Small democracies move to inject new life into the political process

Small nations should consider putting a compulsory service limit on their politicians to encourage young blood and a greater turnaround of MPs.

The idea was raised during the fourth plenary session of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in London during discussions about nurturing democracies, youth leadership and citizen involvement.

Maldives delegate, Dr Abdulla Mausoom, said “mature” politicians were stultifying parliaments at the expense of young people with fresh ideas and should be only allowed to serve a set number of terms.

“Without voluntary retirement of mature politicians there will be no seats for youth,” he said, adding that it would also open greater opportunities to encourage women to participate and win seats in parliaments.

“We see it in the United States where the President can only serve two terms and we see governments overturned after a period in office because they become stale. Politicians should be the same.”

Dr Mausoom said that while youth leadership training is a “buzz topic” placed on the agenda of many democratic debates, including within the Commonwealth, it leads nowhere if parliaments cannot be refreshed regularly.

“The political stage does not welcome them. Young people don’t have the resources, political backing or finance to compete with mature [politicians].”

The issue of ageing politicians is not solely confined to smaller nations within the Commonwealth but also in larger countries such as India or states in Africa where there has been debate about the need to renew democratically elected representatives with younger people.

During the debate on Sunday, some smaller legislatures, like Gibraltar and Guernsey, described long-standing youth projects and even youth parliaments.


However many others said they struggled against size and isolation.

The Hon. Dick Sawle, a member of the Falkland Islands executive council, said students must finish the final two years of their high school education in the UK:  “They appear back home once a year sporting the latest trends in London fashion and disappear just a few weeks later. To try and engage them in youth leadership and democracy is not going to work.”

Citizen involvement in parliament also sparked lively debate  among the 30 delegates who attended the session with the Gibraltar delegate and Education Minister, Mr Clive Beltran, one of the discussion leaders, who said that ways should be found to allow citizens to be involved outside general elections:  “Citizen participation in shaping and implementing public policies must be regarded as a critical ingredient of participatory democracy. It serves several important functions ... and provides an opportunity and creates conditions for citizens to engage in political life regularly and not just during elections,” he said.

“It creates a framework for citizens to advocate their legitimate interests and thus contributes to the development of a vibrant democratic democracy. It makes the work of public authorities more transparent and closer to the public.”

Another discussion leader, the Hon. Douglas Ete from the Solomon Islands described in detail the civil unrest which led to his nation being labeled as a failed state a decade ago. He told delegates that the road to recovery has been difficult. There were problems of independence a lack of access to information and a lack of cultural understanding among MPs about the role of Parliament and democratic institutions.

“In the Pacific you do what you want,” he said. “There is nobody to say you must come to Parliament, and poor attendance affects Parliament. The future of every state rests on the shoulders of their government.”

Small nations should consider putting a compulsory service limit on their politicians to encourage young blood and a greater turnaround of MPs.

The idea was raised during the fourth plenary session of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in London during discussions about nurturing democracies, youth leadership and citizen involvement.

Maldives delegate, Dr Abdulla Mausoom, said “mature” politicians were stultifying parliaments at the expense of young people with fresh ideas and should be only allowed to serve a set number of terms.

“Without voluntary retirement of mature politicians there will be no seats for youth,” he said, adding that it would also open greater opportunities to encourage women to participate and win seats in parliaments.

“We see it in the United States where the President can only serve two terms and we see governments overturned after a period in office because they become stale. Politicians should be the same.”

Dr Mausoom said that while youth leadership training is a “buzz topic” placed on the agenda of many democratic debates, including within the Commonwealth, it leads nowhere if parliaments cannot be refreshed regularly.

“The political stage does not welcome them. Young people don’t have the resources, political backing or finance to compete with mature [politicians].”

The issue of ageing politicians is not solely confined to smaller nations within the Commonwealth but also in larger countries such as India or states in Africa where there has been debate about the need to renew democratically elected representatives with younger people.

During the debate on Sunday, some smaller legislatures, like Gibraltar and Guernsey, described long-standing youth projects and even youth parliaments.


However many others said they struggled against size and isolation.

The Hon. Dick Sawle, a member of the Falkland Islands executive council, said students must finish the final two years of their high school education in the UK:  “They appear back home once a year sporting the latest trends in London fashion and disappear just a few weeks later. To try and engage them in youth leadership and democracy is not going to work.”

Citizen involvement in parliament also sparked lively debate  among the 30 delegates who attended the session with the Gibraltar delegate and Education Minister, Mr Clive Beltran, one of the discussion leaders, who said that ways should be found to allow citizens to be involved outside general elections:  “Citizen participation in shaping and implementing public policies must be regarded as a critical ingredient of participatory democracy. It serves several important functions ... and provides an opportunity and creates conditions for citizens to engage in political life regularly and not just during elections,” he said.

“It creates a framework for citizens to advocate their legitimate interests and thus contributes to the development of a vibrant democratic democracy. It makes the work of public authorities more transparent and closer to the public.”

Another discussion leader, the Hon. Douglas Ete from the Solomon Islands described in detail the civil unrest which led to his nation being labeled as a failed state a decade ago. He told delegates that the road to recovery has been difficult. There were problems of independence a lack of access to information and a lack of cultural understanding among MPs about the role of Parliament and democratic institutions.

“In the Pacific you do what you want,” he said. “There is nobody to say you must come to Parliament, and poor attendance affects Parliament. The future of every state rests on the shoulders of their government.”