John Bercow, who stepped down as “Speaker” of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament on 31 October 2019, catapulted the otherwise obscure role into the public eye on an international level. This is due to the controversy over the Brexit parliamentary debates, his forthright manner, distinctive cry of “Or-derr!” whenever proceedings became rowdy – but I argue here that it is also due to his understanding of the role of speaker as mediator. In this blog post, I explore this understanding, and highlight what speakers of parliaments as well as mediators can learn from it.
The results of Kuwait’s recent parliamentary elections, held on November 26, have significant implications for the Arab Gulf country’s citizens. Although the Kuwaiti government asserts that the surprise dissolution in October of the National Assembly was due to “circumstances in the region” and security challenges, the move was actually part of the government’s strategy, albeit ill-fated, to create a more favorable balance in the new parliament between opposition and government.
The government is justifiably concerned with the country’s political environment. The years between 2006 and 2013 were fraught with tension related to parliamentary dysfunction. Street protests in response to the paralysis of the country’s political and economic institutions were frequent.
On 31 January 2011, Burma’s parliament will convene in the country’s newly erected capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for the very first time. The opening session will take place 85 days after the nation’s first elections in 20 years, in which the junta’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), claims to have won almost 80 percent of the seats. The new National Assembly will come to consist of an Upper House with 168 elected seats and 56 reserved for the military, and a Lower House with 330 elected and 110 military seats. With solid majorities of 129 seats in the Upper House and 259 in the Lower House that the USDP achieved through the rigged November elections, plus the 25 percent of seats reserved for the military, the new system will ensure – in a new and legal way – the continuation of the old military-ruled order.
The Burmese junta is obviously forcefully pressing ahead with its plans to create a “discipline-flourishing democracy”. Parliament’s first task will be to set up an electoral college with representatives from the three chambers in order to nominate a new president. According to the 2008 constitution, the president does not need to be an elected member of parliament but must be familiar with military affairs. According to political observers, Than Shwe, junta chief since 1992 and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is therefore a likely candidate, as are Generals Maung Aye and Shwe Mann, the second and third-highest ranking officers in the ruling military.
On the surface, it thus seems as if little has changed in these three months since the elections and daily life has remained virtually unchanged for the bulk of the Burmese people. There has been no release of prisoners, no relaxation of censorship, and no improvement in the standard of living. Meanwhile, Burma’s partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have hailed the election as progress and called on Western nations to drop their economic and financial sanctions.
On Thursday 3rd of December, the Parliament of the World’s Religions opened the doors of its 5th parliamentary session in Melbourne, Australia. The first session took place on 1893 at the World Exposition of Chicago. The parliament waited 100 years to host its second parliamentary session and since 1993, the inter-religious body has met every 5 years.
At its first meeting, the assembly wanted to promote a better understanding of different cultures and already called for peaceful relations between all religions. They also called for a common understanding of faith, exemplified by Indian Hindu delegate Swami Vivekananda’s call: “if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will hold no location in place or time; which will be infinite, like the God it will preach; whose Son shines upon the followers of Krishna or Christ, saints or sinners, alike; which will not be the Brahman or Buddhist, Christian or Mohammedan [Muslim], but the sum total of all these”.
After 100 years of inactivity, the assembly has started to play a proactive role in what is called para- or indirect diplomacy; ensuring that different religions and populations exchange views and opinions on global affairs with a religious perspective; the final goal being peace. For example, in 1999 the assembly focused on HIV/AIDS. This year, the parliament will focus on the rights of indigenous people and on climate change.