India poll nudge to Maldives

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI
  • Published 7.11.13
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New Delhi, Nov. 6: India, the United Nations and the Commonwealth have all rushed senior diplomats to Male in a last-ditch effort to press the Maldives to hold scheduled presidential polls before the strategically vital Indian Ocean nation slips into a constitutional crisis.

The diplomats will meet representatives from outgoing President Mohammed Waheed’s government and the three candidates contesting the elections announced for November 9 amid worries that some of the contenders may attempt to delay the poll, senior officials have told The Telegraph.

Two aborted attempts at the elections since September have already pushed the nation to the brink of political chaos, escalating tensions between the Maldives and India that is desperate to avert a leadership void in the archipelago off its southwest coast.

The constitution of the Maldives requires a new President to take office by November 11, and there is no consensus — legal or political — within the nation on who takes charge if no elections are held in time.

“It’s desperate times now,” a senior official said. “We just want stability in the Maldives, and that the political parties accept whoever wins the elections.”

India’s ministry of external affairs yesterday sent a joint secretary to Male, who has started a dialogue with ex-President Mohammed Nasheed, former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s brother Yameen Abdulla and businessman Gasim Ibrahim — the three presidential candidates.

Today, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon deputed assistant secretary-general for political affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco to Male. Commonwealth secretary-general Kamalesh Sharma’s special envoy to the Maldives Sir Don McKinnon is also visiting Male.

Fernandez-Taranco’s mandate is to encourage “Maldivian political leaders and government officials to fulfil their responsibilities towards the democratic process”, by pressing them to hold the elections “as planned and ensuring a constitutional path forward”, said Farhan Haq, Ban’s deputy spokesperson in New York.

India has been working with the UN, Commonwealth and the European Union to collectively pressure the Maldives into holding polls after two contenders blocked two attempts by the election commission in Male.

Nasheed emerged with 45 per cent of the votes in the elections held on September 7, followed by Abdulla with 25 per cent of the votes, and Ibrahim with 24 per cent. Waheed, who also contested the September 7 polls, secured just 6 per cent of the votes.

The Maldives constitution requires a run-off between the top two contenders if no one secures 50 per cent of the vote, but Ibrahim challenged the election result in the Supreme Court and the court struck down the September 7 poll and ordered a revote on October 19.

But on the morning of the revote, local police prevented the election commission from conducting the polls after Abdulla and Ibrahim refused to sign mandatory electoral rolls.

An Indian official said New Delhi is “hopeful” but not “confident” that the November 9 vote will go ahead as scheduled. A part of the apprehension stems from the increasingly confrontational tone that New Delhi has faced in recent weeks from Waheed.

The tiny nation that in 1987 sought — and received — Indian military intervention to ward off an attempted coup summoned India’s envoy to Male, Rajeev Shahare, last month to protest the envoy meeting the Maldives election commission.

Waheed has over the past month also obliquely warned India against any “interference” in Maldives’ domestic politics, and just this Monday, cautioned his country against allowing foreign meddling in a public address.

India’s worries are also rooted in the political chaos its neighbour has seen over the past two years, after Nasheed, the first elected President of the Maldives, quit his post in early 2012 alleging an attempted coup. Waheed — who served as Vice-President under Nasheed — replaced him, and late last year scrapped a 25-year contract the Maldives had awarded to Bangalore-based infrastructure giant GMR to build and run Male’s international airport.

Amid rising political tensions earlier this year, Nasheed turned up at the Indian mission in Male seeking refuge, and left only after India brokered a deal with Waheed under which the former President would be allowed to contest the Presidential polls.

If those polls aren’t held on November 9, India could be staring at a fresh diplomatic tinderbox in its already troubled neighbourhood.