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.


Comment: Reconciling to reconciliation

With the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, commencing its delayed inaugural session for the current year with the customary address by President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, even if in the midst of disturbances caused by the majority Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the stage may have been set now for political reconciliation in Maldives.

If nothing else, neither can the MDP be seen as continuing to stall parliamentary proceedings without increasing international opprobrium nor can the Government parties argue that in the absence of peace in Parliament, they could not be expected to discuss and vote on advancing presidential polls, as promised.

Addressing Parliament, President Waheed declared his intention to facilitate early elections, as promised to India and the rest of the international community after MDP predecessor Mohammed Nasheedpost facto claimed that a ‘mutiny’ by a section of the armed forces and police was the chief cause for his widely-telecast resignation on February 7.

On another note of concern to the MDP, both while in office and otherwise, he spoke about plans to “empower” the independence of institutions like the Majlis and the country’s judiciary by not “interfering” with their work. In his days in office and outside, President Nasheed and his MDP colleagues had often talked about ‘reforming’ the judiciary and other independent institutions, translating in effect into what the Opposition called ‘interference’.

“This is the time for all of us to work together in one spirit, the time to bring political differences to the discussion table in order to formulate solutions. According to the Constitution, the earliest date for a presidential election is July 2013. If a presidential election is required at an earlier date, changes need to be made to the Constitution. I will do everything in my power to bring together all the political leaders, to hold discussions on the matter,” President Waheed said in his inaugural address, when Parliament reconvened on Monday, March 19, after MDP members inside the Chamber and street-protesters had stalled the originally scheduled sitting on March 1 in an unprecedented manner.

Independent of the street-protests that have continued until after the security forces had swung into action a day after the presidential address and removed an ‘MDP camp’, in what is argued to be the land allotted to the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), in turn leading to a court case, there now seems to be some scope for reconciliation in regard to the continuing political deadlock.

While arguing the MDP’s case on substantive issues, a Commonwealth ministerial team, on its second visit to the country since Nasheed quit office, did not take kindly to his party members disrupting parliamentary proceedings. Then as now, the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) too has decried the MDP behaviour inside Parliament, both on March 1 and 19.

Voices against violence

From within the MDP, there have been increasing voices against street-violence by party cadres, and also on the need for the party to return to the negotiations table for taking its agenda forward. Party president and former president Ibrahim Didi was among the first to criticise cadre-violence, targeting public and private property. Included in the list in recent days was the building housing the media establishment of former opposition Jumhooree Party founder and one-time Finance Minister Gasim Ibrahim, who in turn is among the richest in the country.

Sooner than later, the MDP will be called upon to test President Waheed’s constantly-reiterated commitment to early polls, by participating in the all-party talks, initiated at the latter’s instance weeks ago. Two other political parties, namely the DRP and the PPM, both founded by Nasheed’s predecessor Maumoon Gayoom, with he himself now being associated only with the latter, had decided to stay away from the talks after the MDP did so in the past. They too have now to be talked into returning to the negotiations table, if the reconciliation process has to go anywhere. They may want guarantees that the MDP would stick to the negotiations table until a clear picture emerged on the future course.

DRP leader Thasmeen Ali however has since reiterated his party’s original commitment to facilitate early presidential polls, pointing out however that the MDP would have to let Parliament function for that to happen. From within the MDP, too, a few voices are being heard about the need for the party’s participation in the all-party talks, if only for it to take the logical next step to early polls, and also let Parliament function normally — again, with the same end in mind.

Chicken-and-egg question

It is a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to finalising the date for the presidential polls. The MDP wants the Government to announce the poll-date first whereas the Government parties want the procedural issues in this regard addressed before they could take the logical next step. Or, that is the argument. The MDP is also unclear if they want a tentative date and a commitment to the effect from the Government — or, would want a formal notification before they could re-join the reconciliation process. The latter could prove problematic as the Election Commission — and by reverse extension, the Government — is not authorised to do so in the absence of a constitutional amendment.

Under the Third Republican Constitution of 2008, once-in-five-year presidential polls, now due in November 2013, could be conducted within three months of the due date. Any advancement, by implication, has to be facilitated by a constitutional amendment carrying two-thirds majority in the Majlis — and may require judicial concurrence, if contested. Though being the majority party in Parliament, the MDP too falls woefully short of the magic number. While the party was able to push its position from being the second largest group in the House after the parliamentary polls in 2009 to the top slot, the post-resignation period has not provided any comfort in pushing the numbers further up.

No time to lose

The MDP distanced itself from the negotiations process when the all-party meeting was scheduled to discuss the prioritisation of items in the outline agenda that had been mutually agreed upon. Apart from setting the priority list for the talks from the draft agenda, the all-party meeting will have to go into substantive issues falling under each of the subject-heads. The MDP wants the entire process fast-tracked so as to decide on the poll date first. The Government parties are keen also to discuss institutional reforms, as some of them are concerned about the existing estrangement between the security forces and sections of the national polity, which could spell doom, before, during and after the polls, if a meaningful reconciliation effort is not put in place and executed with elan.

Time is the essence for all concerned. Given their internal contradictions, the Government parties are sure to find mutual accommodation among themselves a tougher proposition than they may have bargained for. The younger elements in many of these parties may not have the same regard from Gayoom as the earlier generation, with the result, they may contest whatever compromise that might be arrived at on specific issues where his counsel could otherwise prevail.

