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By Mary Fonua

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 21) - Although the Pacific has experienced conflicts and will likely do so in the future, democracy will prevail and grow much stronger in the region, believes Peter Forau, the Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Giving a keynote address on "Democracy, Elections and the Media" at a University of the South Pacific workshop [in Fiji] for regional editors and Fiji journalists, he said he also believed that the one country in the region [Tonga] that had not yet embraced liberal democracy would inevitably move to elected government.

Apart from that one country, Forau said, governments formed through elections now rule the entire Pacific, which has made the Pacific a "hemisphere of democracy."

As four Pacific Island countries are preparing for their general elections this year, the three-day media, democracy and elections workshop is being held at the University of the South Pacific Laucala campus.

Forau declined to name the one country that had not been part of the South Pacific's post-colonial transitions to liberal representative democracy - but it was clear that he was talking about Tonga.

He said that while Pacific countries had been spared the perils of revolutions and had achieved democracy through Constitutional design, however, today in the Pacific recent events "point to struggles that are revolutionary."

"I'm referring in particular to political developments occurring in a Forum member country now where people power is provoking landmark political reforms that would possibly install representative parliamentary democracy in that member country," he said. "Whatever the outcome, it is obvious the wheels of political reform have been turned and inevitably future governments would be formed on the basis of elections just as is happening in other Forum Island countries."

Forau went on to say that there were however, still threats to fragile democracies in the Pacific region.

"The biggest threat residing I think in the continued disenchantment by constituents over the poor performance of elected governments."

He added that the performance of governments had nothing to do with democracy "but rather the consequences of personal inadequacies in the quality of leadership and the manner in which elections are conducted. It is the choices people make in the votes cast during elections that eventually determine the type of government that rules. If these choices are allocated judiciously, then the right people will be elected into positions of public leadership...This is why voter education is critical and why the media play a very important role in elections," he said.

"The practice of democracy must be nurtured and cannot be left to its own devices...It needs the commitment of its citizens who accept the inevitability of conflicts as well as the necessity for tolerance. Although the Pacific has experienced conflicts and will likely do so in the future, democracy will prevail and will grow much stronger. This will remain the case even if there were to be massive changes to the political structures in the region," he said.

The workshop was supported by UNESCO, the British High Commission in Suva, and the Fiji Electoral Commission, and included participants from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.

Samoa holds its general election in March, the Solomons in April, Fiji in May, and Tuvalu in August. Tonga held its triennial general election last year.

The keynote speaker, Forau, who comes from Tikopia in the Solomons, said he had Tongan ancestry, "from many generations ago."

March 22, 2006

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