Freedom for ex president on the horizon, suggests MDP

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has raised hope of freedom for convicted opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed by July 26, the day Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

Speaking at a press conference after a third meeting of talks between the MDP and the government, MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih said: “When we celebrate the golden jubilee of independence on July 26, our aim, our hope is that everyone is able to celebrate the day happily and in freedom.”

Nasheed’s jailing on terrorism charges, relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure, sparked months of daily protests and historic anti-government marches. Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen to release Nasheed and other political prisoners, including two former defence ministers and ruling party MP.

While Ibu struck a hopeful tone, the government representative, home minister Umar Naseer was more cautious. He said the government had made no commitments on releasing jailed politicians, but reiterated that the government stands ready to make compromises for long-term stability.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Naseer tonight hailed slow and steady progress in talks and said: “I now believe there is nothing we cannot resolve.”

“On whether political leaders will be released, we did not give any commitments. But we did give one commitment, that is to make concessions, to make compromises where possible. We want to ease political tensions. For there to be engagement and dialogue between the MDP and the government. If such an environment is created, it will be easier for us to make concessions. I cannot directly state that the government will make a specific compromise. But I will say if such an environment is created, the government stands ready to make all compromises. In the past three weeks, we have made compromises, and we have seen progress. This does not happen with just one meeting. This is the third official meeting between MDP and the government. In other countries, it can take 100 meetings,” he said.

Since Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest, the government has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim’s tourism businesses. Gasim, who had spent nearly three months abroad amidst rumors of impending arrest, returned to the Maldives on Sunday morning.

Gasim’s JP had also backed the constitutional amendment. The parliament is due to vote to impeach vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed by July 26. Many believe the president is seeking to replace Jameel because he wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery for a life-threatening condition.

Ibu said: “Even if we do not say a specific action will be taken on a specific date, you will see actions from both parties… You will see results. We are not able to share some of the discussion points with the media yet, so we have not shared them, but we are on a good foundation. I am certain of that. Now we have to proceed. And I received that certainty tonight as well.”

The MDP has repeatedly said Nasheed’s freedom is the party’s highest priority.

The two representatives also said they have established a hotline to facilitate communication and to resolve any issues that may come up.

“There’s been progress, You will be able to see this in the future. Talks are proceeding in a friendly and conciliatory environment. I note we are already seeing results. The public will see even more progress when we sit for a next meeting,” Ibu said.

The fourth meeting of talks has been scheduled for July 21.

Naseer meanwhile said the government, at the ongoing talks, is not pressuring Nasheed to appeal his 13-year jail term at a domestic appellate court. The foreign ministry this weekend urged the opposition leader to appeal in a response to the UN working group on arbitrary detention.

Naseer also said the government will look at provisions in the Clemency Act and the Parole Act in reducing jail terms or releasing other jailed politicians, but only after they exhaust appeal processes.

“We can only take measures through the law. We have the Clemency Act, and the Parole Act. We will review that when it gets to that stage. This government wants to calm political tensions, to establish stability and to establish a conducive environment by which we can provide the public with the services and the development they seek. As I said before, these talks are not about the present, but also the political future of the Maldives.”

The MDP has proposed six measures for political reconciliation at the ongoing talks. In addition to asking for the release of politicians and withdrawing “politically motivated charges” against some 1400 opposition supporters, the party has also called for an independent inquiry into the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Discussions have not progressed on the latter demand yet.

Naseer meanwhile said the government is reviewing the charges against the 1493 people. “This government does not want to charge and punish those who have committed minor offences in political activities. President Yameen has given me a special instruction on this,” he said.

However, the government does not want to be lenient on individuals who may be pretending to be political prisoners, especially those with criminal records, he said.

The government has also committed to speeding up progress in the separate talks with the JP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

Another major demand by the MDP in the ongoing talks is a change from the Maldives’ presidential system of government to a parliamentary system. Discussions on the system of governance will take place at a second stage of talks, the representatives said at an earlier press conference.


Progress in talks raises hope of end to crisis

Representatives of the government and the opposition remain optimistic of a resolution to a six-month long political crisis with home minister stating that the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdraw charges against opposition supporters.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) submitted tonight a list with some 1493 people, who are either in jail, facing charges or under investigation for political activities.

