The decree, issued right after the military regime had discarded a new draft constitution which was the product of a popular, consultative process, is the most recent affront to democratic principles and trade union rights. The purpose of this decree could not be clearer – to eliminate existing opposition political parties and to prevent new ones from being registered.
Most troubling, Article 14 of the decree excludes all public officers from applying for, being a member of, or holding office in a political party. Article 14.2(d) defines “public officer” to include any elected or appointed trade union officer. It is no coincidence that the decree was issued just days after the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) held a special delegates meeting to launch a new opposition political party which would include trade unions. Incredibly, under Article 14.1(c), a trade union official cannot even express support for a political party. If a trade union leader does become an applicant for or member or officer of a party, they will be deemed as having resigned from their trade union office. Anyone defying this decree faces a $50,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment or both.
“The regime is once again attempting to silence the largest civil society organization and opposition force in the country – the trade union movement. The international community needs to recognize that the promise of elections in 2014 will be meaningless if all Fijian citizens cannot fully participate in the political process. This decree should remove any doubt that the regime is seeking to have itself elected in 2014 by any and all means necessary, explained Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The decree also appears to seek to eliminate many existing parties. Parties will have less than one month from the issuance of the decree to demonstrate a minimum membership of 5,000 members (up from 128), which must come from all four divisions of the country, and to pay a $5,005 fee. The decree even regulates the length of the name and prohibits any party name in the indigenous language of the country. Those parties that do not comply within this timeframe will have all of their assets seized by the regime. If they continue to act as a political party despite failing to meet the new criteria, party officials will face a $50,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment or both.
“The decree clearly violates principles of freedom of association by prohibiting unions from engaging in political activities for the promotion of their trade union objectives. All individuals and groups that wish to form a political party should be able to do so, based on the principle of equal treatment before the law. This decree obviously fails this test”, stated Ambet Yuson, Chair of the Council of Global Unions, which brings together the Global Union Federations, ITUC and TUAC.