Indian Prime Minister calls for “free, fair and credible” elections in the Maldives

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has highlighted “free, fair and credible” elections as the “best course” for overcoming political uncertainty in the Maldives.

In a statement, Singh – referring to last year’s controversial transfer of power –  noted that “there have been unfortunate problems in the Maldives after the February 2012 event.”

“We believe that the best course is to have elections to the office of the president, which are due in September, 2013,” Singh said.

“There should be free and fair elections, with an inclusive process, with all people participating in the process of electing the new President. I sincerely hope that the government and people of Maldives will overcome this atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty,” he said.

Singh’s comments follow the arrest last week of former President Mohamed Nasheed by masked police, acting on a court order issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Nasheed is being charged over detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, charges his party contend are a politically-motivated effort to prevent him contesting the 2013 presidential elections. Nasheed evaded an earlier court summons by seeking refuge inside the Indian High Commission for 10 days.

The Hulhumale’ court was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which also appointed the three-member panel of judges overhearing the Nasheed trial. The JSC’s members include several of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including rival presidential candidate and resort tycoon, Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim.

JSC member Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman this week spoke out against the judicial watchdog, revealing that they had openly discussed in meetings their intent to ensure the elimination of the Maldivian Democratic Party and presidential candidate Nasheed from the upcoming elections.

Sheikh Rahman alleged that Chair of the Commission, Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, had abused his post and powers as the chair to try and eliminate Nasheed from contesting the elections, and alleged that Adam Mohamed had “used the commission as a political tool”.

“The politics of the majority control the commission, hence the rule of law, due process and due diligence do not exist in the JSC,” Sheikh Rahman stated. “The commission has no amount of respect for constitutional principles.”

Nasheed was released from custody after the judges panel conceded to a four week delay before the next hearing. Nasheed’s legal team had requested the trial be delayed until after the September 2013 elections, a prospect to which the state prosecution said it had no objection, however the judges would only concede to a month’s delay.

The UK reacted to Nasheed’s release from police custody following the hearing, urging “all parties to remain calm and to act responsibly.”

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt called for a “fair and transparent trial”.

“Unless the chosen candidates of all parties are permitted to participate in the Presidential election scheduled for 7 September, the credibility of the outcome will be irreparably damaged,” Burt warned.

“We urge all involved to work together to find a solution which would allow for genuinely free, fair and inclusive elections and ensure all are able to campaign without hindrance,” he stated.

The UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission (CHRC) meanwhile expressed “grave concern” over Nasheed’s arrest, echoing the former President’s concerns that “court proceedings against him were without any legal basis and were aimed at barring him from running in the presidential elections that have been scheduled for September this year.”

“Concerns have been raised by a range of organisations about whether Nasheed can expect a fair trial, with his supporters asserting that the whole process is politically motivated. The court that he will face has been specially constituted for the purpose, implying strong political interference. Human rights organisations across the world see this as another instance of selective justice being carried out by the current Maldivian administration,” the Commission stated.

Chair of the CHRC, MP Robert Buckland, said that the commission was “ deeply concerned about the safety of former President Nasheed, and urges the Maldivian authorities to postpone legal proceedings against him and to allow free and fair elections to take place.”

“Such instances of selective justice are just one of a number of serious breaches of human rights in the country. The Commission has previously heard evidence from a number of experts who share concerns about this action being politically motivated,” the CHRC stated.

“It is vitally important that all candidates of political parties are able to participate in the upcoming elections if the Maldives wants the international community to see it as a free, fair and inclusive election. Targeting of MDP members and their families will seriously undermine their ability to fight the upcoming elections on an equal footing and the CHRC will put pressure on the government to call for the release of falsely accused MDP supporters,” the CHRC stated.

Despite now widespread international criticism of the politicisation of the JSC, and calls from Home Minister Mohamed Jameel that the case against Nasheed be concluded “before the approaching presidential elections, in the interests of the nation and to maintain peace in it”, President Mohamed Waheed has persistently denied government interference in the judicial process.

“My government has upheld the rule of law and respected all independent institutions. I am pleased to note that unlike in the past, within the last year, the President has not interfered in the work of the judiciary, the police, or the independent commissions,” Waheed said, in a recent statement.

“Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law. I would like to assure the people of Maldives that the law and order will be maintained.”