President Waheed complains to Canada over Foreign Minister’s “inappropriate remarks”, “harshly worded questions”

President Mohamed Waheed has written a letter of complaint to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accusing Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird of making “inappropriate and derogatory remarks” towards Acting Foreign Minister Mariyam Shakeela during the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG)’s meeting on September 27.

The Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm had “expressed concern at developments” in the Maldives following the Supreme Court’s delay of the run-off elections, noting the Commonwealth election observation team’s assessment that “this was a credible electoral process and met the standards for democratic elections to which Maldives has committed itself.”

The Supreme Court meanwhile last night annulled the election in a 4:3 decision, citing a secret police report on alleged electoral irregularities and ordering fresh elections on October 20 with enhanced police and government involvement.

In his letter to Prime Minister Harper, Waheed complained that Baird “posed several harshly worded questions… concerning domestic politics in the Maldives”, and said these “put unnecessary pressure on an otherwise excellent relationship” between the Maldives and Canada.

Shakeela represented the Maldives at the CMAG meeting, “and advocated on the need for reforming the Group in order to make the body a more effective and credible one that can help, not hamper, democracy consolidation in the Commonwealth member countries,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

“The Minister also highlighted on the need for the CMAG to take matters in proper context, and not to over-react on delicate situations in member countries,” it said.

The diplomatic spat has been widely reported by a bemused Canadian media.

Baird’s office responded to Waheed’s complaint by pointing out “the irony of the Acting Foreign Minister of the Maldives representing that country at CMAG, when her President received five percent of the vote in the first round of the election. Perhaps that is where President Waheed took offence.”

“It might have also been when Minister Baird pointed out to CMAG members that the second round of elections were ‘suspended’ under mysterious circumstances and called on Maldivian officials to proceed with the second round of elections without delay,” said Baird’s Spokesperson Rick Roth, in a statement.

“We believe that this delay is troublesome and can only lead to more instability; which is exactly what we have seen in recent days. The Minister believes that countries within the Commonwealth should adhere to a certain standard of values and principles which is clearly lacking in the Maldives,” the statement read.

“Canada supports the people of the Maldives, and that judicial authorities and security forces must not unduly delay the expression of their democratic will,” it concluded.

Baird has pushed for the Maldives to be placed on CMAG’s formal agenda. Following the group’s meeting in New York, Baird joined Maldivian pro-democracy demonstrators for a photo outside the Australian consulate.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird with Maldivian demonstrators

Canadian Foreign Minister “glad that Maldives remains on CMAG agenda”

“Canada with others fought to keep Maldives on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group agenda, and we are glad it remains there,” said Canadian Foreign Minister and member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), John Baird.

“We will continue to focus on anti-democratic activities in the Maldives, especially in terms of police brutality, and intimidation of opposition parliamentarians,” said Baird in a statement released by the Canadian government.

“Canada is deeply troubled by the reported September 25 travel ban of former President Nasheed in Malé,” he added.

Baird’s statement evinces a level of confusion following CMAG’s decision yesterday to revoke the Maldives’ suspension from participation in the group’s affairs, whilst retaining it under the ‘matters of interest’ on its agenda.

Local media immediately ran with the headline “CMAG removes Maldives from official agenda” whilst the Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed tweeted, “Congratulating Maldives, CMAG has removed Maldives from its Agenda, it proves that the current government is for Rule of Law.”

Baird, present at yesterday’s meeting alongside President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, expressed his concern at Waheed’s response when he was asked “about the persecution of 19 Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) politicians and party officials.”

“President Waheed offered no substantial defence of these questions, which is a telling response in itself,” said Baird. “Canada finds the declining state of democratic values in the Maldives alarming and deeply troubling.”

“The recently adopted Commission of National Inquiry report has raised substantial concerns about the independence of the judiciary. That too causes Canada grave concern as we strive to assure independent open elections in the Maldives,” he added.

The MDP last week documented such instances of perceived harassment in a press release titled “Immunity Watch Maldives”.

The CMAG meeting coincided with a nationwide demonstration by Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in protest against Nasheed’s travel ban which the courts have defended as standard practice.

MDP spokesman Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News that the 7,000 people marched around the island yesterday afternoon what he described as “one of the biggest [protests]  in recent times.”

He stated that there had been no confrontations with police, a fact confirmed by Police Spokesman Sub–Inspector Hassan Haneef who confirmed that there had been no arrests.

At the MDP’s National Executive Council, local media reported former Minister of Housing Mohamed Aslam as saying that Nasheed would not comply with the court-issued travel ban following the party’s decision to reject the authority of the courts.

“We are prepared to do the necessary to get him onboard. We are willing to sacrifice, to ensure that Nasheed does not lose his presidential candidacy. We will not give in. We are prepared follow Nasheed to prison,” Aslam is reported as saying.

Nasheed’s legal team expressed its deep concerns over the legality of the court’s procedures regarding Nasheed’s multiple trials regarding defamation of cabinet ministers and the detention of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Nasheed was scheduled to travel to the Southern atolls as part of his campaign for the constitutionally mandated elections in 12 months time.

Imthiyaz confirmed that Nasheed would be travelling with the party on Monday although he was unsure as to whether the former president would be in court tomorrow for the first of his two defamation cases.

Nasheed had previously requested that the criminal case regarding Abdulla Mohamed be expedited and was reported as being keen to have his day in court.

Baird’s statement pledged Canada’s intention to “forcefully” raise its concerns at subsequent CMAG meetings in order to ensure the Commonwealth’s values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are not violated.

CMAG’s power to protect these values was strengthened during a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) in Perth in 2009.

During a speech made during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) earlier this week, President Waheed made aimed a thinly veiled attack at the Commonwealth, questioning the 54-member organisation’s commitment to equity and the rule of law.

Previous expressions of concern regarding politicisation of the legal process made by Baird at the beginning of August were condemned by the Maldivian government as “one-sided” and “misleading”.