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A Conversation With: Maldives President Mohammed Waheed Hassan
(india.blogs.nytimes.com ): Q. How was your meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? Did he give you any kind of assurance about India’s support to your government?
A. The meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was extremely positive. He assured me and the government of Maldives of India’s continued support. The Indian government assured me of both financial and technical support for the government. I am grateful for the understanding and goodwill shown by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He appreciated my efforts to bring stability and peace to the country and advised me to continue dialogue with all shades of the political spectrum.
Q. What are the priorities of your government?
A. My government’s priority is the economy of the country and ensuring stability, democracy and transparency in the Maldives. We are also committed to taking action on environmental issues and are prioritizing the development and implementation of sustainability initiatives.
Q. When will the next elections take place?
A. I will do everything within my power to have a free and fair election, according to the constitution of Maldives. Under the constitution, the earliest presidential election we can have is four months ahead of the end of the term, placing the earliest date in July of 2013. The independent election commission of the Maldives will decide the exact date. Any election earlier than that will require several amendments to the constitution, which is unlikely to be supported by two thirds of the Majlis [the Parliament].
Q. Former President Nasheed said he was removed through an unarmed coup. Is this correct?
A. Nasheed left of his own free will, accepted that he had acted unconstitutionally and offered to step down. He consulted his cabinet, asking them for advice as to whether he should resign or not, and then resigned in front of the entire press corps on live national television with his cabinet standing behind him. At that time, he did not make any indication that he was under any duress.
Later, he accused me of leading a coup d’état against him. Though after several weeks of harassment and global vilification he decided and announced that I was not to be blamed.
We would also like the political accusations against my government cleared, which is why I have established a Commission of National Inquiry and worked with the Commonwealth’s Special Envoy to make the adjustments necessary for it to be generally acceptable to everyone, including the former president.
Q. Former President Nasheed also says your government is working under the influence of former President Mr. Gayoom.
A. I am my own man, but I have reached out to all political parties, including the parties of both former presidents. The government comprises all the political parties in the Maldives except the MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party], by their own choice despite repeated invitations. If former President Nasheed chose to accept my offer of inclusion in this administration, he would have the same “influence” and voice as each of the other eight political parties supporting this administration, including former President Gayoom.
Q. You were the vice president under Mr. Nasheed. Did he do anything wrong during his tenure?
A. Mr. Nasheed did many wrong things during the three-year tenure in office.
He was in contempt of court on several counts, including: (1) He locked up the Supreme Court and did not allow the judges to enter the court premises to perform their duties, (2) He locked the Majlis (the Parliament) with all the members inside, (3) He ordered the military to unlawfully detain the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court and held him with trial or access to a lawyer for more than 26 days, which is a violation of our constitution, (4) He publicly threatened the lower court judges by saying he would withhold their salaries and allowances.
Q. Mr. Nasheed said your government is getting closer to China at the cost of India.
A. My administration will continue to honor India as our closest ally and friend. There is no reason for India to worry. Our relationship with China is primarily commercial, with over 250,000 tourists visiting from China every year, and we value our relationship with both nations. We will be celebrating our 47th anniversary of diplomatic relations with India and our 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China this year.
Q. India and the Maldives historically have close ties. Do you think that those ties are under any kind of strain?
A. No. Absolutely not.
Q. What role is former President Nasheed is playing in the Maldives now ?
A. President Nasheed now has no portforlio in his party. He is just a popular figure, a former President. Lately, he has resorted to inciting violence, instigating hatred in this country. His supporters have been consistently harassing members of the current Administration and their families. However unlike Nasheed’s administration, we will not arbitrarily arrest political leaders for what they say.
Q. How do you see the future of democracy in Maldives?
A. We are fully committed to democracy. The Majlis, consisting of democratically elected members of Majlis, is fully functional and democratic; all branches of government are fully functional and independent. Fundamental democratic principles are fully respected for the first time in the nation’s history. For the first time, the government neither owns nor runs a newspaper, television or radio station. For the first time, the media is completely independent.
We have begun to strengthen the constitutionally created independent institutions, providing them with enhanced capacities and resources, while dismantling the presidential commissions created to bypass them under the previous administration.
Maldives will be a fully democratic country, where freedoms will be respected, and the rule of law and constitution will be upheld.