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EU-Maldives talks focus on free and fair polls

EU officials took up “the continuing deterioration of democracy in the Maldives.”



High-level talks took place Wednesday between senior European Union officials and a ministerial delegation from the Maldives.

Officials of the European Union External Action Service took up “the continuing deterioration of democracy in the Maldives” in light of the EU Council’s decision in February to consider targeted measures if the situation does not improve.

“The discussions focused on the critical importance of credible, transparent and inclusive presidential elections in the Maldives both for the democracy in the country and for future relations between the EU and the Government of Maldives,” according to a press release.

“The EU underlined that the parliament and the judiciary should be enabled to return to their normal functioning in accordance with the Constitution and opposition parties should be enabled to perform their role in accordance with democratic standards.

“In particular, the EU reiterated the importance of the Maldivian Government and leaders of the opposition engaging in a genuine dialogue to address key democratic issues.”

In contrast to the EU statement, the Maldives foreign ministry claimed earlier this week that areas of discussion would include “climate change, fisheries, Schengen visa facilitation, electoral and governance reform, countering terrorism and violent extremism and trade.”

With the presidential election scheduled for September 23, all opposition leaders are in exile or behind bars and President Abdulla Yameen remains defiant in the face of calls to release political prisoners.

On Wednesday, the government dismissed concern expressed by Australia over actions that “reduce the prospect that the upcoming presidential election can be free and fair.”

Following a visit to Malé by the Australian ambassador, the embassy in Sri Lanka urged the government to “permit legitimate opposition activity, which is essential for any election to be credible.”

Over the past three days, riot police were deployed across the capital to confiscate and tear off posters put up by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s campaign workers.

In its response to Australia’s concerns, the government claimed the opposition’s actions were “in clear violation of the constitution and the laws of the country,” and assured commitment to “protect and promote fundamental freedoms”.

The foreign ministry statement did not specify which laws or constitutional provisions were breached by the “actions by some political actors”.

The Australian statement echoed doubts expressed by India over the “credibility of the entire process of presidential elections” after the sentencing of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and justice Ali Hameed.

In April, the Maldives rejected the UN Human Rights Committee’s decision that former president Mohamed Nasheed’s right to run for office must be restored.

Earlier this week, the ruling party’s parliamentary group leader proposed legal changes to bar opposition leaders who have secured political asylum overseas from running for president.

The Maldives delegation at the EU was led by Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim along with Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee and Legal Affairs Minister Aishath Azima Shukoor.