our Member Parliaments, their members and loved ones well as we move into 2021.
Duarte Pacheco, IPU President
Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary General