Dr Waheed “determined to be an honest broker”, claims Richard Branson in second blog post

Multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson, has written a second blog post on the political crisis in the Maldives, in which he says he now believes that President of the Maldives, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, “had nothing to do with [the coup]. He watched the situation unfolding on television.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has previously challenged Dr Waheed’s account that the events of the 7th were spontaneous, noting that the ‘December 23 alliance’ of eight political parties and a coalition of NGOs had met the then Vice President at his official residence, Hilaaleege, at 1:00am on January 31, and subsequently held a press conference pledging allegiance and urging him to assume control of the executive with the aid of the police and military.

Branson, Head of the Virgin business empire,  said he had spoken on the phone to Dr Waheed, who told him he had appointed “a respected person” to examine the truth of what caused President Nasheed to “resign”.

Dr Waheed appointed former minister of defence and national security during President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s administration, Ismail Shafeeu, to head the inquiry commission, a move that led MDP to question its credibility.

“[Dr Waheed] also said that the police used excessive force on the demonstrators on February 8th and that needed examining. And he also said that demonstrators should not have burnt down buildings and that that also needed looking into,” Branson relayed.

“He says that he didn’t know who issued an arrest warrant for President Nasheed after he left office but that it had been rescinded within 48 hours. He is determined to be an honest broker, to be seen to be one, and to get everyone’s confidence. He said that he offered to bring in people from President Nasheed’s party but they refused to join.

“He also pointed out that President Nasheed’s party had been a minority party and had only been in power due to the support of others. It would be for those others, and the electorate to decide who rules in the future. He ended by pledging elections in July of next year – in line with the constitution – once confidence has been restored.”

“Based on his personal reputation I believe he’s sincere in wanting to do what’s right for the country and return it to a true and lasting democracy.

“He’s also right in examining very carefully the facts that lead to the “resignation” of President Nasheed. If they prove he was forced out – and if President Nasheed can still show he has the support from the majority of parliament – President Waheed should consider stepping down and letting him back in as President prior to the elections.”

In his open letter last week, Branson said called on President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to “do the right thing” and hold free and fair elections before the end of the year.

Addressing Dr Waheed as the “interim” President, Branson recollected his recent meeting with the former Vice President, who he said had told him about about the need for a truth and commission “to examine past misdeeds and the people who perpetuated them”

It was, Branson wrote to Dr Waheed, “completely astounding that you have been part of an overthrow of a democratically elected government that has effectively let the old regime back into power.”

“Knowing you, I would assume that you were given no choice and that it was through threats that you have ended up in this position,” Branson said. “I do very much hope that was the case rather than you doing it of your own free will.”

Branson attended the Slow Life Symposium at the upmarket Soneva Fushi resort in October 2011, a highly eco-conscious resort owned by Sonu and Eva Shivdesani.

Other attendees at the resort included actress Daryl Hannah, star of films including ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Splash’; Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’; Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project; Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed; and an array of climate experts and scientists including Mark Lynas and Mike Mason.


President Waheed meets Norwegian, Canadian diplomats

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan today met with Norwegian Ambassador accredited to the Maldives, Hilde Haraldstad.

According to the President’s Office, “At the meeting, the President spoke on the challenges faced by the government, and the measures taken to overcome those challenges. He also detailed on the progress being done on the roadmap through the ongoing multi-party.

“President Waheed assured Ambassador Haraldstad that his government was committed to continue important policies and projects initiated by the former administration. Particularly, the President highlighted the government’s plans in carrying out the carbon neutral policy.”

Yesterday Dr Waheed met Canadian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Bruce Levy.

“Discussions at the meeting were focused on strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries and the current political climate of the Maldives,” according to the President’s Office.

“Briefing the High Commissioner on the political situation, President Waheed said he was willing to hold early election, but that it could only be done within the Constitutional provisions.”


Nasheed pleaded for family to be protected in exchange for resignation, reveals SBS documentary

President Mohamed Nasheed pleaded with mutineering security forces to protect his family, in exchange for his resignation, as police, soldiers and opposition protesters assaulted defence headquarters on the morning of February 7.

The previously unheard recording, obtained by SBS journalist Mark Davis, was aired on Australian television on Tuesday night.

“While the international community deliberates on whether Nasheed resigned under duress or not, this audio recording, broadcast for the first time, may be illuminating,” says the multi Walkley-award winning journalist.

