Tamrat Samuel, a senior advisor at the UN department of political affairs, has arrived in the Maldives for proximity talks with the government and opposition parties to resolve a protracted political crisis.
Briefing the press at the president’s office this afternoon, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, the government’s chief representative for all-party talks, said the UN envoy will begin the process Tuesday.
Shainee said he hoped the parties could agree on a clear timeframe for progress. But he refused to be drawn on whether the government could have direct talks with opposition parties.
Samuel left the Maldives with no sign of meaningful progress after his previous visit in April.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and ally Adhaalath Party met with the UN official but refused to engage directly with the government until its respective leaders are released from prison.
MDP Spokesman Imthiyaz Fahmy told The Maldives Independent today that the party’s stand remains unchanged.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, whose imprisonment on a terrorism charge in March last year triggered the political crisis, said in a tweet that dialogue cannot take place with “political party leaders held as hostages.”
Opposition parties also say the government reneged on commitments made during negotiations in July last year.
Shainee meanwhile reiterated that the government does not recognise the Maldives United Opposition, a new coalition launched in London last month by opposition leaders in exile.
The MUO has said it would represent the opposition parties in talks.
But Shainee said: “I don’t know of any party called the opposition coalition.” Last week, the government cancelled a permit granted to the MDP for a rally in Malé after it was advertised as a coalition event.
Shainee also acknowledged that the Maldives could face punitive action from the Commonwealth if a breakthrough is not made by September.
But he argued that the opposition parties must also bear responsibility for the failure to hold “constructive” talks.
After a meeting last April, the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy watchdog had called for “clear, measurable progress” before September, when it will “assess progress, take stock, and take decisions accordingly.”
Initiating dialogue with opposition parties was top of a six-point reform agenda laid out by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
Both the UK and the European parliament have also warned that targeted sanctions could be imposed on top Maldivian officials if the government does not release “political prisoners” and engage in dialogue with political parties.
Shainee said the government is willing to allow Nasheed and jailed Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla to represent the opposition parties in official talks.
But Nasheed and other exiled leaders must return to the Maldives, he said.
“I don’t think there is such a dangerous atmosphere in the Maldives that they should refuse to come for a day,” he said.
However, former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, the MUO leader, faces arrest over an alleged coup plot.
MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed and Jumhooree Party Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim also fled the Maldives to avoid prosecution over the mass anti-government rally on May 1 last year.
Samuel had meanwhile met with Nasheed in the UK last month.
Nasheed was granted asylum in the UK last May after he was authorised to travel for medical treatment.
Nasheed’s office said in a statement at the time that the Supreme Court’s judgments on his case as well as that of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim pave the way for the government to “initiate clemency procedures as discussed.”
“Moving forward with political dialogue remains with President [Abdulla] Yameen releasing prisoners and paving the way for talks between the Maldives United Opposition and the government to establish a dialogue for inclusive free and fair elections,” reads the statement.
“This dialogue must address the release of political prisoners including Sheikh Imran, and produce tangible and actionable resolutions on judicial reform, and human rights in the Maldives.”
MP Imthiyaz told The Maldives Independent that the MDP will agree to sit down when the government establishes an atmosphere conducive for dialogue.
Shortly after Shainee’s press conference, opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof was sentenced to nearly five months in prison on a charge of obstructing police duty.
The government has enforced a protest ban in Malé since November and denied the use of public spaces for opposition rallies.
The police have also been blocking attempts to advertise opposition rallies.
A pickup used to announce the first rally of the Maldives United Opposition was stopped and impounded by the police on Saturday.
MUO Spokesman Mahloof and three others were briefly detained. The police claimed they used loudspeakers in public without permission.
But an attempt to promote the rally without using loudspeakers was also blocked the following day.
A vehicle draped with banners was stopped Sunday afternoon. The police detained its driver and impounded the vehicle.
MUOge Jalsa ishthihaaru kuran beynun kuri Pickup fuluhunge belumuge dhashah gengos Driver Shahid vanee hayyarukohfai pic.twitter.com/MMz6h6wgMy
— MDP Secretariat (@MDPSecretariat) July 17, 2016
— raajje.mv (@raajjemv) July 17, 2016