President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan continues his five-day official visit to India today upon the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Hindustan Times reports that the President has met with Prime Minister Singh, discussing the potential for early elections amongst other things. The same paper has also reported that Waheed will meet with President Pratibha Patil tonight.
Dr Waheed is travelling with a delegation that includes the Maldives’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Adbullah, Minister of Finance Dr Abdullah Jihad, and Minister of Housing and Environment Dr Mohamed Muiz, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon, as well as the First Lady Madam Ilham Hussain.
The visit marks the first overseas trip for the President since he moved into the President’s Office on February 8. Before his departure from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport yesterday, Waheed said that the primary aim was to strengthen existing bilateral relations.
He claimed that the situation in the country was calming down after the unrest that had immediately followed the transfer of power.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), however continues to conduct regular protests challenging the legitimacy of the current government and demanding fresh presidential elections.
On Friday evening Waheed met with Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and briefed him on the current political situation in the Maldives.
Reporting on this meeting, the President’s Office said: “The Foreign Secretary said that India hopes to find a ‘Maldives solution’ for the situation. He further stated that India would always hope to see a peaceful and stable Maldives, and would provide its fullest cooperation and assistance in achieving such an environment in the Maldives.”
In an interview with the Press Trust of India (PTI), reported by Daily News and Analysis, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon – and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – said that Waheed will work to dispel “untrue perceptions” given by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who visited India last month.
“Maldivian Presidents have always made their first trip abroad to India. And President Waheed is coming to India to… brief them directly about the political situation in Maldives,” Dunya is reported to have told PTI.
“I believe that India would respect our sovereignty and really does not play a role in the internal politics of the country which is why I find President’s Nasheed’s comments unacceptable”, she continued.
Former President Nasheed visited India last month, and also met with Prime Minister Singh. During his visit, Nasheed attempted to rally support amongst politicians, think tanks, and industry leaders, for early elections.
Nasheed told the Times of India: “We want more Indian assistance in bringing democracy back.”
Regarding the accusations of coup-conspiracy levelled against her father, former President Gayoom, Dunya said that Nasheed’s politics had always centred on attacking her father, claiming: “I believe he is using the same kind of argument to try and gain the support of his people”.
The presence of Finance Minister Jihad in the delegation was explained by President’s Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza, who told Minivan News that lobbying for the extension of long-term financial support through various aid mechanisms would form part of the group’s agenda.
The Finance Ministry this week revealed that the government’s budget deficit would reach 27 percent of GDP this year, following a 24 percent increase in government expenditure.
The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) mission chief in the Maldives, Jonathan Dunn, recently told Minivan News that, other than cutting expenditure and boosting revenue, obtaining foreign loans would be among the few options left to avoid the far more risky option of printing money.
Since the unrest began, bilateral ties appear outwardly to have been unaffected. In March, India offered to replace police vehicles that flared in the unrest following the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed and joint naval exercises have been conducted between the two nations, alongside Sri Lanka, in April.
The Indian Foreign Secretary Mathai played a leading role in the initiation of the ‘all party roadmap’ talks which were intended to expedite the reconciliation of opposing political factions within the Maldives.
Indian brokerage of these talks, which included a commitment to early elections, came only days after India initially recognised the new government. Former President Nasheed later told Time magazine that he had been “shocked” by the speed of this decision.
The deadline set by the Commonwealth’s human rights watchdog, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), by which it hopes to see improvements in the impartiality and independence of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) passes next week.
“Further and stronger” measures against the Maldives have been threatened if the CNI, charged with investigating the events surrounding the presidential changeover, is not adequately reformed.
India is a member of the Commonwealth but does not currently sit on the eight member CMAG board of foreign ministers.
During the meeting with Nasheed last month, the MDP reported Prime Minister Singh as having great faith that the Indian-sponsored all-party talks between Maldivian political parties were the key to a resolution.
Unfortunately, these talks have continued to stall and are currently on hold while the Elections Commission investigates the recent change in leadership within the MDP.