Fiji political parties in a state of flux | Pacific Beat

Fiji political parties in a state of flux

Fiji political parties in a state of flux

Updated 15 February 2013, 18:01 AEST

The deadline for political parties in Fiji to register has passed, with two major parties getting the paperwork in, but one deciding not to take part.

The mainly Indo-Fijian Labour and National Federation parties filed their applications before midnight last night, but the mainly indigenous i-Taukei SDL party says it will try later on to apply as a new party.

All the main parties are backing a legal challenge launched by Labour to have the political parties decree struck down.

They says it is undemocratic and breaks several international agreements on human rights which Fiji is a signatory to.

The Fiji Interim government has not responded to a request for a comment on the matter.

Technically, parties which have applied for registration cannot operate as parties for the 28 days the coup installed interim government can take to make a decision on whether or not they meet the requirements.

Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry says this does not mean his party has been dissolved.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry, A former senior executive with the SDL party, Pio Tabaiwalu,The President of the Fiji Law Society, Dor Sami Naidu

NAIDU: I don't think we have ceased to exist, the party is still there, but we are under a decree, prohibited from operating or functioning a political party. It does not talk about ceasing to exist as the decree stands, so the operative words are, from the date when the application is received by the Registrar, we're deemed to be a supposed political party, so we are now a proposed political party and it must not operate or function as a political party after the expiry of 28 days from the date of commencement of this decree until such time when it is registered under the decree. So that's what it is. We have now become a proposed political party.

HILL: And this must make it a bit difficult for you to operate the party on a day-to-day basis?

NAIDU: Well, we hope that the decision would not take too long. We all need a bit of a break, maybe a week or so. It's not too much of a problem unless, of course, the decision is delayed.

HILL: Are you confident that the decision will come out in time and that your application for registration as a party will be accepted by the interim government?

NAIDU: I have no idea, we've done what we had to do and we now await its outcome.

HILL: You don't sound terribly enthusiastic about the whole process?

NAIDU: No, we'll be have this option of applying. If we don't apply, we cease to exist under the decree. We'll be deemed to be deregistered on the spot midnight last night if we hadn't applied, we'd be deregistered and our efforts would be vested in the state.

The other option, of course, is to apply to re-registration, which we have done and await the outcome. We filed legal action two days ago, you're aware of that what we are seeking. Now prayers to the court, and we'll wait for the outcome of that application in court. We're serious about this and I think it's a matter which should concern all political parties and I think they're all quite serious about what they intend to do.

HILL: The SDL Party has decided to officially dissolve itself and form a new party with the same initials but a new English language name - the Social Democratic Liberal Party. A former senior executive with the SDL party, Pio Tabaiwalu, says they decided not to try registering as an existing party, but to reconstitute themselves as an entirely new group.

TABAIWALU: Yeah, it doesn't exist as the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua

In those terms, it no longer, we dissolve the party a fortnight ago, so we're no longer exist as the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua from midnight last night, yes.

HILL: But you were supposedly reconstituting yourselves as the Social Democratic and Liberal Party. Is that still going ahead?

TABAIWALU: Oh yes, straight after that meeting, was the formation of the new Social Democratic and Liberal Party to in compliance with Decree Number four 2013 on political parties regulations, a decree says that party names shall be in English. So that's why we chose Social Democratic Liberal.

HILL: The party didn't make the midnight deadline to apply to register as a political party. Can I ask why that decision was taken not to go ahead with this process?

TABAIWALU: The decree separates those who are re-registering as an existing party and those who are registering as a new party, so there two different deadlines for those. Those who are re-registering as an old party, last night midnight was their deadline. But since we dissolved the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua we have a new party, we are not bound by that deadline, so we're submitting our application next week, as a new party.

HILL: So essentially, you're saying that the old SDL no longer exists?

TABAIWALU: Exactly. The old SDL no longer exists.

HILL: And you're going ahead as more or less forming yourselves as a completely new party, the Social Democratic Liberal?

TABAIWALU: As a completely new party and we are submitting that on Monday. Although there is no time limit for handing in our application as a new party according to the decree.

HILL: Mr Tabaiwalu said because the decree very specifically forbids political parties operating until they're registered, he has to be careful in how he's described in the media.

TABAIWALU: They no longer represent any party at this moment, so I put in that caveat in my statement, yeah. I'm just the person representing someone who tries to put in application for new party. I think under the decree, we are not supposed to hold ourselves out as a politician, representing a party. So I think that old caveat at the end of your interview, that we are no longer representing any party at the moment, because all the parties have been de-established from yesterday until our application. It takes another 28 days for all the parties to be registered.

HILL: The political parties in Fiji are cooperating in mounting a challenge to the legality of the interim government's political parties decree. The President of the Fiji Law Society, Dor Sami Naidu, says in his opinion they have a strong legal case.

NAIDU: You know the present decree is very draconian and arbitrary and it sets down guidelines which seemed more, aimed more at deregistering parties and dissuading people to have the members of a party or form parties, or continue with their older parties, because there is so harsh the rules. For example, the older parties which may have properties told that if you don't register by a certain deadline, you lose your properties to the state and then you required to have so many people signing your petition of showing that you have 5,000 members or more who support your registration and that's also to be done within a certain time frame.

In a democratic country, well, at the moment, we're not democratic, but hopefully after 2014 election, but normally when we espouse democratic. When we say we support democratic institutions, we're part of the United Nations. You don't expect such draconian laws or decrees to be put in place. Nothings been debated, it's just a mandatory imposition by the regime. So I think they have a good challenge and it'll be up to the courts to interpret the decree and whether it should really stay in place or it should be watered down.

HILL; Fiji's governed by a coup-installed government, which doesn't pass laws, they simply issue decrees. Can these decrees really be challenged in the Fiji court system effectively?

NAIDU: Well, that's a tough, not a tough question, but that's as you know any military regime or any military regime that controls the government and the other institutions of government have the final say, so I'll leave that up to the listeners and to you to decide.

HILL: Has the Fiji judiciary in the past been able to challenge any of the rulings or decrees by this government?

NAIDU: They haven't struck down any decrees if that's what you're getting at. I am not aware of any decree that's been put in place by this government, which have been struck down by the courts.

HILL: Is the Fiji judiciary fair and independent and will it be able to reach a legal conclusion in this?

NAIDU: Well, I hope so and time will only tell. We seem to have a judiciary which says it's robust and independent. So I think we'll just have to wait and see.

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