Global concern as Maldivian court suspends presidential election

The international community has expressed alarm over the Maldives’ sudden suspension of the second round of presidential elections, initially scheduled for September 28.

The Supreme Court issued an interim order on Monday evening, signed by four of the seven-member bench, halting the election until the court rules on allegations of electoral impropriety filed by third-placed presidential candidate, Gasim Ibrahim.

Gasim is seeking annulment of the first round in which he received 24.07 percent of the vote, alleging that he received at least 20,000 more votes and declaring that “God Willing, Gasim will be President on November 11″.

The Elections Commission has dismissed the credibility of evidence submitted to the court, mostly speculation by anonymised witnesses, and noted that even if factual the claims were insufficient to impact the results of the first round. It has also pointed to unanimous positive assessments of the polling by international election observers.

The case is continuing today after the EC’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, was yesterday thrown out for ‘contempt of court’. Suood had argued that the injunction violated Article 111 of the constitution requiring a second round to be held a maximum of 21 days after the first.


India, whose observers monitored a third of the ballot boxes across the country, called upon all concerned in the Maldives “to address the current situation at the earliest so that the electoral process could be resumed in a manner that respects the will of the Maldivian people.”

“It is important that the second round of the Presidential elections is held as scheduled and the candidate elected by the people of Maldives assumes the Presidency on 11 November 2013 as mandated by the Constitution,” stated the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“India has consistently conveyed its support for the democratic process in Maldives. It was in this regard that India had called for free, fair and credible Presidential elections in meeting the aspirations of the people of Maldives. The first round of Presidential elections was held on 7 September 2013 in a transparent, organised and peaceful manner. This was acknowledged by domestic and international observers, including those from India,” the spokesperson stated.

“We have seen recent reports that the Supreme Court of Maldives has postponed the second round of Presidential elections scheduled to be held on 28 September 2013. This development has resulted in uncertainty concerning the second round, which may have an impact on peace, stability and security in the country,” the spokesperson noted.

Read the Indian statement

United Kingdom

UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said the country was “extremely concerned” at the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the second round of presidential elections.

“I recognise the right of the Maldivian courts to ensure legitimate allegations of electoral malpractice are investigated appropriately. However, it is vital to avoid any unnecessary disruptions to the national electoral process, and for representatives from all sides to be represented during any legal proceedings,” Burt stated.

“In light of the widely held judgment of both international and domestic observers that elections were free and fair, I hope that the second round of elections will go ahead without further delay. It is especially important that the second round of elections is held within the timescales specified in the Maldives constitution,” he added.

Read the UK’s statement


Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird said Canada was “very concerned” over the delay in the run-off election, and indicated that it would push the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm to put the matter on its agenda..

“International election observers, including from the Commonwealth, as well as domestic election observers, all viewed the September 7 election as free and fair. This delay is troublesome and can only lead to more instability,” said Baird.

“We call on the people of the Maldives to work together in a calm and democratic fashion and on judicial authorities to not unduly delay the expression by Maldivians of their democratic will. We believe that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should discuss this issue at its Friday meeting in New York City,” he added.

Read the Canadian statement

United Nations

UN Secretary General Bai Ki-moon said he was concerned about the Supreme Court’s decision ordering the postponement of the second round, given that the first round was “widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers.”

“It is of the utmost importance that the will of the people be respected in deciding the future of the country. These are pivotal elections for reaffirming the democratic process in the Maldives,” read a statement from the UN Secretary General.

“The people of the Maldives have exhibited great patience and should have the opportunity, without undue delay, to exercise their vote. The Secretary-General urges all Maldivians to exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the Constitutions and work toward conducive conditions for peaceful, credible run-off polls to take place as soon as possible.”

Read the UN statement

European Union

The European Union has noted the temporary injunction issued by the court, but also recalled that the international community recognised the outcome of the first round as inclusive and credible, and considered that it reflected the will of the Maldivian people.”

“I call upon the responsible Maldivian authorities to ensure that the second round takes place without delay and in accordance with the constitution of the Maldives. I urge all Maldivians to work together to safeguard the integrity of the democratic process and ensure that the second round takes place in the same impartial and effective spirit as the first,” stated EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Read the EU’s statement


The Australian government said it had noted court’s postponement of the second round of presidential elections, despite the “positive findings of international observers, including the Commonwealth Observer Group, on the conduct of the recent first round”.

“These elections are an important step in entrenching democracy following the disputed transfer of power there in February 2012,” read a statement from the Australian High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“Australia hopes to see an early resumption of the electoral process, with the second round of elections conducted in a manner that is free, fair and transparent, in accordance with the rule of law, and gives free expression to the will of the people of the Maldives,” the statement read.

“We call on all parties to maintain calm and order and to work together peacefully and cooperatively while this situation is considered by the Supreme Court. It is important that the results of the democratic process are respected.

“The international community will continue to watch developments in the Maldives very closely.”

Read the Australian statement

United States

US Ambassador Michele J Sison visited Male on September 24-25 where she “urged Maldivian officials and political party leaders to resolve the issue of elections promptly.”

“International and domestic observers, including US government officials, all characterised the first round of Maldivian presidential elections as free and fair. The high turnout reflects the Maldivian people’s desire to elect democratically their own representatives,” read the US statement (also in Dhivehi).

