Government claims all-party talks consensus as MDP maintains “early” election calls

The President’s Office has claimed all-party talks held last night at Bandos Island Resort and Spa concluded with senior representatives for the government and the nation’s political parties agreeing to move ahead through parliament to address the discussion’s key aims.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News that the all-party talks – the last of which, held in June, failed to reach a consensus on an agenda that included setting dates for early elections – saw representatives agreeing on revising the aims of the talks to reflect the findings of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

However, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which continues to criticise the CNI findings – alleging they lack key witness testimonies and evidence – has today said it remained committed to pressing for early elections at the earliest possible date in line with calls from the European Union.

The comments were made after the CNI, charged with investigating the circumstances around the controversial transfer of power on February 7, concluded that the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan came to office constitutionally.

The Commonwealth, which backed the CNI under a reformed mandate and composition, yesterday called for report’s outcome to be respected – a stance shared by the US, India and the UN.

Following the CNI’s conclusion yesterday, Masood claimed the talks, which were attended by President Waheed, MDP Chair and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, “successfully” agreed to amend the aims of the talks. He added that these amended aims would now likely be addressed through the People’s Majlis rather than through continued external discussions.

Masood added that in light of the CNI’s findings, representatives at yesterday’s talks agreed on a new agenda, such as addressing legislative issues through parliament.  He contended that this work could potentially be dealt with through the formation of a special all-party parliamentary committee.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, DRP Leader Thasmeen said ahead of the talk that he believed the focus of discussions, which had previously outlined an agenda including potentially agreeing early elections for this year, “should now change”.

“There had previously been serious contention over the transfer of power. At this point we had been willing to discuss early elections. I think these questions have now been answered [with the CNI report]. It is now time for national reconciliation,” he said.

Thasmeen contended that the talks would likely no longer focus on agreeing a date for early elections, which President Waheed has previously said under the constitution can be scheduled for July 2013 at the earliest.

“I think it should be possible to move on and try finding common platforms for agreement,” he said at the time.

Both Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Interim Deputy Leader Umar Naseer and MDP Chair Manik – who were both representing their respective parties at the talks – were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said today that in spite of the CNI outcome, early elections remained a “key” focus of the opposition party going forward.

According to the MDP, the Commonwealth had not yet announced a change in its policy of pressing for early elections to be held this year to address the current political stalemate in the country.

Ghafoor added that he had also been encouraged by comments made by President Waheed in local media to hold talks between the leaders of the country’s parliamentary parties and himself, discussions he contended that would be limited to five key Majlis representatives.

In outlining the future focus of the party’s plans, former President Mohamed Nasheed was on Friday expected to hold a conference at 4:00pm in Male’ at the Mookai Hotel on Meheli Goalhi.

Addressing the party’s conduct following the CNI report yesterday, the MDP claimed that it believed 60 people were arrested during yesterday’s demonstrations as a result of an ongoing special operation launched by police in attempts to reduce unrest in the capital and wider atolls.

According to Ghafoor, the party was itself concerned with the large number of officers wearing balaclavas as they patrolled the capital, making it impossible to identify them individually.

“They were singing at MDP protesters and mocking them to try and provoke the public,” he claimed. “I myself observed spontaneous protests yesterday that were not organised offcially by the party. These were people who walked out of our national conference meeting yesterday. This situation saw a large number of arrests late into the night.”

According to official police figures, 50 people had been arrested as of yesterday afternoon. Of these suspects, seven were female and one person was classed as a minor.

By midnight, authorities confirmed that a further 13 people had been taken into custody. All suspects were charged with obstructing police in performing their duties.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef today confirmed local news reports that police would be arresting any member of the public heard calling officers “traitors” or alleging they had played part in a “coup”.

Haneef did not clarify if any arrests had been made on these grounds at the time of press.

Police said earlier this week that they will provide full support and security services to the demonstrations held “peacefully and within the contours of laws”.


Vice president’s party talks solely focused on resuming Majlis: President’s Office

Talks scheduled this week between senior parliamentary representatives and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen will be focused solely on trying to find a resolution to the ongoing suspension of the Majlis, the President’s Office has said.

However, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)  today accused government representatives of giving “conflicting” messages after contending that an agreement had been made for discussions to also focus on facilitating early elections to resolve the deadlock surrounding the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

Government Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News today that talks at the President’s Office scheduled for 11am on Tuesday August 14, were being held at the request of Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid following the suspension of the People’s Majlis late last month.

