By Crosbie Walsh
Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says the decree drew its inspiration from the existing law, the Kenyan and New South Wales (Australian) model as well as the Canadian model.
To register, parties must show they are "truly" representative. They will need at least 5,000 members drawn from all the four divisions: 2,000 from the Central, 1,750 from the Western, 1,000 from the Northern and 250 from the Eastern Division. The A-G says 5,000 equates to about one percent of registered eligible voters and the geographical distribution is similar to that of the overall population. Parties are also required to have party offices in all these divisions, which he says is a common requirement overseas. I was unable to find any democratic country where is it a "requirement". The former required membership for registration was 180.
Assets and donations
Parties, party officials and politicians will be required to make a full declaration of assets, liabilities, income, and donations, and the party's finances will require an annual audit. The limit of $10,000 donations (and no donations from private companies, trade unions, foreign governments and NGOs) is intended to prevent undue influence on party policies.
The trade union limitation is similar to New South Wales where it was argued TU members paid their fees to the union, not to fund a political party. A similar argument has been made in NZ but some unions are still 'collective' members of the Labour Party and contribute substantially to its funds.
Code of Conduct
The decree also requires parties to abide to a Code of Conduct, a requirement similar to that in the Ghai draft constitution.
No public officers
The most controversial requirements concern initial membership. For an unstated period, no public officers will be allowed to hold office or form part of the initial 5,000 membership numbers, or stand in the 2014 Election.
“The public officers", the A-G said, "include members of statutory boards, from the public service including the police, prisons, Republic of Military Force, officials from trade union movements, judges/magistrates and so forth. The list ...will also include organisations such as employer’s federation who will not be eligible to become officials and/or members of the political parties but will require their resignation if they want to join a political party." He said the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers are not part of this list.
Government intentions in this decree are either to encourage the formation of genuinely national, multi-racial parties immune to corrupting donations. Or to discourage the formation of any party that may, on winning the 2014 election, undermine its work over the past six years. Or a bit of both. But either, or both, ways, some of the decree's requirements are excessive, even impossible.
Coming on top of its more justifiable but still criticised action on the draft constitution, the decree will also be seen as repressive. and further undermine Government's credibility as the initiator of the dialogue process. The recruitment of respected, able people for the Constituent Assembly will now be that much more difficult. Government PR will need to be working overtime to remedy the situation. So far the limited explanations offered on the new decree are not very convincing.
The 5,000 membership and geographical requirement is an unreasonable requirement for party registration. It might be acceptable later when the parties register election candidates but even then 5,000 will be an impossible number for all but the old three-four major parties.
Assuming all 16 of the existing parties will seek registration, collectively they will need to sign up 80,000 members, more than one in ten of the total population. In each of the four divisions the 16 parties will be competing with each to obtain the necessary number. In the Eastern Division, which is overwhelmingly iTaukei, to be successful each party must recruit at least 250 members. What chance has any of the smaller parties or the old FLP, that will still be considered Indo-Fijian by most iTaukei? Even at their most popular, I doubt that any past or present party has ever had 5,000 paid up members. This requirement alone makes a mockery of the remainder of the decree. I would have thought evidence of multi-racial membership more important than numbers.
I have yet to sight the decree but the requirement also seems to rule out the possibility of important groupings standing for election. These would seem to be independents, smaller parties, new parties, and parties with a strong local presence in fewer than all four divisions. The net result could be a Parliament comprised of only two large parties which, from past experience, lends itself to confrontational politics and prevents the emergence of coalition governments.
I also have difficult accepting that trade union officials, employer representatives and similar others are public officers in the normal use of the term, and the exclusion of public officers from party membership. The limitation on public servants is understandable because there could be a conflict of interest, but the exclusion of other "public officers" will prevent almost anyone with a public persona from belonging to a political party. The requirement should be that they resign from public office if they accept nomination as a party candidate in an election. Or even if they are members of a political party's national executive. Not if they are merely party members.
The exclusion of the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers from the list of public officials begs explanation. They are the most public of public officers, and their exclusion can only be taken to mean that one or more of them will form a political party or stand as candidates in the 2014 Election. This is something the PM has previously denied and acceptance of the draft constitution would have made impossible.
The anti-Government blogs have make much of the requirement for parties to register the name of their party in English. I see no problem with this. English is an official language and the lingua franca. Parties will also be able to have names in the vernacular languages.
But, overall, though for a different reason, I'm with the anti-blogs. They will do anything to discredit government and undermine the dialogue process. I wish to see the dialogue process succeed.
This decree is counter-productive. It plays into the hands of Government's opponents and will result in a loss of support.. The decree should be immediately amended to make the requirements more reasonable and acceptable.