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CPA Pacific Region reflects on silver linings in dark clouds hanging over democracy

Published date: 4 May 2017

4 May 2017

Establishing a democracy is easy but sustaining it through difficult times is a challenge, says former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Don McKinnon ONZ.

More than a hundred people gathered at Parliament House this week for the second lecture in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s (CPA) international lecture series, with the keynote address given by Sir Don. The lecture was hosted on behalf of the CPA Pacific Region.

Man giving lecture Enlarge image

Sir Don McKinnon gives the CPA lecture on behalf of the Pacific Region at New Zealand Parliament.

Source: Office of the Clerk

Sir Don said out of 190 countries in the world, 120 were democracies in the year 2000, but that number slipped to 100 in 2005 and to 80 in 2010.

Democracies take a long time to mature and they are changing all the time. The democratic structure we are familiar with here is very much from the Western World. The round peg doesn't always fit into that square hole so we need to think about that and work to develop a constitution and structure a whole country can manage.

Former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Don McKinnon ONZ

He said external forces against any state can challenge democracy whether war, terrorism, global financial crisis or economic collapse.

But he identified many ways to boost democratic culture including ensuring political parties funding and membership is transparent, recognising the skills of former prime-ministers, presidents and foreign ministers who can support fragile democracies over a sustained period of time to help them become more robust and encouraging young people to take part in political debate.

 The New Zealand Speaker, Rt Hon David Carter MP, said it was an important time to host such a lecture.  

"Cynicism and disinterest in politics can lead to a decline in voter-turn out and destabilises the very legitimacy of our representative democracies. Parliamentarians need to remain vigilant and reach out to citizens who are not currently engaged. The silver lining is that we have many of the tools in our hands already, as long as we are committed to being progressive and as open and transparent as practicable."

Speaker of the Samoan Legislative Assembly Hon Leaupepe Taimaaiono Toleafoa Faafisi attended the event along with CPA Secretary General Akbar Khan and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Vice Chairperson and Pacific Region representative Poto Williams MP.

CPA Pacific Region Representative and host Paul Foster-Bell MP said he was delighted to host the lecture on behalf of the Pacific Region of the CPA.

Man speaking before crowd in a large room Enlarge image

Sir Don McKinnon gives the CPA lecture on behalf of the Pacific Region at New Zealand Parliament.

Source: Office of the Clerk

"The CPA brings together an international community of over 180 Commonwealth Parliaments and Legislatures, representing more than 17,000 Members of Parliament.  It’s now in its 106th year and is continuing to work to deepen the commitment to the highest standards of democratic governance, promote human rights and international peace and order, including the right to participate in free and fair elections".

The event was part of an international lecture series on the challenges and opportunities involved in promoting and implementing the Commonwealth’s political values. The series aims to encourage all nine regions of the CPA to raise issues to inform parliamentary debate within each region and across the Commonwealth. Each lecture will be given by a Parliamentarian who has devoted their career to public service and set the bar of outstanding parliamentary leadership. The inaugural lecture was held in London in December last year.

Sir Don was the Commonwealth Secretary-General between 2000 and 2008.  He is the former Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Pacific Island Affairs of New Zealand.  He was named Foreign Minister of the Year by The World Economic Forum publication in 1998. He was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the decade long civil war in Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

Sir Don McKinnon's lecture [Video duration: 55 min 22 secs]