The Commonwealth has condemned as “misleading” a statement issued to international media by the Maldivian government, claiming that Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon had endorsed the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) as “impartial, credible and broadly acceptable”.
The offending statement was circulated on May 25 using the PR Newswire service, which PR agencies subscribe to in order to widely distribute releases to publications all over the world.
“We welcome Sir Don McKinnon’s support for the Committee of National Inquiry and are delighted that all the concerns expressed by the Commonwealth will be resolved,” the statement quoted President Mohamed Waheed Hassan as saying.
The Commonwealth Secretariat issued a statement on Saturday in response: “Sir Don has not stated that the Commission of National Inquiry as currently constituted is ‘impartial, credible and broadly acceptable’.”
Instead, the government’s efforts to implement a commitment made to the Special Envoy, to strengthen the powers of the CNI and broaden its composition with an international co-chair and nominee of former President Nasheed, “are still ongoing”.
“Indeed, [Sir Donald McKinnon’s] efforts while in Maldives, and since his departure have been focused on achieving that objective, so that a truly impartial, credible and broadly acceptable Commission of National Inquiry can be put in place within the agreed time-frame,” the Commonwealth stated.
The CNI was established by President Waheed to investigate the controversial circumstances that brought him to power on February 7, following what the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party claimed was a coup d’état orchestrated by members of the former 30 year autocracy.
Police and military officers joined opposition demonstrators in an assault on the country’s military headquarters on the morning of February 7, before storming and taking over the state broadcaster.
President Nasheed subsequently resigned on camera, but later claimed this was under duress. In an audio recording obtained by SBS Australia and aired soon after the events, Nasheed is heard pleading with members of the armed forces for the safety of his wife and children.
The day after Nasheed’s resignation, police launched a brutal crackdown on thousands of protesters, in front of Al-Jazeera and other international media.
President Waheed appointed a three member panel to inquire into the legitimacy of his presidency, including Dr Ibrahim Yasir, Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef and Chair Ismail Shafeeu, Defence Minister under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The panel was derided by the MDP as lacking independence, a view subsequently shared by the Commonwealth which gave the government a four week deadline to change the composition of the commission to include both a foreign co-chair and a “suitable” nominee to represent Nasheed.
The government agreed to a new June 1 deadline, and then immediately rejected nine of Nasheed’s nominees on the grounds of their “unsuitability”. Conditions imposed by the government included requirements that Nasheed’s appointee not have served in a political position in the past two years, not taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must “be of good behavior and integrity”.
On Saturday the government issued a second statement – also circulated on PR Newswire – rejecting Nasheed’s latest appointee, Lt. Colonel Zubair Ahmed Manik, whom it argued “does not meet the basic requirement of having an undergraduate degree as per the agreed terms of reference.”
The government expressed “disappointment at former President Nasheed’s continued inability to nominate an appropriate candidate who meets the agreed criteria for inclusion on the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).”
“The repeated proposal of generally unacceptable candidates by the former President Nasheed suggests a lack of seriousness and willingness to cooperate. The administration has already agreed to change the original terms of reference of the CNI following advice from the Commonwealth and to agree on including a foreign judge as co chair of the CNI,” the government said.
“I suspect this is Ruder Finn at work,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, commenting on the statements put up on PRNewswire. The New York-based PR agency was recently hired by the Maldivian government to counteract negative international media, in a deal thought to be worth US$150,000 a month.
Ghafoor said the MDP had initially demanded equal representation on the CNI panel, and the evening before the announcement was made, had been expecting two: “We got one, and gave up on co-chairing it,” he said.
The conditions imposed by the government were paternalistic and a stalling tactic, he suggested.
“Nobody of sane mind thinks the transfer of power wasn’t suspicious,” Ghafoor said. “This government does not have the moral high-ground to paternalistically prescribe conditions.”
While the situation might appear calm during the negotiations, Ghafoor said tensions on the street and during protests remained high, and that it would not take much for it to combust – “I’ve started seeing signs of impunity [on behalf of police],” he said.
“We are under threat – right now, the Commonwealth is the only thing stopping us from all being arrested,” Ghafoor claimed.