The government of the Maldives has agreed to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG) demand to revise the composition of a commission set up to investigate the controversial transfer of power on February 7, but has set conditions for the appointment of a new member to represent ousted President Mohamed Nasheed on the commission.
Attorney General Azima Shukoor said Nasheed’s nominee must not have served in a political position in the past two years or taken a public stand on the transfer of power. Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have challenged the conditions and called them “nonsensical.”
The CMAG in April warned of “stronger measures” against the Maldives if new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan failed to revise the composition and mandate of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) by May 16.
The Commonwealth had already suspended the Maldives from the CMAG and placed the Maldives on its formal agenda following Nasheed’s claim that he was ousted in a coup d’état on February 7, carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday with only a day remaining before the CMAG deadline, Shukoor said the CNI will continue to retain the three members appointed by President Waheed, but will now include a Commonwealth-chosen judge as co-chair of the commission and a member representing Nasheed. The government has already accepted a retired Singaporean judge as co-chair, but has rejected nine candidates fielded by Nasheed and given him a two week deadline to fill the post.
Regarding CMAG’s call to revise the CNI’s mandate, Shukoor said a “misunderstanding” had taken place and that the mandate would be “clarified and refined.”
At a press conference immediately following the government’s briefing, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor hailed the government’s decision to revise the CNI composition as “historic”, and said the commission “is now independent.”
However, MDP lawyer and former Youth Minister Hassan Latheef expressed concern over the government’s “nonsensical” conditions for Nasheed’s member. In addition to prohibiting any candidate who had served in a political position and taken a public stand over the transfer of power, the government has also stipulated that the nominee must have “good behavior and integrity.”
Latheef said the latter conditions were “subjective”, and added that if the government required a candidate who had not yet taken a public stand, “then they are saying Dr Waheed will appoint President Nasheed’s representative.”
If Nasheed was not allowed to appoint his own candidate, the opportunity “lacks any sincerity”, Latheef said.
The nine candidates fielded by Nasheed include MP and former MDP chairperson Mariya Ahmed Didi, former Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam, former Youth Minister Hassan Latheef, former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed, former President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Aishath Velezinee, Nasheed’s cousin Hudha Ahmed, former Airports Company board member Ibrahim Saleem, and former President’s Office political appointee Fareesha Abdulla.
Ghafoor said the MDP had initially asked for three MDP members on the commission for equal representation, but acceded to a foreign co-chair and a member to represent Nasheed because the party “wants the case to proceed and we want a way out of this.”
According to Shukoor, the government rejected Nasheed’s nominees because they included members of his cabinet, his relatives and MDP activists. “The Commonwealth’s concern is that the composition be independent and impartial. Hence, the government believes the inquiry commission cannot proceed with the [nominated] people,” she told reporters.
The MDP initially challenged the independence of the inquiry on the basis that Chair Ismail Shafeeu was previously Defence Minister under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government, at a time when systematic torture was being conducted on political prisoners.
Home Minister Mohamed Jameel said he hoped the CMAG would accept the government’s proposal, and said: “We do not believe CMAG’s demand was to appease a certain person. The government and the majority of the public cannot believe these nominees can be impartial.”
The government has given Nasheed a two-week deadline to field an acceptable candidate. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the government will proceed by appointing a lawyer to the seat reserved for Nasheed’s nominee, Shukoor also said.
Terms of reference, elections
Although CMAG had called for a revision of the CNI mandate, Shukoor said the terms of reference would not be changed, but had been refined.
MDP’s Latheef provided details of the changes to the mandate, claiming the CNI would prioritise an inquiry into whether Nasheed had resigned under duress and the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power.
The CNI’s current mandate stipulates an investigation into the events starting from the detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed on January 14 until the transfer of power on February 7. The government maintains Nasheed voluntarily resigned following public furor over the judge’s detention.
Furthermore, instead of relying solely on witness statements, the commission would also accept photos, videos, audios, personal bank statements and phone recordings as evidence, Latheef also said.
The CMAG had also called on the Maldives to hold early elections within 2012, but Shukoor reiterated the government’s position that fresh elections could only be held if the inquiry found the transfer of power to be unconstitutional and added that early polls would require a constitutional amendment.
In Tuesday’s press briefing, the government also protested against CMAG’s decision to place Maldives on its formal agenda, and said the move contravened the Commonwealth’s mandate and procedures.
Newly-appointed Human Rights and Gender Minister Dhiyana Saeed said the enhanced mandate of the CMAG approved in Perth in October 2011 only allowed the organisation to place a country on its agenda if there was: “(1) unilateral abrogation of a democratic constitution or serious threats to constitutional rule; (2) the suspension or prevention of the lawful functioning of parliament or other key democratic institutions; (3) the postponement of national elections without constitutional or other reasonable justification; and (4) the systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression.”
Saeed claimed that as long as Nasheed’s allegations of coup d’état remained unproven, the CMAG could not activate its mandate to place Maldives on its agenda.
“Given that no allegations have yet been proven and when the Maldivian government is cooperating with an investigation into the allegations, CMAG has placed the Maldives on its formal agenda outside of the CMAG mandate and process,” she told reporters.
Despite the government’s opposition to being placed on the CMAG’s formal agenda, it remained ready to engage with the Commonwealth in finding a political resolution, Saeed said.
The Commonwealth must follow “due process” by establishing whether an unconstitutional transfer of power had taken place before placing Maldives on its agenda, Shukoor added.
“It is our right to be treated according to those principles, no matter how small or vulnerable we are or how serious the allegation against us are,” she said.
Political parties backing President Dr Waheed have called for preemptively withdrawing from the Commonwealth. MPs of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) in April submitted a bill to Majlis to disengage from the Commonwealth.
Waheed is currently in India for an official visit, and has criticized the Commonwealth engagement with the Maldives.
“We used to believe that the Commonwealth was the champion of the smaller nations that extended assistance in every way possible. But to the contrary we witnessed the grouping inclined towards Nasheed, head towards punishing us,” local media reports Waheed as saying.
Despite voicing his disappointment with the 54 nation group, Waheed said that he would not back the proposals to withdraw from the Commonwealth and expected the bill to be dismissed as soon as the Majlis returned from its current recess.