Commonwealth Pacific leaders meet to debate democracy
19 August 2002
Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon has called for Commonwealth Pacific leaders to continue to strive for the promotion and consolidation of democracy in the region.
"Democratic practice and culture are not only fundamental to an open and just society, but are essential ingredients for political, social and economic development", the Secretary-General said.
He was speaking at the opening of the Roundtable of Heads of Government of Commonwealth Pacific Islands Countries on the Challenges of Democracy in the Pacific, which takes place in Nadi, Fiji Islands, on 19 and 20 August 2002.
Organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Roundtable is hosted by the Government of Fiji Islands. Speaking at the Opening, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, Chairman of the Roundtable, said that the topic of democracy was a complex one "in a part of the world where traditional authority and cultures are still strong and the democratic way is still new".
"I'm sure I speak for all the regional participants when I say we welcome this initiative by the Commonwealth," Mr Qarase said, adding that the Roundtable was "consistent also with the Commonwealth commitment to the deepening of democracy and the advancement of good governance."
The Secretary-General said, "Here in the Pacific, democracy has faced several challenges in recent years, and strains have emerged between the inherited model most states adopted on independence, and more traditional forms of governance and democratic practice."
"It was in this context that I felt the time was right to look carefully at how democracy in the Pacific could better blend the particular circumstances of Pacific culture and social values with the universal democratic principles," he added.
Mr McKinnon said he hoped the forum would provide an opportunity for Commonwealth Pacific leaders to "step back and reflect on what democracy is all about, what people's expectations in the 21st century are all about."
The Commonwealth Pacific Island countries participating in the Roundtable are Fiji Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Cook Islands and Niue, self-governing countries in free association with New Zealand, are also attending by special invitation. The Head of Government of Nauru was unable to attend the Roundtable but Nauru was represented at a two-day Preparatory Meeting held on 15-16 August.
Attended by parliamentarians from both the governing and opposition ranks of participating countries, the Preparatory Meeting produced a report for the consideration of leaders at the Roundtable. The report identified aspects of democracy in the Pacific which warrant closer examination, including constitutional and electoral issues, the role of parliament, and the place occupied by culture and tradition.
Note to editors:
Following the Roundtable, the Chairman of the Roundtable and the Commonwealth Secretary-General will give a Press Conference at the Ballroom, Sheraton Royal Denarau, Nadi. The press conference is scheduled for Tuesday 20 August at 1.00 p.m. For further information, please contact Daniel Woolford at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, (+679) 675 0777, room 219, fax (+679) 675 0269, mobile (+679) 927 5823.