In the clip, “minutes after representatives of the opposition made their threats of bloodshed”, Nasheed agrees that he will resign as long as the soldiers protect his family.

“”No problem”, one replies. “I will protect your family with Allah’s will.”

“You should do that for me under the circumstances. I should settle this with you first, right here, OK?” Nasheed is heard to say.

“Then I’ll go to the President’s Office and publicly announce that in my view the best thing for this country right now is my resignation. Is that all right? That’s what I’ll say.”

“That was an attempt for me to get out of where I was,” Nasheed tells Davis afterwards.

“Yes, I could have held on, but that would have been at very huge cost to the country and the people. There would have been a lot of blood.”

Davis’s documentary, produced for the SBS Dateline program, also features a frank interview with Umar Naseer, Vice President of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

PPM Vice President Umar Naseer

In the interview, Naseer explains in English what happened from the perspective of the opposition demonstrators on February 7.

“We had a small command centre where we do all the protests. I command from the centre and give instructions to my people,” Naseer explained.

“On the protesters’ side, we were informing and educating the police and army through our speeches and television programs.”

Asked by Davis if the opposition had made any other inducements, such as promises that they and their families would be “looked after” if they switched sides, Naseer said “there were.”

“We called on army and police and said that if a person was fired from his position because of their refusal to follow an unlawful order, the opposition would take care of them,” Naseer said.

After former army officer Mohamed Nazim and dismissed police chief Abdulla Riyaz were ushered into the military base, to cries of “Nazim sir!”, Umar Naseer explained to Davis that Nazim called him seeking permission to negotiate Nasheed’s surrender on behalf of the opposition.

“It was around 7-7:30am, and Nazim – the present defence minister – called me and said ‘I’m inside the Defence Headquarters, can I talk on behalf of the opposition?’ I said ‘You can talk, but don’t agree to anything without our authority.’”

“I had told Nasheed to resign, and that I was afraid for his life – because if Nasheed came out of the headquarters, people might beat him on the streets,” Naseer said.

Nasheed should now “face justice” rather than an election, Umar Naseer told Davis, “And I think he will get a prison term of 10-15 years.”

“You don’t give up easily. You’ve got the guy out of government now you want to see him in prison?” Davis responded.

“We want to see justice served,” Naseer replied. “He is seeking an election because he wants to get away with this sentence. I have no doubt that Mr Nasheed will be out of Maldivian politics for a long time. We want to make sure of that.”

In the documentary, Nasheed presses for an early election date as “the only way to stabilise the country”.

However it was “not so simple, according to newly appointed President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan,” says Davis.

“People are not convinced at the moment that we could hold free and fair elections today. Partly because there are so many deep divisions. The conditions are not right for an election just now,” Dr Waheed tells Davis.

At one point Dr Waheed’s answer to a question from Davis is interrupted by an individual later identified as Dr Ananda Kumarasiri, a 30 year veteran of the Malaysian foreign service and Buddhist author, who told journalists he was “just a friend passing through”.

“If I may inject, from the video tapes, I do not see how my colleague has got this impression that there was a coup. If there was a coup then [it would show] from the tapes… from the evidence,” Dr Kumarasiri says.

Davis observed that Dr Waheed’s “attempt to project an independent image was not helped by the advisors that now surround him.”

Nasheed appears upbeat in the Dateline documentary, describing the takeover as perhaps “a blessing in disguise.”

“The criminals are now obvious. The pictures are there. The people are identified. We are now able to reform a very, very brutal police, because we now understand who is who. and what everyone has been doing,” the former President says.

“We don’t give up. We’ve won against odds before. I’ve fallen many times before but I’ve been able to get back up, and start it all over again. I don’t see any difference now.”


Former President sole candidate in MDP primary

Former President Mohamed Nasheed is the only candidate running in the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) primary, following the close of submissions yesterday.

The primary, to determine the MDP’s presidential candidate, will still take place according to the party’s rules and regulations, MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Haveeru.

MDP has sought to hold the primary to determine its candidate ahead of the early elections it is demanding from President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government, which it maintains is illegitimate after Nasheed was ousted is a bloodless coup on February 7.

Nasheed will still require 10 percent of the total ballots in the MDP primaries to be declared the party’s presidential candidate.


