Parliaments across the world are facing increased demand to deliver the dividends of democracy and hold government to account while representing the interests and aspirations of the people. At the very outset, parliaments are required to enhance their systems with democratic values and inclusive approaches within the political and social environment of the country. To play their constitutional role, parliaments in many countries need to drive a cultural shift within and outside the institution. Owing to the complex and multi-dimensional nature of parliamentary work, it requires a comprehensive strategy to bring the required change and introduce the systems which create pathway for democracy.
Strategic planning by parliaments has emerged as a key element in driving institutional reform agenda within legislatures. Strategic planning allows all parliamentary parties to jointly construct a vision for parliamentary democracy and collaboratively build a pathway for stronger democracy in the country.
Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)’s Inclusive and Accountable Politics programme achieved a major success this year, helping devise a strategic plan for the 15th National Assembly of Pakistan which sets out the ways in which Pakistan’s legislature will improve its effectiveness, building on the successes and learning from the shortcoming of previous attempts. The plan will also help track Pakistan’s achievements under the Sustainable Development Goals.
But why is all this important?
In 2018, after over 70 years of its independence, Pakistan witnessed the second consecutive constitutional transfer of power, further consolidating multi-party democracy on the back of federal elections. The country has now enjoyed the longest period of civilian rule since independence. It has resulted in people having greater expectations of their democratic institutions to deliver positive change in the lives of people while demonstrating more commitment to the democratic values.
That is where WFD’s parliamentary support comes in. Since 2012, WFD has been working in Pakistan to strengthen the parliamentary system. Our work in Pakistan focuses on two broad themes; promoting accountable politics by assisting the parliamentary scrutiny of government performance and improving marginalised and vulnerable groups’ access to formal and informal political participation. Both themes are interrelated because democracy requires us to ask not just how governance works but also who gets a say in that governance.
WFD’s support for the Parliament of Pakistan centres on its work with the Strategic Plan Oversight Committee (SPOC) which remains a cross-party group for parliamentary reforms and the National Assembly (NA)’s Programme Management Unit (PMU) which serves as secretariat for the SPOC. WFD’s collaborates with the PMU to support SPOC in overseeing the strategic plan’s implementation and hence improve Pakistan’s democracy.
The strategic planning process for National Assembly of Pakistan was ensured to be representative of not only all political parties but also represent all members of society. To achieve this, WFD assisted in the process of consolidating feedback from all segments including the women parliamentary caucus, the SDG taskforce, the young parliamentary forum and minority groups. With WFD’s support, the parliament’s strategic plan is more sensitive to the needs of under-represented groups and it is hoped, will be able to strengthen public trust.
We believe with the additional strategic planning, the new approach will increase the effectiveness of the parliament’s role in scrutiny, legislation, and approving Government spending – all with inclusion at its core. We hope that this will contribute to a democratic system that is peaceful and durable.