All-party talks resume with agreement on priority issues

The Indian-sponsored all-party roadmap talks that stalled last month appear to be gathering momentum again after parties agreed on a new set of priority issues.

After asking the parties involved to list the five issues that concerned them most, the convener, Ahmed Mujuthaba, compiled a list of three issues which would be focused on in future talks.

The primary concerns of all the parties combined were: firstly, the country’s economic troubles; secondly, the constitution and laws of the country; and, thirdly, the judiciary and crime.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were represented at the talks by Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, who said the meeting was “very successful.”

Jumhoree Party (JP) representative at the talks Abbas Adil Riza – also President Mohamed Waheed’s spokesperson – informed Minivan News that there had been an agreement that only the convener would comment to the media on the content of the talks.

Despite repeated attempts, Minivan News was unable to contact Mujuthaba.

“I think there is momentum,” said Ghafoor. “We should have done this from the start.”

This is in stark contrast to the reaction of the previous MDP representative in the last round of talks, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, who branded the talks “ridiculous”, describing them as “a farce”.

The talks appeared to have stalemated at the conclusion of the last meeting on April 7 after the MDP continued to question the make-up of the talks. The party argued at that meeting that all registered parties in the country ought to be included in the discussions, criticising the decision to include certain government-aligned parties without an apparent democratic mandate.

Ghafoor explained that the main concern of the MDP was that the party would have been outnumbered eight to one, making voting on any decisions senseless, despite it representing the largest number of MPs and political membership. However, Ghafoor explained that the convener had yesterday made it clear the process of agreement would now be based on consensus rather than votes, meaning that this previous objection was “no longer relevant”.

Whilst the talks do not immediately address the calls for early elections, Ghafoor argued that other parties could not avoid the issue forever.

“We agreed to start talks with issues they are comfortable with,” he said, but argued that the discussion of early elections remained a key part of the talks envisioned in President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s road map.

“As long as the roadmap exists, the issue of early elections exists,” commented Ghafoor.

Observing progress

The talks are being observed by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mediation expert Pierre-Yves Monette. After speaking with parties following the last round of talks, Monette was reported by Sun Online as stating that he had seen no serious obstructions to a successful resolution of political differences.

“The worst thing would be not to want to listen to others, to be incapable of listening to other points of view. I have experienced this in my job in many other countries – but I don’t find that here. There is clearly willingness to listen, and to talk. They know they disagree on major issues. They are ready to listen to the arguments of others and to enter a dialogue: this is the beginning of a possible solution,” Monette was reported as saying.

Ghafoor said he felt that Monette had played a “significant part” in making this round of talks a success. He did, however, note a tension amongst the smaller parties represented at the talks towards the observer, notably those with little or no formal representation in the Majlis or local government, including the Gaumee Ittihad (GI), Jumhoree Party (JP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

He argued that even the presence of Monette at the talks prompted a xenophobic response from these groups. Of the list of concerns listed by the parties and collated by the convener, Ghafoor claimed that foreign interference was a point raised by many of those present.

The all party roadmap talks resumed yesterday following the return to the country of the convener of the talks Ahmed Mujuthaba.

A coalition of Maldivian NGOs working under the banner ‘Thinvana Adu’ (Third Way) called earlier this week for a renewal of efforts to enhance dialogue between political parties. “It is our belief that a crucial step towards resolving the political crisis in the country…is for all political parties to resume dialogue and commit to a politics of compromise.”

In a press release, the group gave a thinly veiled criticism of Mujthaba’s schedule, which has seen him absent from the country for long periods of time, further slowing the progress of the talks.

“The Party Talks convener must be able to devote adequate time to the matter,” read the statement.

The next meeting is scheduled on May 5, between 2:00pm and 6:00pm. Ghafoor claimed that the convener had wished to devote longer to the talks. He said that Mujuthaba’s desire for an intensive three-day session was blocked by the smaller parties.


Stalemated all-party talks “ridiculous, a farce”, says Afeef

Progress continued to elude the participants in the All-Party Roadmap talks yesterday as the latest meeting ended in stalemate.

After repeated false starts since the first meeting on February 20, the talks stuttered after Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) representatives continued to question the make-up of the group engaged in the discussions, as well as the sincerity of the government’s statements over early elections.