Q&A: Shinaz, Maldivian Antarctic explorer

Mohamed Shinaz Saeed, 25, a professional photographer and co-founder of the Maldivian Youth Climate Network (MYCN), came to the spotlight following an eye-catching stunt to display the risk of Maldives submerging by the rising sea levels, crawling into a tank filld with 200 gallons of frigid water during the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009. Today he again making headlines as the first known Maldivian to travel to the Antarctic, as part of the International Antarctic Expedition 2012 organised by ‘2041’ – a movement founded by lead environmental activist Robert Swan, OBE, the first person in history to walk to both the North and South poles.

HL: Tell me about the expedition.

MSS: This expedition’s purpose is to create ambassadors for education, environment and sustainability across the globe. The participants of the expedition will get to explore sites in the Antarctic previously only seen by early heroic explorers. We will get first-hand knowledge of the fragile ecosystem of Antarctic, it’s unique wildlife and at the same time observe the magnificent landscape of Antarctic. Experts on the environment, climate change and sustainable development will provide us with the latest information and knowledge in their respective fields in the dynamic classroom of the Antarctic, and the difference will be that we’ll get to see everything in person.

HL: How did you get involved?

MSS: I was attending the British Council International Climate Camp 2011 in Goa where we had a presentation by an Indian scientist who recently returned from Antarctic. He was telling us about how the continent is gradually affected by climate change. Even though we read these findings on reports, I thought I could there and observe things for myself and present the appalling scenario through my photography – a lot of my friends supported the idea as well.

So, after returning home from the camp I started searching for a way to get there and I found the 2041 website, from where I learned about their International Antarctic Expedition programme. I wrote to them immediately and subsequenty received a request for an application to participate in 2012 expedition. With my dedication towards creating positive change, I was told that it would be pleasure to have me onboard the expedition. As far as I know, around 60-70 participants will be joining from all over the world.

HL: So you will be making history as the first known Maldivian to make it to Antarctic right? Your thoughts?

MSS: I’m not exactly sure whether I’m the first Maldivian to visit Antarctic. But I’m certain that I will be the first Maldivian to explore the harsh unforgiving landscape of Antarctic and share it with the world. I’ll be very proud when I get to take the first picture with the Maldivian flag on the Antarctic.

HL: What‘s interesting on the itinerary?

MSS: Right now I am in the southern most city of the world; Ushuaia of Argentina. In three days will set sail to Antarctic. Depending on ice and weather conditions, we’ll be exploring the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

A lot of friends have asked me to take photos of penguins, so Cuverville Island is a yes – the domed shape 250m tall island is home to vast population of well-sized Gentoo penguins. If weather permits, the team will also be visiting a lot of other exciting places and will probably camp overnight on the Antarctic ice to explore the amazing continent under the night sky. The team will also get to attend Robert Swan’s personal leadership and sustainability programme “Leadership on the Edge” which encompasses themes including environment, education and survival.

HL: Now all ready face the extreme cold?

MSS: I don’t expect the journey to be easy. Going from one of the warmest countries in the world to the coldest is a great challenge. But I am positive that I’ll get through everything put in my way with the guidance of the expedition leaders. All and all this would not have been possible without the generous support extended by my sponsors ; STO, LeCute, Panasonic, Soneva Fushi, Maldivian, Allied Insurance, Bandos Island Resort & Spa, CDE Consulting, Villa College and all those great individuals who encouraged me in every way to get this far. I also thank my amazing family and friends for their unwavering support.

HL: What’s the message you want to give to your readers?

MSS: I always felt that working towards preserving the environment is only for the environmental experts. But from what I have learned and from what I have seen I have come to understand the rest of the world has a much larger role to play. So I’m going to be using my skills as a photographer and designer to spread the message my way. And I want everyone reading this to know that even you can do something regardless of your background…no matter how small it is, do it.

It’s never about believing in climate change but it’s all about being prepared for what may come at us. So we at the Maldivian Youth Climate Network (MYCN) are working towards creating a resilient Maldives to climate change. We wouldn’t want any harm to come to our beloved nation. So let Maldives set an example to the world.

The expedition can be followed on the website www.2041.com and more photo and detailed updates from Shinaz can be found on www.facebook.com/shinazantarctic and www.twitter.com/shinazantarctic.


