Speaker of India’s Lok Sabha Meira Kumar has called on SAARC parliaments to support the work of their election commissions, stating that it is the vote that enables the poorest and weakest to decide the destiny of their nations.
“It is crucial that the voters are able to elect their representatives freely, without any fear or favour. Hence the institution of Election Commission must be bolstered,” she said.
Speaking at the 7th conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians (ASSP) held at Bandos Island Resort yesterday, Kumar said she took pride in the Indian Election Commission’s sterling reputation.
Discussing the theme ‘Strengthening democracy through institution building’, Kumar shared India’s democratic experience, highlighting especially the role of an impartial judiciary.
Parliamentarians must strive to guarantee access to judicial remedies for each and everyone, she said.
Anti-corruption legislation and right to information bills are crucial in ensuring transparency and certainty of executive action, she continued.
“In India, the Right to Information Act has augmented the accountability of public authorities by putting their functioning into the public domain. The issue of corruption in governance is being widely discussed across the entire SAARC region and we have to find ways to eradicate it,” she said.
“The Lok Pal and Lokayuktas Bill 2013 which has recently been passed by the Indian Parliament is a step forward in our fight to eliminate corrupt practices.”
She also identified inclusive political parties, local governments and media as key institutions that require parliamentary support.
Political parties need to sponsor more women in public life, she said, noting that although South Asian women constitute 23 percent of the world’s population they are not adequately represented in the political arena. Mechanisms such as reservations for women must be set in place to ensure their equal participation, she said.
Decentralisation is the key to strengthening democracy as it “stimulates public participation,” she stressed. The devolution of power in India through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments brought three million elected representatives, including about 1.2 million women to the center stage.
Further, parliaments represent the sovereign will of the people, and as such they must not only legislate, but also mold opinions to trigger social transformations, she said.
“We must understand that Parliaments can frame any number of progressive legislations but unless the people believe in the necessity of these laws, they will remain confined to the rule books,” she said.
Describing democracy as a journey, Kumar said India is still evolving and devising new ways to meet emerging challenges. Parliamentarians can take the lead in reinforcing democracy through institutional development, she reiterated.
The three day conference on SAARC parliament’s roles in institutional building and inclusive development ended today.
The ASSP was established in 1992, with the aim of exchanging ideas and information on parliamentary procedures and information among parliaments, and to strengthen South Asia as a stable and independent region.
Maldives Speaker Abdulla Shahid said the organization had decided to amend its charter to include a women’s committee of parliamentarians as a charter body as well as form a forum for young parliamentarians (age 18- 40).