MDP proposes Indian mediator for all-party talks

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has proposed asking the Indian government to assign a mediator for all-party talks in the Maldives.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy told the press today that the party believes an independent mediator is important to ensure a positive outcome. Fahmy said the mediator should be acceptable to all sides.

“India’s role has always been very important in resolving every challenge facing the Maldives’ political sphere. If a mediator could be arranged from India, we believe it will increase confidence both for the government and the MDP,” he said.

The talks between the government and MDP are due to begin after the opposition party agreed to enter negotiations without former President Mohamed Nasheed as a representative. The government had rejected the opposition leader as a representative on the grounds that he is serving a 13-year jail sentence.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest this week in an apparent step towards political reconciliation.

Fahmy said the MDP will propose five papers for discussion with the government tomorrow, including a proposal for changing to a parliamentary system.

The MDP national council had compiled a draft paper earlier this month laying out a roadmap for political reconciliation. The paper had proposed transferring jailed opposition leaders to house arrest as a measure to build confidence and trust between the government and opposition.

The MDP’s proposals include conducting the talks among all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), dropping charges against opposition supporters arrested from protests, reinstating opposition supporters fired for attending protests, and reviewing disciplinary action taken against opposition councillors.

Other areas of discussion include reforming the judiciary through reviewing the composition of the Judicial Service Commission, restraining the powers of the Supreme Court, and setting a university degree as the minimum qualification for judges.

Under the party’s proposal for shifting to a parliamentary system, President Abdulla Yameen would remain the head of state and the current parliament would remain unchanged, Imthiyaz said.

The ruling coalition with its comfortable majority of 48 seats in the 85-house can designate a prime minister, he added.

Fahmy said the political instability the Maldives has experienced since the first multi-party presidential election in 2008 stemmed from shortcomings in the presidential system.

Coalitions led by the MDP and the PPM had won the 2008 and 2013 presidential elections, respectively, but soon disintegrated, Fahmy noted, contending that coalitions were incompatible with the presidential system.

The MDP is also proposing re-appointing members to independent commissions through consensus among political parties and formulating foreign policy to ensure peace and security in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives should not be overly dependent on China and stay clear of “disagreements and disputes between India and China,” Fahmy said.

Both the MDP and Amnesty International has previously sought Indian pressure to secure the release of jailed opposition politicians.

The ruling coalition at the time condemned calls for Indian intervention as “irresponsible” while foreign minister Dunya Maumoon expressed confidence that India “will not intervene in domestic politics of Maldives.”

Following Nasheed’s arrest and prosecution on controversial terrorism charges in February, Modi dropped the Maldives from a tour of Indian Ocean neighbours in early March.


Omnia Strategy helping government respond to UN working group on arbitrary detention

UK-based international law firm Omnia Strategy is providing legal advice to the government in responding to a petition filed by former President Mohamed Nasheed at the UN working group on arbitrary detention.

The opposition leader’s international legal team is seeking a judgement declaring his imprisonment arbitrary and unlawful. The government has been asked to respond before the first week of July.

The government previously said the law firm owned by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, was hired to “advise on strengthening the legislative framework” for democracy consolidation.

The foreign ministry said today that Omnia Strategy has “carried out a two weeks research mission in Malé and has been invited to review the current legal and constitutional framework in line with international standards and in particular to assist the government in preparing a response to the communication filed by former President Nasheed to the UN working group on arbitrary detention.”

Speaking at a press conference with foreign minister Dunya Maumoon this afternoon, Toby Cadman, a partner at the law firm, said due process was followed in Nasheed’s trial and that the government has prepared its defence.

The former president was sentenced to 13 years in prison over the military’s detention criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

“If the offence had occurred in the United Kingdom the former President could have been charged with an offence of kidnapping or false imprisonment, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment,” said Cadman.

“Throughout the legal proceedings against former President Nasheed, his constitutional right to effective legal representation has been guaranteed and when his legal representatives boycotted the proceedings, the former president was repeatedly reminded of his right to alternative legal representation”.

Cadman also said that Nasheed was not kept in solitary confinement, but was “detained in a facility that would not only meet international best practices, but arguably far exceed any acceptable level.”

Nasheed’s conviction on terrorism charges after a 19-day trial was widely criticised over apparent lack of due process. International pressure on the government to release the former president and other “political prisoners” have been mounting in recent weeks.

