A new decree issued by the coup installed military government puts onerous restrictions on political parties, including a requirement that their names must be in the English language.
The SDL's name is in the Fijian language, and senior party executive Pio Tabaiwalu tells Bruce Hill they feel the interim government's decree is harsh and vindictive.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Senior SDL party executive, Pio Tabaiwalu
TABAIWALU: Oh well, we're extremely disappointed. I think if you look at the previous Constitutions and, of course, if you have a look at the Ghai draft it states that officially recognised languages to be used would be English, Fijian and Hindi so we thought that that have a Fijian name was perfectly proper.
Under the old Constitution, the name of course under the draft Ghai Constitution, we're extremely disappointed and surprised and I think we use the word vindictive to say that perhaps they were targetting particularly the SDL.
HILL: The Interim Government says the reason that they're doing this is to ensure there's no divisiveness in Fijian society, that they don't want parties to be identified with any one particular community. They want Fiji to be more overtly multi-racial. Do you accept that?
TABAIWALU: Eh yes, I think if you properly read all of our Constitutions of the SDL, it's multi-racial. All our properties are multi-racial, apart from the fact that we want affirmative social justice programs for the disadvantaged, including Fijians and other races. I think if you look our policies in 2006 and 2001, our social justice programs were not only targeted towards Fijians and indigenous peoples, but then also were targeted to disadvantage members of other communities and we had to report to the Human Rights Commission on the progress of that, as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution. So we followed the Constitution to the letter by following those social justice programs. Those are the only one, the things that they're harping about as being discriminatory about the party.
HILL: So you will be changing your name. I understand on Friday, you're having a meeting?
TABAIWALU: We're having a meeting, because well, they give us 28 days to do all this and even that is so restrictive, because we have to follow the provisions of our own Constitution, which also has a timing which we have to call our own General Assembly and that would require a timeline also. So we're on Friday, we're going to discuss the name change within the provisions of the Constitution.
HILL: So you'll have to change your name to the English language equivalent of SDL. What will that be roughly?
TABAIWALU: Eh, either that or the other alterative that we're looking at, yeah. We're going to have a very, very healthy discussion on Friday and all options are open on Friday.
HILL: What about the other requirements which is that a political party to be registered has to have at least 5,000 members and all of its income has to come just from its members. You're not allowed to accept donations from outside. Will you be able to meet that target, do you think, within the time frame?
TABAIWALU: Within the 28 days is pretty tight, within the 28 days. I mean we have been out of touch with our branches for the last six years, not because we didn't want to go to the branches. We were compelled to do so, because under the decree, under the present regime. We could not hold political meetings, so that's the unfairness of it. We were not allowed to hold any political meeting in the last six, seven years since they took over and all of a sudden they're saying, go out to your branches and collect the 5,000 and these branches were pretty dormant. We couldn't really call them under the circumstances. So that's the unfairness of it.
If we had that freedom to have had political meetings, our branches would be alive and well and we could just go to the branches and collect the names, so that's the other difficulty. We have to go to the branches and say OK, we need this 5,000 names and we are working through telephone and other means to try to get these names in time, eh.
HILL: We spoke to the Fiji Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, and he said that his party, again one of the larger parties in Fiji would struggle to get to 5,000?
TABAIWALU: Exactly, if he just take the logistics and the time. If we were given three months OK, we can get it quite easily, because in the end, it means going out to the. We really have to walk it. It's not like, say, picking up the phone and calling them. As I said, the offices are pretty dormant now. After six years, you're not allowed to operate as a political party.
HILL: What happens though if you and the Labour Party and I assume obviously the smaller parties, what if you don't actually get the numbers and your deregistered? Would there be a situation they'd be an election and no political parties?
TABAIWALU: Oh, I think we'll come to that. I think we pretty, we have a Plan B. We have a Plan B. Exactly all the political parties to get to 2014 elections. We have to to get this country back to democracy, the political parties have to get to election 2014. So we'll try the first hurdle first and then when it comes to that, we have a Plan B, to then perhaps come up with a new party.
HILL: The parties themselves have actually decided to cooperate. You called yourselves I think the United Democratic Front. You've got the SDL, Labour, UPP and the other parties. Strange bed fellows, because you've been at daggers drawn over the years, but you seem to be cooperating at the moment?
TABAIWALU: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean that's politics. Out of the possible I think and we have a common objective and I think we are coalescing around that common objective to get this country back to democracy. And if it means coming together, well that maybe it. Maybe, but the form and shape of that coming together, we haven't really decided.