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Event Details
Event Political Culture, Representation & Electoral Systems
Date(s) Saturday 10th July 2004
Sunday 11th July 2004
Monday 12th July 2004
Organiser University of the South Pacific
Political Culture, Representation and Electoral Systems in the Pacific


University of the South Pacific (Emalus Campus), Port Vila, Vanuatu

10th-12th July 2004


Organised by the Pacific Institute of Advanced Studies in Governance and Development (PIAS-DG), University of the South Pacific & Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.


Call for papers

The Pacific region possesses an extraordinarily diverse range of electoral systems and political institutions. It includes a constitutional monarchy, in which the king and nobility control political power (Tonga), a state that has only recently shifted to a universal franchise, but where chiefs (matai) alone may stand as candidates (Samoa) and a country with a unique special seat reserved for migrants overseas (Cook Islands). It includes the world's sole democracy that uses the single non-transferable vote system (Vanuatu) and the only country that has ever adopted the obscure Borda count method of preferential voting (Nauru). The Pacific has territories and countries that use list system proportional representation (New Caledonia, French Polynesia), mixed member systems (Niue, New Zealand) and the alternative vote system (Fiji and now PNG). Until now, there has been little investigation of the on-the-ground operation of these electoral institutions, and the way these are influenced by local political cultures, and little discussion about whether imported institutions are, or are not, suitable in the Pacific political context.

Yet it is clear that the post-colonial Pacific Islands have struggled to find suitable institutions of representation that assist nation-building processes. Often, franchises were extended only shortly before independence, with little thought about how imported institutions might function in practice. The Westminster system is normally associated with a two party system and 'strong government'. Yet in the Melanesian context, it entails a highly competitive multi-party (or no-party, multiple independent) system, with many MPs surviving only a single term in office and frequent regime changes following no confidence votes. Corruption is widespread, and the threat of de-selection at the next elections proves to weak to hold MPs to account. Around half of all MPs have lost their seats at recent elections in both PNG and the Solomon Islands. Reforms proposals, such as those in PNG, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, have aimed an increasing accountability, and/or broadening parliamentarian support bases. In other parts of the Pacific, governance institutions remain wedded to customary hierarchical structures. Yet here too, legislative assemblies often fail to act as a check on governments. In Micronesia, many countries chose self-government through 'Compacts of Free Association' with the United States, and adopted presidential-style systems. Yet there has been little research on the Pacific's home-grown counterpart to the well-known parliamentarianism Vs Presidentialism debate in the international political science literature.  

The conference will be attended by scholars specializing in Pacific electoral institutions, practitioners engaged in electoral administration, and people concerned about the politics of representation in the Pacific. Papers are expected to investigate the way established electoral institutions operate on-the-ground, and/or the way local political cultures modify or influence the working of imported institutions. We also hope to look at the working of the Presidential model in Micronesia, and at the influence (if any) of list system proportional representation on political divisions in New Caledonia. Recent electoral reforms in Papua New Guinea and Fiji will be an important focus of debate, and sessions will explore the working of the matai system in Samoa, the monarchist model in Tonga and proposals for federal government in the Solomon Islands.

We are particularly interested in papers either a) with a point of reference to the international electoral systems literature, but which use this to investigate Pacific Island systems or b) detailed examinations of the on-the-ground operation of electoral institutions in one or more than one Pacific Island country. Investigations of particular elections and/or detailed analysis of election results are encouraged, but only if these draw out key themes or demonstrate important relationships (In other words, we discourage narrowly descriptive or number-crunching exercises). Joint papers, which bring together Pacific Islanders working in their own countries (for example in Elections offices) and established well-published academics, who have a track record of timely publication and work at a major university, are particularly encouraged. Although the conference seeks to examine the on-the-ground efficacy of electoral systems, potential participants should not assume that the organizers seek only papers seeking to demonstrate the omnipotence of institutions. On the contrary, we are as much interested in papers that show how the intentions of institutional architects are frustrated in practice, as we are in assessing how well-designed systems might enhance voter empowerment, improve stability and strengthen democracy in the Pacific Islands.

Limited funding support for travel and accommodation may, in some cases, be available. In allocation of available funds, preference will be given to plans for papers that closely fit the theme of the conference. Informal inquiries about possible themes for papers can be made by e-mailing either or The best quality papers presented at the conference will appear, shortly afterwards, in an edited collection.

Proposals in the form of abstracts of 250-300 words should be sent to by 15th March 2004.