Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fiji: Worse than I thought

Two weeks ago the Fijian regime moved to crack down on political parties, imposing a ridiculous membership requirement and high registration fees in an effort to stop anyone from contesting their promised elections. Its had the obvious result, with two of the existing parties shutting down because they do not expect to meet the new requirements (though one of them is planning a relaunch; the shutdown is to stop the regime from stealing their assets and gain more time to get the required 5,000 members).

But so what? This is just about registered political parties, right? Those too small to register will still be able to continue to agitate, even if they can't contest elections, right? Nope. According to section 3 of the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree 2013 [PDF], unregistered political parties will be illegal, and membership will be a crime:

(1) An association of persons or an organisation shall not operate, function, represent or hold itself out to be a political party unless it has been registered as a political party in accordance with the provisions of this Decree.

(2) If any association of persons or an organisation operate, function, represent or hold itself out to be a political party without being registered in accordance with the provisions of this Decree, then any person who is a member of or holds office in any such association or organisation commits an offence and shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or to both.

Basically this is a recipe for shutting down all political activity. There will be no registered parties, because they will not be able to meet the requirements. There will be no unregistered parties, because membership will be a crime (there may also be fewer NGOs, as many could be accused of "functioning" as a political party by advocating for political causes like human rights and democracy). It will be a serious risk for anyone to even become a member of a proposed party trying to meet the absurdly difficult requirements - because if anyone in it says the words "political party" before it is registered, you're on the hook for five years imprisonment, even if you knew nothing about it.

Quite apart from the infringement of democratic rights and the assault on free speech, its also impossible to see how the proposed new electoral system can work under this regime. Party-based proportional representation requires parties, and lots of them. If this regime stays in place, then Fiji may very well have an "election" in 2014 that no-one is allowed to contest.