The ex-Maldivian president in exile, Mohamed Nasheed, called for more robust intervention from the international community to help hold free and fair elections in the Maldives, where he aspires to run for presidency again in 2018.
Ex-Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed with internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney
Nasheed, who was granted asylum by the UK last year after he was arrested and jailed by his successor Abdul Yameen, on terrorism charges, has since been living in the UK. He arrived in Colombo on Sunday, to consult his party officials ahead of the next presidential election that he said should be held in 2018.
Speaking to media at Hotel Hilton, Colombo, after a series of discussions with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) big wigs in Colombo, for four days, he said, he believed there is still hope for a smooth democratic transfer of power in the Maldives, despite the developments since January last year, where he was forced to resign from office.
He urged the international community to help set the stage for Presidential elections and the primaries that should begin later this year, and for his safe return to Male to begin polls campaign. “We hope the government of the Maldives will understand the need to be in the family of nations and not move away from international norms and rulings... and the international bodies,” he said.
The Maldives distanced itself from the Commonwealth family, when the latter called on the Maldivian government to initiate talks and release opposition leaders, or face tough action. A more recent attempt by the United Nations to broker an all party dialogue in the Maldives too remains a stalemate. The exiled leader emphasized, “We would certainly like to see more engagement from the international community.”
Nasheed who is also the opposition leader of the Maldives government, said this was the first time he had the opportunity to have an intense consultation with his party officials since he was released from jail and flown to the UK for treatment for a back ailment, in early 2016. Represented by the internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, his release was reportedly brokered by Sri Lanka with which the Maldives shares very close ties, as well as with India, UK and the US.
He said, he did not regret conceding power to Yameen in 2013. Nasheed was the first democratically elected President in the Maldives. He was elected to office in 2008. “The country could have been in perpetual conflict for 2-3 years now, if I had not conceded defeat. That would take us to a more serious conflict that we may not be able to get out of for many years. In my view, stability of the country must be above our political interests,” he said.
“There are a number of countries working behind the scene, and I am hopeful that those efforts would bear fruit. I haven’t given up, and we haven’t given up hope, we will continue to work with our international partners to perceive how well they may be able to impress upon President Yameen to hold elections,” he added. Asked how optimistic it was to think that he will be allowed to contest the elections, given that he is a political refugee in the UK, he said, “I can contest as I am a Maldivian national. And, I must be free to contest. I will contest.”
Nasheed has been put behind bars on terrorism charges and more recently he was accused by President Yameen’s administration for plotting to overthrow the Government.
Nasheed said, despite its size, the Maldives is very relevant to the Indian Ocean island nations and to South Asia. “Destabilizing the Maldives is in a sense destabilizing or allowing instability in the Indian ocean. It’s my view, that the international community will have a plan to stabilize the Maldives. It is difficult to believe otherwise.”
Below are excerpts of an exclusive interview the Sunday Observer had with the Maldivian Opposition Leader, Mohamed Nasheed:
Q:You said you wished to meet the Maldivian President Abdul Yameen. Why do you want to meet the President ?
A: We want to have a conversation, we want to see how we may be able to resolve the issues we have, and discuss how we can have a free and fair election. And, I want to understand his fears.
Q: Do you believe there is still hope for a smooth democratic transfer of power in your country?
A: The window of opportunity is receding, but, I still believe we can have a free and fair election. I also believe there is a role that the neighbours can play in this. In nation building Sri Lanka has assisted the Maldives in a big way. All our teachers, our doctors, our civil servants…even our sportsmen were trained and assisted by Sri Lanka. The Maldivians have been able to build a nation through Sri Lankan assistance. And, the Sri Lankan people have always been with the Maldivians. I think there are a number of lessons that we can learn from Sri Lankan democracy and how you have been able to smoothly transfer power consistently. Each time, you have been able to do that.
Q: But, you hope there will be an interim arrangement before the elections?
A: We hope there will be an interim elections commission, and police powers, etc.would be in line and conducive to free and fair elections.
Q: What if you are not allowed to contest the election?
A: I think the party has also deliberated on this during our discussions here. Our plan B would be to support another candidate from another party. We will not boycott the elections, neither will we field another candidate.
In 2008, my candidacy was suspended and I was allowed to contest in the eleventh hour, and up until the last moment the government kept on saying I will not be able to contest. The story was the same in 2013. I am sure it is going to be the same, come next elections, as well.
Q: Are you happy with Sri Lanka’s role to bring about a peaceful settlement to the current political turmoil in the Maldives ..?
A: Yes, I am very happy. I am very happy about the role Sri Lanka is playing…. Especially, your country’s role as an honest broker without antagonizing any party, not taking any side. Trying to move in these difficult times, Sri Lanka has been a master at it. I don’t want to say any more.
Q: Do you still fear for your life?
A: Well, there is always the risk of being attacked, there is always the risk that people would go to any extent to eliminate opposition. If they try to get rid of me through the judiciary or whatever legal means, and if that doesn’t succeed, of course it is possible to think of a situation where they would want to eliminate me through other, more untidy means. Yes, I am afraid for my life.
Q: You said there is still hope for a smooth transfer of power, but at one point if you feel there is no hope what is your other option ?
A: No. I would not talk about violence. My other option would be to keep going at it, continuously talk about peaceful political activity. We don’t talk about a struggle, or a military coup.