In its turn, the MDP faces the danger of the focus of its current protests and political position slipping away, with extraneous factors coming to dominate the inner-party discourse. The Nasheed leadership has been able to streamline stray yet powerful voices within the party that has talked freely against street-violence and for the MDP to re-join the political process. Senior party leaders who have spoken on such issues have since been quick to point out that it was only a part of the internal mechanisms, and on all issues, including the continuance of street-protests without violence, they were with the leadership.

As the MDP leadership may have seen for itself already, the continuing non-cooperation with the Government on the commitments that the latter has made in relation to restoration of normalcy, and more importantly, early presidential polls, has not gone down well with friends of the party elsewhere and non-cadre sympathisers nearer home. The latter in particular are already feeling the pinch of street-protests interfering with the peaceful daily life that they had been used to — with financial consequences to individuals, too.

Islamic faith, national spirit

While referring to the economy, tourism and international relations, President Waheed in his parliamentary speech also mentioned Islam. “Being a 100 per cent Muslim nation, Maldives does not offer opportunities for the practice of other religions within the country,” he said. “The Government will work to revive the spirit and strengthen the principles of Islamic faith among the people.”

However, President Waheed followed this up with a more direct reference to nationalism, per se. Said he in this regard: “Special efforts will be made to strengthen national spirit and togetherness of Maldivians. Activities to understand our history, culture and nationality will be conducted.” This reference is less perfunctory than it may sound, though the more direct mention of Islam may or may not be as purposeful as it too may read.

As may be recalled, throughout the campaign for the introduction of multi-party democracy in Maldives, the MDP in the years before 2008 had constantly referred to what it propagated as President Gayoom’s efforts at Islamisation of Maldives – an idea that caught the imagination of the pro-Nasheed West in the post-9/11 era in particular. All efforts at removing President Nasheed throughout last year without the required two-thirds majority in the Majlis for his possible impeachment culminated not in any political protest but in the formation of a ‘December 23 Coalition’ by religious NGOs, to protect Islam in Nasheed’s Maldives, with the political opposition seeing in it a chance to evolve a national movement of sorts.

In the days and weeks after President Nasheed’s exit, President Waheed has been constantly and continuously referring to Islam in all his public appearances. While it makes sense in the larger context, his allies in Government have been careful not to make such references and thus possibly provide political space for religious groups outside the existing electoral spectrum. If it signals a fracture in electoral thinking between President Waheed and his political allies remains to be seen. Yet, in the context of the party’s calls for early polls, the MDP too has been silent on this score, after having chided and criticised the rest on what it called ‘fundamentalist religious’ counts during the run-up to the December 23 protest and before – but not afterward.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


“In victory be magnanimous”: President of Timor-Leste visits Maldives

Visiting President of Timor-Leste (East Timor) Dr José Ramos-Horta was met with a seven-gun salute this morning at the president’s jetty, the first day of his state visit to the Maldives.

The two countries signed an agreement to promote cultural exchange and encourage travel through a visa agreement.

Introducing the Nobel Peace prize-winning head of state, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed said Timor’s experience with transitional justice following its independence provided valuable insight for the Maldives’ own process of national reconciliation.

“His excellency [Ramos-Horta] is no ordinary head of state – he is a renowned, fearless and uncompromising champion of human rights,” Nasheed said. “We can learn from their experiences building democracy and of transitional justice.

Ramos-Horta thanked Nasheed for the invitation, joking that “some people at home were suspicious as to why I was going to the Maldives on Valentines Day. I had to show them the letter from the president to prove it was not forsecret romantic purposes.” He also said he was “nervous about coming, in case the President invited us to a meeting underwater.”

He pledged Timor’s support for the Maldives’ bid to join the UN Council of Human Rights, praising Nasheed’s “creativity, commitment, and conciliatory and compassionate approach to past political opponents”.

Timor Leste, like the Maldives, was one of the few countries “to have ratified ever human rights instrument, on day one our our succession to independence,” Ramos-Horta said.

“It took 24 years of occupation [by Indonesia] before we freed ourselves, and tens of thousands of people died. And yet there is no anger or resentment between us and former occupiers – we have the best possible relationship, and thousands of Indonesians are still living in Timor without abuse or discrimination.

“The greatest act of justice is that we are free. We are free because Indonesia also freed itself in 1999 with the fall of the Soeharto regime. Indonesia won by freeing itself of East Timor – and they did. If you look monthly import-exports, [Indonesia] wasted a lot of money on Timor. Now our import bill to them is huge, in the millions of dollars. Our independence restored Indonesia’s honour and dignity.”

Ramos-Horta said a conciliatory approach following Timor’s independence had led to heavy criticism from “heroic bureaucrats” in the United Nations and Brussels, who favoured an “international tribunal to try everyone in Indonesia who was involved in the crimes of the past.

“[Such an approach] would have shown on our side a lack of wisdom and insensitivity to an Indonesia [which was itself] in turmoil and in transition to democracy.”

Ramos-Horta said he himself had “lost brothers and sisters, some of whom we cannot even recover the bodies. That happened to thousands of people.”

“Each country has its realities; its challenges and complexities,” he explained. “I prefer to be criticised for being soft on people who committed violence in the past than be criticised for being too harsh or insensitive in putting people in jail. Our approach fits our reality, an approach the president of the Maldives and I share – the need for magnanimity.”

“Immediately after our independence in 1999, I said: ‘in victory be magnanimous. Don’t rub the wounds of those who feel they lost. Make they feel they won, also.'”