World wants “no further artificial impediments” to Maldives polls, Swire tells UK parliament

The Maldivian people’s commitment to democracy has not been respected by some of their politicians, the UK’s Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, has told British parliament.

The Westminster Hall debate on the situation in the Maldives was called on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s scheduled election by UK Conservative Party MP for Redditch, Karen Lumley.

Lumley was a political consultant with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2008, and helped train Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party in political campaigning.

“What happened smacks to me of a child who cannot win a board game, so they tip over the board,” Lumley said of the Maldivian politicians’ use of the Supreme Court to annul the September 7 election result, in which Nasheed emerged the frontrunner following his controversial ousting a year and a half earlier.

Hugo Swire told the assembled MPs that politicians attempting to disrupt the elections in the Maldives had, “through various manoeuvres, including calls for military intervention, [sought] to frustrate and impede the democratic process.”

“I want to speak very explicitly and clearly, because I want to leave no one, particularly anyone in the Maldives who is listening to what I am saying or who will receive a report of it later, in doubt,” Swire told the MPs.

“The evidence is that more than 85 percent – how many of us would like to be able to cite that figure for our own constituencies? – of the electorate voted in the presidential elections on 7 September this year, demonstrating their strong commitment to the democratic process. Polls were judged by international and domestic observers to have been fair, free and credible.

“As the Maldives Elections Commission stated, the election was described by observers as ‘one of the most peaceful and best’ that they had seen. That certainly remains our view,” Swire stated.

“Following what appeared to be a weakly substantiated legal challenge from an unsuccessful presidential candidate, the Maldives Supreme Court voted to annul the election results and ordered a restart of the process,” Swire noted, before citing a recent statement from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in which she accused the court of “interfering excessively in the presidential elections, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”

“Regrettably, the controversy does not end there. On 19 October, the scheduled re-run was cancelled at the last moment, and the Maldives police service intervened to ensure that the vote could not take place. The cancellation came as a result of the refusal of two candidates to sign the electoral register – one of the 16 onerous conditions imposed by the Supreme Court. That condition in effect allows any one candidate to veto the elections, raising the possibility, as my hon. friend the Member for Redditch says, of further delays,” Swire said.

“We are frustrated and concerned, but not without hope. There are practical actions that can be taken without delay. The voter registers are due to be signed by candidates today.”

Such was the UK government’s concern at “the Maldives’ disregard for [the Commonwealth’s] values that it prompts the question – if the elections do not proceed as scheduled – of whether it is appropriate for the Maldives to be represented at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo,” Swire said.

“It is imperative that the rescheduled elections go ahead as planned. Anything short of that will be unacceptable. I say again to those people listening in the Maldives: the world is watching closely and it wants democratic elections, a democratically elected president and no further impediment to that to be created artificially by anyone in that country, which deserves so much better,” he concluded.

Following a meeting between President Mohamed Waheed and the presidential candidates this morning, Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen dropped threats to veto the election made as recently as Tuesday night, and sent representatives to sign the voter registry.

Their sudden turnaround removes a major obstacle impeding the elections, and greatly increases the likelihood of polls taking place as scheduled on Saturday.

A growing delegation of senior international officials and state representatives are meanwhile arriving in the Maldives ahead of the election.

The diplomats arriving include UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon, and a team from India including the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, an outspoken proponent of the need for elections in the Maldives, has meanwhile issued a statement calling for “the will of the Maldivian people [to be] recognised through a free and fair vote.”

“The international community is watching events in the Maldives closely. Canada calls on those in the current Government, security forces and the judiciary to respect the democratic process and not act to circumvent it. As voters in the Maldives go to the polls again on Saturday, they deserve to have confidence that their voices will be heard,” Baird stated.