Criteria for democratic parliaments

Criteria for democratic parliaments

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Parliaments should be representative, open, accessible, accountable and effective. Photo © United Nations/CCBY

There are five core values that are applicable to all parliaments, whatever their diverse cultures and traditions. The ability to put these core values into practice is the hallmark of a democratic parliament.

A democratic parliament is one that is representative, open and transparent, accessible, accountable and effective.

How these values are put into practice will vary enormously from country to country. Every parliament decides on how they should be applied in a specific context. They indicate whether the way a parliament works is consistent with democratic values.

Representative parliaments are both socially and politically inclusive. They allow members to carry out their mandates freely, and their hallmarks include: free and fair elections; the presence of women and men; open and democratic systems within political parties; and guaranteed rights. These might cover freedom of speech and equality of opportunity for all MPs, including those from opposition parties.

Open parliaments conduct their business transparently. Proceedings are open to the public and the media. Debates are publicized in advance and documents are published on the Internet. Open parliaments have their own public relations teams, and make effective use of technology to put information in the public domain.

Accessible parliaments involve the public in their work. They have various means for citizens to reach their MPs, and effective ways for the public to be consulted before laws are passed. Other hallmarks of accessibility include people’s right to ask for action on particular subjects, and make complaints if they have grievances. Interest groups lobby within agreed legal provisions that ensure transparency.

Accountable parliaments have members who are answerable to the electorate for their performance in office, and for the integrity of their conduct. There is a genuine possibility of electoral sanctions, as well as standards and enforceable codes of conduct for MPs. Members are paid adequately, must register their interests and income, and are limited in their election spending. Parliament reports on its institutional performance in a regular and transparent manner.

Effective parliaments have mechanisms and resources to ensure their own independence such as control of their own budgets. They have access to non-partisan professional staff separate from the main civil service. Members are able to access unbiased research and information. At the national level, parliaments are effective at drawing up laws, holding governments to account, and being a national forum for issues of concern. They interact effectively with regional authorities, cooperating and consulting with them so that policies are driven by local needs. And, finally, they are also involved in international affairs,

A more detailed description of these five core values, illustrated by examples from parliaments, can be found in Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice.

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Parliaments should be representative, open, accessible, accountable and effective. Photo © United Nations/CCBY