The European parliament and US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed have called for Nasheed’s immediate release.

Briefing the press in Washington DC after filing the petition in late April, Nasheed’s lawyer Amal Clooney said the terrorism trial violated due process and compromised the basic guarantee of presumption of innocence.

Amal said that the court had said that there was no need to call for defence witnesses because such witnesses “would not be able to refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution”.

“This tells you everything you need to know about the process. Because why call a defense witness, if you already know that the verdict is going to be guilty,” she said.

Following the government’s announcement that it has enlisted Omnia Strategy earlier this month, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) expressed “disgust” with the law firm’s decision to represent President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

Omnia Strategy also advises the governments of oil-rich Gabon and Kazakhstan. Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, was elected in 2009, after his father who ruled over the country for 42 years died in 2009.

MDP international spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the international community was “united in its condemnation of the Yameen regime’s thuggery and un-democratic behaviour.”

“The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Judges and Lawyers, India, The US Senate, the European Parliament and Amnesty International and many others have vigorously denounced the abuses to human rights and democracy by Yameen’s regime,” he said.

“It is hard to believe that Cherie Blair would want to keep company with such thugs of ill repute. It is unethical for Blair to work for this regime. No doubt she is being paid a small fortune, to help wash the blood off Yameen’s reputation.”

He added that the current administration “appears to have hired the most unethical and profiteering mercenaries money can buy.”

Dunya told the press today that the law firm’s fees and expenses will be revealed when its work is complete.


Pregnant woman dies of dengue fever

An 18-year-old pregnant woman died of dengue fever at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital last night in the second death from the mosquito-borne disease this year.

The woman died after going into shock around 2:20am, IGMH media official Zeenath Ali Habeeb told Minivan News. The patient was three months pregnant and was admitted on Thursday with a high fever, she said.

The hospital declined to provide personal information, but local media has identified the deceased as Hamdha Hassan, from Noonu Maalhendhoo.

A migrant worker had also died of dengue in Gaaf Alif Kooddoo last week as the Health Protection Agency (HPA) warned of the rapid spread of dengue across the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, health minister Iruthisham Adam revealed that 374 cases of dengue has been reported so far this year, of which 125 were reported from Malé. Some 112 cases have been reported in June.

The incidence of dengue was “alarming,” she said, and appealed for public cooperation with mosquito control programmes.

Dr Ahmed Faisal from the IGMH said most patients admitted at hospitals with dengue were at a dangerous stage and expressed concern with the spread of dengue among migrant workers.

Last year, the health ministry said dengue fever has become endemic in the Maldives since 2004 with annual outbreaks.

A relatively severe outbreak of dengue in 2011 saw a record high 12 fatalities.

A total of 1,083 dengue cases were reported in the Maldives in 2012. The HPA has previously said that construction workers face an increased risk.

Earlier this month, the HPA issued an alert warning of the spread of dengue and viral fever in Malé and the atolls and advised precautionary measures to control mosquito breeding during the rainy season.

The agency advised the public to empty stagnant water from containers, throw trash into dustbins, and keep containers sealed to prevent water from accumulating.

The HPA also advised wearing clothes that hide the skin, using mosquito repellants, and keeping doors and windows closed during dawn and dusk.

The agency has stressed the importance of cleanliness and hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease and advised seeking medical assistance if a fever persists for more than three days.

Symptoms of dengue fever include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash.

Dr Faisal said the worst incidence of dengue has been reported from Alif Alif and Alif Dhaal atolls as well as Baa Thulhaadhoo and Malé.

The most dangerous stage of dengue is when the fever subsides after three days, he warned, and advised seeking medical attention if symptoms such as bleeding and fatigue persist.

He also advised drinking lots of liquid and resting to recover from the fever and warned against the use of unprescribed strong medicines.


Joyous celebrations on MDP’s tenth anniversary

Photo by Ahmed Azim

Supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a joyous celebration of its tenth anniversary with a march in the capital Malé on Friday night.

Hundreds clad in yellow t-shirts and carrying yellow flags danced on the streets of Malé to live music. There were multiple lorries carrying a DJ, a mirror ball and a band of drummers.

The MDP is the first political party to register in the Maldives. With 46,608 members, it is the largest political party in the country.

