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‘Parliaments need to move closer to the people’

There is strong need for more vigorous efforts to bring parliament closer to the people, especially the young and women, House President Demetris Syllouris believes, saying new information technology creates opportunities for more collaboration between parliaments and the people.

Syllouris will be one of five speakers that submitted a report to the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, held every five years. The Virtual Meeting is being held on Wednesday and Thursday on the theme of ‘Parliamentary leadership for more effective multilateralism that delivers peace and sustainable development for the people and planet’.

In his report, Democracy and the changing role of parliament in the 21st century, Syllouris noted the trend for lower voter turnout in elections and argued that “fostering an interactive relationship with the public requires parliaments to introduce initiatives which encourage participatory democracy and bolster pluralism.”

The digital age could help this, as “internet influences democracy in multiple ways.” According to the House Speaker, positive effects included “enhanced access to information, new channels for freedom of expression and association, new forms of political participation and a more direct contact between the people and their representatives.”

He also acknowledged the negative consequences of the digital age, ranging from facilitating the spread of misinformation and fake news to the weakening of the quality of political debates. Social media encouraged and rewarded “opinions that are expressed loudly and strongly such as buzzwords and polemics,” which attracted a much bigger audience than reasoned debate. This leads to a growth in polarisation and the readiness to seek compromise being reduced.

The times had made the establishment of permanent channels of dialogue and communication with the public a necessity, especially in the digital era when parliaments were becoming “more transparent, accessible and visible institutions.”

Syllouris added: “The objective of fostering an interactive relationship with the public points to the need for parliaments to introduce initiatives that encourage participatory democracy and bolster pluralism. Such initiatives can be enhanced by the use of new digital technologies, including blockchain technology, artificial intelligence and other innovative and transformative tools.”

He cautioned, however, that “involving the public is not only about providing different tools and mechanisms for people to become engaged in a parliamentary work. It is much more about building a long-lasting relationship between parliaments and people; it is about listening to people and their concerns and responding to them, by undertaking parliamentary action.”

A responsive parliament always “aims to make the political process more inclusive, accountable and participatory,” said Syllouris.

His report will be submitted to the conference on Wednesday and he will give his presentation of it on Thursday.

The 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament is co-organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the National Council of Austria and was supported by the United Nations.

More than 110 Parliamentary Speakers were expected to attend the teleconference, the opening of which would be declared by the President of the IPU, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and the President of Austria’s National Council Wolfgang Sobotka

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