The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan will have no choice but concede to holding early elections this year amidst what it sees as “intense” domestic and international pressure to do so.
MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor made the claims amidst what he alleged was a background of “intense diplomatic activity” currently taking place in the country on the back of the ongoing protests and political deadlock that have followed February’s controversial power transfer.
The MDP has alleged that former President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign under “duress” on February 7 in a “coup d’etat”, leading to calls from the party for early elections this year over concerns about the present government’s legitimacy.
However, President Waheed, who contends he came to power legitimately after Nasheed’s resignation from office, has said the earliest fresh polls can be held under the constitution is July 2013.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were not responding to calls at the time concerning the comments.
As state and private celebrations took place this weekend across the country to mark 47 years of the Maldives becoming an independent nation, President Waheed used a national address to call for citizens to maintain a “high regard” for the country’s laws and legislation.
MDP supporters have themselves continued nightly demonstrations in the capital. Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef has said the protests were conducted without serious incident and have resulted in no arrests over the last two days.
The MDP anticipates that thousands of its supporters took to the streets on Thursday evening during a march in the capital to call for early elections and an end to alleged arbitrary arrests of demonstrators.
International concern at “political tension”
The demonstrations, which have been held consecutively over the last month, have led to international bodies such as the Commonwealth and EU raising concerns over what they claim has been as an “escalation of political tension and violent protests” in the nation of late.
These statements were followed this week by calls from British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt for “high level talks” between the country’s opposing political factions. The minister said such discussions were needed to find a more peaceful political resolution to the violent clashes between protesters and police.
Burt said that while welcoming the formation of a reconstituted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) – established initially by President Waheed to investigate the transfer of power that saw his administration inaugurated on February 7 – the UK wished for a quick and fair conclusion to the body’s work.
“I encourage all relevant actors in Maldives to refrain from any actions that could jeopardise the stable environment necessary to allow the Commission of National Inquiry to complete its work and for free and fair elections to take place,” he said.
“I call on all sides to show restraint in the interest of achieving a sustainable political solution to Maldives’ recent problems. Protests must be peaceful and the security response professional and proportionate. Violence and any cases of excessive use of force should be investigated and those responsible held to account,” the statement continued.
“Very successful” protests
MDP MP Ghafoor claimed the month’s ongoing demonstrations had been “very successful” in galvanising support for early elections to be held this year – an aim he believed that would “soon” be realised.
“Many people were there for the Independence Day protests regardless of how the current administration wants to make it appear otherwise,” Ghafoor alleged. “This coup administration is now very shaky, they are unable to run the country, of which they have made a complete mess. I cannot see how they can hold on [to power].”
The MDP spokesperson said that despite the international community prioritising ongoing violent clashes in Syria at present, concern was increasing among foreign diplomats over the rhetoric and demands of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who currently serves as leader for the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
Ghafoor added that Gayoom has, on separate occasions, called for an apology from, and the arrest of former President Nasheed over insinuations he was directly involved in organising the alleged “coup d’etat” on February 7. The MDP meanwhile has alleged that the PPM leader was refusing to sit down to talks between the country’s various political heads.
After Nasheed appeared to offer a conditional apology to his predecessor, Ghafoor added that Gayoom’s continued refusal to engage in dialogue with opposition figures in the country threatened to make him an “irrelevant” figure in the current political process.
“When Gayoom refuses to engage in dialogue and has his tantrums, he is showing the international community that he is not a 21st century politician,” he claimed. “When these people are against dialogue they show there is no interest in moving ahead peacefully.”
PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf and the party’s Deputy Leader Umar Naseer were not responding to calls at the time of press regarding the MDP’s claims.
With the holy month of Ramazan commencing last week, the MDP contended that the mindset of its supporters had not changed in regards to its so-called “direct action” demonstrations – with the recent nightly protests expected to continue indefinitely.
Ghafoor claimed that he expected tensions could rise further with PPM-backed protests also potentially taking place in and around the capital during the next few weeks.
The party’s demonstrations have in part been linked in local media to concerns over the high-profile murder this week of policeman Lance Corporal Adam Haleem whilst he was on duty on the island of Kaashidhoo.
The officer’s death saw figures on both sides of the country’s political divide accusing their opponents of using the death to forward their own respective agendas, particularly in relation to the legality and conduct of ongoing opposition protests in the capital.
Ghafoor has alleged that in the current environment, and with opposition allegations of arbitrary arrests and violence against civilians, a growing number of police and military personnel were not wanting to be identified with the current government.
He also alleged that while a number of officers had acted in a mature manner with their approach to trying to control crowds, a number of “thugs” working within police ranks had continued to incite violence against demonstrators, while targeting specific opposition individuals and media personnel.
The Maldives Police Service has maintained that its officers have continued to exercise minimum force against protesters despite a handful of serious injuries sustained within its ranks during the sporadic eruption of violent clashes during the last month.
During the month’s protests, Minivan News has at times witnessed a general atmosphere that has verged between noisy and almost playful to sudden bouts of cat and mouse baiting of police by anti-government figures in the crowd.
The MDP has maintained that its protests are “largely peaceful” and that it was police who were responsible for instigating violence and making arbitrary arrest of senior figures. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also this month expressed concern over violent protests and use of “excessive force” against demonstrators.
In this volatile climate, the Police Family Association yesterday released a statement calling for the public to consider that police officers were human beings who have “rights like others, and their persons and dignity must be held in due regard by everybody”.
According to local media, the statement also raised concerns over the death of Lance Corporal Haleem, stating that lessons should be taken from his “sacrifice” in order to motivate offcers to peacefully restore law and order.
“The Statement of PFA also said that it was ‘proud of the exemplary service rendered by the Police and for the great sacrifices by police officers without a step backward, in order to protect this nation from the challenges posed by social changes today,’” reported the Sun Online news service.
“At times of sadness, hatred and anger, everyone must accept that police officers are also human beings, and that they are also entitled to human rights just as others are, and the dignity of their lives must be respected. Especially, this Association believe that everyone must respect the rights of police officers serving this nation if we wish to strengthen and prolong democracy and human rights in this country”, the statement continued.
Aside from protesting, Ghafoor also pointed to the CNI’s ongoing work on the country as being another key focus for the MDP during the next month, despite raising concerns about who exactly had given permission for an extension to the body’s deadline until the end of next month.
“Who has allowed for the extended deadline to go ahead? The CNI was scheduled to conclude by July 30, but now this Judge Selvam has said there will be one more month for its work,” Ghafoor claimed. “We also see that there is a two month process involved here, yet the judge has at times taken a four-day weekend off from CNI. Similarly there is just one media briefing a fortnight. Considering this is just a two-month process, there should be at least one a week.”