President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s visit to India continues to garner international media attention today. During the last 24 hours, Dr Waheed has given interviews to NDTV, CNN-IBN, Times Now, New York Radio, Times of India, Hindustan Times, and UK’s The Daily Telegraph, according to the President’s Office.
Waheed has already met with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the President Pratibha Patil, and the Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna. He is reported to be meeting with Indian business leaders before the end of his visit tomorrow.
The UK’s Daily Telegraph led with the headline “Maldives president reneges on deal for early elections.” The article states that President Waheed had agreed to open discussions on early elections upon taking office, on the proviso that peace return to the islands after the unrest of February 8, and that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stop its protests.
All-party talks, albeit unsuccessful ones, have been continuing in the face of general recalcitrance from government and opposition parties alike. These talks were given initial impetus by Dr Waheed’s all party roadmap document, compiled with Indian diplomatic assistance.
Meanwhile, the MDP has continued its protests which have been largely peaceful after more violence flared during the opening of the people’s Majlis on March 19.
Waheed has repeatedly stated that bringing the presidential elections forward any further than the three months mandated in the constitution is beyond his remit. A constitutional amendment must be passed in the Majlis, with a two thirds majority needed, to avoid two elections within 18 months.
Waheed suggested to the Daily Telegraph that two elections would be prohibitively expensive given the country’s current financial situation.
The Hindustan Times spoke with Waheed about his economic aims during the visit, highlighting the Maldives’ US$2 billion deficit.
Waheed told the publication that the Indian PM had been “generous” and that he was “optimistic about technical and financial support.”
Business Line discussed investment in greater detail with the President, who is set to meet with Mukesh Ambani of India’s largest private sector conglomerate, Reliance Industries.
Waheed talked of the possibility of leasing islands to IT companies along the same lines as they are currently leased for tourism. He also mentioned the need for more Indian based tourism in the Maldives.
“Not enough Indian tourists are coming to the Maldives and that is a matter of concern for us. I am sure it is also a matter of concern for India, particularly when you realise that there are so many Chinese tourists who are coming to the Maldives now,” said Waheed.
Waheed also told Business Line that he would be meeting with the Tata group to discuss its plans for housing projects in the Maldives, saying: “We want these projects to proceed as quickly as possible”.
Reports in the Thai media earlier this month suggested that the real estate company involved in the urban development of Hulhumale’, the Maldives largest such project, was withdrawing from the project owing to financial losses incurred.
The Times of India also led with an economic angle after interviewing Waheed, running with the headline: “Maldives president Waheed looks to India to repair floundering economy”.
“I have requested cooperation to help us craft better economic policies. I have also asked for support for Maldives’ tight budgetary situation and I have been assured by PM Manmohan Singh that Maldives will receive this support,” Waheed told the newspaper.
The issue of the GMR airport deal was raised after the government actions regarding the deal appear to contradict its words regarding the safety of Indian investment in the Maldives.
The UK’s Daily Mail focused on the relationship between the former President Mohamed Nasheed and his successor.
Waheed told the UK paper, “We are not pursuing politics of revenge. I want economic diplomacy to override all concerns surrounding us.”
Continuing on this economic theme, Waheed said: ”Big business will bring jobs, keep the youth engage and silence critics. Indians must head towards Maldives.”
He added that India’s growing presence could only be facilitated by direct flight between Male’ and New Delhi.
The Indian Express reported Waheed’s confidence/hope that the Indian government would not be unduly influenced by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed who undertook his own media offensive in India last month.
“India is not crazy… somebody making demands just because he is popular is not going to find response. India’s response is calculated. It is well informed and therefore, there is nothing for me to be worried about,” Waheed told the Press Trust of India.
These remarks were said to have come in response to the Express’s questions over the comments of State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon, given to the PTI on the eve of the trip.
Dunya, who has travelled as part of the Maldivian delegation, said: “I believe that India would respect our sovereignty and really does not play a role in the internal politics of the country”. She is the daughter of former President Maumoon Gayoom.
The remainder of the Indian Express interview concerned a rebuttal of Naheed’s allegations that former President Gayoom was behind the recent political upheavals.
“He (Nasheed) has been making all kinds of allegation, some outrageous also, even relating to India officials. I think, he is out of his mind too frequently.”
The Gayoom issue also appeared during the interview with the Times of India, prompting the following response:
“I don’t have to rely on President Gayoom. I am grateful that his party supports me. His party is one among six other parties and they have a proportional place in the cabinet. Together, our coalition has the majority in parliament, but we are different parties with competing agendas. We are together because circumstances require us to work together to stabilize the situation in Maldives and move towards elections next year.”
Senior figures from within the Nasheed administration recently went on record for the Indian media, questioning the role played by the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay in February’s controversial handover of power.
Nasheed himself was careful not to go on record regarding the role of the Indian High Commissioner, deferring instead to the interim chairman of the MDP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik.
The comments Nasheed made during his visit concerning the issue of radical islam in the Maldives continued to persist: “This issue kept coming up in my meetings in India,” he told the Times of India.
Waheed told the Daily Mail that, although the country was not immune from such problems: “We practise a moderate form of Islam.”