The India-sponsored all party talks will continue later this month at a weekend retreat on Bandos Island Resort and Spa, after delegates on Monday agreed to the order of a six point agenda that will conclude with a date being set for early elections.
Convenor of the all-party talks, Ahmed Mujuthaba, told Minivan News he was “quite hopeful” that the talks could be concluded during the next session, which he expected to last at least two days.
Mujuthaba said that the talks, which were timed to avoid clashing as much as possible with individual delegates’ work time, could be extended for a third day if required.
“We have have to schedule these talks for the following week as various parties were not available this weekend. We did not expect an agreement on this today,” he said.
The talks reconvened yesterday amidst claims of optimism from both government and opposition representatives over the importance of the discussions in resolving political upheavals resulting from February’s controversial transfer of power. The last round of talks ended prematurely on May 6.
Despite delegates having previously agreed on an agenda for the discussions, the talks have ended in stalemate on numerous occasions since first proposed. Recent rounds of discussions stalled over concerns about issues such as the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s parliamentary boycotts and the legality of a recent vote to remove its president and vice president.
The latest round of talks proceeded with consensus of all parties involved, said Mujuthaba.
Mujuthaba said parties had agreed to attend a weekend-long set of talks to try and resolve differences, and had agreed to the agenda for the six areas of discussion. All rounds of the talks have so far been held in two hour blocks.
According to Mujuthaba the order will proceed as follows:
- Public order and stability
- State budget concerns
- Independence of national institutions
- Identity and revise any laws
- Constitutional amendments
- Setting a date for early elections
Both the Commonwealth and European Union support fresh elections being held during 2012. President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has said that under the constitution, the earliest date that presidential polls can be held would be July 2013.
“I hope that we may see a conclusion to the talks,” Mujuthaba said.
One of the two MDP representatives for the talks, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said he believed the most recent session was a “breakthrough” for all participants involved.
“One of the items we wished to see on the agenda was early elections, however other parties like the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have proposed discussions first on other issues such as political instability, the economy and constitutional amendments,” he claimed. “Our position has always been that they can have any order they want for the agreed agenda.”
Fellow MDP representative Dr Mariyam Zulfa had previously expressed concern that a failure to set a date for elections earlier into the talks would see significant delays to any decision being made.
Zulfa contended that the MDP had a “natural interest” in moving the setting of a date for early elections towards the top of the talks’ agenda.
However, Ghafoor said that he remained optimistic over the direction of the talks.
Conceding that “huge problems” lay ahead, Ghafoor said his party was encouraged that any agreement had been reached.
He said that MDP’s protests were likely to be challenged during the talks in the first point on the agenda, political stability. Ghafoor claimed that delegates held varying perceptions on the protests, which the party maintains have been carried out according to its democratic right.
“It is a matter of interpretation over freedom of expressions,” he said. “However, the government do not see it like this.”
Ghafoor also raised concerns about a Housing Ministry request for police to dismantle an MDP protest site at ‘Usfasgandu’ that he claimed raised wider issues over the powers of decentralised government introduced by the former government.
Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) representative Ilham Ahmed, and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) representative Ibrahim Shareef were not responding at time of press.
Speaking to Minivan News prior to the latest round of talks, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza claimed the government was committed to the talks, insisting that all parties needed to agree on the direction of any resolution to the present political stalemate.
Abbas added that the MDP would be required to guarantee “peace” and “security” if talks were to continue successfully.
“The government is insistent that all parties should agree on certain things for the talks to continue,” he said. “These things include ensuring stability and calm.”
Abbas criticised protests conducted across the capital of Male’ over the weekend that reportedly saw some demonstrators interrupting a mosque service on Majeedhee Magu. He said that the demonstrations, which led to clashes between demonstrators and the people inside, were a particular concern.
“Some of these protesters are now attacking mosques. This level of fundamentalism that we have seen over the last two nights is not acceptable,” he claimed.
Clashes between the protesters and some of those inside the mosque led to the arrest of five people, according to police. The unrest is said by an eyewitness to have begun when MDP supporters attempted to disrupt a sermon which Male’ City Council had said was unauthorised.