At a second meeting with the government on Sunday night, MDP also requested a two-week timeline to come to agreements on President Abdulla Yameen’s agenda of political reconciliation, constitutional and judicial reform, and participatory development.

The government has, meanwhile, conceded to all-party talks at a later stage and agreed to allow parties to decide on who will represent them at the talks.

The Maldives has been gripped by turmoil since the arrest and imprisonment of several politicians, including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. In the ensuing crisis, hundreds were arrested and three leaders were charged with terrorism.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release all political prisoners.

A third meeting will be held on Wednesday. The government will answer MDP’s demands and make demands of its own in return.

Striking a conciliatory and at times jovial tone, home minister Umar Naseer said: “The government’s aim is not to get a quick fix, but to build sustainable relationships between the PPM and MDP. These talks are aimed not just to address the current turmoil, but aimed at coming to a long-term agreement or understanding.”

MDP MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih said: “The meeting proceeded in a very friendly atmosphere. The two parties worked constructively with the aim of bringing results.”

Fisheries minister Mohamed Shainee and president’s office minister Abdulla Ameen also participated in tonight’s meeting.

At the first meeting on July 1, the MDP had proposed five rules to proceed with talks, including joint talks, and conducting talks in three stages.

Naseer and Ibu tonight said that the two parties will discuss measures for political reconciliation at the first stage, and will invite the Jumhooree Party and religious conservative Adhaalath Party to discussions on constitutional and judicial reform, and participatory development at the second and third stages of talks.

Separate teams of ministers are in discussions with the JP and the Adhaalath Party.

Although the government tonight withdrew a veto on Nasheed representing the MDP at talks, it is not clear if he will be physically present at the meetings. The opposition leader was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional change that would allow President Yameen to replace his deputy.

Naseer also blocked a question whether the government plans to repeal a law that had stripped Nasheed of the MDP presidency.

When asked if he is authorized to make decisions on behalf of the government, the home minister said: “I brief the president on the proceedings at the talks, the MDP’s proposals, and ask if there is any points he’d like to decide on and we proceed according to his decisions. There are no difficulties.”

The MDP’s demands for political reconciliation are:

  • To make concessions on “politically motivated sentencing” of politicians, including Nasheed, Nazim, ex-defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim and MP Ahmed Nazim
  • Withdraw “politically motivated charges” against protestors, including Sheikh Imran
  • Withdraw economic sanctions against businessmen, including JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, ex MP Abdulla Jabir’s Yacht Tours, and MDP deputy chairperson’s AAA company
  • Job security for councilors, civil servants and employees of state owned companies
  • Independent inquiry into the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan
  • Independent investigation of the death threats sent via text messages to politicians and journalists

The MDP has also called for a constitutional change to a parliamentary system, contending that the presidential system of government has failed in the Maldives.

The tax authority last week removed a freeze on Gasim’s Villa Group accounts.


Leaders commit to reconciliation, prepare to begin talks

Representatives of the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) made an unprecedented show of commitment to resolving a six-month long political crisis tonight following a preliminary meeting ahead of talks.

“I believe this is the time for a major reconciliation by finding a consensus through talks. The government, to show its sincerity, will make all the concessions we can,” Home minister Umar Naseer told the press.

Naseer and the MDP’s parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih met at the President’s Office at 11:00pm on Wednesday night, and discussed the agenda and structure for the long-awaited negotiations.

“We believe the government is ready to come to a resolution. That is why we are sitting down. I have high hope that we will find a solution,” Ibu said.

The Maldives has been gripped by political turmoil since the arrest and imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Hundreds were arrested in protests and key figures were charged with terrorism. Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen’s government to release all political prisoners, including Nasheed.

“We have not spoken on the substance of the talks tonight, meaning on what it is that we will agree on, or what we cannot agree on. We spoke on the design of the talks, and how we will proceed,” Naseer said.

A second meeting will be held on Sunday (July 5) at 10:30pm.

“We noted even tonight that there is common ground. Our two parties are very mature. Both have ruled, and both have been in opposition. Both parties have experienced all there is to experience in the political sphere,” Naseer said.

“This might take some time, but both parties we are starting off with sincerity, with the hope of success.”

The two parties, in their role as opposition, had made mistakes, Naseer said. “In light of those experiences, with the awareness that either of us may be in power, or in opposition in the future, we believe this is the beginning of a very important process to shape the Maldives’ political future.”

