The government has said it will resolve concerns about the impartiality of an investigation into February’s transfer of power, as a four week Commonwealth deadline to enact changes expires later this week.
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the four week deadline to address concerns over the impartiality of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) set by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) last month would be “solved” without the country facing further action.
The now opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), which is calling for early elections to be held in 2012 and a revised CNI with international participation, has meanwhile said that it faces a “crucial week” ahead of the Commonwealth deadline.
On April 16, CMAG said it would consider taking “stronger measures” against the Maldives government if the CNI, set up by President Mohamed Waheed to ascertain the details behind the controversial transfer of power on February 7, was not revised to make the body “credible” and “impartial” in four weeks. The Maldives has already been suspended from participation in CMAG over concerns about the exact nature of the transfer of power.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged following his resignation from office that he had been forced to step down under “duress” in a “coup d’etat” sponsored by opposition politicians, sections of the military and police and some influential local businessmen.
With Commonwealth representatives presently in Male’ to discuss revising the CNI with the government, Abbas Adil Riza claimed that the issues raised by the intergovernmental organisation would be “solved” by the time discussions were concluded.
“I don’t think [the four week deadline] was so strict. There won’t be a situation [with the Commonwealth] once the four week period is up,” he said.
When questioned over the nature of a potential resolution to CMAG’s concerns – such as appointing a foreign presence to the CNI – Abbas said the government was committed to resolving the issues raised by the organisation in recent months.
“We have always said that we welcome Commonwealth assistance on the CNI,” he added.
Since CMAG’s four week deadline to revise the CNI composition was issued, the government has said that it remains committed to remaining a member of the 54 member state intergovernmental organisation.
However, representatives of some political parties in President Waheed’s coalition government have questioned whether the country should remain in the Commonwealth, going as far as to submit bills to parliament to renounce the country’s membership.
Leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and second largest party in the Maldives, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, has publicly stated he would not support the motion to renounce the country’s Commonwealth membership.
CMAG’s calls for both early elections and a revised CNI, which have since been backed by the European Union, have been one of the key focuses of an ongoing series of protests by the MDP and its supporters over the last three weeks.
Yesterday, demonstrations said to have been attended by a few thousand MDP supporters were held in the capital Male’ and the island of Fuvahmulah. The party said the demonstrations were in support of the Commonwealth’s stance in resolving the political upheaval through elections in 2012 and an independent CNI.
Responding to the protests, which have been held every Friday for the last few weeks, Abbas said the demonstrations had gone “more or less peacefully”. However, he did express concerns from the government over certain groups of protesters who had been gathering noisily outside the country’s Supreme Court.
“This government will not allow demonstrators to hinder the work of the Supreme Court. This situation is ridiculous,” Abbas said.
Local media has reported that following yesterday’s protests, the Maldives Police Service had forwarded complaints to the Elections Commission about concerns from noise generated through loud speakers during the MDP demonstration.
A mosque in the capital, as well as the Supreme Court, have both reportedly submitted official complaints about the level of noise generated.
MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the complaints were not a concern for the party, which he claimed had been exercising its constitutional right to protest against a judiciary and government it did not believed has a legitimate mandate to serve the public.
Ghafoor claimed that despite alleged “sporadic incidence” of police violence against MDP protesters in recent weeks, protests were being conducted much more peacefully in the country.
“We have noticed police have backed off when it comes to using physical force of late. In some cases though, we still believe that police are not acting according to the correct procedures,” he said.
According to Ghafoor, people attending the protests remained “unhappy” about the role security forces played in bringing the present government to power without an “electoral mandate”. He claimed that unhappiness abut the role of certain police officers was reflected in protesters conducting marches past police and military barracks in the capital.
Ghafoor added that the MDP’s Friday protests – now in their third consecutive week of being held – would continue until calls by both CMAG and its own supporters for early elections during 2012 and an internationally backed independent CNI were met.
The MDP said it therefore anticipates a “crucial week” of protesting ahead. These protests are expected to begin on Monday May 14 over a cabinet decision to reclaim the Usfasgandu area of Male’. The area was leased to the MDP by Male’ City Council (MCC) for use in their political activities.
Two days later, additional protests are expected to be held to coincide with the deadline for the government to have revised the CNI in accordance with CMAG’s calls.
“Anything can happen”
Ghafoor claimed that MDP supporters were presently on “tenterhooks” awaiting the week’s developments, adding that the party was optimistic about obtaining either early elections in 2012 or an independent CNI investigation.
“We are in a position right now where anything could happen at any time,” he said.
With the Commonwealth deadline to amend the CNI expiring on May 16, Ghafoor added that the simplest option for all Maldivian parties to resolve the present dispute would be for President Waheed to resign his presidency. He contended that such a move would then require Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid to call general elections within two months without the need for constitutional reform.
“Right now, [the MDP] see the simplest solution for the current situation would be for Waheed to stand down,” he said.
The government has said that the earliest date it could presently hold elections would be by July 2013 unless amendments were made to the constitution allowing for the incumbent government to be provided a whole five-year term.
Ghafoor said he had tried to forward the proposal for President Waheed to resign at all-party talks that briefly reconvened last week for several hours.
However, the talks once again ended in stalemate a few hours later over concerns about the legitimacy of the MDP following a vote of no-confidence that saw party President Dr Ibrahim Didi and Vice President Alhan Fahmy removed from their respective positions.
Dr Didi has since submitted an official complaint with the Elections Commission (EC) regarding his ouster by the party. The MDP former president claimed at the time that the MDP national Council’s vote was not performed in line with the party’s constitution presently registered with the EC.
For the week ahead, Ghafoor claimed that the MDP would be paying particular attention to the CNI and Commonwealth pressure for amendments to the Commission’s composition.
“For us, the key issues [with the CNI] are that representatives of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom such as Ismail Shafeeu, sit as chair of the Commission. His track record for independence is not good,” he claimed.
Should amendments be made to the CNI, such as appointing international representatives, Ghafoor said he was optimistic about the CNI’s potential findings for the MDP.
“We are confident [that the transfer of power] will be seen as a coup by a truly independent inquiry commission,” he said.