“Holding the second round of elections in a timely fashion – as mandated by the Maldivian constitution – is central to the democratic process and a peaceful transition of power that reflects the will of the Maldivian people,” the statement read.

At the same time, the US Embassy in Colombo issued an alert to US citizens travelling in the Maldives recommending that they “exercise caution, avoid large crowds and monitor media coverage of local events.”

Read the US statement


Commonwealth Special Envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon said it was “deeply worrying to hear comments calling for the annulment of [the] election. No election anywhere is going to be absolutely perfect and there was no evidence or claim before the election that the voter register was manifestly so deficient as to so distort the outcome.”

He called for the Supreme Court to “deliver its judgment expeditiously in the case pending before it so that the second round can be held, and the verdict of the Maldivian people determined, without further delay.”

“The people of Maldives went to the polls in good faith on 7 September to elect a president. That election was found by national and international observers, notably by a high-level and experienced Commonwealth Observer Group, to be competitive and credible,” McKinnon said.

“As I have stated before, the Maldivian people must be the winners in this election – they are collectively more important than any one political leader. The people of Maldives worked hard to get a democratic constitution, they want it respected and it is their right that the elections deliver a result that reflects the wishes of the majority.”

Read the Commonwealth statement

Maldivian government condemns “irresponsible statements”

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who received 5.13 percent in the first round of presidential elections, has lashed out at “irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organisations” which he declared are “not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country.”

“Our statutory institutions, including the judiciary, have shown that they are capable of making sound and impartial decisions on some of the most complex issues of national importance,” read a statement from Waheed on the President’s Office website.

The comments appeared at odds with a report from UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, who in May 2013 presented a detailed report documenting a judicial system in crisis to the UN General Assembly.

The Special Rapporteur wrote that she was “concerned that the Supreme Court is perceived as not following due process in many of its decisions. It is also troublesome that some of the Supreme Court’s interventions are perceived as arbitrary and as serving the judges’ own personal interests.”

President Waheed meanwhile called “on foreign governments, the UN, and the Commonwealth to show responsibility and to refrain from issuing statements commenting on, and speculating about, the on-going court case.”

“Local and international observers did a commendable job in observing the elections. Yet, they do not decide on the cases filed by one or more candidates in an election. It is never done anywhere in the world,” Waheed stated.

Read President Waheed’s statement


Indian election observers arrive in Maldives

Indian election observers have arrived in the Maldives ahead of the 2013 Presidential Elections.

According to a statement from the Indian High Commission, the team includes former Chief Election Commissioners of India, JM Lyngdoh, B B Tandon, N Gopalaswami, and former High Commissioner of India to the Maldives, S M Gavai.

“The team is visiting Maldives on the invitation of the Elections Commission of Maldives and will undertake visits to a number of polling stations in different islands,” read the statement.

Current High Commissioner of India to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare hosted a reception for the delegation attended by President of the Maldivian Elections Commission, Fuwad Thowfeek, and members of the Elections Commission of Maldives as well as international community including the UN Resident Coordinator Tony Lisle and Head of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Dan Malinovich.

“In the interactions with political leaders in the Maldives, the Government of India has emphasised the importance of conducting free, fair and credible elections in a peaceful environment followed by a smooth transition,” stated the Indian High Commission.

“India is committed to strengthening the institutions of democracy in the Maldives. In this context, the Election Commission of India is working closely with the Elections Commission of Maldives to further strengthen its capacity. India is also arranging for the training of Maldivian judges in India and is working closely with the Majlis.

“India attaches the highest importance to its relations with Maldives, a close and friendly neighbour, and desires to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Maldives,” the statement added.


Government slams EU statement on credibility of elections should Nasheed not stand

The Foreign Ministry has slammed an EU statement alerting the government that it would be “difficult” to consider the Maldives’ upcoming presidential elections credible unless former President Mohamed Nasheed is allowed to contest.

“The government of the Maldives considers the ‘Declaration’ issued on the Maldives by the European Union’s High Representative, Catherine Ashton, on 14 March 2013, as unfortunate and unacceptable,” read the Ministry’s statement.

“The government is committed to ensuring that the Presidential elections will be fair and inclusive of all qualified parties and individuals wishing to participate,” it added.

Nasheed is currently being tried in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over his detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent Nasheed from contesting elections in September, and have condemned the former President’s repeated arrest on the court’s order by squads of masked special operations police.

A number of international institutions including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Judiciary, Gabriela Knaul, and the UK’s Bar Human Rights Commission, have recently expressed concern about the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court it created, and its appointment of the three member panel of judges overhearing the Nasheed trial.

The European Union said it “reiterates its view that the participation of the preferred candidates from all political formations in the Maldives is essential to ensuring the success of the forthcoming elections; it would be difficult to consider them credible and inclusive if Mr Nasheed and his party were to be prevented from standing or campaigning.”

“The EU takes note of the acceptance by the prosecution of a defence request to defer the trial until after the upcoming presidential elections in September and hopes that this would offer the means to ensure that ex-President Nasheed is able to participate in the electoral campaign, under the same conditions as other candidates,” stated EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.

In response, the government said that “criminal charges filed against former President Mr. Mohamed Nasheed by the independent Prosecutor General concerns the arrest and detention of a sitting judge of a superior court in the Maldives in January 2012. President Nasheed disregarded over a dozen court orders from the Civil Court, Criminal Court, High Court and the Supreme Court to produce the Judge before the court. President Nasheed also dismissed calls by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Prosecutor General, and several international organisations, including the EU, to release the judge.”

