Fiji military regime to shut down 14 of 17 political parties

SUVA (AFP) - Fourteen of Fiji's 17 political parties are being closed down after failing to apply for registration under restrictions imposed on opposition groups last month, the military regime said on Tuesday.

The move means the Pacific nation will potentially have only three political parties involved in elections scheduled for next year, the country's first move toward democracy since a military coup in 2006.

Fiji's registrar for political parties Mere Vuniwaqa said 14 parties did not meet a deadline for registration last week and they would be wound up, with all their assets being forfeited to the government.

"By law, I am mandated to make an application to the High Court to wind up the rest of the existing parties that did not apply by the deadline," she told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.

"We are now working in the Solicitor General's office to put together the relevant applications for the winding up in the High Court."

Under a decree passed last month, the membership threshold for registering a political party was lifted 40-fold from 128 to 5,000, a major hurdle for opposition groups in Fiji, which has a population of about 870,000.

Trade union officials were also banned from political parties in a move the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said was "an affront to democratic principles".

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has described the conditions imposed on Fiji's political parties as "onerous" and unjustified, saying they threaten to undermine confidence in next year's elections.

After the 2006 coup, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama initially promised to hold elections in 2009 but then tore up the constitution in favour of rule by decree, arguing the country was not ready for democracy.

He insists elections will be held in 2014 but has made clear it will be on terms set by the military, which has been a key player in the four coups the country has endured since 1987.

While Bainimarama has not yet announced if he will stand in the elections, he is widely expected to seek office in the poll and the ITUC has accused him of seeking to minimise opposition though the decree on political parties.

Carr is expected to visit Fiji this month as part of a delegation from the Pacific Islands Forum, which expelled Fiji in 2009 for failing to restore democracy.

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