Elections and democracy

Participants at Citizen Constitional Forum debate at USP.Picture ATU RASEA

THE importance of holding an election is to strengthen democracy, says Professor Jon Fraenkel of New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington.

Prof Fraenkel said this at the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum’s seminar which was held at the University of the South Pacific on Tuesday night.

Focusing on the role of elections in democracy, Prof Fraenkel said democracy could mean more than merely holding an election though it was a pre-requisite for democracy.

He also stressed the important role civil societies played in democracy.

“Strong democracies rely on vibrant civil society and good avenues for the emergence of new generations of leaders. The most effective new leaders emerge in the ferocity of debate, amidst the unconstrained interchange of ideas, unfettered by the censorship laws against this or that form of speech,” he said.

He also highlighted some of the weaknesses in Fiji’s democracy, claiming the country’s democracy had weakened by its history of coups.

“Each coup has been intimately connected to its predecessor, and each coup has followed closely on the heels of an election outcome, which tells us something about just how central elections are to democracy in Fiji,” he said.

“There is a less often noted weakness of Fiji’s democracy that is particularly important for the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum. None of the country’s many constitutions have been entrenched by the way of a popular referendum.”

Youth activist Alisi Rabukawaqa also spoke at the seminar, highlighting the importance of maintaining traditional governance structures.

She said traditional governance structures could also be part of Fiji’s national governance.

“Why not build on things that are already in existence. Our traditional governance structures are familiar not only to indigenous people but to everyone who lives in the community,” Ms Rabukawaqa said.

The seminar provided an opportunity for citizens to engage with key stakeholders involved in promoting elections and democracy.

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