Today, 15 September, parliaments throughout the world celebrate the International Day of Democracy.
In September 1997 the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) adopted a Universal Declaration on Democracy, which is what prompted the United Nations to choose 15 September for the International Day. The International Day of Democracy is meant both to celebrate democracy and to serve as a reminder that the need to defend democracy is as urgent now as ever.
Asked about his feelings on the eve of the third Day of Democracy, the IPU President, Theo-Ben Gurirab, was guardedly optimistic. “It is good news that so many countries in the world are governed under democratic principles and practices” he said. “In fact the number of countries in the world without a functioning parliament can now be counted on the fingers of one hand”
Dr. Gurirab, who is also the Speaker of the Parliament of Namibia, conceded that there was much disenchantment with democracy and with politics. But he cautioned against expecting too much from politicians. “Politics is a rough game” he said. “It’s a competitive arena where mistakes are seldom forgiven. Advancement in the political sphere always comes from knowing how to make compromises. Politicians invariably disappoint, because they always achieve less than they promise. Politics is not a panacea for a nation’s problems, but it is a necessary ingredient to promote public debate and carry out oversight”.
The IPU’s theme for the International Day of Democracy is Political Accountability. It is about strengthening links between parliaments and citizens. Politicians everywhere, in countries rich and poor, should pay more heed to what the electorate says to them. “But it works both ways” said Dr. Gurirab. “For politics to work well, people have to take an interest in it, especially young men and women. They have to roll up their sleeves in the engine-room of democracy and - why not - run for a seat in parliament”.
The role of citizens in a democracy is not limited to running for parliament or the act of electing it; citizens need to be continually engaged with parliament if it is to remain in touch with the people and their needs. In his message for the 2010 Day of Democracy, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said “Robust oversight, a vibrant civil society, the free exchange of information and ideas, popular participation: all these hallmarks of democracy are also crucial ingredients in generating economic growrth and securing social justice.”
"Society needs a place where the people elected to represent it can knock sparks off each other in order to forge a realistic future in the public interest. That place is parliament” said Dr. Gurirab. “But for it to succeed it needs constant, meaningful investment, and it needs people who believe in hard work and compromise for the good of their country”.