The first International Day of Parliamentarism is celebrated on June 30th, 2018, to highlight the role of parliaments worldwide as indispensable cornerstones of democracy. This date was chosen by the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution adopted on May 22nd as it coincides with the day in 1889, close to 130 years ago, that the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) — the global umbrella organization of parliaments — was founded.
Parliamentarians and democracy under pressure
According to the IPU, the new UN day should be a time to take a snapshot of the state of parliaments, to monitor progression and to identify challenges. The IPU reports that it is currently investigating human rights abuses targeted against members of parliament in more than 550 cases in over 40 countries, one of the highest figures ever recorded. The most common violations include denial of a fair trial, suspension from parliament or arbritrary detention. This is in line with reports about a shrinking political space of civil society generally and a global trend of despotic rule included in the State of Civil Society Report 2018.
As parliaments and parliamentarians come increasingly under pressure, the IPU has stepped up its efforts to provide support to parliamentary institutions. In the previous year, the organization’s second Global Parliamentary Report focused on how to strengthen parliaments’ ability “to hold governments to account on behalf of the people.”
A recent study by democracy scholars identified a global trend of autocratization and data provided by the new Democracy Perception Index indicated that large proportions of the world’s population believe that their political voice does not matter. The new edition of the Bertelsmann Transformation Index raised concern about “global instability and democratic decline”, an assessment that seems to be confirmed by the most recent reports on the global state of democracy published earlier by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Freedom House Foundation, among others.
The day of parliamentarism is another opportunity to raise awareness of these threatening developments. Strengthening an independent oversight role of parliaments worldwide following the democratic principles of checks and balances and separation of powers will be a key contribution to counterbalance a trend of autocratization, including in countries like the United States.
A global right to democracy and a global parliament
In a recent piece on this blog, a political scientist and former long-time IPU member from Germany, Uwe Holtz, stressed the important role parliaments and elected representatives need to play in implementing the UN’s 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. As he rightfully points out, this is not only relevant at the national level but at the international level as well: “The most noble task of a new standing United Nations Parliamentary Assembly would be to critically accompany the implementation of the 2030 Agenda throughout the UN system and UN member states,” he states.
For Democracy Without Borders it is key to promote an understanding of the interconnection between national and global democratization. As global processes increasingly undermine democratic institutions at the national level and people’s trust in democracy, it is paramount that parliamentary oversight and participation are extended to global institutions through a global parliamentary body.
The International Day of Parliamentarism is not the only UN day connected to democracy. Since 2007, September 15 is celebrated as International Day of Democracy following a resolution of the UN General Assembly which stated that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life.”
Democracy Without Borders is convinced that the right to democracy transcends national boundaries because in the era of globalization major public decisions are more and more being taken beyond the nation-state, as the mission statement explains.
For us, the International Day of Parliamentarism is not only an occasion to stress the critical importance of parliaments in any democratic society but also to reinforce the call for a global parliament.
Image: The 137th IPU Assembly in St. Petersburg in October 2017 elected Mexican Senator Gabriela Cuevas Barron as new IPU President, photo by IPU, CC BY-NC 2.0