The Maldivian government will seek international assistance to bring the opposition to the negotiating table, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee announced today, after cancelling a second-meeting of all-party talks.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party have labeled the talks a farce, insisting that they will only sit down if jailed leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed and AP President Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are released.
President Abdulla Yameen has sent mixed signals so far, urging the opposition to advise him on reconciliation, even while defending the lengthy sentences handed to his opponents. There is nothing the president can do, he has insisted, claiming that the Maldives’ judiciary is independent.
Shainee, who leads the all-party talks, told the press today: “We called a meeting today hoping all parties would join. We received a letter from the MDP informing us of conditions they had mentioned before, that they would not join until those they consider political prisoners are freed.
“The government does not believe there are political prisoners. There is disagreement on this. So come and tell the government who the political prisoners are, and why the government must release them, and what steps we can take on that. Come and talk to us.”
The opposition refuses to budge on conditions, noting the government had failed to honour commitments to release detained leaders once before, during talks convened in July last year.
Yameen’s embattled administration had convened talks amidst international pressure over human rights abuses and multiple scandals involving historic corruption and allegations of money laundering.
The Commonwealth has called for inclusive dialogue and action to release detained political leaders and the return of those in exile. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has meanwhile announced that he is prepared to impose targeted sanctions if progress is not made.
Yameen has denied a need for reform, saying the Commonwealth’s lack of action meant “there are no major issues here.”
In a speech the previous week, he had said that action by the Commonwealth would “not effect a change in our thinking” and that the government was not prepared to accept criticism of Maldivian judges.
During the previous round of talks, the MDP had presented the government with a list of demands, which included freedom for jailed leaders, quashing criminal charges against hundreds of opposition activists, and proposals for judicial and constitutional reform.
Home Minister Umar Naseer, who led the talks with the MDP, had said at the time: “I believe this is the time for a major reconciliation by finding a consensus through talks. The government, to show its sincerity, will make all the concessions we can.”
At a second meeting, the MDP presented a list of some 1400 people with pending charges.
Naseer told the press afterwards: “The government’s aim is not to get a quick fix, but to build sustainable relationships between the PPM and MDP. These talks are aimed not just to address the current turmoil, but aimed at coming to a long-term agreement or understanding.”
A third meeting was scheduled, but never took place.
Opposition MPs were meanwhile backing major legislative changes in parliamentary sessions that ran into the early hours of the morning. These included constitutional amendments that set new age limits for the presidency and authorized foreign freeholds in the Maldives.
Nasheed, who was expecting a pardon, was returned to jail.
In the ensuing months, the government went on to ban protests and rejected a UN human rights panel’s finding that Nasheed should be released.
The UN has offered to mediate the ongoing talks.