Abbas maintained that Tuesday’s talks would be focused solely on addressing parliament’s suspension rather than topics already agreed under the agenda of the all-party talks, which include issues such as early elections.

“This meeting is being held at request of the speaker as the various parties felt they needed to speak with the executive,” he claimed.

In a statement released today, the opposition MDP said the vice president had agreed to an offer to engage in dialogue to try and find what it called a way forward in the “current political crisis.”

“[President] Waheed’s government has assigned their Vice-President Mohamed Waheed Deen to participate in the talks agreed among leaders of political parties represented in parliament,” the statement read.

Speaker Shahid opted to suspend parliament “indefinitely” on July 31 after claiming that “an atmosphere of calm necessary to conduct sittings could not be assured” following confrontations between MPs in the Majlis chamber.  Several sittings had been cancelled owing to disorder in the lead-up to the suspension amidst reports of MDP MPs confronting the speaker.

On Thursday (August 9), the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said that a date to resume parliamentary sessions was “yet to emerge”, though claimed it was confident discussions were on the right track.

MDP spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today claimed that the severity of the speaker’s decision to suspend parliament last month had effectively seen the country come to a political standstill.

“The party made it very clear at the time in a statement that we would not be cooperating with the Majlis unless we were able to address our grievances,” he said.

Ghafoor added that Tuesday’s talks between key parliamentary figures and the vice president would be aimed at addressing the issue of hosting early elections before those presently scheduled by the Waheed administration for July 2013.

Responding to President’s Office claims that only the issue of parliament’s suspension would be focused on in the talks, Ghafoor alleged that the party was continuing to receive inconsistent responses from the government.

“Right from the start of this process we have seen the government giving us conflicting messages,” he said. “We have chosen to ignore these contradictions for practical purposes.”

As such, the MDP claimed that its representative at the talks – MP Ali Waheed – would look to discuss issues including facilitating early elections.


Senator calls for US to back early elections in the Maldives “as soon as possible”

A US Senator serving as Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee’s Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee has called for fresh elections in the Maldives at the earliest date possible, to ensure democracy is not at risk of being “derailed” in the tiny island nation.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted Senator Robert Casey as requesting the US “continue calls for elections to be held in the Maldives as soon as possible to ensure that the seeds of the democratic process planted in 2008 are able to flourish.”

The comments were reportedly made yesterday during the confirmation hearing in Washington DC of the US Ambassador Designate to Colombo Michele Sison.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, has previously claimed that the earliest date elections can be held on the country will be July 2013, as detailed in the country’s constitution.  The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has continued to request that early elections be held before the end of the present year.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which contends that President Waheed’s government is illegitimate after he came to power on February 7 in a “coup d’etat”, has said early elections could be held within two months without need for constitutional amendment should the president and vice president resign, under provisions for an interim government run by the Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid.

However Waheed and the former opposition parties now in the ruling coalition and occupying senior cabinet positions, initially insisted that “conditions are not right” for early elections, and later contended that the earliest elections could be held under the constitution was July 2013.

Tweeting on June 2, Waheed posted a picture of himself with a group of children and wrote: “These young people advised me not to hold an early election.”

Amid talk of fresh elections, the US government in April pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) in technical assistance to ensure a free and fair presidential election, assistance it said would “be made available from July 2012”.

“Important” ally

Speaking during yesterday’s confirmation hearing for Ambassador Designate Michele Sison, Senator Casey claimed the Maldives remained an “important” ally to US interests.

Casey therefore raised concerns that the country’s “democratic beginning” was in danger of being “derailed” due to the political unrest leading up to and following the controversial transfer of power in February, according to media reports.

Sison responded that the country continues to push the Maldives to work within “existing democratic institutions” to ensure a resolution to its current political deadlock.

“The US government now has a window of opportunity to step up its engagement in Maldives, and USAID recently committed funding to assist Maldives in ensuring that the next round of presidential elections is free and fair,” Sison was reported to have told senators during the hearing.

The US Embassy in Colombo said it did not have a copy of the transcript of Sison’s confirmation hearing and was unable to clarify the comments attributed to Senator Casey, and would not comment on the political significance of the senator’s comments.

However, the embassy confirmed that like every US ambassador appointed to a foreign position, Sison was required to go before the senate to answer questions about her role.

