INTRODUCTORY REMARKS (3 MINUTES) BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE FIRST GLOBAL FORUM ON NEW DEMOCRACIES, TAIPEI, 24 JANUARY 2008
The initiative that was launched last year in Taipei has now reached fruition with the convening of this First Global Forum on New Democracies. It is a great pleasure to be able to exchange views on a topic as important as the strengthening of democracy with so many distinguished present and former national leaders.
Experience throughout the world has shown that democracy is a tender plant. As we all know from our different histories, it is difficult to establish and must be carefully nurtured to ensure that it grows into a sturdy and indispensable reality in all our societies.
The requirements are clear and universal:
• Sovereignty must reside with the people and must be exercised in regular and fair elections at which voters can freely express their preferences.
• However, such elections cannot be fair unless all parties and candidates have the right and ability to present their views and policies to the public. This requires freedom of expression and free media. It also means that the national broadcaster and state structures should be visibly impartial during election campaigns.
• Democracy also requires a sound foundation of fundamental human rights to function effectively. These rights go beyond the basic rights to life and freedom since democracy works best where people also have access to effective education, health and social rights.
• Above all, democracy cannot survive in the absence of a free, impartial and effective judiciary to protect the rule of law and the constitution.
• Separation of powers is also essential. The State must retain an identity that is separate and independent from the ruling party, regardless of its majority. Parliaments must play their legislative and oversight roles without interference from the executive.
We have come together in this first Global Forum on New Democracies to exchange views on how we can ensure that these preconditions for democracy can be entrenched and strengthened in societies with very different traditions, cultures and histories. I look forward to the debate!
MODERATOR’S REMARKS (5 MINUTES) ON CHOOSING A CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM: FIRST GLOBAL FORUM ON NEW DEMOCRACIES, TAIPEI, 24 MARCH 2008
The requirements for democracy are universal and include: popular sovereignty; free and regular elections; freedom of expression and free media; respect for fundamental human rights; the independence of the judiciary and the separation of isBpowers.
However, there are many very different constitutional models that can accommodate these requirements – ranging from constitutional monarchies to powerful presidencies; from unitary states to loose confederations; from elections based on proportional representation to multi-member constituencies; from almost immutable constitutions to systems based on common law and convention.
Experience has taught us that the constitutional systems that succeed best are those that are crafted to accommodate the distinct histories, cultures and circumstances of the countries in which they are applied.
The British system of constitutional monarchy; constituency-based elections; prime ministerial government with no limit to the term of office of the Prime Minister has worked well for the British people for centuries – even though it may lead to under-representation of significant parties in Parliament. However, the British system is subject to constant evolution – with current tendencies away from the historic centralised system to greater devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The American constitution was written to meet the special circumstances that the United States encountered at its inception. It needed a federal system to accommodate the different interests of the original thirteen colonies. It also needed a strong constitution to provide a rallying point and common values for the waves of multi-cultural immigrants from all corners of Europe and the world. It succeeded well in providing a model for the separation of powers, with strong and independent executive, legislative and judiciary branches.
In the same manner we in South Africa crafted our new Constitution to take into account the requirements of our very diverse population. On the one hand, we accepted all the requirements of a genuine liberal democracy – with regular elections; a strong Bill of Rights; an independent judiciary and quasi-federal provinces. On the other hand we accepted that our new Constitution would also have to be a transformative document – that would unambiguously address the serious inequalities bequeathed to us by our tumultuous history and former policies.
It would seem therefore that constitutions should grow from the experience and needs of the societies for which they are written – but that they should all rest on the bedrock of genuine freedom and popular sovereignty.