The Commonwealth’s reputation is at stake following the obstruction of scheduled elections by police in the Maldives, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has warned.
“Canada is deeply disappointed that the rescheduled first round of presidential elections was delayed. The elections commission was not permitted to fulfill its constitutional mandate of managing and conducting these elections without interference,” Baird said in a statement.
Canada offered its “continued support for the perseverance of the Elections Commission of Maldives under these unacceptable circumstances.”
Baird reiterated that international election observers – including a delegation from the Commonwealth – had agreed that the annulled September 7 polls were free and fair.
“I repeat yet again that this series of delays flies in the face of the democratic values of the Commonwealth,” Baird said.
““A new date for the election must be set without delay and upheld by all parties concerned. The elections commission must be permitted to organise free, fair and inclusive elections without interference. Canada calls on all parties in Maldives to exercise restraint and remain calm in the interest of the Maldivian people, who should be permitted to express their democratic will through the ballot box. The people of Maldives deserve to have their voices heard,” he declared.
“Canada continues its call for robust Commonwealth engagement so that the electoral process can move forward and democracy can be strengthened in Maldives. The reputation of the Commonwealth is at stake,” he added.
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply concerned” that the presidential election in the Maldives had again been prevented from taking place, and that the work of the Election Commission had to be halted following the intervention of the police.
“If the democratic process is to be brought back on track, a new date must be set without delay so that the Maldivian people can freely choose a new President by 11 November, in conformity with the constitution,” said Ashton.
“The EU reiterates its confidence in the impartiality and efficiency of the Maldivian Election Commission. It recalls that elections cannot successfully be held if the process can be repeatedly brought to a halt through legal injunctions. The forces of law and order must facilitate the democratic process,” she said in a statement.
“Failure to hold credible elections would be to deny the Maldivian people their democratic rights. Further instability would also damage the country’s economy and its relations with its international partners,” Ashton added.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meanwhile said the 88 percent voter turnout in the September 7 poll clearly expressed “the aspirations and the will of the Maldivian people”.
“The Secretary-General strongly believes that the legitimate will of the people should not be denied,” read a statement from the UN.
Expressing “deep concern” over the delay of the vote “despite concerted efforts by the Maldives Elections Commission”, Ban Ki-moon urged “political leaders and state institutions to live up to their responsibilities, respect the democratic process and participate in a credible, peaceful and inclusive re-run election as soon as possible, so that a new president can be inaugurated on 11 November in accordance with the Constitution.”
Earlier in October President Mohamed Waheed wrote a letter of complaint to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accusing Baird of making “inappropriate and derogatory remarks” towards Acting Foreign Minister Mariyam Shakeela during the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG)’s meeting on September 27.
In his letter to Prime Minister Harper, Waheed complained that Baird “posed several harshly worded questions… concerning domestic politics in the Maldives”, and said these “put unnecessary pressure on an otherwise excellent relationship” between the Maldives and Canada.
Baird’s office responded to Waheed’s complaint by pointing out “the irony of the Acting Foreign Minister of the Maldives representing that country at CMAG, when her President received five percent of the vote in the first round of the election. Perhaps that is where President Waheed took offence.”
“It might have also been when Minister Baird pointed out to CMAG members that the second round of elections were ‘suspended’ under mysterious circumstances and called on Maldivian officials to proceed with the second round of elections without delay,” said Baird’s Spokesperson Rick Roth, in a statement.