During yesterday’s hearing, the embassy spokesperson said Sison would have been asked questions on Sri Lanka and the Maldives by senators to ensure she was qualified for the position, ahead of a vote to appoint her.

Responding to the reported comments in the US Senate about early elections, President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza referred to the recent comments by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commending agreements between President Waheed and the opposition MDP in seeking a political resolution in the country.

In his statement, Ki-moon urged all political parties “to resume immediately their political dialogue, both within and outside of Parliament, in order to find a mutually agreeable way forward on the basis of the Constitution and without jeopardising the democratic gains achieved thus far in the Maldives.”

Riza told Minivan News today that the government supported the UN’s comments that any solution to the current political upheavals must be made through local stakeholders and also not contravene the constitution.

He claimed that the government was already committed to a process of resolving political differences through a roadmap plan outlined by the president that includes All-Party Talks designed to set a six point agenda concluding with setting a date for early elections.

The last round of All-Party Talks, held at Vice President Waheed Deen’s Bandos Island Resort and Spa last weekend and monitored by UN mediator Pierre Yves Monett, collapsed after parties in the ruling coalition presented the MDP with a list of 30 demands that included “stop practicing black magic and sorcery”, “stop the use of sexual and erotic tools”, and “not walk in groups of more than 10”.

Anti-terrorism Assistance Training

Aside from assigning funds for early elections, present US Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis this week signed a Memorandum of Intent with Maldives Police Service Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz to provide Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) training in the country.

The training programmes, which will take place between June 10 – June 21 and July 1 – July 12, will focus respectively on “Police Leaders’ Role in Combating Terrorism” and “Preventing Attacks on Soft Targets”, according to the US Embassy, as well as making police aware of their human rights obligations.


All party talks agree on order of agenda

The India-sponsored all party talks will continue later this month at a weekend retreat on Bandos Island Resort and Spa, after delegates on Monday agreed to the order of a six point agenda that will conclude with a date being set for early elections.

Convenor of the all-party talks, Ahmed Mujuthaba, told Minivan News he was “quite hopeful” that the talks could be concluded during the next session, which he expected to last at least two days.

Mujuthaba said that the talks, which were timed to avoid clashing as much as possible with individual delegates’ work time, could be extended for a third day if required.

“We have have to schedule these talks for the following week as various parties were not available this weekend. We did not expect an agreement on this today,” he said.

The talks reconvened yesterday amidst claims of optimism from both government and opposition representatives over the importance of the discussions in resolving political upheavals resulting from February’s controversial transfer of power. The last round of talks ended prematurely on May 6.

Despite delegates having previously agreed on an agenda for the discussions, the talks have ended in stalemate on numerous occasions since first proposed. Recent rounds of discussions stalled over concerns about issues such as the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s parliamentary boycotts and the legality of a recent vote to remove its president and vice president.

The latest round of talks proceeded with consensus of all parties involved, said Mujuthaba.

Mujuthaba said parties had agreed to attend a weekend-long set of talks to try and resolve differences, and had agreed to the agenda for the six areas of discussion. All rounds of the talks have so far been held in two hour blocks.

According to Mujuthaba the order will proceed as follows:

  1. Public order and stability
  2. State budget concerns
  3. Independence of national institutions
  4. Identity and revise any laws
  5. Constitutional amendments
  6. Setting a date for early elections

Both the Commonwealth and European Union support fresh elections being held during 2012. President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has said that under the constitution, the earliest date that presidential polls can be held would be July 2013.

“I hope that we may see a conclusion to the talks,” Mujuthaba said.

Breakthrough claims

One of the two MDP representatives for the talks, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said he believed the most recent session was a “breakthrough” for all participants involved.

“One of the items we wished to see on the agenda was early elections, however other parties like the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have proposed discussions first on other issues such as political instability, the economy and constitutional amendments,” he claimed. “Our position has always been that they can have any order they want for the agreed agenda.”

Fellow MDP representative Dr Mariyam Zulfa had previously expressed concern that a failure to set a date for elections earlier  into the talks would see significant delays to any decision being made.

Zulfa contended that the MDP  had a “natural interest” in moving the setting of a date for early elections towards the top of the talks’ agenda.

However, Ghafoor said that he remained optimistic over the direction of the talks.

Conceding that “huge problems” lay ahead, Ghafoor said his party was encouraged that any agreement had been reached.

He said that MDP’s protests were likely to be challenged during the talks in the first point on the agenda, political stability. Ghafoor claimed that delegates held varying perceptions on the protests, which the party maintains have been carried out according to its democratic right.

