“My government is a continuation of the previous one under President Nasheed and there should be no doubt on this score,” President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reports The Times of India.
Finer details of this meeting are thin on the ground and have led to allegations of media misinterpretation, prompting correction by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon today.
President Waheed’s comments appear at odds with a speech he gave in Kulhudhufushi a week ago, in which he described Nasheed as “a liar lacking in any sincerity”.
Waheed accused Nasheed of becoming a corrupt and authoritarian leader during his presidency who hijacked the Majlis and attempted to destroy the judiciary.
Since assuming the presidency following Nasheed’s resignation, Waheed has appointed an entirely new cabinet after the previous post-holders were asked to resign as well as creating two new ministries.
Just before leaving for India, President Waheed also vetoed three bills submitted to parliament by Nasheed’s government concerning corporate tax reform, including the Business Registration Bill, passed on 23 April 2012, the Corporate Profit Tax Bill passed on 24 April 2012, and the Sole Trader Bill passed on 25 April 2012.
According to the President’s Office, the bills were returned on the legal advice of Attorney General Azima Shukoor, previously the lawyer of former President Maumoon Gayoom.
The new government has also repealed or reviewed many of the initiatives and policies started under Nasheed, often citing poor planning or corrupt practices.
The government has sought to dispel what it considers “untrue perceptions” planted during the visit to India by former President Mohamed Nasheed last month.
However The Hindu on Friday argued that “the most important agenda will be the political issues that have been flagged by Mr Nasheed during his visit to New Delhi.”
During his trip, Nasheed spoke widely on the need for early elections as well as the potential for radical Islam to emerge within the Indian Ocean nation.
With only scant details emerging from Dr Waheed’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, media outlets have provided differing interpretations of what the most substantive issues of these talks were.
India Today chose to focus on the issues raised by Nasheed in its summary of the meeting.
“India has asked Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed to hold early elections. He was also directed to rein in fundamentalist forces gaining ground in the island nation,” said India Today.
“Waheed… was told to pay heed to all ‘shades of opinions’ and hold elections before the scheduled polls in October 2013,” the paper continued.
The Hindu said: “[Waheed] is a political lightweight, who will be unable to categorically assure New Delhi on issues that are high on the agenda.”
“The Waheed government has neither shown the urgency, nor the persistence to engage all shades of opinion to arrive an early election date,” the paper reported, noting that the possibility of an early election “appears remote”.
The paper suggested that the real powerbrokers in the Maldives were people not present with the Maldivian delegation, alleging that former President Maumoon Gayoom was one such figure, who preferred 2013 to be the election year.
Gayoom’s daughter, Dunya Maumoon, is part of the delegation, currently serving as State Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Dunya was today anxious to correct any media interpretation that the discussions included agreement on elections before 2013.
“He said that an early election will be held within what is allowed in the constitution, but that the matter is not in his hands given that the constitution stipulates a Presidential election can only be held in 2013,” Dunya told local newspaper Haveeru.
The Gulf Times coverage of the meeting noted that early elections were discussed between the two statesman, before adding that “consensus was elusive” in the Maldives in this respect.
The Indian Express said, “the assessment here is that the parties in the Maldives need to have another round of discussions on the question of early elections,” before the article detailed the constitutional amendment that early polls would require.
The meeting also received coverage in the United States, with the New York’s Daily News reporting that Waheed talked with Singh about the possibility of constitutional amendment that would facilitate early polls.
The newspaper also highlighted the inclusion in the talks of investment opportunities as Waheed told Singh of the Maldives’ desire for further Indian investment as well as assuring him of the “continued adherence” to all agreements between the two countries.
The most high profile deal involving Indian investment in the Maldives is the GMR deal, details of which the government has challenged.
The Indian infrastructure giant signed a 25 year concession agreement with former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government to upgrade and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Under the concession agreement, a US$25 charge was to be levied on all outgoing passengers to part-fund the US$400 million upgrade.
However, while in opposition the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) which today forms part of Waheed’s national unity government, led by Dr Hassan Saeed, now President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s special advisor, filed a successful case in the Civil Court in December 2011 to block the payment of the charge, on the grounds that it was effectively a tax not approved by parliament.
In a bid to try and resolve the issue last week, GMR provided several possible solutions to address concerns about the ADC, by offering exempting Maldivian passport holders from paying the charge.