JP proposes all-party talks in first meeting with government

The opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) has proposed conducting all-party talks to resolve the ongoing political crisis at the first meeting between the opposition party and President Abdulla Yameen’s representatives today.

JP MP Abdulla Riyaz told Minivan News that the party proposed three other issues for discussion: freeing opposition politicians in jail or facing criminal prosecution within legal bounds, ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and protecting investors.

A second meeting has been scheduled for 3:00pm on Sunday to discuss the proposals.

President Abdulla Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties last month, but Riyaz said the JP today proposed setting up a “platform” for discussions among all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The JP’s representatives for the talks are MPs Riyaz, Ilham Ahmed, Faisal Naseem, and Hussain Mohamed.

The government’s representatives include tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu,’ and environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim.

Mundhu told the press that the discussions took place in “a friendly atmosphere” and both sides agreed on how to carry the talks forward. The ministers will present the JP’s proposals to the president, he added.

All-party talks

The president’s official invitation for talks came after months of continuous protests over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim as well as a US$90.4 million claim on JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group.

The JP immediately agreed to sit down with the government without conditions.

Gasim has meanwhile been in Bangkok since late April. According to local media, the criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on charges of financing a historic anti-government mass protest on May 1.

The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed are accused of inciting violence at the May Day protest, and have been charged with terrorism. If convicted, they face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Both Ameen and Sobah are out of the country. In a video message this week, Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

President Yameen has meanwhile ruled out negotiations over Nasheed and Nazim’s release. His agenda focuses on political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and political party participation in socio-economic development.

The MDP has proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as representatives. The Adhaalath Party proposed its president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who is currently in police custody. He is also charged with terrorism over the May Day protest.

The government has rejected Nasheed and Imran as representatives.

Speaking to Minivan News today after Riyaz declared that the JP was not involved with the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance and the upcoming mass protest on June 12.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz said that JP members were working with the alliance in their individual capacity. He noted that the JP had not formally joined the alliance or supported the May Day protest.

MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih meanwhile told the press this afternoon that all political parties should sit down together for the talks in order to ensure a positive outcome.

“We think that a good result can be achieved when parties of all ideologies sit at the same table for discussions as all parties were given the same agenda and they have the same concerns,” he said.

The newly-appointed British High Commissioner to the Maldives has also supported all-party talks.

“We think it’s important that talks involving all parties should take place. It seems to me to be logical that talks should take place involving all the parties together, both the party in government and parties in opposition,” James Dauris said in an interview with Minivan News during a two-day visit to the Maldives in May.


Opposition to stage a sit-in on June 12

The opposition will stage a mass peaceful sit-in on the capital Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu on June 12.

The sit-in signals a change in tactics by the Maldivians Against Tyranny coalition. The opposition’s first mass demonstration on February 27 ended abruptly at 6pm, while the second mass demonstration ended in a police crackdown when protesters attempted to take the restricted Republic Square on May 1.

MP of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, said: “We are once again, taking to the streets to end tyranny. We cannot achieve our goals in one day with just one action. So on June 12, we will raise our voices again.”

Supporters are to gather at 8:30pm at the opposition’s campaign offices or Haruge at the Artificial Beach.

The opposition is protesting over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim in rushed trials criticised for apparent lack of due process.

The tax authority’s decision to freeze Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses over a US$90.4 million claim is another key concern. The MP’s Villa Group claims the fine is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

“We will gather at the Haruge, walk to Majeedhee Magu and stage a peaceful sit-in. We will raise our voices. Depending on the results, we will, if we have to, take to the streets again,” Ibu said.

The coalition consists of MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, members of the JP and defectors from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.

JP members were absent at today’s press conference.

Two JP officials who played a lead role in the coalition, deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed, left the country shortly before terrorism charges were pressed over the May Day protest.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, also charged with terrorism, is in police custody until the trial ends.

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof said today: “We must not fall back to the government’s, President Yameen’s intimidation. We will not fall back. The [government] is attempting to jail those who come out with us on charges of terrorism, but I for one, I will remain steadfast.”

Nearly 200 people were arrested at the May Day protest, the largest number of arrests from a single protest in a decade. An additional 15 were arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer.