“It is a matter of interpretation over freedom of expressions,” he said. “However, the government do not see it like this.”

Ghafoor also raised concerns about a Housing Ministry request for police to dismantle an MDP protest site at ‘Usfasgandu’ that he claimed raised wider issues over the powers of decentralised government introduced by the former government.

Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) representative Ilham Ahmed, and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) representative Ibrahim Shareef were not responding at time of press.

Government commitments

Speaking to Minivan News prior to the latest round of talks, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza claimed the government was committed to the talks, insisting that all parties needed to agree on the direction of any resolution to the present political stalemate.

Abbas added that the MDP would be required to guarantee “peace” and “security” if talks were to continue successfully.

“The government is insistent that all parties should agree on certain things for the talks to continue,” he said. “These things include ensuring stability and calm.”

Abbas criticised protests conducted across the capital of Male’ over the weekend that reportedly saw some demonstrators interrupting a mosque service on Majeedhee Magu.  He said that the demonstrations, which led to clashes between demonstrators and the people inside, were a particular concern.

“Some of these protesters are now attacking mosques. This level of fundamentalism that we have seen over the last two nights is not acceptable,” he claimed.

Clashes between the protesters and some of those inside the mosque led to the arrest of five people, according to police. The unrest is said by an eyewitness to have begun when MDP supporters attempted to disrupt a sermon which Male’ City Council had said was unauthorised.


President Waheed will not stand for re-election: PPM VP Umar Naseer

Vice President of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Umar Naseer, has said the government faces “no international pressure” to hold early elections and will remain in power until 2013.

Naseer also emphasised that he does not expect President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to stand  for election during presidential polls scheduled for next year.

PPM deputy Naseer told Minivan News today that beyond a few “powerful” members in the Commonwealth, the present coalition government, in which his party is represented, faced no international pressure to hold fresh polls this year.

The comments were made after former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom also claimed this week that international calls for early elections to be held in the Maldives have grown “faint” and were “not an issue” to foreign dignitaries he had met recently.

The government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has nonetheless faced criticisms from international bodies like the Commonwealth and the EU in recent months over its commitment to independently investigating how it came to power in February.

On April 16, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) warned it would consider taking “stronger measures” against the Maldivian government should it fail to revise the composition and work of an independent inquiry panel.  The panel, known as the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) was formed by the president to ascertain the exact details behind February’s transfer of power.  The Commonwealth has also recommended that early elections be called this year to overcome political uncertainty across the nation.

In a previous interview with Australian television, Naseer explained the perspective of the opposition demonstrators on February 7.

“We had a small command centre where we do all the protests. I command from the centre and give instructions to my people,” Naseer explained.

“On the protesters’ side, we were informing and educating the police and army through our speeches and television programs.”

Asked by SBS journalist Mark Davis if the opposition had made any other inducements, such as promises that they and their families would be “looked after” if they switched sides, Naseer said “there were.”

“We called on army and police and said that if a person was fired from his position because of their refusal to follow an unlawful order, the opposition would take care of them,” Naseer said.

President Waheed’s government has meanwhile insisted that presidential elections are not possible until July 2013 under the present constitution.  The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has refuted this claim, saying that fresh elections could be held within two months should the president resign from his position and hand over power temporarily to the parliamentary speaker. The now opposition MDP also stressed that it believes that the earlier elections can be held, the “better it would be” for the party.

Electoral defeat

Umar Naseer, who had previously served as deputy leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) before being dismissed, claimed that beyond the constitutional factors preventing elections this year, the MDP now also realised that they faced electoral defeat.

Recent by-election victories for the party, which have seen the PPM claim two island council seats and a seat in the People’s Majis, showed clear public support for the wider coalition government, Naseer said.

“If [general] elections were held right now, the MDP would be defeated badly,” he said. “The MDP understands this.”

Ahead of any presidential elections, Naseer claimed PPM was now focused on bolstering its presence in the Majlis after last month assuming the minority parliamentary leadership role.

The PPM now has the second highest number of MPs in parliament behind the MDP, which has retained majority leadership in the Majlis chamber.

Naseer claimed the party would continue pursuing a coalition that would allow it to replace the MDP as majority leader in the majlis.

“Our main focus now will be the elections in 2013,” he said.

Naseer added that with uncertainty over whether President Waheed would stand for election to head the national executive beyond 2013, the PPM would be working to strengthen the position of its own possible presidential candidate.

