Fiji regime cracks down on political parties
Fiji's military regime has imposed a draconian new decree on anybody planning to create a political party ahead of democracy-restoring elections promised for next year.
The decree ensures Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, overthrown in a military coup in 2006, cannot return to politics, and trade union officials are banned from being political party officials.
The decree comes a week after military leader Voreqe Bainimarama scrapped a draft constitution drawn up after nearly a year of consultation.
The draft constitution would have kept the military out of the political power.
Bainimarama has instead ordered his attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to come up with a new draft constitution and to issue a decree on political parties.
Under the decree the 16 previously registered political parties will have 28 days from Friday to re-register.
Previously a party needed 180 members to become registered. Now it must have 5000 and the initial registered number must not include police or military officers, trade union officials or various defined government officials.
With a Fiji population of only 870,000, the membership threshold appears to be a significant bar to creating any political party.
Even at the height of their popularity neither the Indian-dominated Fiji Labour Party nor the ethnic Fijian party Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua had 5000 registered members.
The decree says a person who has been convicted for an offence for a period of six months or more in the last five years cannot be a party official.
This is will bar Qarase who is serving a year-long prison sentence after the military's anti-corruption unit had him convicted for share trading offences committed before he was prime minister.
Sayed-Khaiyum says political parties will not be allowed to accept donations from foreign governments, inter-government or non-governmental organisations. Companies are banned from donating to parties.
An individual will only be able to donate up to F$10,000 (NZ$6800).
"This will create true democracy and the ordinary people having access to information that is critical for them to make a valid choice when going to the polling booths," Sayed-Khaiyum said.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has expressed regret at last week's spiking of the draft constitution.
"To be legitimate and enduring for future generations, the constitution of Fiji needs to be a product of reflection and input by the people for the people of Fiji," Sharma said.
"The decision by the Fiji Government to set aside the text painstakingly prepared by the commission through widespread public consultation is regrettable."