The police have since obstructed the coalition’s attempts at street protests by limiting protests to the pavements, banning the use of speakers beyond 11pm, and requiring permission for the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests.


Parliament to consider age limits for the presidency

The parliament today accepted for consideration a constitutional amendment proposing an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the president and vice president.

Government-aligned MP Mohamed Ismail’s bill has fuelled speculation of President Abdulla Yameen planning to replace Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.

Presidential candidates must be 35 years of age, according to the constitution.

Dismissing the “rumours” last month, Adeeb told Minivan News that he has “no interest at this stage.”

Presenting the bill to parliament today, MP Ismail said its purpose is “facilitating opportunities for youth.” The Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP said he proposed the 65-year cap as the president should be “young, intelligent, daring, active, and energetic.”

He noted that 65 years is the retirement age in the Maldives. A 70-year-old or 80-year-old would find it difficult to fulfil the responsibilities of the office, Ismail contended.

The amendment bill was accepted with 44 votes in favour, five against, and sent to a parliamentary committee for review.

A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner MDA controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

The ruling coalition will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) or Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs to pass the amendment.

Several JP MPs voted in favour of the bill.

If passed, the amendment will bar JP leader Gasim Ibrahim from contesting the next presidential election. The business tycoon will be 66 in 2018.

During the preliminary debate today, opposition MPs argued that it should be up to the public to decide whether a presidential candidate is too young or old for the presidency.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group of the MDP, said he favoured lowering the age limit to 18 years, but objected to the 65-year age limit.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the constitution should not be amended to serve the interests of an individual. But PPM MPs denied that the amendment was “tailor-made” for Adeeb.

JP MP Ali Hussain said constitutional amendments should only be proposed after reaching a consensus among political parties. No democratic country has an upper age limit for the president, he said.

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said the majority party will decide its stance following discussions, but said he personally supported it. Other pro-government MPs also backed the amendments in their “individual capacity.”

PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said amending the constitution might be necessary “under some circumstances” to allow the president to replace a “disloyal” vice president.

“I’m not saying at all that we are trying to bring a particular person to the vice presidency. But if it has to be done, the PPM parliamentary is ready,” he said.

Last month, newspaper Haveeru suggested that the ruling coalition might also amend the constitution to authorise the president to appoint or dismiss his deputy.

The relationship between President Abdulla Yameen and Dr Jameel is reportedly under strain. His cousin, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was dismissed from the cabinet last month. The government did not provide a reason for the dismissal.


Four Bangladeshis arrested on gambling charges


Four Bangladeshi men were arrested in Hulhumalé today on charges of gambling.

Based on “intelligence information”, the police raided the expatriate’s quarters in lot 10378 with a court warrant around 10:40am.

“All four were taken into police custody from the crime scene,” according to police media.

The police also seized more than MVR10,000 in cash and “items used for gambling.”

Gambling is prohibited in Islam and illegal in the Maldives.


First lady visits patients at Hulhumalé hospital

First lady Fathmath Ibrahim visited patients at the Hulhumalé hospital today.

According to CNM, the first lady inquired after the health of admitted patients and sought information about improving the hospital’s services.

Late last month, the first lady visited chronically ill patients at the state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) and distributed packages of rice, dates and cans to the disabled in Malé and its suburbs Hulhumalé and Vilimalé.

An eyewitness at the IGMH said he saw the first lady handing out envelopes with money to patients.

“When I asked them what the envelope was, they gave it to me and I saw the envelope said it was from the couple and contained MVR1,000,” he said.

But the first lady’s secretary denied rumours that she had distributed money to the sick at the IGMH.


STO controls price of potatoes, onions and eggs

The state wholesaler has set price controls on eggs, potatoes and onions ahead of the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Potato and onion sacks are sold at MVR250 while the price of an egg case is set at MVR270.

Speaking to local media, State Trading Organization (STO) official Fathimath Aashan said a kilo of onions and potatoes will be sold at MVR12, and an egg will be sold for MVR1.50.

THe STO sells staples at reduced prices for Ramadan, as prices tend to double or in some cases triple.

The first day of Ramdan falls on June 18.

STO has also started rationing potatoes, onions and eggs. Each individual can only purchase one egg case at a time and a maximum of three kilograms of onions and potatoes.