“The Court’s decision earlier this month to postpone Mr. Nasheed’s trial clearly shows that the courts in the Maldives are in fact able to make credible decisions in a politically divisive environment and that they are neither unfairly biased against Mr. Nasheed nor conspiring against him. The decision also goes on to highlight that the case against the former President is not politically motivated and that in effect, Mr. Nasheed does accept that there is a genuine case against him. The Government has always maintained that it should be given the necessary space to manage and develop an authentic democratic culture in the Maldives without external interference,” the Ministry stated.

“It is therefore regrettable that a responsible international organisation, such as the EU, chose to state in public that the forthcoming presidential elections would not be credible unless a particular person is allowed to contest in the elections. It is important to note that elections in the Maldives are held in accordance with the Constitution and the relevant laws of the Maldives. The government in the Maldives is elected by the people and for the people of the Maldives,” the statement concluded.


Local media “misrepresenting and twisting issues”: Indian High Commission

The Indian High Commission has issued a statement slamming local media in the Maldives for “misrepresentation and twisting of issues”.

“The High Commission has noted a recent trend in a section of local media to publish negative, unsubstantiated reports, while blacking out objective and positive news on Indian issues,” the Commission said.

“These reports have the potential to create negative public sentiment and reflect a non-serious approach by the media concerned while dealing with sensitive issues,” the statement added.

The statement highlighted several recent examples, such as coverage of the Maldivian national Ahmed Ruffan Ali, who was reported as alleging he had been “tortured” in an Indian jail after being detained for illegally smuggling peacock feathers.

“The High Commission facilitated major help and assistance for the release of the youth while in distress in India,” the statement read.

“While prominently covering the unsubstantiated and motivated statement of the sentenced youth, the media concerned did not verify the facts from the High Commission and chose to overlook the statement of the youth. His subsequent rejoinder that he was not ‘tortured’ in India has not been carried by the media, so far.”

In a rejoinder statement forwarded by the High Commission, Rufwaan expresses “deep regret” that in an article on Sun Online, “using the word ‘tortured’ is a misrepresentation made in translation of the original statement I made on January 26, speaking to the media at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), upon arrival from India.”

Rufwaan said he had been asked by reporters as to whether he was beaten in custody, to which he “regretfully responded, “It is a jail after all, and we will get beaten. Yes I was beaten. The rules of the officers there is that, once jailed we have to beg for mercy at their feet. I refused to do that, which is why I got the beating.”

However, Rufwaan stated, “Using the word ‘torture’ insinuates that I was exposed to extreme violent treatment which was not the case. It is also the ‘cultural’ language barrier that the Dhivehi language consists of limited vocabulary which when translated to English, can fit to a variety of synonyms.

“Also, the lack of literary expertise in linguistics of the journalists can often provide misleading information and I believe this could have caused this mistake. The concerned media has taken it very lightly and when requested to correct it, responded as ‘I’ll give it a thought’,” he added.

“Hence I kindly apologise to all concerned authorities for the unfortunate choice of word used in the article, which in my understanding, creates a far more negative and graphic image of how I intended to express,” he said, expressing “profound appreciation” for the High Commission’s “constant support and assistance” throughout his detention.

Editor of Sun and head of the Maldives Journalists Association, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, told Minivan News that the specific word Rufwaan had used, “aniyaa”, translated to “torture”, according to Sun’s audio recordings.

“We [later] received a call, not from him, but from somebody on his behalf,” said Hiriga, acknowledging that media had a responsibility to issue a clarification or correction if this was later required. “We will be making the correction. We do not want to create any problems.”

In a second example, the High Commission highlighted a report in a daily newspaper titled “India to stop export of sand, rice to Maldives”.

“The report is grossly unsubstantiated and does not provide any credible source of its information. As far as the High Commission is aware, the government of India has taken no such decision to ban export of rice or river sand to Maldives. There is a local court injunction for the export of river sand from Tuticorin, though the importers are free to source it from any other region/state in India,” the Indian High Commission stated.

Sun Online carried a story today that the State Trading Organisation (STO) had decided to import aggregate from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka “following a temporary suspension of export of aggregate from India.”

“The Maldives has been importing aggregate from India under a special quota extended by the Indian government. The Indian Ministry of Commerce has notified Indian suppliers that the aggregate quota has been temporarily suspended from the 15th of January onwards,” Sun reported.


UN defends role in Maldives, emphasises “political impartiality”

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator has issued a statement defending the UN’s activity in the Maldives and reiterating its “strict impartiality toward political parties”.

The statement follows a recent accusation from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that while “the IPU, CMAG, Canada, the Human Rights Committee, the EU and certain international NGOs such as Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights have expressed varying degrees of alarm at the Maldives’ backsliding on democracy and human rights, others including the UN Resident Coordinator and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have remained shamefully silent.”

“Since February’s overthrow of the Maldives’ democratically-elected government, key parts of the international community have remained silent regarding the widespread human rights violations taking place,” the party’s spokesperson, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said in a statement.

“To remain silent in the face of injustice is to be an accomplice to that injustice,” he added.

