February 15, 2013

Just two Fiji parties apply for election registration

Updated 15 February 2013, 11:24 AEST

The deadline has past for political parties in Fiji to apply for registration register for the next year's election, or face being disbanded.

The Registrar for Political Parties, Mere Vuniwaqa, says any assets owned by parties which don't register will be forfeited to the state.

So far only the Fiji Labour Party and the mainly Indian National Federation Party have applied.

Parties have to meet a series of tough requirements, including having five thousand financial members.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Vijay Narayan, journalist, Fiji Village dot com

NARAYAN: The Registrar of Political Parties office was open until midnight last night and of course the deadline ended at midnight. The Office of the Registrar said they wanted to give people enough time to register. Then this only applies to parties that were in existence when the political parties decree came out. So there were 16 parties in the register of political parties when the decree came out and the majority of the parties were not in existence or not active at the time and so they definitely did not register.

There's two that came forward to apply for registration and the last party that we know of was the Fiji Labour Party. So two parties have applied for registration. Now the next process kicks in in 14 days the registration has to be publicised and objection period and with that period, assessments will be carried out on the requirements of the decree, whether these parties have met that as proposed parties (inaudible) following that decision will be made on whether they will be reregistered.

The other party is the SLD and they have said that they have wound up and today we'll be checking on, with parties saying they've wound up, on whether according to the decree it satisfies the register of political parties, that it has been wound up or the register of ;political parties would have to wind up the SDL, the old SDL later today and that still to be seen.

COUTTS: Just a point of clarification, the old SDL, because they were going to keep their name, the new initials if they were going to register. You're not sure whether the new SDL has registered under a different name?

NARAYAN: Well, at this point in time, the proposed new SDL, we cannot even say proposed, because under the decree, a party becomes a  proposed party when they have applied for registration. So this group of people who want to form the Social Democratic Liberal Party have said to us yesterday afternoon that they have gathered all their signatures and they're saying they have their logo. The proposed logo which they will be submitting in their application within the next few days, that's what they have told us yesterday afternoon. They said they'll apply or registration sometime next week.

Now that is yet to been seen, as we want to also see what will happen to them as they say they have wound up already two weeks ago, but whether they have actually wound up according to the requirements of the decree will be decided by the registrar of political parties sometime today or in the next few days.

COUTTS: Now, I thought the deadline was midnight last night, so are they going to be allowed to take another week to register, the SDL?

NARAYAN: Oh, the midnight deadline was for the parties that existed in the form previously. Now, the old SDL could not register at all starting off first requirement all political parties have to have their names in the English language. So as you know, the old SDL, is Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua and it's an i-Taukei name so they would have been disqualified in relation to the application that would have put in. So they are now saying, they are setting up a new party and for any party, any group of people, that want to set up a new party they can have their discussions and they can apply for registration anytime between now and before the election. So they have that timeframe and they are not bound by the deadline.

COUTTS: Alright, the parties, the two parties that we know that have registered, the Fiji Labour Party and the Indian National Federation Party. What scrutiny will they be subjected to now?

NARAYAN: Well, there's reports coming through already Geraldine. We've spoken to police and that is information that is coming through from earlier today, last night into also this morning, also about some claims in relation to member signatures. There's been allegations that the parties that have gone out had said to some of the people that they were from the government and they were doing a survey and they needed the names and signatures of the people. Now that's a claim at the moment and a huge allegation against the parties and police are now looking into those allegations. So that's the first issue that has already come up just hours after the deadline ended and, of course, they have to get 5,005 signatures and the other issues also of Mahendra Chaudhury has registered the Labour Party with him as party leader General Secretary, but at the same time, he's also the General Secretary of the National Farmers Union. So a classification of the Farmers Union would come into play as members of trade unions cannot be part of political parties. Whether the Farmers Union falls out of this, we will be all questioning that later today.

COUTTS: Well once the parties get a tick from the interim government that they're legal in their eyes and can go forward and start campaigning. Will they still have to get permission to meet and to gather throughout their campaign?

NARAYAN: No, it has been clearly stated that this process has to be followed as the new requirements come into play. As you know other requirements that also come into play after this initial application is within about 30 days. The Executives of the party, they have to declare their assets and liabilities. The party itself has to have all the records of funding, all these things are new Fiji. Prior to this, there was no declaration of assets and liabilities, who funded the party, so all these sections all kick in.

At the same time Geraldine, the Labour Party as they applied for their reregistration yesterday afternoon. Of course, Labour Party, now becomes the proposed Fiji Labour Party. They have also filed legal action in the High Court and they are challenging certain sections of the decree, so that was also filed on Wednesday afternoon and we're trying to get more details about that as they're challenging the sections of the political parties decree.

COUTTS: At the moment, people or organisations NGOs, anyone has to get permission before they hold meetings. Is that going to continue, so when the parties want to go and hold meetings to do strategies and to get on with their campaigning to try and get elected. Will they have to get permission before they hold meetings?

NARAYAN: Well, as far as large gatherings are concerned, permits are still needed.  The normal gatherings of just a party meeting in an office does not require that. There's nothing been said that there will any restrictions in relation to that. Assurances have been given, people will be allowed to take the step forward in preparing for elections. Even it has been stated that a group of persons who want to form a party can meet for now in an informal way of an association, and then submit their application for registration of the party. So the restrictions as far as meetings are concerned. It does not stop people, but at the same time Geraldine, as I said, all the parties at the moment, even the two that have been registered, they cannot hold themselves out to be parties at this stage, because they are currently proposed parties. They're applications are being considered. So they cannot hold themselves out to be political parties and making statements as political parties as they are proposed parties at this stage.

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