US pledges US$500,000 for elections assistance in the Maldives

The US government has pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) for an elections programme  to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election.

The program will be made available from July 2012, said Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Colombo, Valerie Fowler.

Meeting the press on Thursday afternoon in the Maldives National Art Gallery, Fowler said the US would also “work with the Commonwealth to help the Maldives work through the current situation to elections”.

The US will lend any support, including technical assistance, to ensure the next presidential election in the Maldives is conducted “smoothly and observed the rule of law”, Fowler said.

“Through USAID we are in the process of starting an election programme that will assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election. We have allocated US$500,000 to start that process and anticipate that we can begin as soon as July 2012,” Fowler noted.

Referring to the discussions she held with political parties during her trip, Fowler said “I echoed our call on all sides to maintain an open and transparent dialogue and use Maldivian mechanisms to resolve the political situation”.

She acknowledged the opening of parliament sessions as a positive step forward and highlighted the need to amend the Police Act and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Act – both pre-date the constitution – in order to depoliticise the country’s security forces. Meanwhile, Fowler said she was pleased to be told that important national legislations such as the Penal Code, Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes and the Evidence Act were under committee review.

However, Fowler noted that the US believed there needed to be an “environment conducive to early elections”, an aim that could only be created through dialogue, as well as capacity building measures.

“We hope the political party talks will resume in the coming days. These talks represent a positive avenue for progress when each of the parties participates with an open mind. In addition, we call upon parties to support the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI),” she said.

Deposed former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has declined to cooperate with three-seat CNI appointed by President Waheed, citing unilateralism and lack of independence and international participation.

Nasheed alleges that he was forced to resign “under duress” in an opposition-backed coup, in which he alleges Dr Waheed was complicit.

Asked whether the US recognises Dr Waheed’s government’s legitimacy, Fowler said “we do not recongise individuals, we recognise states and we are in fact working very closely with the government of the Maldives”.

However, she added: “A full and impartial investigation into the circumstances that prompted former President Nasheed to resign is necessary, and we look forward to the report of the commission.”

Responding to the concerns raised over independence of the Inquiry Commission and a possible US role in the investigation, Fowler observed, “we have not received any requests from the government to help the (CNI) commission of inquiry’s work” but “we understand the government of Maldives is working closely with the Commonwealth’s special envoy.”

According to Fowler, “Assistant Secretary Robert Blake has been in regular contact with Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, and we expect to work closely with the Commonwealth, both in terms of policy and technical support, to help the Maldives work through the current situation to elections.”

She also said that the US appreciated the work of other international parties and noted that it was in touch with Indian Foreign Secretary Shri Ranjan Mathai – a key figure within ‘roadmap’ talks aimed at facilitating early elections.

Fowler added that both the US and the wider international community would be paying close attention to bi-elections scheduled for April 14, where several parties are fiercely competing over two vacated seats in parliament.

“These elections, the first since transfer of power, must be transparent and the results accepted as fairly achieved in order to avoid making the political situation even more challenging,” she contended.

“This is an important time in Maldives history.  The Maldives has a well earned reputation and international standing as being a moderate, progressive young democracy. Further domestic conflict and instability will hurt that reputation and has the potential to do significant damage to international tourism in the Maldives,” Fowler concluded.