“Some dis-satisfactions” expressed over India’s participation in All Party talks: Mujuthaba

Indian Foreign Secretary Shri Ranjan Mathai has visited the Maldives for the second time in just a few weeks since ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed, to observe the progress of the cross-party peace talks.

Mathai was a key proponent of  a ‘roadmap’ document proposing early presidential elections, with necessary amendments to the constitution and  laws to be completed within a month’s time. Minivan News understands that Mathai participated in last night’s round of talks.

The Indian High Commission has released a press statement stating that Mathai had “extensive consultations” with all parties individually.

“The objective of [Mathai’s] visit was to take forward the political process and continue India’s engagement with all parties concerned,” the statement read.

“In this connection, the foreign secretary had extensive consultations with all parties individually and collectively. All parties expressed the view that India had played a very useful role in taking the process forward as a facilitator and friend of the Maldivian people,” it said.

The statement also stated that there had been a “broad measure of agreement” during the talks between the parties, which had “identified key important principles”.

Those principles included continuing dialogue to find a possible agreement on the amendment of the constitution and enactment of legislation for institutional reform.

All the parties had recognised the need to undertake the necessary amendments and legislation within a short time period in parliament, and highlighted the importance of parties continuing consultations for a possible agreement for early elections within and out of the All Party Consultative Committee (APCC)

Local media had reported that the meeting was “heated” due to the participation of Mathai, with representatives of some parties expressing their “dismay” at the Indian government “interfering in the domestic affairs of the country and trying to rush towards an early election.”

Facilitator of the talks, Ahmed Mujuthaba, told Minivan News that he was too busy to speak about how the meetings went last night.

However, local newspaper Haveeru reported that Mujuthaba had admitted that there were some “dis-satisfactions” during the talks regarding Mathai’s intervention, but said the talks had gone well.

The roadmap document promoted by India was “not something proposed formally”, he told Haveeru, and that “the agenda of the talks has been decided by the participants of the talks.”

Former President Nasheed said this morning, amid ongoing protests calling for  early elections, that the parties in support of the current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan had now showed hesitation towards early elections “despite agreeing on it earlier.”

MDP Parliamentary group leader and the party’s representative at the talks, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, had not responded at time of press.

However Haveeru reported that the MDP was waiting for the outcome of the roadmap talks before deciding what stand the party would take on protests tomorrow.

President Waheed, who assumed power after the events unfolded on February 7, has called all political parties to join his ‘National Unity’ government and come to the negotiation table to discuss a peaceful political solution to the current political turbulence. MDP has refused to recognise the Waheed government’s legitimacy, and has been calling for early presidential elections.


Roadmap parties agree on agenda, order of preference to follow: Mujuthaba

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s nine-party “Roadmap” talks – an attempt to diplomatically resolve the current political crisis – have resulted in a series of agenda items, mediator Ahmed Mujuthaba told media today.

“We held the first meeting on February 20, but unfortunately because one of the relevant parties (the Maldivian Democratic Party) was not present we could not continue with the meeting. So we just had some informal consultations on that day,” he said.

The MDP initially boycotted the first round of talks – initiated by Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai – “when it became clear that the talks were to include political parties with no democratic mandate, and that they would focus on procedural issues such as the timing and venue for future talks – a clear effort to delay substantive discussions,” the party said at the time.

MDP’s Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has since represented the MDP at the talks.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mujuthaba said agenda items had now been agreed, although the order of preference remained under discussion. The items, he said, were:

  • Which laws have to be amended, and what new laws are needed.
  • Discuss and determine the changes that need to be brought to independent institutions and independent positions in the Constitution
  • To discuss amendments that need to be brought to the Constitution
  • To determine a date for the next Presidential elections
  • Find out the present condition of the budget
  • How to have the March 1 Majlis opening proceed in a peaceful manner
  • How can to tackle and solve the present discord in Maldivian society

Speaking to the press, Mujuthaba acknowledged frustration at the speed of the talks.

“I am not happy at the speed of this. I would wish today or tomorrow that there would be some kind of agreement,” he said.

Asked his opinion as to whether early elections – the MDP’s primary demand – were a likely outcome of the talks, he replied that “until a time when I can say really there is a deadlock I don’t want to give up hope on any option in this agenda.”
He acknowledged concerns from the MDP over the composition of the talks and whether the other parties in attendance had a democratic mandate, but said this had only been raised with him minutes before commencement of the first meeting on February 20.

