Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu, the Honorable Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas
Honourable Members from the Parliaments across the Pacific
Ambassadors and development partners
Representatives from the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and Secretariat of the Melanesian Spearhead Group
Representatives of political parties from the Pacific region
Officials from Political Party Commissions and Electoral Management Bodies
Clerks and Deputy Clerks of Parliaments
Academics and civil society representatives
Ladies and gentlemen:
Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Vanuatu for agreeing to co-host this important regional conference with UNDP and our partners.
Our sincere appreciation goes out to the Honorable Prime Minister and your Government for this partnership. We are all very happy to be in the ‘land of smiles’.
Some of you may recall that exactly one year ago on this very day, UNDP and its partner, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, held our very first political parties dialogue in Fiji on the topic “Does the Pacific need political parties?”. I am pleased to see that some of the participants from last year have returned to this forum to continue the dialogue.
At the Fiji conference, one of the sessions focused on political party regulation and included discussions on party registration, minimum standards for internal party functioning, transparency in party funding and administrative requirements. This two-day conference will provide a platform to deepen the discussions on these important issues. In addition, the conference will provide a forum to share examples and case studies on the issue of floor-crossing and party-hopping and the legal frameworks introduced, or being considered, on this matter.
Over the years, UNDP in the Pacific has been supporting two key political actors – the Parliaments and electoral management bodies – to develop their capacities in order to uphold countries’ commitments to democracy. Indeed, Sustainable Development Goal 16 talks of the need for effective, accountable and transparent intuitions. This conference is not directly focused on electoral commissions or legislatures, but on political parties, who often are a key actor in making democracies function effectively.
Globally, most Parliaments are built around the notion that there will be a governing party or coalition and opposition parties keeping the Government in check. Within this remit, political parties provide stability in democratic systems, serve as effective conduits of public opinion, and help create an effective government and strong opposition, leading to sustained socio-economic development of a country.
Political parties exist in some shape or form in the majority of Pacific countries. However, in many Pacific countries, political parties are fluid, loose groupings, often lacking in centrally organized party structures and without clear policy platforms or ideologies. In Melanesia in particular, the political party scene is fragmented with dozens of parties contesting elections. This has resulted in the development of legislation in some of the countries in order to regulate the proliferation of parties and to ensure they meet certain standards before registering and contesting elections.
A number of stakeholders in the region have consistently identified the need to strengthen current political systems to provide the needed foundation for the long-term development and planning that are essential for sustainable development and progress of the people of the Pacific.
Developing political parties that are able to represent citizens in an inclusive and accountable manner is one credible pathway to a stable and effective political system. Policy regulation is important in this regard. Other elements of a resilient political system are an independent and competent judiciary, an effective parliament and a well-managed election.
All these components require political parties that can manage the political dialogue amongst themselves and to ensure the system operates with some predictability and forethought. Often, political party regulation and development are overlooked when designing governance systems or in efforts to strengthen those systems.
In the Pacific, the development of political party regulation should consider going beyond the minimum set of standards for the registration of political parties, such as membership lists and constitutions. In order to be effective, the regulation must include provisions that address the root causes of political instability, such as:
- Political party financing and transparent reporting of revenue and expenditures;
- Civic education programmes for citizens on the role of parties in the political system;
- Internal party democracy; and
- In-house party rules and dispute resolution mechanisms.
The legal regulation of political parties is a complex matter, requiring consideration of a wide range of issues. There is clearly no one model that is perfect and can be followed by all countries. The next two days will look at some models and case studies of what has worked well in the region and elsewhere, and where there have been challenges.
This is relatively new and exciting terrain for the democratic governance conversations in the Pacific. UNDP is keen to work with various political institutions to support sustainable and effective political parties. Once again, it is our belief that they lead to more robust political systems and, ultimately, inclusive development.
To the host Government and various representatives from a diverse range of actors in Vanuatu, I hope that the two days will provide some food for thought to feed into your national discussions on this topic. UNDP through the Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project, funded by the Government of New Zealand, stands ready to support further actions to strengthen the political party system in your country.
This regional dialogue would not have been possible without the generous support from our donors, the Governments New Zealand, Australia and the European Union that support a number of UNDP’s electoral and parliamentary development programmes in the Pacific. A big ‘thank you’ to our partners, many of whom are present here, for your unwavering support to UNDP’s programme.
I would also like to acknowledge our cooperation partner for this conference – the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Australia), a political foundation from the Federal Republic of Germany. This is the second time that we have partnered to jointly organize a conference on this topic; we value this cooperation and the Foundation’s technical expertise tremendously.
I wish you fruitful deliberations over the next two days, hoping that this conference deepens our collective understanding of the democratic space in the Pacific.