The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said third party mediation -possibly from India – may be needed to help resolve the present stalemate between itself and the coalition government as the Commonwealth steps up pressure for early elections.
Party spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today claimed that such mediation was needed as the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan had continued “dragging its feet” in committing to international calls to hold early elections before 2013. He also criticised what he claimed was a government failure to establish a suitably independent inquiry into the nature of February’s transfer of power.
The comments were made as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) yesterday met to discuss developments within the Maldives. The meeting came one month after the Commonwealth body, which is charged with dealing with human rights issues, called for polls to be held as soon as possible to remove any doubts over the legitimacy of President Waheed’s government.
Following yesterday’s meeting, CMAG set a deadline of four weeks for President Waheed’s government to address concerns relating to a perceived lack of impartiality in the Committee of National Inquiry (CNI). The CNI is the body established by the president to conduct an independent inquiry into the transfer of power that saw him take office.
Following yesterday’s meeting , CMAG continued to push for early elections to be called by the end of 2012 at the latest, whilst also committing to strengthening democratic institutions like the judiciary in the country by working with international partners like the UN.
The Commonwealth body, which consists of foreign ministers from a number of member states including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica and Tanzania, said yesterday that failure by the government to amend the CNI would result in the organisation taking “further and stronger measures”.
When contacted by Minivan News today, a spokesperson for the CNI said that it was aware of the latest statement released by the CMAG, but added the commission was itself unable to enact changes to its composition.
“The CNI was set up by the president, so it will be for the government to discuss this [CMAG’s findings],” the spokesperson said.
President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that with the official visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the country today, the government had not yet drafted its official response to CMAG’s statement.
Abbas said he expected an official government response to be released during the next 24 hours.
In addressing CMAG’s concluding statement yesterday from an opposition perspective, MDP spokesperson Ghafoor welcomed the Commonwealth’s continued calls for early elections, as well as the organisations concerns about the impartial structure of the CNI.
However, Ghafoor believed that foreign assistance may be needed on the basis of mediation in going forward to resolve questions it held over the democratic mandate of President Mohamed Waheed’s government.
“The government has continued dragging its feet on both holding meaningful road map talks towards securing early elections and in ensuring the independence of the CNI,” he said. “The next step now could be in third party mediation.”
Ghafoor claimed that mediation could be provided by asking a nation like India to try and help facilitate fresh talks. All party roadmap discussions have already taken place with Indian assistance, but have stalled on several occasions owing to disagreements between the MDP and several parties in Dr Waheed’s national unity government.
“In the next four weeks, we are willing to engage with the government on CMAG’s recommendations,” he claimed. “We resumed [roadmap] talks but there are eight pro-government representatives compared to just one of us wanting to make decisions on a vote basis. Obviously we have a problem on how to move ahead right now.”
During an session of all-party roadmap on April 7, MDP representative and former Home Minister Hassan Afeef called the day’s meeting a “farce” after questioning the likelihood of a successful outcome during the talks.
However, representatives from other parties during the day’s talks told local media that the stalemate during the session had resulted from the MDP failing to notify other representatives that it would be calling for greater inclusion of all the country’s political parties beyond those in the government.
The talks had previously stalled last month over the MDP’s decision to block President Waheed’s constitutionally mandated address to the People’s Majlis on March 1. This led at the time to the withdrawal from the talks of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).
However, Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was still committed to using the talks to outline a program of measures to facilitate early elections – something the government had said this week might not be needed this year following the weekend success of two of its coalition partners in parliamentary by-elections.
“We have participated at talks and we accepted the way forward at the talks put forward by India and its mediator Ahmed Mujuthaba,” the MDP spokesperson said. “We actually agreed to the plan outlined by India in the talks, they [coalition government parties] disagreed.”
Meanwhile, former High Commissioner Dr Farahanaz Faizal, who represented Mohamed Nasheed at the CMAG meeting yesterday, said that the party was “delighted” with the meeting’s outcome. She stressed that the party particularly welcomed calls from the Commonwealth for greater impartiality in the investigation regarding February’s transfer of power, as well as the need for early elections in the country.
Dr Faizal said that, from her understanding, the nature of the “stronger measures” proposed by CMAG against the government could potentially have serious ramifications for the Maldives ongoing membership in the Commonwealth.
Though she was not present herself at the time, Dr Faizal was led to understand that, when questioned about the possible nature of further action against the government, the meeting’s chair was reported to have suggested that suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth was an option on the table.
Dr Faizal did not wish to speculate on what such an action could mean for the Maldives, but she said that the ramifications for the country could be quite counter-productive for its future international standing.
“The Comonwealth is an institution made of a wide and varied selection of member states,” she said.
Speaking to Minivan News before yesterday’s CMAG meeting, President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the government felt the success of its coalition partners in three out of four by-elections over the weekend was an indication of its “mandate” amongst the Maldivian people.
Abbas therefore called on international bodies such as CMAG to take the results of the weekend’s polls into consideration when reflecting on the need for early presidential elections before the ones already scheduled for 2013.