13 Feb 2013

Lack of political debate in Fiji feared as new rules take effect

6:53 pm on 13 February 2013

Observers of Fiji politics fear the country could face a lack of political debate over coming weeks as political parties await registration under a controversial new decree.

Existing political parties have until midnight on Thursday to lodge their applications with the Registrar of Political Parties, which must satisfy strict new criteria.

So far only the National Federation Party has applied.

The registrar has two weeks to publish notice of any application and another week is allowed for objections before political groupings can operate legally and not incur fines of up to 28,000 US dollars and five years in prison.

A senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, Dr Steven Ratuva, says a lot depends on how strictly the regime interprets the law.

"They might use the decrees as a means of clamping down on political parties. A lot of power still rests in the government to determine the way in which political parties will have to either register or behave or say things at this point in time."

Dr Ratuva says it's important for debate to continue in the run-up to discussions on the draft constitution in the yet to be appointed Constituent Assembly,