“My feeling right now is that [President Waheed] will not stand during the presidential elections,” he claimed.

Naseer’s comments echoed claims by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom during a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) gathering near Male’s artificial beach area on Thursday evening (May 3).  Gayoom, who served as the country’s autocratic ruler for 30 years before being voted out in the country’s first democratic elections held in 2008, said that he had been meeting various ambassadors accredited to the Maldives of late.

None of these ambassadors, he claimed, had talked about early presidential polls.

The former president added that the two parliamentary by-elections held last month – both won by government-aligned parties – were an indication that the same outcome could be expected nationally if presidential polls were held at present.

There were however mixed fortunes for the government during two island council by-elections held the same day last month, with the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) taking one of the available seats.

National inquiry

Gayoom also reportedly used his address to discuss the CNI that has been criticised by the Commonwealth’s human rights body, CMAG, for not being “independent” or “credible” in regards to its work.

During his speech, the former president claimed that despite some foreign criticism, it was up to the Maldives to resolve its own internal issues

“That does not mean we should not consider the advice of foreign partners as they would give us right opinions and views. However, we have to take such opinions and advise into consideration and use what is right for this country,” Gayoom was quoted as saying by local newspaper Haveeru.

The PPM won three out of six by elections held since February’s transfer of power.  Alongside these election results, Gayoom claimed that parliamentary approval of the appointment of a new cabinet and vice president –albeit after the MDP refused to participate – proved the legitimacy of the current government.

The former president also used his address to to discuss the future for the PPM, which is set to hold its national congress between September 13 and September 15 this year. Gayoom said that during the event, any member of the party would be allowed to contest for whatever positon they wanted

“This party would not function according to the whim of a single individual, me included,” Haveeru quoted the former president as saying.


Responding to the PPM’s statements, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that Gayoom was trying to mislead the public over the international pressure the government was currently under.  Ghafoor said he believed pressure was increasing for early elections and an independent review of February’s transfer of power.

“We have got structural assurances from the 54-member state Commonwealth in the form of time frames for both early elections and the CNI review,” he said.  “These time-frames have also been backed by India and the US.”

Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was itself hoping for presidential elections to be held as quickly as possible, alleging that government-aligned parties were looking to stall polls for as long as possible in order to damage “independent institutions” like the Elections Commission.

“We believe that the sooner elections can be held in the country the better. While the government believe the later the better,” he claimed.  “What they want is to entrench themselves in power before elections can be held.”

Ghafoor alleged that similar attempts to entrench a government into independent institutions  had be seen this in many countries that have undergone apparent coups such as Honduras and Fiji.

Ghafoor said he believed that the time-frame set by CMAG for elections to be called during 2012, represented an awareness among the international community that the current government was trying to “entrench” itself into national institutions.

“Last week, we met here in Male’ with five Members of European Parliament (MEPs). They confirmed that they still stood behind CMAG and its calls,” he claimed.


MDP eyes mediation as next step forward following CMAG recommendations

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.

Opposition perspective

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.


Gayoom claims “special motive” behind international calls for early elections

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has claimed that international calls for early elections are driven by a “special motive” that poses a direct threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty and religious heritage.

Gayoom, currently the leader of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), alleged that during his 30 year reign, international parties had always been attempting to influence the Maldives because of its 100 percent Muslim status.

The comments were made during a PPM rally on the island of Guraidhoo, Thaa atoll, where people had gathered to celebrate a weekend parliamentary by-election victory for the party.

Reporting from the island, Minivan News’ Hawwa Lubna witnessed hundreds of people in the audience for Gayoom’s address, which was made ahead of a meeting of  the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) today.

The ministerial action group is expected to discuss the controversial transfer of power that brought President Waheed into office on February 7 amongst a number of issues during today’s meeting.

CMAG was last month accused by members of President Waheed’s government of showing “bias” towards certain political parties in calling for general elections as early as possible to resolve questions over the administrations legitimacy.

The Commonwealth has since been supported by both the EU and US in calling for programs to be put in place to facilitate early elections before 2013.

The calls follow allegations by former President Mohamed Nasheed that he was removed from office in a “coup d’etat” on February 7 after sections of the military and police mutinied.

On the back of international pressure for fresh polling, Gayoom has claimed that the PPM – as part of the national unity government bought to power under President Waheed – has been given a public mandate following the weekend’s by elections.

