Maldives begins all-party talks without the opposition

Maldives begins all-party talks without the opposition
March 03 00:37 2016

Efforts to launch talks aimed at ending the Maldives’ political crisis got off to a bizzare start tonight with representatives of President Abdulla Yameen and the ruling coalition sitting down for a first meeting without the opposition.

The Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party insist Yameen must release jailed opposition leaders as a confidence-building measure before they join the talks.

Yameen, whose government is facing pressure to initiate dialogue, has vociferously defended the jailing of his opponents, even while insisting that intervening to secure their freedom would undermine an “independent” judiciary.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who is in London on government-authorised leave from prison, has called the talks “a farce.”

The MDP said the meeting between Yameen’s ministers, members of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives and its allies, the Maldivian Development Alliance, the Jumhooree Party and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party “is a mockery of the inclusive political dialogue” urged by the Commonwealth, the European Union and the UN.

Ali Zahir, the vice president of the AP, said: “I don’t know what kind of drama they are up to. We see this as drama created by the government to misrepresent the truth.”

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, who heads the all-party talks, said the government will invite the MDP and the AP for a second meeting at 3pm on Thursday.

He stressed that the government was open to discussing Nasheed and Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s release. “We are open to discussing anything. We will not take anything off the agenda,” he said.

The president’s office in a statement said it was disappointed by the opposition’s actions.

“The government is committed to providing a climate of sincerity, transparency and trust where all Parties, including the opposition, can resolve their disputes and move forward towards development and meaningful progress,” read the statement.

The MDP and AP, however, have noted that the government promised concessions during a first round of talks in June last year. At the time, the opposition backed key legislative changes including two constitutional amendments that set age limits for the presidency and allowed foreign freeholds in the Maldives for the first time.

But Nasheed was returned to jail after a short period of house imprisonment and charges against Imran were never lifted.

Imran was handed a 12-year sentence on terrorism just days after Yameen announced he would initiate talks with the opposition. Meanwhile, MDP’s Vice President Mohamed Shifaz was arrested on a charge of disobeying police orders earlier this week and remanded for ten days.

The president appears to be growing in confidence with the Commonwealth’s recent decision not to take formal action on the Maldives. He went on to mock calls for reform on Tuesday, and thanked India and Pakistan for their defence of the Maldives at the CMAG.

JP’s Gasim Ibrahim, whose split with the ruling coalition and alliance with the MDP had triggered the current crisis, said tonight: “When a president extends an invitation for talks, they must accept it. Otherwise the next step may be war. No one wants that.”

Gasim re-joined the ruling coalition when the government froze the bank accounts of his Villa Group over a controversial US$90million fine. The courts overturned the fine after the JP returned to the ruling coalition.

The Commonwealth is set to review the Maldives’ progress in April.

The UN has offered to mediate talks.

Additional reporting by Xiena Saeed