One of the MDP’s representatives at yesterday’s meeting, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, expressed doubts about the potential success of the roadmap talks.

“They are not interested in talking about political settlements, they are talking nonsense,” said Afeef.

“I don’t believe Mujuthaba [mediator of the talks] chose the parties [who were involved]… the old dictatorship chose it. I asked him how he had chosen the parties and he said he had chosen those who had been protesting against the MDP. It’s ridiculous, a farce,” continued Afeef.

The similarity of these statements with those following the first round of talks belies the lack of forward movement in the discussions.

An MDP statement after the first meeting explained the decision to boycott “when it became clear that the talks were to include political parties with no democratic mandate, and that they would focus on procedural issues such as the timing and venue for future talks – a clear effort to delay substantive discussions.”

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, which has been involved in the talks, does not have official representation in the parliament or on an elected council.

Under parliamentary regulations, MPs who joined Gayoom’s PPM from the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) technically count as independent MPs until elected on a PPM ticket in the next parliamentary election.

Also representing the MDP at the meeting was the party’s interim chairperson Reeko Moosa Manik, who told Minivan News that “no concrete talking” took place at yesterday evening’s event. He also questioned the assembly and the motivations of the group.

Changing tack slightly, the MDP have now suggested that the talks should include all registered parties in the country, given the involvement of parties with no democratic mandate already participating.

“I have told Mujuthaba, ‘if all-party talks means all-party talks, then okay… if not, what are we doing?’” said Moosa.

PPM representative at the talks, Ilham Ahmed, told local paper Haveeru that the MDP had given no previous indication that they would be calling for greater inclusivity in the discussions. Ilham said that the proposal should be discussed as the MDP’s approach was “confusing”.

A press release from Mujuthaba’s office today stated that the main aim of yesterday’s talks remained the order the agenda. Mujuthaba told Haverru that no decisions had been made on the MDP’s new proposal.

The agenda was tentatively agreed upon at the second meeting at the end of February. The list included constitutional amendments, dates for early elections, and the potential changes needed for independent institutions. The order with which the agenda should be addressed was supposed to follow shortly after this.

The press release also said that all parties involved in the talks would meet with the United Nation’s observer at the talks. Mujuthaba is scheduled to be out of the country until April 24, prompting the convening of yesterday’s meeting.

The MDP’s blocking of President Waheed’s address to the People’s Majlis on March 1, however, saw the withdrawal from the talks of the DRP, PPM, Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). The MDP contends that its disruption of the sitting was justified as Dr Waheed’s presidency was illegitimate, given police and military mutiny that led to Nasheed’s resignation.

Moosa also questioned the agenda of the talks, suggesting that the aim of the group was to legitimise the government rather than push for early elections.

Regarding the continued participation of the MDP in the talks, Afeef said that he personally did not think progress could be made, but said he would be prepared to represent his party in further talks if asked.

Moosa stated: “We are ready to talk about early elections, for that we are ready to talk.”


Government assures Transparency Maldives of willingness to accept international assistance in inquiry

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has assured Transparency Maldives of his willingness to include international groups in the inquiry into the events surrounding his accession to the presidency.

In a meeting with the local NGO, President Waheed and Attorney General Azima Shukoor also welcomed requests for increased transparency in the workings of the Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) which is charged with looking into the legality and legitimacy of the transfer of presidential power.

Transparency Maldives Project Director Aiman Rasheed emerged from the meeting confident that Dr Waheed would respect the importance of transparency and accountability in the inquiry process.

Rasheed told Minivan News that Dr Waheed saw an independent and transparent process as the way forward, and recognised that an enquiry which did not have the support of the people would only further political discontent.

The inclusion of international experts in any such inquiry has been urged by numerous international actors as well as the party of  former President Nasheed. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Committee (CMAG), in a statement released after its own inconclusive enquiry into recent events, had strongly recommended an international element to any future investigation, “as mutually agreed to by political parties in Maldives.”

The largest party in the People’s Majlis, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), yesterday criticised the CNI for “dragging its feet” on the issue, in what it said was “a clear violation” of the wishes of the international community.

“The MDP hopes that the international community will immediately call on the Dr Waheed regime and the CNI to commit to significant international assistance in the investigation,” the party said in a statement.

