The government has called on political parties to re-engage in dialogue amidst a “ramped up crackdown” in the wake of Monday’s failed bid by the opposition alliance to impeach the speaker of parliament.
Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, chairman of the all-party talks and the government’s chief negotiator, told the press on Thursday that invitations have been sent out and urged opposition parties to revive the failed talks.
“If it is democracy they want, they should adhere to democratic principles and use this opportunity,” he said.
“The government does not hesitate to negotiate with the opposition. We are confident that our actions are in accordance with the laws and regulations for the benefit of the people.”
The call to renew dialogue comes after former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed along with Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla signed a pact “to unite against President Abdulla Yameen’s increasing authoritarianism.”
At a press conference of the opposition alliance later on Thursday, Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih questioned the sincerity of the government’s appeal.
“These party talks that the government is talking about has become a big joke. It’s become a big, funny circus,” said the parliamentary group leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.
“They talk about those talks on and off. Whenever the opposition steps up our activities of holding the government to account, they start talking about it.”
MP Faris Maumoon, representing the breakaway faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, said that the opposition will not decline an invitation for dialogue.
However, he stressed that his father, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, should be allowed to appoint representatives in his capacity as the PPM’s elected leader.
Hours after Monday’s no-confidence vote, the PPM’s ethics committee had expelled Gayoom from the party, accusing him of “working with the opposition to overthrow the lawful government.”
Faris and Solih accused the government of using the all-party talks as a diversionary tactic whenever it is faced with international pressure.
“What’s happening is when the government lose all options, and can’t see what else to do, they do this to stop our activities, not because they have any sincerity,” Solih said.
Faris added: “Because the matter of talks has come up so suddenly, I want to say that they are trying to delay the people’s victory over this government, this victory that we can all believe is coming. Our four parties, our four leaders are together, we will not let this victory be delayed.”
Shainee meanwhile blamed the opposition for the previous failed attempts to launch all-party talks. The opposition’s condition for the release of jailed politicians such as Nasheed and Sheikh Imran was the main stumbling block, he suggested.
Shainee said the government has compromised on its previous stance of refusing to accept the jailed leaders as representatives for the talks.
“We told them we are ready to hold these talks even if we have to go to jail to negotiate with President Nasheed. But we insisted that he must remain in prison,” he said.
Nasheed has been living in exile in the United Kingdom since he was authorised medical leave from prison in January 2016. The opposition leader has since been granted political asylum by the British government.
Shainee also noted that there has been no suggestion to hold the talks overseas.
Defense Minister Adam Shareef meanwhile declared that the “government would not allow political instability to stand in the way of development projects.”
He continued: “The recent no-confidence vote of Speaker Abdulla Maseeh shows our growth as a nation. It is also an indication of the government’s strength. This is why we believe that Maldivians will decide what is best for our country. We will accept advice from the international community, but we cannot let them influence us.”
However, faced with the threat of suspension, the Maldives quit the Commonwealth in October,
Accusing the government of reneging on commitments made during negotiations in July 2015, the MDP and Adhaalath Party had refused to engage in dialogue until the release of its jailed leaders.
A UN-sponsored effort to spur dialogue in early 2016 meanwhile failed after proximity talks with a UN envoy. A follow-up visit in July by Tamrat Samuel, a special advisor at the UN’s department of political affairs, also ended with no meaningful sign of progress.
Additional reporting by Hassan Moosa.