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest for eight weeks in June, after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment to allow President Yameen to replace his vice president.


The government’s agenda, proposed in mid-May, includes three aspects – political reconciliation, constitutional and judicial reform, and political party participation in development.

MDP has requested tonight that the government agree on five basic rules and a timeline for the talks. The proposed rules include:

  • Agreement to talks between all parties, including ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party.
  • Each party must be able to determine their representatives
  • Talks should proceed in three stages
  • Agreement on a measure to determine success

The MDP also presented Naseer with papers on the government’s agenda points.

The party has requested that the government, in order to establish an environment conducive for talks and to reach political reconciliation, agree to the following:

  • To make concessions on “politically motivated sentencing” of politicians, including Nasheed, Nazim, ex-defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim and MP Ahmed Nazim
  • Withdraw “politically motivated charges” against some 400 protestors
  • Withdraw economic sanctions against businessmen, namely JP leader Gasim Ibrahim
  • Job security for councilors, civil servants and employees of state owned companies
  • Independent inquiry into the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan
  • Independent investigation of the death threats sent via text messages to politicians and journalists

After an agreement is reached on political reconciliation, the MDP has proposed that the parties begin discussions on judicial and constitutional reform and development.

The MDP has also proposed a constitutional change to a parliamentary system of government

“Our party has governed within a presidential system, and so has the ruling party. Every time, it is the candidate who wins the second largest number of votes who comes to power, through a coalition. But the coalition falls apart soon afterwards and the government is plunged into turmoil. We have experienced this system and we have not seen good results, so lets change to a parliamentary system,” Ibu said.

The paper on political party participation in development includes some 40 proposals, Ibu said.

President Yameen had first proposed talks on May 14. But there was no progress after the government ruled out negotiations over Nasheed and Nazim’s release and vetoed Nasheed as an MDP representative.

When the opposition leader was transferred to house arrest, the MDP said it will continue with talks without Nasheed.

The government tonight appeared to relent on its veto on Nasheed with Naseer saying: “We have not directly decided who will represent the MDP in talks. MDP will decide that.”

Assuring the public of the government’s commitment to a resolution, Naseer said they stand ready to make any concessions necessary by amending laws.

“We have compromised even when it was really hard for us. We will do so in the future. The MDP represents a large portion of the Maldivian public and is among the largest political parties. It will be much easier for this government to achieve the development, progress that we seek with them, in light of discussions with them,” he said.


No obstacle for Nasheed’s involvement in talks, says MDP

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) insists that there is no obstacle for former President Mohamed Nasheed to represent the main opposition party in official talks with the government.

The government had rejected Nasheed as the party’s representative on the grounds that the opposition leader is serving a 13-year jail sentence.

In a letter to President Abdulla Yameen, the MDP said that Nasheed was not sentenced to be “locked up in jail in isolation, unable to meet anyone.”

The government had facilitated meetings with meetings with Nasheed for representatives from the UN and the Commonwealth after his conviction in March, the party noted.

The MDP said that it is essential for all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), to sit down together for the talks.

President Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties – the MDP, the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Adhaalath Party (AP) – to resolve the ongoing political crisis triggered by the arrest and imprisonment of Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The JP promptly accepted the invitation for talks, but the religious conservative AP proposed its detained president, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, among the party’s representatives.

Imran was released from police custody yesterday and faces charges of encouraging violence during the May Day mass anti-government demonstration.

The May Day demonstration was the second mass protest staged by the opposition calling for Nasheed and Nazim’s immediate release.

The government has ruled out negotiations over the release of Nasheed and Nazim, insisting the president does not have the constitutional authority to release convicts before the appeal process is exhausted.

President Yameen sent official invitations for the talks two weeks after the May Day protest. The proposed agenda for talks focuses on three aspects: political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and legal system and political party participation in economic and social development.

“If there is no legal, medical, physical or administrative obstructions regarding the representatives proposed by the three parties, we will proceed with the talks,” president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali tweeted earlier this week.


HRCM welcomes talks to resolve political crisis

The human rights watchdog has welcomed the government’s calls for talks with opposition parties to resolve the ongoing political crisis.

In a press statement last night, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) urged all political parties to make good use of the opportunity with sincerity and good faith.

