The government will continue its efforts to convince the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and Adhaalath Party to join all-party talks despite a third snub, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said today.
The president’s office sent out a third invitation to the MDP and AP yesterday, urging the parties to “put the needs of the people first and to attend the all-party talks for the betterment, development and progress of the nation.”
Neither party attended a session scheduled for this afternoon. The opposition is demanding the release of jailed leaders before they join talks.
The MDP’s leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed, is serving a 13-year prison sentence whilst AP leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla was jailed for 12 years last month. Both opposition leaders were found guilty of terrorism in trials widely criticised for lack of due process.
Speaking to the press today, Shainee, who represents the government at the all-party talks, pleaded ignorance on specifics.
“The government doesn’t believe that there are political prisoners in the Maldives but if the opposition thinks otherwise, they should let us know who and why they are considered such, so that within the rules and regulations we could find a way [to release] them via collaborating,” he said.
President Abdulla Yameen had initiated the all-party talks in February amid mounting international pressure to resolve a year-long political crisis.
He has sent mixed signals so far, urging the opposition to join talks and advise him on reconciliation, even as he defended lengthy sentences handed to his opponents. The president cannot intervene in “independent” judicial process, he has insisted.
Speaking at the opening of a public park on Sunday, he said conditioning the release of jailed politicians would not bring political stability.
“Come out for the rights of the entire public and argue that a specific group of people who commit specific crimes are above the criminal justice system. When that is decided and voted on by the parliament, let’s bear that burden together,” he said.
The government is willing to listen to the opposition’s grievances, he said, adding: “It is nonsense when they claim that there is no politically conducive environment when the law catches up with those who violate laws. There must also be a political environment to enforce the rule of law.”
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group had called for inclusive dialogue and action to release detained political leaders and the return of those in exile, whilst UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he is prepared to impose targeted sanctions if progress is not made.
Shainee, however, was adamant that the government has not caved in to foreign pressure.
“If you get your dates in order, you will see that we had suggested party talks way before the CMAG decision,” he said.
Shainee said today that the government would not give up the talks: “With the help of friendly countries, we will continue to attempt to get [MDP and AP] to the discussion table.”
In February, the MDP-AP alliance accused government ministers of lying about their acceptance of party talk invitations, stating that it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the CMAG ahead of an important decision involving action against the Maldives.
The CMAG had placed the Maldives on its formal agenda following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, and had discussed similar action last year when the opposition leader was jailed for 13 years on a terror charge.
The opposition says it is refusing to budge on conditions because the government had failed to honour commitments to release detained leaders during talks convened in July last year.