Parliamentarians must bolster elections commissions: India’s Speaker

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).


Maldives hosts 7th SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians Conference

The Maldives is hosting the 7th Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians (ASSP) at Bandos Island Resort and Spa.

President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the three-day conference yesterday evening, and reiterated the Maldives’ commitment to furthering regional cooperation.

Calling on SAARC to be more relevant and responsive, Yameen said: “To keep abreast with the expectations of our peoples, we need to increase the relevance of SAARC, both as a tool for multilateral cooperation among our Member States, as well as in global politics and in international trade.”

Speakers from Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the secretary of Afghanistan’s parliament are in the Maldives for the conference.

Parliamentary delegations of Bangladesh and Nepal were unable to attend as Nepal had only held new parliamentary elections in November while Bangladesh’s parliament has been dissolved with new general elections set for January.

According to the people’s Majlis, the themes -“Strengthening democracy through institution building” and “Democracy and Inclusive Development – achieving SAARC  MDGs” – will be discussed at the conference.

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.

The association’s work stagnated in the late 90’s due to political turmoil in the region, and was revived recently on the initiative of India’s Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, the People’s Majlis secretariat have said.

Welcoming the delegations, Maldives Speaker Abdulla Shahid noted all South Asian countries are now led by civilian governments.

Shahid noted the current parliament in the Maldives is the first fully elected parliament, but MPs have faced and overcome “almost every conceivable constitutional challenge.”

Further, the rights guaranteed to the parliament had constantly been tested by the executive and legislative branches of government.

Meanwhile, Kumar stressed the importance of parliaments and parliamentarians as democracy advances in the region and said SAARC parliaments can learn a great deal from each other’s parliamentary experiences.

Pakistan’s National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said South Asia consists of one-fourth of the world’s population, but continues to be the largest concentration of impoverished people.

South Asia is currently at a crossroads, of breaking with its past and possibly becoming the second largest economic powerhouse after China and East Asia, Sadiq said.

Meanwhile, female parliamentarians and the secretaries general of SAARC parliaments met on Saturday morning to discuss the opportunities and challenges for women’s political participation in South Asia and the methods to ensure a cost effective secretariat respectively.

The Women’s Committee has pledged affirmative action to increase women’s political participation whilst the secretaries generals proposed amending the charter of ASSP to constitute a Young Parliamentarians forum.

The Association’s General Assembly is to take place at Bandos Island Resort and Spa today and tomorrow (December 22 and 23).