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Without real democracy, how will people hold governments to account?

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Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS

Women parliamentarians calling for accountability in democracy
(Image by Citizen News Service - CNS: citizen-news.org)
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One of the major failures of current times is how democratic systems are being made ineffective so that people with a 'power of one vote' are not able to hold elected representatives to account. How else can governments get away with making promises and not delivering? Rather often governments instead of delivering on pro-people promises, have harmed people's interests even more, thereby allowing corporations to siphon away profits and resources. With democracy failing the people to hold governments to account, it is no surprise that non-performing governments often get re-elected!

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Like a silver-lining on the dark cloud, there are well-intentioned parliamentarians too who are trying hard to deliver on the promises they make to their peoples. On the sidelines of Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD), few women parliamentarians who have championed pro-people causes over years were on a panel organized by Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). The panel was moderated by senior journalist of IPS Asia Pacific, Johanna Son.

People's movements important to hold govts to account

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Dame Carol Kidu, has been a woman Member of Parliament (MP) for over a decade in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and also is widely recognized for her leadership on women and girls' rights. She said: "Can we integrate reporting mechanisms [by which countries report to global processes on what progress they have made on delivering the promises]? For a country with lot of bureaucracy and limited resources, we have to deal with several reporting mechanisms for 'Rio', MDGs, etc - so we are left with less option and often resort to getting a consultant from overseas. We need to do the integration and alignment of these reporting processes. It is also very important to build the capacity of civil society which is very difficult to do in PNG. We do not have an effective movement but we do have civil society organizations (CSOs) - but not a movement that can hold governments to account in PNG."

If people cannot hold governments to account, then who will?

Kate Lappin, who leads APWLD rightly said: "We see accountability as integral to any kind of development agenda. Real democracy has not flourished particularly in this region and we have generations of papers of commitments but we have not seen those commitments delivered. Accountability to peoples is clearly missing. The UN Charter clearly calls for a people-driven intergovernmental process. We need to rethink what participatory democracy means -- we need to ensure that people get to make decisions affecting their lives, and also the decisions made globally (by their elected governments) which have impact on local level. Accountability means whether the most marginalized and least powerful woman can hold the powerful to account - a woman who is being displaced finds a way to hold those responsible to displace her to account - someone who is suffering form climate change can hold the perpetrators to account."

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Kate's comments remind us of Mahatma Gandhi's talisman for the powerful: "I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny?"

Although civil society engagement is there around post-2015 development agenda, unlike MDGs (where there was no civil society engagement), still there is a long way to go. Asia Pacific region is the only region in the world where organized and coordinated regional civil society engagement mechanism (RCEM) is functional.

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Citizen News Service (CNS) specializes in in-depth and rights-based, health and science journalism. For more information, please contact: www.citizen-news.org or @cns_health or www.facebook.com/cns.page

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