In a statement released on Sunday, the UN said it “continues to be concerned that the current situation in the country may have an impact on the country’s development”, and noted examples of the international organisation’s activities in the Maldives.

“As a trusted partner, the UN has spoken repeatedly in public and in private over the course of several years and three governments on democracy, development, and human rights. Most recently, the Secretary-General spoke of the need for political dialogue, national reconciliation, and respect for the constitution. He called on all parties to exercise maximum cooperation and restraint,” the UN stated.

“The High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteurs have engaged robustly and provided considerable support over the years on human rights, which has been further strengthened by the recent deployment of a human rights adviser,” the statement noted.

“The UN team in Maldives, led by the Resident Coordinator, works as part of the larger UN strategy focusing on development, human rights and support to democracy. Our primary and overriding interest is to work for the development of the country and the betterment of the lives of its people. It does this on the basis of a programme of cooperation signed with the government in the interest of the people of the Maldives. We do our work with national institutions in government and civil society, the private sector, and directly with communities.

“The UN team has been deeply engaged in building national capacity, and in urging and assisting Maldivians to take the lead in overcoming deep rooted national challenges. We will continue to provide support and advocate vigorously a renewed focus for development that builds on the gains of the past, and focuses on the needs of the country,” the organisation stated.


World famous eco-resort embroiled in local politics

The Soneva Group has composed a statement in response to allegations published in the UK media, that the head of the upmarket resort company, Sonu Shivdasani, had engaged a PR firm to “spruce up” the image of Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government.

The company’s flagship resort, Soneva Fushi in Baa Atoll, is known for its ecological innovation. It hosts the annual ‘Slow Life Symposium’, drawing environmental luminaries from around the world – including, last October, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

However, “No fan of [former President] Nasheed’s tax proposals, Sonu was keen to help the new administration spruce up its image,” alleged a recent column in the the UK’s Private Eye magazine.

The article contended that post February 7, an “unlikely alliance” had emerged between certain resorts – desperate to stabilise the sudden political instability for the sake of their bottom lines – and the new government, a loose alliance of ambitious political elements who came to power on a platform of Islamic conservatism.

“The reality is that the Maldives – already favoured by footballers, Russian gangsters and off-duty Israeli arms dealers – are an even harder sell since the coup has given us an unlikely alliance between hoteliers promoting bikini-clad, cocktail-fuelled luxury and a government that includes two imams, wants to bring back the death penalty and has done nothing about the destruction by supporters of the coup of the national museum’s entire pre-Islamic collection,” the article stated.

The article alleged that “in April [Shivdasani] e-mailed Britain’s well known PR guru Matthew Freud, saying: ‘I just spoke to President Waheed. He is happy to engage your services (for tourism PR) on a barter basis whereby Reethi Rah and Soneva Fushi would offer accommodation at our resorts in lieu of the barter. Did you manage to speak to Alan Leibman from One and Only?’” the column stated.

“Freud initially appeared thrilled at the prospect of free holidays: ’We greatly look forward to working with you and the president,’” it stated, apparently having obtained the relevant correspondence between the pair.

“But by the time President Waheed had got in on the act later in the month, writing to Freud: ‘We had discussed along with Sonu that a contract will be signed first among SixSenses, One and Only and Matthew to assist us with tourism promotion in the UK. Matthew will send us an outline a proposed activities as discussed’ – the legendary PR guru had developed cold feet: ‘I am sorry that the adverse political climate prevents us from being more directly involved but going to a doctor who will make you sicker is rarely a good idea.’”

In a counter statement from the group, obtained by Minivan News, the company sought to clarify the “facts” of the case.

“Sonu Shivdasani does not have a political relationship with President Mohamed Waheed, their interaction revolves specifically around environmental and ecological issues,” the Soneva statement read.

“In addition to former President Mohammed Nasheed, President Mohamed Waheed demonstrated an active level of support and interest in Soneva Fushi’s sustainable practices during his vice presidency.  He attended both the 2010 and 2011 SLOWLIFE Symposia at Soneva Fushi.

“President Mohamed Waheed’s interest in environmental issues has remained consistent; it is on these grounds and issues that he and Sonu Shivdasani have interacted since his assumption to the Presidency.”

The company claimed that the discussion between Freud PR and President Waheed had concerned the PR firm’s Director, Arlo Brady, “who is associated with the Blue Marine Foundation.”

“The discussions focused on creating the World’s largest Marine Reserve in the country and other environment initiatives. I offered Freud PR complimentary accommodation at Soneva Fushi in return for their support of the government with this campaign and other environment initiatives in the country that were discussed,” the Soneva statement read.

A source within the Soneva Group described the situation as “a bloody mess”.

Shivdasani “completely fell for Waheed’s line that Nasheed didn’t resign under duress” and had – unsuccessfully – asked a number of PR agencies to set up interviews for the new President, Minivan News was informed.

The source surmised that Shivdasani had “innocently, stupidly, somehow believed Waheed”, and “gone out of his way to help [the new President].”

Soneva’s statement meanwhile disputed the resort’s motivation to support the new government based on supposed plans to amend a corporate tax bill implemented by Nasheed, as, “to the best of my knowledge, there are no plans by the current President Mohamed Waheed to reduce or eliminate this tax.”

Following the controversial transfer of power the Maldives now faces spiralling budget deficit of 27 percent, an ongoing foreign currency shortage, plummeting investor confidence, spiraling expenditure, and a drop off in foreign aid.

