The IPU conference: Missed opportunity for democracy

Shahriar Feroze | Update:

It was a rare honour for Bangladesh to have hosted the 136th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference at Dhaka. Expectantly, the conference will be remembered by its participants for the many crucial topics discussed. However, IPU - the world’s leading permanent forum for political multilateral negotiations and international organisation of the parliaments consisting of some 171 sovereign states - is also a strong collective global voice for upholding and strengthening the democratic rule of governance.

Unsurprisingly, the hope of countless many was that the conference organised by its members would essentially discuss, analyse and strengthen the current state of functioning of democracy worldwide. That expectation was not, however, fulfilled at Dhaka this time. There could not have been a more relevant issue than this to have been highlighted by the IPU participants.
Rather disappointingly, democracy in many countries today finds itself increasingly under threat with more elected regimes deliberately compromising its values and proper practice. In today’s reality, the greatest threat to democracy is not actually dictatorship or autocracy but the deliberate abuse and malfunctioning of its system of governance - thinly veiled with the holding of free, fair and credible general elections as the most attractive feature in its system.
With due appreciation with all the burning topics discussed at the Dhaka IPU conference ranging from peace and international security, sustainable development, adolescent health and well-being, fighting terrorism, to ensuring children and humanitarian rights, it is the strengthening the rule of democracy that was deeply missed. That said, the proper and effective functioning of democracy is the very essential basic tool for addressing all the above crucial issues collectively with the people. Also the fact that, support of the mass majority does not necessarily ensure good rule of governance in a democracy should have been raised by focusing on the outcomes of the last US general elections and Brexit.
We believe, elaborate discussions on how to ensure effective and positive functioning of democracy would have done only better for countries where democracy merely remains by name and means for holding general elections. On that count, there was a unique opportunity for our political leadership for drawing valuable lessons on the rule of governance while identifying and repairing its existing weaknesses in running the country. Most importantly, a key topic of the conference could have been, why should democratically elected political leaders should not abuse the public mandate while turning into unwarranted autocrats.
Nevertheless, we hope our international parliamentarian friends champion the point that popular vote does not justify all acts of a populist steamroller unless the elected political leadership values , respects and acts in accordance with the united will of the people.
The writer is a journalist

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