The commission said peace and stability are essential for protecting and promoting human rights, urging all parties to work together and to refrain from actions and rhetoric that incites hatred and animosity among the public.

The HRCM also expressed concern with the assault of police officers as well as complaints of police brutality against opposition protesters.

President Abdulla Yameen extended official invitations for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties last week.

However, the government has ruled out negotiations over the release of imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrest triggered the current political crisis.


Tourism unaffected by political turmoil, insists tourism minister

The local tourism industry has not been affected so far by the current political turmoil, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has said.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (March 11), Adeeb said the current situation was not a crisis compared to a difficult period in early 2012 in the wake of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation.

“What we went through then was a crisis with the pressure, problems, booking cancellations, and especially I believe the travel alerts issued then were alarming,” Adeeb said.

The government was not facing similar challenges at present, Adeeb said, adding that there have been no significant booking cancellations.

Arrivals data from February – during which the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-Jumhooree Party alliance launched nightly protests and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and former President Nasheed were arrested – have yet to be released by the tourism ministry.

Statistics from January meanwhile showed a 7.8 percent decline in arrivals on the back of a continuing decline in arrivals from China.


Comment: Reactive and obstructive politics threaten democracy in the Maldives

The International Day of Democracy (September 15) is a good day on which to take stock of democracy in the Maldives, a country that is well into its democratic awakening.

This is an opportunity to look at the successes achieved and the challenges that lie ahead – to look at the progress of democracy, with all of its opportunities and difficulties.

You can see the progress made as a nation in the rapid advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A great deal of faith has been placed in democratic governance as a system, and in its transformative power for the country as a whole.

The space for free expression has been unlocked and is vibrant, with the role of the media growing. Two successful elections have been conducted, and the level of engagement by the people in the country’s development is increasing.

The forthcoming local elections offer another opportunity to show how democracy, development and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

However, transition and change is always a painful process and there is still much to be done. Tensions have run high in recent months between the Executive, Majlis and Judiciary, the three pillars of democratic government. We still find ourselves in a political crisis that has made it very difficult to make progress on issues of pressing importance to the nation.

This has created a logjam of desperately needed legislation, including bills necessary for the functioning of the Maldives’ economy and government. The judiciary, institutions and independent commissions have sometimes come under remarkable pressure. There is a great need to build their institutional capacity to help them function as strong democratic institutions.

Why does the political crisis matter to ordinary Maldivians, who may just reduce their support and involvement in democracy for a while?

The best answer to this comes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says “setbacks in democratic advancement are setbacks for development. Development is far more likely to take hold if people are given a genuine say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.”

This view suggests that the progress of democracy, and the resolution of the political crisis, is in the best interest of every man, woman and child in the Maldives.

With the parties frequently at an impasse, the challenges can seem too great to overcome. But I do believe that solutions are readily available to the parties, should they commit themselves to working towards them.

Dialogue and cooperation on areas of common interest (and there are many of these) are the only ways to deal with the challenges facing the country. I hope that the governing and opposition coalitions can recommit themselves to political dialogue after the September recess is over, so as to find political solutions that allow government to function as it needs to; and ensure cooperation where it is needed within the Majlis, and between the Majlis and the Executive.

This does not mean that there has to be agreement on everything – democracy is about managing disagreement in a productive way. But I do believe there are high expectations for government and opposition to work together on finding solutions to problems that affect the country.

The United Nations has been supporting the parties in the last few weeks to try to find these solutions. The UN is committed to continuing to help Maldivians to safeguard and advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country. But it has always been clear that these are Maldivian talks, on Maldivian problems, and we believe that a locally owned process offers the best way forward, with support from the international community when it is needed.

Maldivians and the parties that represent them face a decision point now. With the Maldives being one of the most promising young democracies in the region, there is undoubtedly a strong national commitment to democracy.

But should the political crisis continue as it is, many democratic gains could be lost. The choice therefore is to find a way forward and resolve political differences through dialogue and compromise to the greatest extent possible; or to continue reactive and obstructive politics that threaten the democratic project and prevent progress, even on issues where the parties might agree on normally.

It is my sincere wish that dialogue is chosen, trust is slowly but surely built, and Maldives continues to take the path towards a united, just and democratic nation.

Andrew Cox is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives

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