Across the sub-continent and southeast Asia, parliaments and political parties are striving to do more to respond to citizens’ wishes than ever before.
As their societies change the institutions which seek to represent them are changing too – a process Westminster Foundation for Democracy is supporting in the region.
Clear trends are emerging across Asia, despite the striking breadth of its historical legacies and political experiences. Devolution, often a process associated with democratisation, is helping to better reflect ethnic and other societal sub-divisions. Economic growth is prompting rapid change as the advantages of globalisation continue to spread across Asia. Social changes to previously marginalised groups held back by society’s attitudes are prompting improvements in human rights.
Yet these advances are not assured, for the pace of change presents as many challenges it does opportunities. Across the region, stronger parliaments and political parties are an essential part of the solution. Reducing poverty and improving human rights rely on political systems which can represent marginalised groups and involve citizens in politics. Economic growth relies on robust systems of financial scrutiny. And, whether in devolved units or in national parliaments, there is always a need for better accountability and oversight mechanisms to help countries ensure the fruits of their economic growth are distributed equitably. Effective and inclusive governance relies on strong parliaments and political parties. In countries emerging from a period of conflict or authoritarian rule, external support can help provide the expertise needed to build them.
Westminster Foundation for Democracy offers that support. We have a strong reputation for bringing together British parliamentary expertise, both from Westminster and from the UK nations’ devolved assemblies, to offer insights to others about the pitfalls and pluses of different kinds of devolution. Britain’s historical links with many countries in Asia, particularly the sub-continent, reinforces the effectiveness of this experience. Through long-term investment in sister-party relationships between Asian parties and their UK counterparts, WFD has helped improve the representation of marginalised groups and citizen participation in politics.
Now, in the three years to 2018, WFD is developing a series of new programmes which helps meet citizens’ needs. Much of our work will help either assist constitutional reforms which provide a new settlement for troubled countries, or support the implementation of those reforms. In Pakistan, we will support work to improve federal-provincial relationships. In Indonesia, newly-elected MPs need training to help them undertake their functions. And in Sri Lanka, we will roll out a parliamentary programme assisting the sectoral committees alongside a new integrated programme, helping Sri Lankan political parties become more policy-oriented in a parliamentary context.