A proposal by the Finance Ministry last week to curb impending economic crisis included raising the tourism goods and services tax (TGST) to 15 percent, among other measures. Several resort managers told Minivan News earlier this year that a sudden TGST increase would have to be taken out their margins due to contractual commitments with tour operators, following the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s demand that this be raised to 12 percent.

“To the best of my knowledge, President Mohamed Nasheed did not have plans to raise further taxes from resorts in the Maldives,” the Soneva statement read.

“There were discussions about taxes being introduced on other industries in the Maldives as well as the introduction of an income tax on Maldivian nationals. Neither of these would impact Soneva or I as we are not involved in other businesses in the Maldives,” it added.

Soured relationships

Sonenva Fushi’s Slow Life Symposium in October attracted an array of high profile business, media and environmental figures including Virgin head Richard Branson, actress Daryl Hannah, star of films including ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Splash’; Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’; Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project; Mike Mason, founder of Climate Care, one of the world’s first carbon trading companies; and British author, journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas.

Branson waded into Maldivian politics on his blog on February 24, calling on President Waheed to “do the right thing” and hold free and fair elections before the end of the year.

It was, Branson wrote to Dr Waheed, “completely astounding that you have been part of an overthrow of a democratically elected government that has effectively let the old regime back into power.”

“Knowing you, I would assume that you were given no choice and that it was through threats that you have ended up in this position,” Branson said. “I do very much hope that was the case rather than you doing it of your own free will.”

Days later, Branson wrote another entry, saying that he had spoken on the phone to Dr Waheed, who told him he had appointed “a respected person” to examine the truth of what caused President Nasheed to “resign”.

“He says that he didn’t know who issued an arrest warrant for President Nasheed after he left office but that it had been rescinded within 48 hours. He is determined to be an honest broker, to be seen to be one, and to get everyone’s confidence. He said that he offered to bring in people from President Nasheed’s party but they refused to join.

“He also pointed out that President Nasheed’s party had been a minority party and had only been in power due to the support of others. It would be for those others, and the electorate to decide who rules in the future. He ended by pledging elections in July of next year – in line with the constitution – once confidence has been restored,” Branson wrote.

“Based on his personal reputation I believe he’s sincere in wanting to do what’s right for the country and return it to a true and lasting democracy.”

A few days later, Branson wrote a third post, resuming his first call “for early elections “as soon as feasibly possible”.

“Having listened to both sides, it does seem wise for an election to take place as soon as is feasibly possible so that the people of the Maldives can begin to put this ugly chapter behind them,” Branson wrote.

Lynas – another Slow Life participant who also worked as Nasheed’s Climate Advisor – was quick to condemn Dr Waheed’s new government, claiming that his “lack of democratic legitimacy” had lost the Maldives’ its voice at international climate negotiations.

“Waheed and his representatives have no moral authority because they were not elected, have strong connections with corrupt and violent elements of the former dictatorship, and took power in the dubious circumstances of a police coup,” Lynas argued.

“The Maldives has lost many years of work already – it has little credibility left with donors or international investors. Investors and donors alike are looking for stability and strong governance – and they will not get either of those whilst the political system is essentially deadlocked between competing parties, with regular protests and ensuing police violence.

“In climate terms the Maldives is well on its way to becoming a failed state – I see no prospect of it achieving Nasheed’s 2020 carbon neutral goal, even if that goal is still official policy,” Lynas said.

“I think time has basically run out now – unless there are early elections quickly and a legitimate government re-established there is no real prospect of resurrecting the Maldives’ leadership on climate change.”

Yet another Slow Life participant, Mike Mason, who worked pro bono as Nasheed’s Energy Advisor, resigned following Nasheed’s ousting despite being asked by Waheed to remain.

“I don’t think Dr Waheed is a bad man – actually I like him a lot personally,” he wrote, in an email to an official in the Trade Ministry obtained by Minivan News.

“However, he has done nothing to assure me that this is really a democratic process. Rather, my intelligence tells me this is a Gayoom inspired coup with Dr Waheed as an unfortunate puppet.

“Even if I did work with Waheed, I couldn’t deliver the plan now [because of falling] investor confidence,” he subsequently told Minivan News. “[The perpetrators] have destroyed US$2-3 billion worth of investment and condemned the country to an unstable economic future based upon diesel.”


Government’s statement that McKinnon endorsed independence of CNI “misleading”: Commonwealth

The Commonwealth has condemned as “misleading” a statement issued to international media by the Maldivian government, claiming that Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon had endorsed the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) as “impartial, credible and broadly acceptable”.

The offending statement was circulated on May 25 using the PR Newswire service, which PR agencies subscribe to in order to widely distribute releases to publications all over the world.

“We welcome Sir Don McKinnon’s support for the Committee of National Inquiry and are delighted that all the concerns expressed by the Commonwealth will be resolved,” the statement quoted President Mohamed Waheed Hassan as saying.

The Commonwealth Secretariat issued a statement on Saturday in response: “Sir Don has not stated that the Commission of National Inquiry as currently constituted is ‘impartial, credible and broadly acceptable’.”

Instead, the government’s efforts to implement a commitment made to the Special Envoy, to strengthen the powers of the CNI and broaden its composition with an international co-chair and nominee of former President Nasheed, “are still ongoing”.

