Representatives from both sides of the political divide have expressed optimism over the continuation of Indian-sponsored all party talks, which reconvene tomorrow after stalling on several previous occasions.
The talks include representatives from nine political parties and are intended to diplomatically resolve the upheavals experienced since February’s controversial transfer of power. Despite agreeing on an agenda for the discussions, the talks have ended in stalemate on numerous occasions since first being proposed.
The discussions were last halted earlier this month after certain government-aligned politicians questioned the legitimacy of the MDP members present following the passing of a no confidence motion by the party’s national council against its president and vice president.
While former MDP president Dr Ibrahim Didi continues to contest his dismissal along with former Vice President Alhan Fahmy, the Elections Commission (EC) has since said that it found “no evidence” that the vote was unconstitutional under basic regulations.
Ahead of the talks reconvening tomorrow, MDP representatives claim they are “optimistic” that the discussions can still lead to the establishment of dates for early elections, along with other agreements on reforming the fractious political landscape. However, the party has expressed concerns over alleged attempts by some participants to stymie the talks without first reaching any meaningful agreements on early elections.
Speaking to Minivan News today, 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.
However, Abbas added that the MDP, which contends it was removed from office by a coup d’etat and replaced with President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s “illegitimate government”, 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 going forward for reaching an agreement.
“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 said.
Clashes between the protesters and some of those inside the mosque led to the arrest of five people, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said yesterday. 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.
Abbas claimed that the talks had previously been stalled after the MDP boycotted President Waheed’s opening address to parliament. The speech was eventually given during a reconvened Majlis session, amidst heckling from MDP MPs in the chamber.
With the boycott now in the past, Abbas claimed that the MDP would be required to ensure it conducted itself in a “calm and peaceful manner”. He added that the government was ultimately confident that the issues related to the all party talks’ agenda would be resolved going forward.
Former Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa, who is one of two MDP representatives sitting on the talks, said today that she was baffled by demands for the cessation of ongoing protests that had been held regularly across Male’ and the wider atolls since February.
“We have been accused of creating unrest though legal protests that we have been holding, and they have asked us to stop this,” she said. “We are simply expressing our freedom to demonstrate, so it is baffling that we are being accused of creating unrest.”
Zulfa alleged that issues such as stopping protests, as well as the dismissal of its former president and vice president by national council vote, continued to be used as a means to try and deviate from the previously agreed roadmap talks.
However, she claimed the party was “very optimistic” that the talks could realistically lead to setting a date for early elections, as well as ensuring a broad consensus on other democratic reforms.
While having been previously critical of the intentions of other parties towards “cooking up” stalling tactics to block the talks, Dr Zulfa said that a comprehensive agenda for the discussions under mediator Ahmed Mujuthaba had been outlined.
“What we really hope for right now is that all the parties participate in these talks seriously,” she said. “We need to agree on prioritising items on this agenda, otherwise there will be a problem going forward.
Zulfa contended that the MDP itself had a “natural interest” in moving the setting of a date for early elections towards the top of the talks’ agenda.
She claimed that failure to do so in favour of other reforms would only serve to delay attempts to set early elections this year. Early elections during 2012 are backed by the MDP, as well as by international organisations like the Commonwealth and the EU.
“The whole idea of these talks is to iron out the differences we are having [with other parties]. Originally, it was agreed by all parties that early elections should be held. However, the representatives went back to their parties and suddenly they are now not agreeing on this,” she said.
President Waheed’s government has said that the earliest elections can be held under the constitution would be July 2013. The claims are denied by the MDP, which has said that elections could be held this year upon the resignation of the president.
Despite the government’s stance, Zulfa claimed that certain individual party leaders working within the coalition government such as Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Jumhooree Party (JP) head Gasim Ibrahim were both preparing for fresh polls.
“I am optimistic that these early elections can be achieved. If you look at the individual parties, Mr Thasmeen has maintained he is ready for elections. Gasim Ibrahim has also been talking about himself as a presidential candidate,” she said. “The only party I believe is not ready is the progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – though they are a major power broker right now.”
Zulfa alleged that despite the encouraging level of impartiality shown during the talks by convenor Ahmed Mujuthaba and negotiator Pierre-Yves Monette, discussions needed to be held with each party to assure there was sincerity to reach an eventual agreement.
“We need both the convener and negotiator to sit down individually with all the parties and see if there is any common ground that can be reached, until then they may not be much point in coming together,” she said.
Zulfa alleged that during previous sessions of the all-party talks, representatives for President’s Gaumee Ithihaad (GI) party has said that even in a potential situation where Dr Waheed might opt to resign from his position, they would not allow him to do so.
According to Zulfa, on other occasions delegates in the talks claimed they would not concede to giving the MDP an early election.