Committee approves authorising president to determine city council’s powers

The parliament’s national security committee has approved amendments proposed to the Decentralisation Act to authorise the president to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé and Addu city councils.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim’s bill states that president can assign municipal services to the Malé city council or transfer them to government ministries.

The amendment bill was sent to committee last week with 33 votes in favour and 15 against. The committee completed its review process today.

As suggested by pro-government MPs during last week’s debate on the legislation, the oversight committee also added a clause to authorise the president to determine the powers and responsibilities of the opposition-majority Addu City council as well.

The bill was passed with the support of two opposition Jumhooree Party MPs on the committee. Two main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs voted against it.

Reflecting its majority in the 85-member house, the PPM and coalition partner MDA have voting majorities in all parliamentary committees.

During last week’s debate, MDP MPs argued that the proposed changes would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”

The MDP had won a majority of seats in the Malé and Addu City councils in both the February 2011 and January 2015 local council elections.


US Senators call for ex-president’s release

The US Senators chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee have urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The letter by US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed adds to the growing calls for Nasheed’s release, and warns that the Maldives’ decisions are “having serious adverse consequences on its relationships abroad.”

Mc Cain, a Republican, and Reed, a Democrat, have also filed today an amendment to the annual military policy bill, which expresses Congressional support for Nasheed and other political prisoners’ release.

The bill, now on the floor of the Senate, tops US$600billion in costs. Important provisions include authorising and funding lethal arms for Ukrainians against Russian-backed separatist forces.

In their June 2 letter to the Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry, the senators had warned that a deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives “would greatly impact our ability to work with the government of Maldives and to engage on a host of issues, including military to military activities. ”

The president’s office was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

President Abdulla Yameen insists that Nasheed was granted due process, and said he has no constitutional authority to release the former president.

He has now called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. But there has been no substantial progress yet.

Kerry had previously said there were “troubling signs that democracy is under threat in Maldives, where former President Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” and added this “is an injustice that must be addressed soon.”

Strong message

McCain and Reed noted a police crackdown on a historic anti-government protest on May 1, and said: “the political space in the Maldives is quickly closing as democratically-oriented opposition political parties, civil society groups and journalists have come under increased pressure.”

The letter urged the state department to “reemphasise importance of the rule of law in the Maldives, and the damage this is causing to the U.S.-Maldives bilateral relationship.”

The US must “increase high-level engagement with the government of Maldives and send a strong message that the country should abide by its international commitments, especially to the rule of law.”

“In short, while the Maldives may be a small island nation, there are big principles at stake,” the senators said.

The parliament of the European Union in April passed a resolution urging the Maldives to free ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.

The government dismissed the resolution as “non-binding.”

Nasheed’s international legal team is lobbying for the former president’s release, and is seeking a ruling from the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment to be illegal.

The lawyers are: Jared Genser, the founder of the renowned campaign group for political prisoners Freedom Now, Ben Emmerson, former UN rights chief on counter-terrorism and human rights, and Amal Clooney, who has advised the UN and is the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.

The working group’s decision on Nasheed’s detention will affect the international community’s policy towards the Maldives, and would inform decisions on possible sanctions, lawyers have said.

Genser has represented Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, while Clooney has counselled political prisoners such as the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.

Emmerson, meanwhile, is currently the British judge on international tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.


Faris sworn in as Dhiggaru MP

Ahmed Faris Maumoon has been sworn in as the new MP for Meemu atoll Dhiggaru following his victory in Saturday’s by-election for the vacant seat.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed administered the oath of office to Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP at a ceremony held at the People’s Majlis around 4:00pm today

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, deputy speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, and majority leader Ahmed Nihan attended the ceremony.

Faris won the by-election with 59.4 percent of the vote after competing against main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party candidate Ahmed Razee and two independent candidates.

Faris is the son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and a nephew of President Abdulla Yameen.

The Dhiggaru by-election was triggered by the imprisonment of ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim on corruption charges.

Weeks before the election, the government delivered an x-ray machine to Dhiggaru, promised a harbor in the island, while PPM MPs delivered air-conditioning units to the Dhiggaru and Muli island mosques.

President Abdulla Yameen, meanwhile, promised to provide a 140-kilowatt generator for Dhiggaru and said he will prioritize PPM constituencies for development in the 2016 budget.