“Indeed, [Sir Donald McKinnon’s] efforts while in Maldives, and since his departure have been focused on achieving that objective, so that a truly impartial, credible and broadly acceptable Commission of National Inquiry can be put in place within the agreed time-frame,” the Commonwealth stated.

‘Coup’ inquiry

The CNI was established by President Waheed to investigate the controversial circumstances that brought him to power on February 7, following what the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party claimed was a coup d’état orchestrated by members of the former 30 year autocracy.

Police and military officers joined opposition demonstrators in an assault on the country’s military headquarters on the morning of February 7, before storming and taking over the state broadcaster.

President Nasheed subsequently resigned on camera, but later claimed this was under duress. In an audio recording obtained by SBS Australia and aired soon after the events, Nasheed is heard pleading with members of the armed forces for the safety of his wife and children.

The day after Nasheed’s resignation, police launched a brutal crackdown on thousands of protesters, in front of Al-Jazeera and other international media.

President Waheed appointed a three member panel to inquire into the legitimacy of his presidency, including Dr Ibrahim Yasir, Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef and Chair Ismail Shafeeu, Defence Minister under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The panel was derided by the MDP as lacking independence, a view subsequently shared by the Commonwealth which gave the government a four week deadline to change the composition of the commission to include both a foreign co-chair and a “suitable” nominee to represent Nasheed.

The government agreed to a new June 1 deadline, and then immediately rejected nine of Nasheed’s nominees on the grounds of their “unsuitability”. Conditions imposed by the government included requirements that Nasheed’s appointee not have served in a political position in the past two years, not taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must “be of good behavior and integrity”.

On Saturday the government issued a second statement – also circulated on PR Newswire – rejecting Nasheed’s latest appointee, Lt. Colonel Zubair Ahmed Manik, whom it argued “does not meet the basic requirement of having an undergraduate degree as per the agreed terms of reference.”

The government expressed “disappointment at former President Nasheed’s continued inability to nominate an appropriate candidate who meets the agreed criteria for inclusion on the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).”

“The repeated proposal of generally unacceptable candidates by the former President Nasheed suggests a lack of seriousness and willingness to cooperate. The administration has already agreed to change the original terms of reference of the CNI following advice from the Commonwealth and to agree on including a foreign judge as co chair of the CNI,” the government said.

“I suspect this is Ruder Finn at work,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, commenting on the statements put up on PRNewswire. The New York-based PR agency was recently hired by the Maldivian government to counteract negative international media, in a deal thought to be worth US$150,000 a month.

Ghafoor said the MDP had initially demanded equal representation on the CNI panel, and the evening before the announcement was made, had been expecting two: “We got one, and gave up on co-chairing it,” he said.

The conditions imposed by the government were paternalistic and a stalling tactic, he suggested.

“Nobody of sane mind thinks the transfer of power wasn’t suspicious,” Ghafoor said. “This government does not have the moral high-ground to paternalistically prescribe conditions.”

While the situation might appear calm during the negotiations, Ghafoor said tensions on the street and during protests remained high, and that it would not take much for it to combust – “I’ve started seeing signs of impunity [on behalf of police],” he said.

“We are under threat – right now, the Commonwealth is the only thing stopping us from all being arrested,” Ghafoor claimed.


No clash within Adhaalath Party over statement criticising ‘fake wedding’ regulations, says Shaheem

State Minister for Islamic Affairs and Adhaalath Party member Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has refuted reports in local media yesterday of a “clash” within the party, following a press statement it released on November 11.

In the statement, the party expressed concern about the government’s new regulations governing ‘symbolic’ wedding ceremonies, drawn up in the wake of the humiliation of a Swiss couple in Dhivehi by staff at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa.

Resorts deemed to break the aggressive new regulations can now be fined up to Rf one million (US$78,000), or even have their license to operate suspended under the Tourism Act.

Non-Muslims are unable to get married in the 100 percent Islamic Maldives, but many tourists pay for elaborate ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies, often requesting a ‘Maldivian flavour’ to the proceedings. The infamous Vilu Reef ceremony reportedly cost US$1300, with an optional US$440 photograph service made available.

In its statement, the Adhaalath Party condemned the government for failing to consult with religious scholars before publishing the new regulations.

“Marriages are not performed in the Maldives as a cultural ceremony. Maldivians marry according to the rules and regulations of Shariah,” the statement said.

“This makes it impossible to see how a Maldivian wedding can be regarded as a cultural act. It is an important religious rite. It is the view of the Adhaalath party that the performance of symbolic traditional Maldivian wedding ceremonies, or the performance of a symbolic Muslim wedding ceremony between two non-Muslims, are both acts that belittle the sacred beliefs of Islam.”

The statement raised several specific concerns with the regulations: most significantly that under Article 10(b) of the Constitution, “no law can be made in the country that is in conflict with the tenets of Islam. No Maldivian citizen is under any obligation to recognise as legitimate any laws that do not follow those Constitutional stipulations.”

The regulations were, the Adhaalath Party claimed, “therefore void.”

Furthermore, in allowing foreigners to choose the language of the ceremony, the regulations “leave the door open for foreigners to travel to the Maldives and verbally abuse Maldivians in a foreign tongue that Maldivians do not understand.