“I said look, you can come to the meeting and say these reasons. It would have been better if you had told me [earlier]. What you say is probably right, but I wish I knew about it before the first meeting,” Mujuthaba said.

Mujuthaba was a former Tourism Minister and was the first chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), appointed by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Dr Waheed appointed him to chair both the roadmap talks and to the government’s independent inquiry into the circumstances of the change of power. Mujuthaba subsequently excused himself from the latter.

“From the way these discussions were going I thought there would be a terrible conflict of interest if I was involved in both at the same time,” he noted. “Better to concentrate on one.”

Solih said Tuesday evening after another round of talks that no agreements had been reached.

The MDP has meanwhile maintained that it will escalate protests until an early election date is declared. Despite the present calm, both the resultant political stalemate and the prospect of chaos when parliament resumes remain a key source of tension in the capital Male’.

Minivan News understands that Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai briefly visited the Maldives today for the second time since the political crisis erupted on February 7.


EC Secretary General resigns

Secretary General of the Elections Commission, Ahmed Shareef, has resigned reports newspaper Haveeru.

President of the Elections Commission Fuad Thaufeeq confirmed Shareef’s resignation, the paper said.

Fuad told the paper that Shareef had not mentioned the reason for his resignation in his resignation letter.

Shareef originally joined the EC after leaving his role in the People’s Alliance (PA), the party headed by Gayoom’s half-brother, MP Abdulla Yameen.


Criminal Court acquits MP ‘Red Wave’ Saleem

The Criminal Court today ruled that MP ‘Red Wave’ Ahmed Saleem not guilty in the corruption case filed by the state, accusing him of paying Neyza Enterprises Private Limited 50 percent of the money given to the former atolls ministry to buy sound systems for mosques in the islands.

“Redwave” Saleem, who was the former director of finance at the Atolls Ministry, faced charges of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry in the purchase of the mosque sound systems.

The alleged corruption was uncovered in the audit report of the now defunct Atolls Ministry, released in 2009.

The court ruled that according to witnesses and statements, Saleem was not the person assigned to make announcements for bids.

The court also ruled that none of the statements or witnesses produced to the court proved that Saleem has abused his position to defraud the Atolls Ministry.

Following a police investigation requested by the Presidential Commission, the Prosecutor General’s Office had charged Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, MP Saleem and former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed with three counts of conspiracy to defraud, abuse of power and violation of the state finance and asset regulations.

According to newspaper ‘Sun’, witnesses told the court that Saleem was not the person who was announcing for bids. The person who handled that duty, witnesses said, was Naseema Moosa, who was dead.

Last week the Criminal Court dropped all charges against Nazim, an MP in the party headed by Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen.

The dismissed the three remaining counts of fraud against Nazim, stating that his “acts were not enough to criminalise him”.

The Supreme Court has disqualified former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa over a decreed debt which the court concluded makes him constitutionally ineligible to remain in the seat.

MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa was also that week disqualified from his seat by the Supreme Court which upheld a verdict concerning a decreed debt, which the court concluded made him constitutionally ineligible to remain in the seat.

Two judges, including the Chief of Justice Ahmed Faiz, concluded that it cannot be ruled Musthafa had a decreed debt as the loan had been taken on the name of Musthafa’s company Seafood and Trade International and added that in August 1997 the lower court had ordered the “company” to repay the loan.

Earlier this week the Supreme Court upheld criminal charges against Independent MP for Kaashidhoo Ismail Abdul Hameed, who has a record of voting alongside the MDP, and also stripped him from his seat.

The Criminal Court had last year sentenced the Independent MP to one and a half years banishment for corruption. The charges were upheld by the High Court in November.

The MDP meanwhile today accused the Dr Waheed’s government of using the courts to “purge” parliament of MDP MPs and MDP-leaning MPs, “in order to secure a controlling majority.

“While in government, MDP consistently maintained that key parts of the judiciary are in the hands of the supporters of former President Gayoom. Now we are seeing the truth of that claim. Dr Waheed’s regime is using the courts to settle old scores, to reduce MDP’s parliamentary majority and to wipe the slate clean for government supporters,” claimed MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.