Global Parliamentary Report Inter-Parliamentary Union Global Parliamentary Report UNDP - United Nations Development Programme


The Report is a joint work of the IPU and UNDP, and draws on input from 73 parliaments.

It analyzes changes in relations between parliaments and citizens, and suggests improvements to parliamentary strategies for meeting public expectations.

Key Messages

What MPs are saying:

"I need to get on to Facebook tonight. If I do not post anything for more than a couple of days, then I get loads of messages asking me where I am and what I am up to".

key message one

Public trust in parliament is very low in many countries. Parliamentarians are obliged to account for their actions more regularly than ever before.

  • Trust in parliament stands at less than a third in the European Union, while in the US, trust in Congress hit its lowest ever point in November 2011, at 9 percent.
  • In several countries, there is a stark recognition that public trust is low because of the parliament’s own shortcomings and that any attempt at outreach has to start with the parliament improving its own performance.
  • A 2008 global poll emphasized the importance of democracy, finding that 85 percent of people believed that the ‘will of the people should be the basis of the authority of government’.
  • The Arab Spring has highlighted the importance of parliaments to the quest for political voice and greater democracy. In Egypt and Tunisia, the role and powers of the parliament have been pivotal in discussions about the shape of the post-revolution state. 


'What do you call a Kenyan citizen visiting Parliament?'

[Before] August 2010, you would call such a person a stranger, whose access was permitted only at the discretion of the House Speaker. On August 27, 2010, I walked into Parliament as a participant: a citizen empowered to access and be involved in the workings of Parliament. The doors of Parliament have been thrown open. [...]

The new Constitution marks a major shift, from being a part of a crowd to be talked at from a dais, to being individuals who can engage our institutions. I took a small step in the search for such answers by going to Parliament, and I left convinced that I must refuse the word 'Stranger' and embrace the word 'Citizen' whenever I walk through its doors.

key message two

Parliaments are resilient and adapt to society's needs. Change in parliaments should be constant and evolutionary rather than crisis-driven.

  • In the last 10 years, all parliaments have enacted measures to find new ways of reaching out to voters. Parliaments are providing much more information about parliamentary activity and engaging citizens more directly in the parliamentary process.
  • Many parliaments have established mechanisms for public consultation. The test of such measures is the extent to which they are followed up by concrete actions in parliament. However, until now, performance is mixed at best.
  • The emphasis on public engagement has, in many cases, been in response to political crisis, low levels of public trust or a shift in political power within parliament.
  • The nature of parliamentary institutions may make it impossible to devise and implement an all-encompassing strategy for engaging citizens effectively. This should not prevent parliaments from trying to get a much more strategic analysis of the causes and sources of pressure for change.


Using ICT to consult with citizens

The greatest number of innovations appears to be taking place in Latin America. Bolivia’s Vota por tu parliamentario enables citizens to appraise parliamentarians’ performance, while, in Peru, the Parlamento Virtual Peruano offers information on the legislative process, promotes debate on bills under consideration and serves as an outlet for citizens to voice their opinions. Similarly, Chile’s Senador Virtual creates a space for visitors to the parliamentary webpage to cast a vote on bills under consideration and to submit proposals for committee analysis.

[However,] for all the innovation and good intentions, awareness and involvement of these initiatives are relatively low… A former member of a Chilean parliamentary monitoring organization said that Senador Virtual is "a great idea, but in over a year of monitoring MPs’ speeches in parliament, I have yet to see anyone referring to the citizen input collected through the site”.

What MPs are saying:

"When people ask for a new road or electricity in a village, I have to pressure the Government in order to make sure the message is received, budget secured and action taken."

key message three

For reform strategies to be effective, parliaments need to understand how the role of the individual parliamentarian is changing.

  • Individual parliamentarians are the most important single point of contact with parliament for the vast majority of citizens.
  • Constituency service is an accepted and expected part of a parliamentarian's job and appears to be growing in volume, content and complexity. MPs need to find collective solutions to local requests for assistance and to channel this expertise into the national parliamentary process.
  • The number of countries with constituency development funds (CDFs) has increased dramatically in the last decade, providing a locally administered pool of money intended to support the community and promote economic development. 
  • Concerns exist about the financial accountability and effectiveness of CDFs. By focusing on the parliamentarians' local role, they may detract from their parliamentary roles in law-making and oversight. 
  • The provision of greater resources to MPs for constituency work may simply increase public expectations of what MPs will do locally. Demand may constantly outstrip supply unless the additional resources are accompanied by a strategic change in the approach to the work.


From handouts to helping hands: changing approaches to constituency work

Saber Chowdhury is MP for a part of Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka, with a district of around 400,000 voters and containing one million people in total. Like many politicians representing poor communities, his voters look to him not just to offer leadership and to represent their interests in parliament, but also to help them materially. As he puts it, “people see you principally as a development agent, not a legislator, and they expect you to help. They want help getting jobs, with their children’s education, getting their phone fixed or ensuring a road is mended.”

However, rather than treating each case one by one, Chowdhury is seeking collective solutions and, in the process, helping people to help themselves. The key innovation was the development of a microfinance system through his constituency office; the credit union of small savers he set up among the people of Dhaka now numbers around 25,000 members. Their savings are put to work, financing loans to people with smart business ideas who would otherwise struggle to borrow money from a traditional bank. By 2011, around 20,000 loans had been granted to help people establish businesses ranging from a mobile tea shop to the export of saris.

What MPs are saying:

"We need to question the idea, inherited from several hundred years ago, that we elect representatives and send them off to parliament until the next election. […] In 50 years' time, or 70 or 100 years' time, people are going to look back on this age of parliaments which are unaccountable between elections as quaint and outdated."