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Party talks flounder over release of opposition leaders

Proposed talks between the government and opposition have collapsed with both sides blaming the other for the failure to resolve a protracted political crisis through dialogue.



Proposed talks between the government and opposition have collapsed with both sides blaming the other for the failure to resolve a protracted political crisis.

Citing the opposition coalition’s aim of pursuing reforms, the government had asked opposition parties and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on August 30 to submit proposed reforms for discussion within a week.

The coalition declared in a joint statement Monday that “the allied parties do not believe President Abdulla Yameen’s administration has any sincerity or good will”, blaming the government for previous failed attempts to hold talks.

The government uses all-party talks as a deceptive ploy to seek financial aid from international parties, the opposition contended, calling for the immediate release of jailed opposition leaders such as former President Mohamed Nasheed as a show of good faith before inviting parties for talks.

At a press briefing Tuesday morning, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, the government’s chief negotiator, dismissed the allegation as baseless and blamed the opposition’s “preconditions” for the failure of previous attempts.

“There is nothing to talk about after setting conditions that are in the interest of a few individuals,” he said, stressing that the administration’s goal is removing obstacles to its development agenda.

Despite heavy losses in the May 6 municipal elections, Shainee contended that the ruling coalition has the backing of a majority of the public based on membership numbers.

“So the government coalition which is the majority has tried doing everything proposed by those in a minority opposition. However, there is no way ahead. Because they can’t have everything they want exactly the way they want it,” he said.

“Our supporters, government supporters, don’t want to release President Nasheed from jail at all. They don’t want us to try to find different solutions for different politicians. However we agreed, we said we will talk to President Nasheed even if we have to go to jail. We let go of all our conditions and to quote President Yameen ‘we came to the table with a piece of empty white paper.’ But the opposition kept putting up different conditions.”

The government is willing to consider constitutional amendments that could pave the way for Nasheed to contest in the 2018 presidential election if all political parties reach a consensus, he suggested.

In its statement, the opposition went on to accuse the government of unfairly jailing leaders, raising “baseless” charges against opposition lawmakers, encouraging rampant corruption, and compromising the independence of the prosecutor general, judges and other autonomous state bodies.

The parliament has been “hijacked” by the military and robbed of its true purpose whilst fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution has been curtailed, it added.

The administration has also “sold off the government’s foreign policy for President Yameen’s personal benefit without considering the security and stability of the Indian Ocean”.

Talks with opposition parties is not required if the government sincerely wishes to pursue reforms, the coalition stressed.

But Shainee insisted that “the government has not done anything against the law.”

The government previously urged the opposition to re-engage in talks after the new opposition alliance sought unsuccessfully to impeach the speaker of parliament in late March.

The opposition also questioned the sincerity of the offer at the time and accused the government of using the all-party talks as a diversionary tactic whenever it was faced with international pressure. 

The latest appeal for dialogue came amid renewed political turmoil after the opposition coalition secured the parliament’s majority. The previously unassailable pro-government majority crumbled after several lawmakers switched to former President Gayoom’s faction of the divided ruling party.

Since then, seven former ruling party lawmakers have been contentiously unseated, a dozen lawmakers put on trial, and Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim sentenced in absentia to more than three years in prison.

The military was meanwhile deployed to lock down the parliament and protect the embattled speaker whilst Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, who led a bloc of lawmakers loyal to his father, has been detained for nearly two months.

After the first attempt to hold talks failed in mid-2015, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and ally Adhaalth Party had accused the government of reneging on commitments and refused to re-engage before the release of their 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 last year by Tamrat Samuel, a special advisor at the UN’s department of political affairs, also ended with no meaningful sign of progress.

The government also renewed invitations for all-party talks shortly after the Commonwealth’s democracy watchdog placed the Maldives on its formal agenda in September last year.

However, faced with the threat of suspension, the Maldives quit the Commonwealth in October.