4 May 2017

Give Pacific democracies time to develop, says McKinnon

8:56 am on 4 May 2017

A former Commonwealth secretary-general says Pacific Island countries shouldn't be pushed too abruptly in their democratic development.

Sir Don McKinnon last night delivered the latest in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Lecture series at New Zealand's parliament in Wellington.

In his lecture 'Dark Clouds Over Democracy', Sir Don said democracy was facing big challenges but that it still offered a system everyone could participate in.

Sir Don McKinnon delivers his lecture  'Dark Clouds Over Democracy' as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Lecture series, in Wellington, 2 May 2017.

Sir Don McKinnon delivers his lecture 'Dark Clouds Over Democracy' as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Lecture series, in Wellington, 2 May 2017. Photo: Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives (NZ)

Stressing that developing democracies in the Pacific should be given time to find their feet, he said developed democracies should not adopt the approach of wielding a big stick.

"It's getting alongside them, sending someone on behalf of the UN, on behalf of the Commonwealth, on behalf of the Pacific Forum, to work alongside them, someone whose got authority - as I said, a former president or former prime minister who can work with them over a period of time and slowly turn them around. You cannot do it abruptly, " said Sir Don McKinnon.

In his lecture, Sir Don described how there was no one single template for democracy, because round pegs didn't always fit into square holes.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretary-General Akbar Khan, former Commonwealth Secretary-General  Sir Don McKinnon and CPA Pacific Region Representative Paul Foster-Bell MP.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretary-General Akbar Khan, former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon and CPA Pacific Region Representative Paul Foster-Bell MP. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

"The important thing," he explained afterwards, "is to make sure that when you think you've got the structure right, is everyone involved?"

"You've just got to make sure you don't marginalise an island group or a linguistic group or even a racial group. Most of the Pacific are pretty similar but you can inadvertently do that sort of thing," said Sir Don McKinnon.

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