Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progresive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has joined the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) in withdrawing from the roadmap talks, after Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs blocked President Mohamed Waheed Hassan from addressing parliament on Thursday.
The session was eventually cancelled, after Speaker Abdulla Shahid – a DRP MP – was repeatedly blocked from entering the chamber.
While a seven point agenda had been agreed during the Indian-sanctioned cross-party roadmap talks last week – including early elections as a discussion point – the parties had been unable to agree on an order of preference.
Local media had reported that the meeting was “heated” due to the participation of Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan 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.”
The MDP meanwhile issued a statement reiterating its support for the roadmap and a peaceful solution to the crisis, but placed an early election date as a precondition to continued progress – both in the talks, and parliament, which it contends Dr Waheed has no right to address as an “illegitimate” president.
“In-line with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and others, we understand the importance of dialogue, especially in the Majlis, as a means of resolving the political deadlock in the country,” said the party’s spokesperson, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
“However, we also believe that in order to have a focused dialogue inside and outside parliament there must be a clear commitment by Dr. Waheed to elections by a certain date during 2012. When that date is announced, all parties can and must work together to ensure the conditions are set for the conduct of those elections. MDP will certainly play its part in that regard.”
Ghafoor also expressed regret over “isolated incidents of violence both by and against protesters and at any injuries caused. MDP again calls on all those participating in protests to do so peacefully and within the law and to show maximum restraint.”
International community responds
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement, expressing “concern about the continued political tensions in the Maldives, which were manifested today in actions that impeded the opening of the Maldives’ parliament.”
“The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to resume immediately their political dialogue, both in and outside parliament, in order to find a mutually agreeable way forward on the basis of the Constitution and without jeopardizing the democratic gains achieved thus far in the Maldives,” the UN said in a statement.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma also issued a statement expressing concern over disruption of parliament, urging for a “swift and dignified State Opening of the Majlis so that pressing national needs can be debated and advanced.”
While freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are core Commonwealth values, so too is constitutional democracy, including respect for the dignity of office-bearers appointed under the constitution and enabling those office-holders to perform their responsibilities fully and freely.
“Parliament is the heart of a democracy. The Commonwealth finds it unacceptable that the State Opening of the Majlis of Maldives has been disrupted, and the offices of the President and Speaker have been seriously disrespected,” the Commonwealth said in a statement.
“While freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are core Commonwealth values, so too is constitutional democracy, including respect for the dignity of office-bearers appointed under the constitution and enabling those office-holders to perform their responsibilities fully and freely.”
The Commonwealth has meanwhile appointed Sir Donald McKinnon as Special Envoy to Maldives, following consultations with political leaders in the country.
“These are very serious times for Maldives. Cooperation and a shared sense of national interest are required, as well as restraint. Our Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is understandably deeply concerned, and is committed to working with Maldives in a constructive and positive way. The Commonwealth at large is fully committed to assisting Maldives,” said Secretary-General Sharma.
“Maldives has committed itself to the Commonwealth’s values and principles, which include constitutional democracy, the rule of law and separation of powers, and human rights. Our principles include consensus and common action, mutual respect, legitimacy, transparency and accountability. These are the foundations on which an enduring, prosperous and peaceful future for Maldives can be built.”
“I am delighted that Sir Donald has agreed to serve as my Special Envoy. He will visit Maldives to promote the consolidation of democratic culture and institutions, and Commonwealth values and principles; to encourage inclusive agreement among political leaders on a way forward from the current political situation; and, to oversee further Commonwealth support for Maldives, including a new technical assistance programme aimed principally at strengthening the judiciary.”
Sir Donald McKinnon is a former Commonwealth Secretary-General from 2000-2008, and former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand.
During his tenure as Secretary-General, he led the Commonwealth’s support for Maldives’ transition to multiparty democracy. He previously brokered a peace accord in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, for which he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He was also decorated with the highest award in New Zealand (Order of New Zealand), and awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Elizabeth II.
Political stasis threatens tourism
Ongoing political instability threatens the tourism industry, the Maldives Association for Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) has said, issuing a statement expressing concern that tourists “will have apprehensions about visiting the Maldives if the ongoing political unrest and demonstrations turn violent.”
“A democracy will have protests, tourists know that too, and the resorts in Maldives are situated separately and far from the capital Male and other inhabited islands, so protesting wouldn’t harm the tourists,” said Secretary General of MATATO Mohamed Maleeh Jamal.
However ongoing political strife had smeared the peaceful image of the holiday destination, he said, and emphasised furthe efforts to promote the industry.
“Even now tourists who come to Male are seeing the protests, some refuse to visit Male’ and souvenir shops and guest houses located in Male have suffered because of it,” Jamal said.
Widespread media coverage of the country’s political unrest could cost the tourism industry as much as US$100 million in the next six months, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) has warned.
“Various allegations such as the installation of an Islamic regime, possible enactment of full Sharia law and Anti Semitic remarks made by politicians at public gatherings have also caught the attention of the international press,” MATI stated.
While the resorts are largely segregated from the rest of the Maldives, the crisis – prompted by a change in government on February 7 in what the MDP contends was a police and military-backed coup d’état – has already impacted investor confidence and foreign aid, and is threatening sensitive markets such as China.