The government has renewed invitations for opposition parties to join talks after the Commonwealth’s democracy watchdog placed the Maldives on its formal agenda over failure to resolve a protracted political crisis.
Expressing “deep disappointment” after a second review last Friday of progress on six priority areas, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group said it would consider suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth at its next meeting in March 2017.
On Sunday, the government asked the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party to send details of its representatives for all-party talks “as they were the only parties who have not yet done so despite several previous requests.”
In a statement last night, the president’s office stressed “the vital importance of all-parties initiating, and engaging in, dialogue without any pre-conditions” as urged by the CMAG and expressed disappointment with the refusal of the allied opposition parties to attend the talks.
The parties previously refused to engage in dialogue until the release of its jailed leaders, saying the government reneged on commitments made during negotiations in July last year.
But the MDP has welcomed the CMAG’s decision and called on the government “to immediately engage in political dialogue with all stakeholders”.
It advised the government that strengthening democratic institutions and the release of all political prisoners are necessary steps to avert suspension from the Commonwealth.
Suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth would bar the Maldives from the body’s meetings and is a step below full suspension.
The CMAG decision to place the Maldives on its agenda elicited mixed responses from both government and opposition supporters.
MP Riyaz Rasheed of the Progressive Party of Maldives renewed his calls for the Maldives to leave the Commonwealth, suggesting that the ruling party-dominated parliament would vote on the issue when it reconvenes next month.
In July last year, President Abdulla Yameen sought the parliament’s counsel over the country’s continued membership of the Commonwealth.
The PPM parliamentary group’s deputy leader hinted that most lawmakers would favour an exit.
Other ruling party MPs have echoed Riyaz’s sentiments on social media, questioning the value of the Maldives’ membership in the 53-member intergovernmental organisation.
Riyaz told Sun Online that the CMAG was unduly influenced by opposition leaders in exile in the UK, who were plotting to overthrow the government.
“Some powerful countries are trying to pressure us. But we also have some powerful countries by our side. Keep that in mind. The Middle East and China is with us. The days of British rule over other countries is long past,” he was quoted as saying.
However, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, the government’s representative for all-party talks, told newspaper Mihaaru that the government is not considering leaving the Commonwealth.
Despite an “open invitation” for talks, the opposition’s precondition was the stumbling block, he said.
Opposition figures meanwhile said the CMAG decision has renewed hope that former President Mohamed Nasheed – whose imprisonment on a terrorism charge in March last year triggered the political crisis – could contest in the 2018 presidential election.
Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih told Mihaaru that the CMAG statement was a final warning for the government to return to the democratic path, adding that the international community will ensure that Nasheed can challenge Yameen in 2018.
The opposition leader was granted asylum in the UK last May after he was authorised to travel for medical treatment.
But Shainee said Nasheed cannot seek reelection under Maldivian law after his 13-year jail sentence over the “abduction” of a judge was upheld by the supreme court.
Yameen’s former deputy, Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who is now leading the Maldives United Opposition along with Nasheed, also characterised the CMAG decision as “a narrow opportunity to return back to constitutional rule”.
The Maldives will face “the grim prospect of international isolation” and local businesses will also be affected, he said.
However, some opposition supporters were underwhelmed by the CMAG’s decision and expressed scepticism that international actors could force the government to reform.
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After a fact-finding mission earlier this month, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New Delhi-based NGO affiliated to the body, had also called for the Maldives to be suspended.
“Our call for a suspension was to convey the message that the situation has become serious. The Commonwealth is now following a process. Putting Maldives on the agenda is a step in the right direction,” Tri Radhakrishnan, programme officer with the CHRI, told the Maldives Independent.
In July last year, former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon had said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the CMAG agenda again.
The Maldives was placed on the CMAG’s agenda after Nasheed’s ouster in 2012 “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya had said.
Additional reporting by Omkar Khandekar