MDP said it had received reports of that members of the police force willing to talk to the CNI were facing intimidation. MDP International Affairs Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said he believed that such reports only increased the need for international experts, including witness protection specialists, to help bring investigations to a successful conclusion. Ghafoor has previously drawn unfavourable comparisons between this investigation and the 2003 Maafushi jail enquiry whose independence was questioned and whose outcome was censored.

The CNI currently consists of three members: Ismail Shafeeu, former minister of defence and national security during President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s administration; Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef, Deputy Vice Chancellor at Maldives National University; and Dr Ibrahim Yasir, former Director General of Health Services.

One member of the commission has already been reappointed. Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef replaced Ahmed Mujuthaba, who said his position as the convener of the all-party consultative meetings was a conflict of interest.

Transparency Maldives, which is scheduled to meet the CNI tomorrow with three other NGOs, including the Maldivian Democracy Network, Maldives NGO Federation and Democracy House, has been active in raising awareness of the detrimental impact corruption and opaque governance on society.

The group’s current projects include Parliament Watch, a program that aims to increase public scrutiny of the procedures and processes used in the People’s Majlis, and the CRINIS Project advocating for changes to political party financing transparency. Others include the Right to Information Project, creating demand for right to information for greater transparency and accountability, the Decentralisation Project promoting accountability and increasing citizen engagement in local governments, and Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres Project, helping victims of corruption with the legal systems in place.

It has also produced reports on media, and conducted surveys on corruption perception. In pursuit of its stated goals of justice and democracy it asked the President to consider allowing it observer status on the CNI. It also requested that the CNI’s findings be made public.


Roadmap parties agree on agenda, order of preference to follow: Mujuthaba

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s nine-party “Roadmap” talks – an attempt to diplomatically resolve the current political crisis – have resulted in a series of agenda items, mediator Ahmed Mujuthaba told media today.

“We held the first meeting on February 20, but unfortunately because one of the relevant parties (the Maldivian Democratic Party) was not present we could not continue with the meeting. So we just had some informal consultations on that day,” he said.

The MDP initially boycotted the first round of talks – initiated by Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai – “when it became clear that the talks were to include political parties with no democratic mandate, and that they would focus on procedural issues such as the timing and venue for future talks – a clear effort to delay substantive discussions,” the party said at the time.

MDP’s Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has since represented the MDP at the talks.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mujuthaba said agenda items had now been agreed, although the order of preference remained under discussion. The items, he said, were:

  • Which laws have to be amended, and what new laws are needed.
  • Discuss and determine the changes that need to be brought to independent institutions and independent positions in the Constitution
  • To discuss amendments that need to be brought to the Constitution
  • To determine a date for the next Presidential elections
  • Find out the present condition of the budget
  • How to have the March 1 Majlis opening proceed in a peaceful manner
  • How can to tackle and solve the present discord in Maldivian society

Speaking to the press, Mujuthaba acknowledged frustration at the speed of the talks.

“I am not happy at the speed of this. I would wish today or tomorrow that there would be some kind of agreement,” he said.

Asked his opinion as to whether early elections – the MDP’s primary demand – were a likely outcome of the talks, he replied that “until a time when I can say really there is a deadlock I don’t want to give up hope on any option in this agenda.”
He acknowledged concerns from the MDP over the composition of the talks and whether the other parties in attendance had a democratic mandate, but said this had only been raised with him minutes before commencement of the first meeting on February 20.

“I said look, you can come to the meeting and say these reasons. It would have been better if you had told me [earlier]. What you say is probably right, but I wish I knew about it before the first meeting,” Mujuthaba said.

Mujuthaba was a former Tourism Minister and was the first chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), appointed by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Dr Waheed appointed him to chair both the roadmap talks and to the government’s independent inquiry into the circumstances of the change of power. Mujuthaba subsequently excused himself from the latter.

“From the way these discussions were going I thought there would be a terrible conflict of interest if I was involved in both at the same time,” he noted. “Better to concentrate on one.”

Solih said Tuesday evening after another round of talks that no agreements had been reached.

The MDP has meanwhile maintained that it will escalate protests until an early election date is declared. Despite the present calm, both the resultant political stalemate and the prospect of chaos when parliament resumes remain a key source of tension in the capital Male’.

Minivan News understands that Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai briefly visited the Maldives today for the second time since the political crisis erupted on February 7.