“It should be noted that these regulations do not make it an offence for tourists to denigrate Maldivians and use filthy language against them,” the statement added.

Adhaalath also expressed concern that the regulations did not stipulate according to which religion the symbolic ceremony should be practiced, and that such regulations theoretically allowed such symbolic weddings to be performed between same sex couples, “a practice that has become common in the West.”

“Introducing regulations such as these that allow practices of other cultures and religions to occur in the Maldives, and to use legitimate legal mechanisms of the country to do so, is a way of legitimising such practices,” the Party’s statement read.

“It is a way of legalising un-Islamic activities to occur in the Maldives. Such acts, even if symbolic in nature, are unconstitutional. Because of the various such problems with this law, and because of the doors that they open, we wish to draw the attention of our beloved citizens to these regulations.”

The party also accused the government of failing to implement the recommendations of scholars in matters such as the attempted introduction of the sale of alcohol to foreigners on ‘inhabited’ islands, “trivialising” the subjects of Islam and Dhivehi by suggesting they be made optional at A-level,and victimising the Arab-Islamic system of education at Arabiyya school.”

Senior members of the government were, the party alleged, disregarding “and [treating] as of no value the advice and counsel of the [Islamic] Ministry on such issues.”

If the government continued on its current path, the party warned, “Adhaalath will have to reassess its alliance with MDP, the ruling party.”

No clash

Local newspaper Haveeru reported yesterday of a “clash” among the Adhaalath Party’s senior leadership over the statement, claiming that the party’s President Sheikh Hussein Rasheed Ahmed – also the State Minister of Home Affairs – had sought to distance himself from the statement.

Haveeru reported Scholars Council member Mohamed Didi, also one of the party’s founders, as saying that Sheikh Rasheed “could not dodge the statement on any grounds as he chaired the council meeting.”

“Sheikh Rasheed was chairing the meeting when members of the committee, which drafted the statement, were selected. The statement was made in reference to the issues noted at the meeting,” Didi reportedly told Haveeru.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Sheikh Shaheem said that while he did not wish to comment on the statement itself, reports of “a clash” within the party over the matter were erroneous.

“There is no clash within the party – there is strong unity within the party. Just because there is a different opinion doesn’t mean there is fighting,” he said.

The Adhaalath Party was not taking any action against the government, he said, and had decided to request a meeting with President Mohamed Nasheed after the holidays to resolve the issues through discussion.

“Adhaalath was just giving a reminder to the government that things are going the wrong way. If the government resolves the problems then there’s no issue,” he said.

The concern was rather the government’s failure to discuss the new regulations with scholars, he explained.

“Islam is an important part of this country and you cannot boycott scholars,” he said. “There will be big challenges if [the government] boycotts the opinions of scholars.”

The Islamic Ministry was part of the government and had a role to provide advice and discuss such matters, Shaheem explained.

“The Maldives has been a Muslim country for 900 years, but this doesn’t mean we’re against other religions. We have [foreign] doctors, nurses, teachers – these people live with us here and enjoy our life[style]. But the Maldivian people want to keep their culture and respect for their religion. If the regulations are not in opposition against Islamic principles, we are not against them.”

Islam did not recognise civil marriages, Shaheem said: “We don’t do fake weddings, we do serious marriage.”

“If we want to [provide ceremonies] for guests the regulations must be good – [for instance] there are strong laws for alcohol, so only foreigners can buy it.”

He highlighted some specific concerns with the new regulations, which are technically now in effect after being published in the government’s gazette.

“If the ceremony is conducted in a language we don’t know, there is a possibility people will come and do what the [Vilu Reef staff] did, if it’s in a language we don’t have. The regulations should specify what languages should be used,” Shaheem suggested, adding that he was also concerned about the regulations theoretically allowing ceremonies to be performed between same-sex couples.

The Islamic Ministry, was, he said, part of the government and aimed to promote moderate Islam by preaching respect for other cultures and peoples in Friday sermons, and providing the government with suggestions on matters such as how the subject of Islam should be taught in schools.

“I recently spoke to some children in grade 11-12, and they had some very extreme ideas,” he said. “It is important to teach Islam properly, by teaching about terrorism and what [concepts] such as jihad really mean, and that innocents should not be killed. An understanding of extremism and human rights – these are things that can be taught in Islam. But when Islam is not taught or is made optional, [students] will go to other places, such as [extremist] websites.”

Problems with the regulations could be resolved through discussion, Shaheem said. “There are some legal and religious concerns among some scholars, but we are not against guests coming to our country.”

Translation of the Adhaalath Party’s statement. Original available on the party’s website (Dhivehi).

11 November 2010

“Tourism is the backbone of our economy, it is very important that we develop our tourism industry.

But, tourism should be developed in ways that are compatible with Islam. As a 100 percent exemplary Muslim state for the last nine hundred years, it is within Islamic thinking that Maldivian culture and traditions have been formed. This is made clear in the Constitution.

In the same manner matrimony in the country has too evolved within the principles of Islam. Marriages are not performed in the Maldives as a cultural ceremony. Maldivians marry according to the rules and regulations of Shariah. This makes it impossible to see how a Maldivian wedding can be regarded as a cultural act. It is an important religious rite.

It is the view of the Adhaalath party that the performance of symbolic traditional Maldivian wedding ceremonies, or the performance of a symbolic Muslim wedding ceremony between two non-Muslims, are both acts that belittle the sacred beliefs of Islam.

