This year, the IPU plenary assemblies originally planned to take place in April (in Geneva) and October (in Kigali, Rwanda) had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions imposed because of the pandemic meant that it was not possible for people to attend the meetings in person. The IPU Executive Committee judged it expedient to hold an extraordinary session online in order to deal with the most pressing organisational issues. Thus, from 1 to 3 November 2020, the members of the Governing Council addressed the IPU budget for 2021, discussed the working programme for the coming year and elected the new IPU president.

 Specific rules had to be drawn up and adopted in order to ensure that the online session went smoothly. A reliable voting procedure also had to be put in place for the decentralised election of the new IPU president. To this end, the Executive Committee set up a working group, which included National Council member Laurence Fehlmann Rielle. Switzerland was thus directly involved in ensuring that the coronavirus crisis did not hamper the smooth functioning of the IPU.

 New IPU presidency:

The geopolitical Twelve Plus group, of which Switzerland is a member, put forward two candidates for the new IPU president: the Portuguese Duarte Pacheco, head of the Twelve Plus group, and Canadian senator Salma Ataullahjan. Other countries had expressed their interest in the presidency and put forward candidates: Pakistan with Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani and Uzbekistan with Akmal Saidov.

 Duarte Pacheco was the clear frontrunner, gaining 56% of the votes in the first and only round of voting (97% turnout). He was elected 30th president of the IPU in an online election, the first of its kind in the IPU's history. He succeeds Gabriela Cuevas Barron (Mexico), whose three-year term has just come to an end. Some 400 parliamentarians from more than 140 IPU member parliaments had registered to vote online (three votes per parliament with a gender-balanced delegation, otherwise one). They had 24 hours to cast their vote. An external expert guaranteed that the three essential aspects of the ballot were respected: system security, transparency and ballot secrecy.

 IPU budget:

The IPU external audit showed that its finances are in good shape. Although various cuts were made, the IPU was not able to make significant savings because of the numerous online sessions held since June 2020 (Executive Committee, 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, Governing Council, etc.). The costs involved in using online platforms swallowed up a large part of the savings made.

 The 2021 consolidated budget provides for gross annual operating expenses of CHF 17.78 million, to be financed primarily by membership fees, which are estimated at CHF 10.92 million for 2021. This regular income will be supplemented by voluntary donations from various sources, which are expected to amount to CHF 5.04 million or 28 per cent of the consolidated budget. The membership fee has not been raised in the 2021 budget.

 IPU Executive Committee:

Switzerland was in the running for one of the seats to which the Twelve Plus group is entitled on the IPU Executive Committee, and at the special online session National Council member Laurence Fehlmann Rielle was officially elected to sit on this IPU body. Ms Rielle had already replaced Margret Kiener Nellen ad interim, after the latter stood down from the National Council. Because the assemblies had been cancelled, her (uncontested) election had not been held previously. The four-year term of office comes to an end in October 2021.

 Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians:

The IPU Governing Council endorsed the recommendations (F/E) of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians concerning the cases of 300 parliamentarians from 19 countries who were allegedly victims of torture, sexual violence and poor conditions of detention. In view of the increased risk of COVID-19 infection in overcrowded and confined spaces, the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians is paying greater attention to the plight of parliamentarians detained or who have been detained worldwide.

Upcoming assemblies:

Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morocco has decided not to hold the Spring Assembly (14-18 March 2021). This means that the 142nd Assembly is scheduled to take place in Geneva in May/June 2021. The health situation permitting, the 143rd Assembly will be held in Rwanda from 6 to 10 November 2021.