ECOWAS Parliament Grapples with Democracy Gap: Speaker Urges Direct Elections

Freetown, Sierra Leone: The outgoing Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohamed Tunis, delivered a mixed message during the opening of the 2024 First Extraordinary Session. While celebrating achievements like increased visibility and engagement, he highlighted the Parliament’s critical failure to achieve universal suffrage for its members.

Universal Suffrage: An Unfulfilled Dream: Despite extensive efforts by the Fifth Legislature under Tunis’ leadership to sensitize citizens about the benefits of direct elections, member states continue to select representatives through their national parliaments. This, according to Tunis, weakens the Parliament’s democratic legitimacy and limits its ability to truly represent the voices of West African citizens.

A Legacy of Challenges: Tunis acknowledged other challenges faced during his term, including the suspension of delegations from four member states due to political instability and the ongoing inability to hold direct elections. While these hurdles have hampered progress, the Speaker’s unwavering stance on universal suffrage sends a clear message to the incoming Sixth Legislature: continue the fight for democracy.

Pushing for Progress: Tunis challenged the incoming leadership to “move the struggle for universal suffrage to the next level.” This ambitious call requires sustained advocacy and collaboration with member states, regional civil society, and international partners. Addressing the root causes of delegation suspensions and creating an environment conducive to free and fair elections across the region will be crucial steps towards achieving this goal.

Beyond Elections: Despite the focus on democratic reform, the Parliament also celebrated milestones in other areas. It strengthened its regional and global presence, paid tribute to deceased members, and launched the “ECOWAS Parliament’s Democracy Tournament” to engage young people in its work. These initiatives demonstrate the Parliament’s commitment to fostering regional integration and promoting democratic values.

Uncertain Future: While Tunis concluded by urging the incoming Legislature to pursue the dream of a fully integrated and prosperous region, his call for direct elections leaves a question mark over the Parliament’s future. Will the Sixth Legislature prioritize democratic reform and strive for universal suffrage, or will this dream remain unfulfilled? Only time will tell, but Tunis’ legacy undoubtedly sets the stage for a crucial chapter in the ECOWAS Parliament’s evolution.

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