Speaking at Monday night’s rally held to celebrate party candidate Ahmed Shareef’s win in the Thimarafushi parliamentary by-election, Gayoom contended that the “by-elections are the early elections”.

“The results prove PPM has the support of people,” the former president said.

Gayoom therefore argued that there was no room for early elections in the country, adding that the next constitutionally mandated election should be held in 2013.

“We must not not talk about holding an election which the constitution does not allow. However, several foreign parties are calling for this [early elections]. They are talking about it with a special motive,” Gayoom claimed.

“We must protect our sovereignty. We must protect our independence. We must not let anyone [foreigners] to intervene in our internal affairs.”

Gayoom also alleged that “different foreign parties are influencing Maldives because we are a 100 percent Muslim nation” and added that he “knows clearly why the international community is attempting by different means to restore Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s rule.”

“A very reliable person had told me former [President Nasheed’s] government had said that within a year of them coming to power, a church, a Christian church will be built in Maldives. But [Nasheed] could not do it,” Gayoom claimed.

Nasheed’s opponents have repeatedly accused his government of cooperating with “Christian missionaries” and “Jewish parties” to “wipe out Islam” from the Maldives.


Meanwhile, Gayoom further alleged that even during his 30 year rule, several foreign parties had “offered money” in return for implementing their proposals in Maldives, although he did not articulate on those proposals.

“But I put the nation’s interest first. I put the nation’s independence first. No matter how much money was offered, how many things they proposed to do in return, we did not want to give even the smallest part of our land. We did not want to handover any part of our independence to foreigners.” Gayoom contended.

The comments by Gayoom, who served in office for thirty years before being voted out in the country’s first democratic general election in 2008, mirrored earlier claims by the government that presidential elections were not needed this year – despite international calls to the contrary.

The government said that it believed victory for its coalition partners in the weekend’s two parliamentary by-elections was a clear indication of its “mandate” amongst the Maldivian people to remain in power until 2013.

Government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza additionally called on international bodies like CMAG to take the results of the polls into consideration this week when reflecting on the need for fresh national polls.

From a government perspective, Abbas claimed that the two parliamentary and two island council by-elections should be seen as a “vote of confidence” by the public in the national unity government made up of several national parties.

Commonwealth membership

Following CMAG’s calls last month for early elections to be held in the Maldives at the earliest date possible, the government said it was concerned over the “language” used by the commonwealth in its statement.

The President’s Office said that although it was not for the time being looking to leave the Commonwealth, it added that such a move could be considered if CMAG continued to use similar language in the future.

“If this language continues, we will look to consider our position [in the Commonwealth],” government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News at the time.

The government later denied it had made such claims, alleging to local media that the report in Minivan News had been “politically motived”.


MDP holds series of protests as Dr Waheed’s government marks two months in power

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held two protests on Saturday, continuing the party’s call for early elections and the resignation of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Both protests began from ‘Usfasgandu’ behind Dharubaaruge, the party’s new protest hub following the government’s recent closure of the MDP’s permanent protest site near the tsunami  monument.

The first protest started at 5:30pm from Usfasgandu, and concluded at Sultan Park near the Islamic Centre at 6:30pm.

Former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef and former National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal were seen in the frontline of the protests.

The protest was peaceful and there were no reports of police confrontations or arrests. However, angry protesters had some verbal arguments with the police.

The second protest started at around 10:00pm from Usfasgandu. The protesters marched their way from Sosun Magu, passing the parliament and towards President Waheed’s residence, Hilaaleege.

The protesters made their way in front of Dr Waheed’s residence at around 11:00pm.

Surprisingly, only a handful of Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officials were on guard at the time when protesters arrived.

Some of the protesters sat down in front of the presidential residence, and continued their call for resignation of President Waheed and his government, and called for early elections.

Spokesperson for Dr Waheed, Masood Imad, said the protesters called for President Waheed’s death, and accused the party of “inciting fear”.

MNDF officials later dispersed the crowds from the premises and closed routes leading towards Dr Waheed’s residence.

The protesters peacefully retreated several blocks and there were no reported confrontations.

After the MNDF had blocked all the routes to Dr Waheed’s residence, protesters headed towards current Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s residence.

The protesters gathered outside the minister’s residence and reiterated their calls for the “coup government” to step down and hold elections, and then headed towards artificial beach along Majeedee Magu.

