Fiji regime's new political party decree attracts criticism | Pacific Beat

Fiji regime's new political party decree attracts criticism

Fiji regime's new political party decree attracts criticism

Updated 17 January 2013, 10:46 AEDT

Fiji's interim military government has imposed new restrictions on political parties, with implications for next year's scheduled elections.

Trade Union executives will be banned from founding political parties, a move that's come a week after Fiji's TUC general executive said he wanted to set one up. And parties will need more members to register. Up to now they've needed 128 people. Under the new rules, they'll need 5,000. The country's 16 existing parties have been given 28 days to meet the new criteria and re-register.

The Fiji interim government declined to comment, although the permanent secretary for information, Sharon Smith-Johns said Mr Chaudhry's accusation about Fiji becoming a one party state was ridiculous and she asked how Fiji could be a one party state when no party has registered yet.

Meanwhile, Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr has described the regulations as onerous and says Australia has serious concerns about them. He says this restriction on the nature of political parties cannot be justified, as vibrant political parties are a vital part of a democracy.

Senator Carr said he met last week with Fiji's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, to discuss Fiji's return to democracy and made it clear that Australia's sanctions would remain in place until conditions had been met for a genuine democratic transition.

Presenter: Tracee Hutchison

Speaker: Julie Bishop, Australia's Opposition's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman

 

BISHOP: Australia should make it clear to Commodore Bainimarama that has a close friend of the Fijian people, Australians believe that it's vital that the election in Fiji not only be credible, but be seen to be credible, so that Australia and Fiji can re-establish the close ties that have previously existed.

HUTCHISON: The key part of the degree that Opposition parties have to show that they have 5,000 members within 28 days or be deregistered, Julie Bishop. Per capita, as an equivalent, that would mean for an Australian party, for example, would have to have something like 130,000 members per capita, that would pretty much make the major parties and minor parties ineligible to stand in Australia, that's surely a concern?

BISHOP: It's a deep concern. Fiji is a country with less than a 20th of our population, yet they are seeking the registration of ten times the number of members that are required in Australia. So there are restrictions on the registration of political parties in Australia, but it is important that Fiji not make the restrictions so difficult that it unfairly or unreasonably prevents parties from participating and in a country of fewer than a million people, 5,000 members per party appears to be a very high bar.

I hope that Commodore Bainimarama recognises this and reviews the restriction or barrier and it's certainly is of a significant magnitude which will make it difficult for parties to participate.

HUTCHISON: The decree extends to the prohibition of union leaders and public officers founding political parties. This seems to come in the wake of the outspoken trade unionist, Felix Anthony, announcing his intention to establish a Union Party in Fiji. What's the Coalition's view on that, and have you sort any representation to the Interim Government to raise your concerns?

BISHOP: Well, the idea should be to encourage as many people as possible to participate. If Fiji is to return to full democracy, the rule of law, and the norms above a democracies, then they should be encouraging participation and not setting barriers of such a magnitude that will prevent people from participating.

I've only recently heard of this information, so I've not yet been in a position to seek a briefing from the Australian Government, or indeed, make any representations. But, this is of concern. We have been calling on the government to set a new road map with Fiji, because there are sanctions are in place between the two countries. We think that efforts should be made to try and assist Fiji on its journey to democracy. But restrictions such as these, certainly make the return to full democracy more difficult, and we hope that Commodore Bainimarama will reconsider the barriers that seem to be putting in the place of a return to full democracy.

HUTCHISON: This also comes in the wake, Julie Bishop, of the Interim Government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, rejecting a draft constitution and the announcement that, in fact, the Commodore and his government would draft its own Constitution in the lead up to next year's election. In first instance, the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, said that he understood that some aspects of that draft constitution were to be rejected by the government and he understood the Fijian government's position. That position has been widely criticised throughout the region. Do you share the Australian Foreign Minister's position that he understood why Frank Bainimarama might have rejected the Constitution? What's the Coalition's position?

BISHOP: We are concerned that the independent experts, who are engaged to draft a Constitution appear to have had their views rejected. We would like to understand more fully the concerns that Commodore Bainimarama had with the independent experts draft Constitution and that's a matter we'll certainly be seeking a briefing on.

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