The Quality of Democracy in the Pacific: Roland Rich Assesses the State of Elections and Parliaments among the Pacific Islands States

By Rich, Roland | New Zealand International Review, November-December 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Quality of Democracy in the Pacific: Roland Rich Assesses the State of Elections and Parliaments among the Pacific Islands States


Rich, Roland, New Zealand International Review


How can the quality of democracy be judged? One useful method is to have an independent body within each country conduct a democratic assessment using the framework developed by the international Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). (1) The IDEA framework requires the assessment to reach conclusions on popular control over decisions and on equality between citizens in the exercise of that control. Issues of participation, representativeness, accountability, transparency, responsiveness and solidarity are used as mediating principles to determine the quality of a nation's democracy. Institutional aspects of democracy concerning elections, representative bodies, rule of law and the work of the civil service are also examined. It is this examination of the relationship between values and institutions that provides a strong means of assessing the quality of democracy.

Thus far, New Zealand is the first South Pacific nation to participate in the IDEA initiative. (2) Austria's democracy audit, conducted by the Australian National University, is now underway. Pacific Islands nations may wish to consider their own participation.

Another way to assess the quality of Pacific democracies might be to look at issues such as longevity, resilience, participation and institutional integrity. While these are not the only factors involved in such an assessment, they nevertheless provide a useful way of looking at the vigour and quality of democracy. Comparing the Pacific with other regions of the world also provides a useful perspective.

Pacific Islands nations emerged from the decolonisation process with political systems based on Western models of representative democracy. Many of these countries are now completing their third and fourth decades of independence under a system of elected representative government. Tonga aside, representative democracy in the South Pacific has fared relatively well and can be said to have embedded itself as the norm. A whole new generation of islanders has grown up knowing only the democratic process as the form of government and thus in terms of the longevity of democracy, the South Pacific compares favourably with other regions of the world such as Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Importantly, South Pacific countries have been able to overcome the passing from power of the founding leader at the time of independence, the point at which many newly independent states have reverted to authoritarian forms of government.

Question mark

There is, however, a question mark about the resilience of South Pacific democracy. The most serious departures from democratic processes have occurred in Fiji and the Solomon Islands in recent times where there have been violent interruptions of the democratic way. Resort to political violence casts a shadow over the region and detracts from the regional commitment to democracy. Fiji has reestablished electoral democracy but, from the point of view of consolidating a democratic political culture, the benefits of longevity have been compromised by the uncertainty caused by violence and ethnic division in politics. The Solomon Islands is struggling to reassert the power of electoral democracy over the power of the gun. Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu have faced issues of secession, political assassination and internal military threats, but are continuing to demonstrate the resilience needed to overcome such crises with their democratic forms of government intact.

The situation with regard to participation of the people in the democratic process is mixed. Elections in the South Pacific are robustly contested affairs, often throwing up surprise results. Candidates work hard to attract votes and this level of competition puts pressure on candidates to enthuse people about the political process. Although it is a blunt means of measuring popular participation, voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters provides a useful comparative guide, though allowance needs to be made for those few countries including Australia and (more recently) Fiji that have compulsory voting.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Quality of Democracy in the Pacific: Roland Rich Assesses the State of Elections and Parliaments among the Pacific Islands States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?