During the protests, a recording of former president Mohamed Nasheed stating that MDP “would not sink” was played continuously, with crowds roaring in support every time the recording was played.

MDP’s women’s activist Aishath Aniya led the protests while former Ministers, Shifa Mohamed and Dr Musthafa Luthfy, and MDP MP Rugiyya Mohamed, were seen in the frontline of the protest.

The protests concluded back at Usfasgandu, and MP Rugiyya handed the MDP flag to its flagman at Usfasgandu.

Shifa addressed the crowds at Usfasgandu and said that the government needed to hear the people’s voice, and the call for early elections.

“Today marks two months after the democratically elected president was brought down by a coup. We will not stop until democracy is restored,” she said.

MP Rugiyya and Dr Luthfy also spoke to the protesters at Usfasgandu, and thanked them for their determination.

The protests ended with a prayer from Mohamed Hafiz, the head of MDP religious affairs council.

A police media official confirmed that there were no confrontations or arrests during the protests. The MDP is to hold another protest tonight.

The MDP has been holding series of demonstrations after the transfer of power that took place on February 7, claiming that the government was brought down illegally in a coup d’état led by rogue police and military personnel, and funded by several local resort owners with political interests.


US pledges US$500,000 for elections assistance in the Maldives

The US government has pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) for an elections programme  to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election.

The program will be made available from July 2012, said Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Colombo, Valerie Fowler.

Meeting the press on Thursday afternoon in the Maldives National Art Gallery, Fowler said the US would also “work with the Commonwealth to help the Maldives work through the current situation to elections”.

The US will lend any support, including technical assistance, to ensure the next presidential election in the Maldives is conducted “smoothly and observed the rule of law”, Fowler said.

“Through USAID we are in the process of starting an election programme that will assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election. We have allocated US$500,000 to start that process and anticipate that we can begin as soon as July 2012,” Fowler noted.

Referring to the discussions she held with political parties during her trip, Fowler said “I echoed our call on all sides to maintain an open and transparent dialogue and use Maldivian mechanisms to resolve the political situation”.

She acknowledged the opening of parliament sessions as a positive step forward and highlighted the need to amend the Police Act and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Act – both pre-date the constitution – in order to depoliticise the country’s security forces. Meanwhile, Fowler said she was pleased to be told that important national legislations such as the Penal Code, Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes and the Evidence Act were under committee review.

However, Fowler noted that the US believed there needed to be an “environment conducive to early elections”, an aim that could only be created through dialogue, as well as capacity building measures.

“We hope the political party talks will resume in the coming days. These talks represent a positive avenue for progress when each of the parties participates with an open mind. In addition, we call upon parties to support the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI),” she said.

Deposed former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has declined to cooperate with three-seat CNI appointed by President Waheed, citing unilateralism and lack of independence and international participation.

Nasheed alleges that he was forced to resign “under duress” in an opposition-backed coup, in which he alleges Dr Waheed was complicit.

Asked whether the US recognises Dr Waheed’s government’s legitimacy, Fowler said “we do not recongise individuals, we recognise states and we are in fact working very closely with the government of the Maldives”.

However, she added: “A full and impartial investigation into the circumstances that prompted former President Nasheed to resign is necessary, and we look forward to the report of the commission.”

Responding to the concerns raised over independence of the Inquiry Commission and a possible US role in the investigation, Fowler observed, “we have not received any requests from the government to help the (CNI) commission of inquiry’s work” but “we understand the government of Maldives is working closely with the Commonwealth’s special envoy.”

According to Fowler, “Assistant Secretary Robert Blake has been in regular contact with Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, and we expect to work closely with the Commonwealth, both in terms of policy and technical support, to help the Maldives work through the current situation to elections.”

She also said that the US appreciated the work of other international parties and noted that it was in touch with Indian Foreign Secretary Shri Ranjan Mathai – a key figure within ‘roadmap’ talks aimed at facilitating early elections.

Fowler added that both the US and the wider international community would be paying close attention to bi-elections scheduled for April 14, where several parties are fiercely competing over two vacated seats in parliament.

“These elections, the first since transfer of power, must be transparent and the results accepted as fairly achieved in order to avoid making the political situation even more challenging,” she contended.

“This is an important time in Maldives history.  The Maldives has a well earned reputation and international standing as being a moderate, progressive young democracy. Further domestic conflict and instability will hurt that reputation and has the potential to do significant damage to international tourism in the Maldives,” Fowler concluded.