This is the case whether the service is provided as a means of appeasing tourists, or to financially exploit them.

Islam does not allow anyone to benefit from the improper exploitation of non-Muslims. The alternative is to allow foreigners to renew their marriage vows in the Maldives according to their own traditions and wants. Neither the Maldivian Constitution nor its culture permits the display of any other religion in the Maldives.

It has been decided by the Maldivian Fiqh Academy that the display of any other religion on Maldivian soil is unacceptable both in terms of law and in terms of spirit. We condemn the government for delaying the implementation of this edict by the Fiqh Academy and express concern that the government has failed to accept the ‘formal recommendations’ made by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs towards the government’s efforts to draft new regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies in the Maldives.

The Adhaalath Party fully supports the recommendations by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and their rationale. On behalf of all members of the Party and on behalf of its Advisory Committee, we would like to thank the Ministry for its limitless work in this regard.

The government has kicked the knowledge of scholars in the face, and failed to implement their recommendations. We call upon the government to immediately cease these activities that goad the beautiful culture of Islam and attempt to break the spirit of Islam.

Revealed below are the points of legal importance:

Article 271 of the Constitution states that any regulations that Maldivians need recognise as applying to them are regulations arising from a law approved by the Majlis. The regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies refers to the Maldivian Tourism Act as its source and, having been published in the Government Gazette, are now legally binding.

Article 10(a) of the Maldivian Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the Maldivian state, and the source of its laws. Article 10(b) states that no law can be made in the country that is in conflict with the tenets of Islam. No Maldivian citizen is under any obligation to recognise as legitimate any laws that do not follow those Constitutional stipulations. The regulations are, therefore, void.

Law, as it is defined in Article 274 of the Constitution should be interpreted as: ‘Laws that have been passed by the Majlis and ratified by the President and regulations arising from such laws’.

Even though Article 43(a) of the Constitution does allow anybody resident in the Maldives to get married in the Maldives, Article 16(a) states that the right is dependent upon being compatible with the tenets of Islam. The regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies is one that is aimed not at Maldivian but tourists. Even though the regulations stipulate that it is symbolic, the following issues can be noted when we contemplate the regulations from the perspective of law as well as that of the concept of marriage itself.

a) What a symbolic marriage ceremony is, and the degree of its legitimacy,

b) The regulations do not stipulate according to which religion the symbolic ceremony should take place.

Under the circumstances where there is no requirement that all tourists to the Maldives be Muslim, it is possible that some of these symbolic ceremonies could be conducted according to rituals of other religions. It also means that these regulations will allow such symbolic “wedding” ceremonies to be performed between same sex couples, a practice that has become common in the West.

c) Introducing regulations such as these that allow practices of other cultures and religions to occur in the Maldives, and to use legitimate legal mechanisms of the country to do so, is a way of legitmising such practices. It is a way of legalising un-Islamic activities to occur in the Maldives. Such acts, even if symbolic in nature, are unconstitutional.

d) The legitimacy of the person officiating at the ceremony is dubious. Right now, these ceremonies are conducted by Maldivian staff members at resorts. What are the legal or religious powers, it can be asked, of the registrar who performs these marriages, symbolic marriages or renewal of vows for non-Muslims. The question also arises of under what policy the management of a resort would certify the validity of the wedding vows that were so renewed or a wedding so conducted.

e) Article 5 (a) of the regulation says that the ceremony should be conducted in the language requested by the couple wishing to have the ceremony in the Maldives. This opens the door for ceremonies such as this to be conducted in a language other than Dhivehi, and for representatives of other religions such as priests to travel to the Maldives to conduct such ceremonies. Furthermore, it leaves the door open for foreigners to travel to the Maldives and verbally abuse Maldivians in a foreign tongue that Maldivians do not understand. That is, in fact, some have suggested, the reason why such a regulations was needed. It should be noted that these regulations do not make it an offence for tourists to denigrate Maldivians and use filthy language against them.

f) Article 7(a) of the regulations, which says that the ceremony can be conducted by someone other than a Maldivian, means there is a chance a priest may travel [to the Maldives]. As mentioned before, the representation of any other religion in the Maldives is a crime.

Because of the various such problems with this law, and because of the doors that they open, we wish to draw the attention of our beloved citizens to these regulations.

The Adhaalath Party is extremely concerned about the regular and continuous manner in which the Islamic personality of the Maldives is being confronted. The attempt to sell alcohol on inhabited island by using similar regulations, attempts to trivialise the subjects of Islam and Dhivehi in the school curriculum by trying to make them optional modules and victimising the Arab-Islamic system of education at Arabiyyaa are among such activities that can be noted here.

Adhaalath participated in the spirit of ‘the Maldives that the nation wants’ and decided to be a part of the government on the guarantee that religious affairs of the country will be conducted according to the advice of religious experts. However, it is with deep concern that we state today, the government has failed to seek the advice of the religious affairs ministry in various major issues regarding Islam.

We wish to note, also, that it is a matter of great concern and seriousness for Adhaalath that some members of the current government have chosen to disregard and treat as of no value the advice and counsel of the Ministry in such issues.

It is very clear what happened on the issue of the regulations governing religious unity. If these matters continue without change, Adhaalath will have to reassess is alliance with MDP, the ruling party.