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Afghanistan, Bosnia, Taiwan and Hong Kong teach Canada lessons on how to build democracy, Queen’s studies show


Monday August 21, 2006, KINGSTON, Ont. – Thomas Axworthy, Chairman of the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) at Queen’s University, is calling on the Harper Government to review the lessons learned by some of the world’s newest democracies and to create The Democracy Canada Institute to promote democracy abroad.

Four Transitions to Democracy studies looking at the progress of democracy in Afghanistan, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and are being offered up to foreign-policy stakeholders by the Queen’s-based CSD.

“These studies demonstrate the variety of ways that Canada can play a part in helping to grow democracy and viable governments in war-torn, or formerly authoritarian states,” says Axworthy.

The studies analyze how these fledgling democracies can improve their viability:

* The study on Afghanistan reinforces that the social and political rebuilding of that country should proceed hand-in-hand with an expanded security mission and that Canada should work with Afghanistan’s government and society to develop democratic values.

* The case study on Bosnia/ Herzegovina – a new democracy, like Afghanistan, born out of war – suggests the Dayton Peace Accord determined the constitutional structure of Bosnia without any involvement from the Bosnian people, which the authors view as a mistake. It calls on the Canadian government to offer its expertise in crafting a constitution to help Bosnia/Herzegovina craft its own.

* The Hong Kong case study says Hong Kong needs to develop a competitive party system to facilitate change by offering grants to create parties and think tanks. The former colony should develop its political potential by encouraging participation in its existing District Councils.

* The study on Taiwan suggests this democracy was encouraged by investment in education and economic reform, encouraging foreign travel and education and promoting civil society groups. The study also points to the importance of the sustained interest of external actors, like the U.S., in supporting moves toward democracy that are successfully built from the “ground up” through local elections.

“A good place to start would be for the Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons and Senate to take up the democratization priority and assess lessons learned and the need for new institutions,” says Axworthy. He proposes these studies add impetus to the establishment of the CSD-proposed Democracy Canada Institute, which would deliver democracy-building guidance to countries making the transition to self-government.

PDF versions of the four Transitions to Democracy papers and the proposal for The Democracy Canada Institute are available at

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