Parliamentary effectiveness in shallow democracies: with examples from Bangladesh and Ethiopia

Authors: Emma Crewe (SOAS) with Nizam Ahmed, Zahir Ahmed, Meheret Ayenew and Ruth Fox (Hansard Society)

Abstract:

Parliamentary effectiveness is an important component of a well-functioning democracy. But what makes an effective Parliament and does it vary in different countries? In our three year DFID-ESRC funded research project we have been asking a range of stakeholders – MPs, civil society leaders, academics and constituents in the capitals but also in constituencies in Bangladesh and Ethiopia – what they expect from Parliament and their representatives in their own contexts? We have researched Parliamentarians’ engagement with the public during the making of budgets, laws and policies and contrasted how male and female politicians relate to citizens differently. Although Bangladesh and Ethiopia face increasing political turbulence and have shallow democracies in the sense of (a) Parliamentary elections but no opposition in Parliament and (b) severe restrictions on the media and civil society, the relationship between MPs and citizens is starkly contrasting in the two places. Ethiopian MPs have minimal interaction with their constituents while Bangladeshi MPs get involved with every aspect of political life, maintaining complex networks of patronage and benefit for their supporters. Demands from citizens diverge between the two countries so working towards what Arjun Appadurai calls ‘deep democracy’ will require different strategies and innovations. What they have in common is that the failure to enhance Parliament’s citizen engagement constitutes a serious risk to peace and stability.  The same may be true in European countries as well.

This paper will be delivered as part of our academic panel on “Parliaments in Comparative Perspective”, between 10.00am and 11.30am.

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