The march ended with cake cutting at the Artificial Beach.

At the center was Mariyam Manike, who triggered pro-democracy protests in 2003 by throwing off the funeral shrouds that covered her son’s tortured body. Evan Naseem, 19 years, was beaten to death by prison guards.

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Photos by Ismail Humaam Hamid

MDP supporters marched on Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu, but took a detour down the side streets near the residence of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently under house arrest.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13-years in jail on terrorism charges in March. His arrest and imprisonment triggered a long political crisis with daily protests. The opposition leader’s transfer to house arrest appears to signal a thaw between the opposition and the government.

“As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we are once again at a crossroads. Every member of this party is fully aware of where this country is at and what has happened to me. The courage we require for the journey ahead has been measured. Our destination is clear,” Nasheed said in a written message to his supporters.

“It is MDP members who are most aware of the journey we must make to our destination. There are none more experienced and more capable to undertake this journey.

“The path to realizing the dreams of the Maldivian people lie with organizing ourselves as political party. The Maldivian Democratic Party will change the Maldives.”

Supporters at the march celebrated the party’s achievements, including an end to torture in jails, the fight for civic freedoms, introduction of modern election campaigns and manifestos, decentralized governance and a tax regime.

The first president of the MDP, Ibrahim Ismail said: “Members of MDP, you should all be proud today, to have preserved against adversity and come this far.”

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed missed out on the celebration as he is in the UK over fears he may be arrested and charged with terrorism.

Celebrations also took place all over the country, including in Addu City, the islands of Fuvahmulah, Kolamafushi, Alifushi, Bilehfahi, Naifaru and Isdhoo.


PPM to file no-confidence motion in vice-president

MPs of the ruling coalition have officially endorsed a petition seeking a no-confidence vote in vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The motion has already gained 47 signatures and will be submitted to the People’s Majlis today, said the parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Ahmed Nihan.

The motion will require a two-third majority or 57 votes to pass.

The PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) control 48 seats in the 85-member house, and will need the backing of the opposition.

Jameel was not responding to calls at the time of going to press. He is reportedly abroad. The President’s Office on Thursday said President Abdulla Yameen had authorized a medical leave for his deputy.

Ruling coalition MPs have publicly accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty.

Some opposition politicians have claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery. The PPM is seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

But Nihan dismissed rumors over the president’s health. “He is very fit. There is no truth to these rumors.”

He said MPs are unhappy with Jameel over his alleged failure to defend the government during an opposition demonstration in Malé on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested from the historic 20,000-strong march.

“The opposition was making gross accusations against the government. But Jameel did not make any move to defend President Yameen, he did not say a word, but instead left Malé on that day,” Nihan alleged.

Opposition supporters had been protesting against the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

Nihan said that he had attempted to reach Jameel by telephone on Thursday night, when a ruling party MP first started collecting signatures for the no-confidence petition. But the vice-president had not responded by the next day, he said.

MPs of the ruling coalition held a meeting at 10:30pm on Friday to officially endorse the petition. Some 33 MPs had unanimously voted in favor, he said.

Translation: “PPM and MDA members vote unanimously to submit a no-confidence motion in VP Jameel.”

For the parliament to consider the removal of the president or the vice-president, a resolution with the signatures of one-third of MPs is required.

The parliament can then set up a committee to investigate the claims laid out in the motion. The Constitution states that at least 14 days notice must be given to the president or vice-president before the debate.

He or she is also granted the right to defend themselves, both orally or in writing.

Jameel has been silent on the accusations made against him.

According to Nihan, the 47 signatures on the no-confidence petition include that of MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party.

The opposition’s backing appears to signal a move towards reconciliation. Former president Nasheed was transferred to house arrest last week.

Two days later, the opposition voted to back the first constitutional amendment, setting new age limits of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and the vice-presidency.

Tourism minister Adeeb, who turned 33 in April, was ineligible for the position as the constitution previously stated that presidential candidates and their deputies must be 35 years of age.

The government then extended Nasheed’s house arrest for eight weeks, but said it was because doctors are concerned over the opposition leader’s health.

The MDP has meanwhile agreed to the government’s demand to exclude Nasheed as a representative in talks. But a party spokesperson said MDP hopes Nasheed will be able to join at a later stage.