4 May 2013

Three political parties in Fiji registered

7:44 am on 4 May 2013

Three political parties in Fiji have succeeded in gaining registration under the regime's controversial new rules on political parties.

The Fiji government says the Fiji Labour Party, the National Federation Party and the renamed SDL Party Sodelpa are now allowed to operate legally.

The decree required parties to sign up at least 5,000 members across Fiji and there were hefty fines and imprisonment if anyone held themselves out as representing a party without it being registered.

Jamie Tahana reports.

A spokesman for Sodelpa, formerly the SDL party, Dr Tupeni Baba, says he is grateful his party has been approved, but it shouldn't have been such a mission to do so.

"It shouldn't really be a struggle for us to be registered. We are in a restricted military regime (and) we've had to go through these unnecessary hassles. But now that it's passed we are very happy about it."

When the government passed its political parties decree earlier this year, some parties complained the rules were ridiculous and draconian and some politicians complained of unnecessary hold ups in the registration process.

The Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, says the regime was trying to force his party out of politics.

I know there were attempts to not get us registered, there were allegations made that we had obtained some signatures through fraudulent means but all these allegations were answered and I'm glad that these have been cleared and the party has been registered.

The Registrar of Political Parties, Mohammed Saneem, says each party's membership lists had anomalies but he's now satisfied they have the required number of valid signatures.

Now the parties have their registration, they're free to start campaigning for elections in 2014.

But The Labour and National Federation Parties' say there are still obstacles to overcome, like having to submit the financial details of members and their families.

Raman Singh says the the NFP will be holding a series of meetings to elect a leader and work our their strategies.

Not quite a campaign but the consultation process will start then our various districts will be operational and campaign proper might start later.

Mahendra Chaudhry says that after being suffocated for several years, the Labour party needs to get its engine running again.

He says he hopes this is the final step and the process from now on will be free and fair.

I hope there will not be restrictions placed in the way of political parties for them to conduct their activities without state interference. That is a fear that we have at the moment because there could be restrictions placed in their way and obstacles which will prevent them from operating.

But the Sodelpa's Tupeni Baba says he wouldn't be surprised if the regime threw another curveball in.

We can never underestimate the regime and its attempt to survive, its attempt to continue its hold on the people which is why we are cautious. We know that we are not there. But we do hope that goodness and fair thinking will prevail.

The three parties agree the government's restrictions on local media need to go, especially with regime leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama's announcement he would run in next year's election.

Commodore Bainimarama told Radio Tarana he finds it funny to see what he calls the old faces lining up again and sitting together after scrapping like schoolboys in the past.

These are the people who brought Fiji to its knees. Now they want another chance, I guess to mess the country up again. A few days ago they were bleating and harping about me preventing them from contesting the election. That's what they wanted to say to the world, (that) this whole process is a sham. Because they know that ending voting along racial lines is going to weaken them.

Commodore Bainimarama says the successful registration of three parties is proof the election will be free and fair.