190 of 193 countries have some form of functioning parliament. Although not synonymous with democracy, almost every political system has some form of representative assembly.
Despite their prevalence, they remain poorly-understood. They often feature towards the bottom of polls of trust in public institutions. In many parts of the world there are fundamental questions about the effectiveness of parliaments in holding government to account, legislating or representing voters interests.
International donor support to parliaments has been, at best, patchy and inconsistent.
Yet, parliaments remain the single most important representative institution in any system of democratic governance. Parliaments are the only bodies that exist specifically to collate and articulate the interests of the nation as a whole. There are roles that parliament alone can perform, such as making and repealing laws and directly calling ministers to account.
Where they work effectively they can have a dramatic effect on the policy and laws that affect the quality of people’s lives.
The purpose of this section is to provide a brief guide to parliaments and parliamentary support. It offers an overview of parliamentary structures and functions, voter outreach and executive-legislature relations.