US Assistant Secretary Blake claims political stalemate can be solved through dialogue

United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, has urged the Maldives’ deadlocked executive and opposition-majority parliament to work “collaboratively together to end the current political impasse.”

Speaking to the Maldivian press in the American corner of the National Library after a day of meetings with government, opposition and parliamentary figures, Blake suggested it was ”time for all sides to put aside narrow partisan differences so they can resume work to serve the people, and restore confidence in the public institutions of the country.”

The former ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives claimed the current political crisis facing the Maldives “is one that is familiar to many democracies – the president represents one party while the opposition controls the parliament.”

“I told President Nasheed and [DRP leader] Mr Ahmed Thasmeen Ali that there is really only one way out – both sides must be open to dialogue and compromise. I’m very confident that both sides are capable of that,” Blake said, adding that this had been proved during the drafting of the constitution in 2007-2008.

“A continued stalemate is in no one’s interest. There is a risk of further violence and that in turn will impact tourism and aggravate the economic challenges the Maldives faces. The people really want to see their politicians work together to deal with some of the big challenges the country is facing,” he said.

Blake observed that it was also “very important” for the government to work in accordance with the rule of law, and suggesting President Nasheed either charge detained People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen, who has been accused of corruption and treason, or release him from his ‘protective custody’ on the Presidential Retreat at Aarah.

Blake implied he was aware of challenges facing the judiciary and noted that there were “some very important steps to be taken in the near future regarding the Supreme Court nominees and the continuation of their terms”, but said this was “just one more reason for the government to work together with the opposition.”

Meanwhile at an opposition coalition press conference earlier this week, Thasmeen and Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim announced that the opposition front was ready and willing to engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve the political deadlock.

However, said Thasmeen, the government’s actions were “worsening the situation” and the controversial detention of Yameen was not conducive to peaceful dialogue.

“As you know, leader of the People’s Alliance Abdullah Yameen is under military custody,” he said. “This is unacceptable. We are seeing that there is no rule of law in the country anymore.”

Alleging that Yameen’s detention was illegal and “outside the bounds of law”, Thasmeen added that the opposition coalition did not believe parliament sittings could be held in the absence of the Mulaku MP.

Yameen’s detention was the “essence” of the present deadlock as the government had “not followed due process”.

Gasim reiterated the opposition’s coalition desire for “a just solution” to the current political crisis and urged the government to “immediately release Abdulla Yameen” and consider the importance of allowing the People’s Alliance leader to participate in the talks.

The DRP parliamentary group leader told press that the unified parties had undertaken “broad” diplomatic efforts to inform foreign embassies, governments and international agencies of the situation in the Maldives and seek assistance and support.

“I went to Ceylon about a week ago, met embassy officials, informed them of the situation and asked for assistance,” he said, adding that the opposition coalition was working with the UN, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Commonwealth.

Thasmeen claimed that the concern expressed by the international community following the recent unrest was “unprecedented”.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Leader Hassan Saeed is meanwhile lobbying for international support in the UK.

On the opposition coalition’s nightly protests outside the DRP office, Thasmeen said the party was forced to “mobilise our supporters” due to the dangers posed by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party activists’ “vigilante justice”.

Gasim joined the DRP leader to condemn “calls for people to be killed” and protest gatherings outside judges’ residences.

The opposition leaders also revealed that talks mediated by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed.

While Speaker Abdulla Shahid yesterday announced that sittings would be canceled “indefinitely” following the MNDF refusal to escort MP Yameen to parliament this week, a statement issued by parliament today welcomes the inception of talks between the government and opposition parties.

It adds that although the coming week included national holidays on the occasion of Independence Day on July 26, the Speaker hoped political parties would be able to “establish an environment” for the parliament to function.

“After the hoped-for talks, I intend to hold a Majlis sitting on August 1, 2010,” it reads.

President Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile told press yesterday that he hoped all parties, “especially MDP and DRP,” will be able to come to the negotiating table and resolve the dispute peacefully.

Asked about MP Yameen’s continued detention, Nasheed acknowledged that “nobody could argue that for anyone to remain in custody while peace is to be achieved is the right away.”

While foreign mediators were needed in some cases, said Nasheed, most foreign parties were not prepared to “stay for the long haul” but rather desired credit for their role.

“Nothing can be solved in one sitting,” he said. “I feel that a Maldivian should be the mediator…and foreign parties could talk to the local mediator. In any case, the Commonwealth is saying they are ready, the European Union is saying they too are ready, the UN is ready, four friendly nations are saying they ready. So now I don’t know who to ask.”