Foreign governments and international bodies have taken India’s lead, expressing concern over the political instability in the Maldives and emphasising the importance of all parties being able to put forward the candidates of their choice in the upcoming elections.
“Now that the President of the Election Commission of Maldives has announced that Presidential elections would be held on 7 September 2013, it is necessary that the Presidential nominees of recognised political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance,” stated India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Wednesday, after former President Mohamed Nasheed sought refuge in its High Commission.
“Prevention of participation by political leaders in the contest would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, thereby perpetuating the current political instability in Maldives,” the MEA stated.
The United States Embassy in Colombo urged “all sides to remain calm, reject the use of violence, and avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions.”
“Former President Nasheed must be accorded due process under the law regarding his pending court cases,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
“We urge that the Presidential elections scheduled for September 7, 2013 be free, fair, credible, transparent and inclusive. The integrity of and public confidence in the Maldivian electoral process must be maintained.
“Accordingly, we note that all parties participating in these elections should be able to put forward the candidate of their choice. We continue to urge all parties to chart a way forward that respects Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the US added.
The UK issued a statement similarly calling for calm and restraint.
“During FCO Minister Alistair Burt’s recent visit to Maldives, he said it was vital that the country move decisively towards free, fair and inclusive Presidential elections. He also stressed the importance of all parties being able to participate in elections with the candidate of their choice. It is important for all parties to avoid taking action which could lead to doubt over the integrity of the electoral process and contribute to continuing instability,” the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated.
The UN Secretary General’s office stated that it was “monitoring the developments with concern”, and urged “all political actors to exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the constitution and work toward creating conducive conditions for fair, peaceful and inclusive elections.”
“All parties contesting the September 7 presidential elections should be able to field the candidates of their choice in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution,” the UN stated.
Transparency Maldives (TM), which will locally be conducting an extensive program of election monitoring, meanwhile expressed “deep concern over the continuing political polarisations and tensions that have strained the democratic gains from the past elections,” and called for all sides to “guarantee and sustain an environment conducive for free and fair and fully inclusive elections.”
“As such, there is an immediate need for the political and State leadership to resort to a process of negotiations towards addressing the challenges for free and fair and fully inclusive elections. At the heart of such a process should be showing leadership and a spirit of compromise that we saw during the pre-election and post-election period of the 2008 Presidential Elections,” Transparency stated.
Government speaks to India
Following India’s initial warning that a failure to allow all political leaders to contest the elections would call into question the integrity of the electoral process and perpetuate instability, the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry declared it was “unfortunate that the Government of India has decided to comment on the types of candidates that could contest the upcoming Presidential Elections in the Maldives scheduled for September 2013.”
“The independent Elections Commission has not, as of date, announced the candidates for the elections. Furthermore the Government firmly believes that the Elections Commission of Maldives is fully capable of evaluating and deciding eligibility of nominees in the elections and carrying forward a credible electoral process. To presume otherwise would be undermining the democratic institutions of the country and the progress achieved by the Maldives in consolidating its democracy,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Nasheed’s on-going trial “is a matter handled by two independent State institutions, namely the Prosecutor General and the judiciary. Like any other democratic country, the executive branch of the Government of Maldives cannot, under the Constitution of the Maldives, interfere with the independence of the judiciary, and will indeed ensure that the independence of the judiciary is always upheld.”
Home Minister Mohamed Jameel was more direct, telling local media yesterday that any attempts by another country to prevent a person from facing charges pressed by an independent Prosecutor General, could be described as interfering domestic matters of a sovereign state.
Jameel – formerly Justice Minister under Gayoom’s government – maintained that the charges levied against the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate were serious as they involved the “abduction of a senior judge”.
India’s Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid meanwhile spoke to his Maldivian counterpart Dr Samad Abdulla on Thursday (February 14).
Samad told Khurshid there were no court summons pending for Nasheed “but in the instance that such a summons is issued, Nasheed will have to attend the hearing.”
“Samad also said that it is unacceptable for any person to speak against this, as this is in accordance with the constitution of the Maldives,” read a translated statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the MEA, Khurshid told Samad that India “has broad based contacts with all political parties and democratic institutions in the Maldives, without interfering in the internal affairs of the country”, as part of its “commitment to multi-party democracy.”
“India has stressed in the past that it would like to see free, fair, credible and inclusive elections leading up to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Maldives. India would be happy to work with the Government and all political parties in the facilitation of this objective,” the MEA stated.
Samad had assured Khurshid that the Maldivian government “would do its utmost to prevent any precipitate act that adversely affects the atmosphere for a free and fair democratic process and rule of law,” the MEA added.
Situation on the ground
Some protests took place on Thursday evening and there were reports of three arrests, less than those recorded the previous evening, which saw 16 arrests from a crowd of 1500 people.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the party was planning protests on Friday evening from 9:00pm.
Nasheed has called for an interim caretaker government in the lead up to the elections. He remains inside the Indian High Commission, despite the government’s insistence he is free to move around after a warrant for his arrest issued by the Hulhumale Magistrate Court expired with the cancellation of Wednesday’s trial hearing.
“It is difficult to say [how long Nasheed will remain inside] because the situation is so fluid,” said Ghafoor.
“I don’t think he will stay any longer than he needs to. The focus is on finding an interim solution. The party has advised him not to leave. It is unthinkable for him to step outside, as he will be killed. None of us feel safe right now. We have no other choice,” he said.
Ghafoor said the party did not consider the Hulhumale’ court’s independence from the government or its independence, despite the government’s insistence to the contrary.
The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in violation of the Judicature Act, the MDP contend. The JSC has also appointed the three-member panel of judges hearing Nasheed’s case at the court.
“We do not trust warrants from this court,” Ghafoor said. “During the Supreme Court’s 4:3 decision favouring the legitimacy of the Hulhumale Magistrate Court, Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed went to the Supreme Court as an appellant. He is head of the JSC, he threw the casting vote in the Supreme Court decision, and the judiciary accepts this,” Ghafoor said.
“[Government-aligned] Jumhoree Party leader and resort owner Gasim Ibrahim is also a member of the JSC, which appointed the panel of judges. Gasim is a rival presidential candidate to Nasheed,” Ghafoor noted.
“This country is set to explode unless India helps us.”