Good afternoon Excellencies.
I am very grateful to you all for taking the time to come out and spend few minutes with me.
This is the first time I have come out of the Maldives since February. I am pleased that I am here in a location where we have so many Ambassadors and High Commissioners accredited to the Maldives.
I want to assure you all that the situation in the Maldives is stable, it’s calm and the institutions of the government are fully functional. The Parliament was opened with some, little bit of difficulty, but it’s been functioning. Now they have gone on recess. Many bills have been passed including the first ever bill, legislation on prevention of domestic violence in the country, which is a fairly wide spread problem.
In addition to that, we have also passed and ratified a new bill on Thalassemia, which is also something that affects many of our children in our country.
So the parliament is fully functional. The media is free. Within two weeks of my assumption to this office, I made sure that we handed over State television and radio to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation, which was setup by the parliament. So for the very first time in Maldives, the government in Maldives no longer controls public television or radio or news papers.
The judiciary is functioning. I am sure you have heard about the difficulties with the judiciary, and we are engaging with the Commonwealth, with the UNDP about ways of strengthening capacity within the judiciary.
Legislative agenda is being formulated in order to improve the Judicial Service Commission, and strengthen the commission, and also to improve the judiciary and other institutions of the government.
I have assured the Auditor General and the President of the Anti Corruption Commission that I will not interfere in their work, I will make sure that government does what it has to in order to implement the observations and findings of these important, independent bodies.
In terms of the economy, there was a slight slump in tourist arrivals around end of February, March. But tourist arrivals are now climbing and they are now back to about normal, where it was around this time of the year last year.
The economy is not doing terribly well. Partly because of very high debt, about two billion rufiyaas of unpaid bills from last year that we have now had to pay. So this is a difficult situation. And one of the things I was trying to deal with, in my visit to Delhi, was to also seek India’s assistance with the budget situation.
I want to assure you that we are fully committed to promoting and consolidating democracy in Maldives. Democracy did not begin with 2008 elections. We started to struggle much earlier on. Some of you might remember I was personally involved in this struggle in the 80’s and 90’s. As a member of parliament in 89, we struggled for separation of powers. And many people in Maldives worked for it, and finally we had the new constitution in 2008, followed by the first multiparty elections, in which I was the running mate of Mr Nasheed, and together we worked on that election and we won election with the support of several other parties as well.
So our first coalition government was in 2008. That was the beginning, in a way, for a new era of democracy in Maldives.
We believe that commitment to the rule of law is the foundation on which democracy can be built. I am fully committed; my government is fully committed, to upholding the rule of law and the constitution of the country.
I know many of you have been following the situation in the Maldives. Some of you might have been quite concerned with the events of January and February, which basically was the result of our inability to attend to the red flags that were raised during last two or three years.
Democracy didn’t arrive completely and the democracy project wasn’t completed with the elections. In fact, we have many other difficulties that we have to resolve in order to strengthen democracy in the country.
You know our constitution is pretty much a cut-and-paste constitution. We have elements of parliamentary system as well as presidential system. The presidency is very much fashioned after presidency in the United States, and the parliament functions as a parliamentary system like in the UK. So there are issues that have to be resolved around that.
Then we created independent institutions, which were totally independent. And as a result, each particular independent institution like the Auditor General for example, would setup their own salary scales and so on. As a result, we have a budgetary situation, where everybody sets their high wage rates. So now wage bills take most of the revenue that we get from tourism sector. So now, we have to also harmonise that. And to do that, we need the parliament to pass a bill and create a Wage Commission. This has also been pending for some time.
A number of very important legislation has to go through the parliament. So we are happy that the parliament is now fully functional and they will address these issues.
With regards to the issues around the transfer, particularly with the resignation of President Nasheed, there were issues raised. I had no doubt in my mind that he resigned voluntarily, in front of live television. He signed his own resignation letter. Mr Nasheed is not a shy person. He is very smart, very clever and has been a journalist. He knows the media. He could have even implied that he was resigning under duress or by force, which he didn’t.
I believe that he sincerely resigned at that time, but changed his mind later on for various reasons. Of course he only knows what those reasons are. But his accusation that it was a forced resignation is serious enough to warrant an inquiry.
I have no question about the legitimacy of my office, because the constitution is very, very clear on what happens when the office of the President is vacated for any reason. And the Vice President is elected to be sworn in. And then it was the Speaker of the Parliament who has the responsibility to perform that duty. He asked me to come in, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court performed the oath of service. So it was followed according to the law, according to the Constitution of the Maldives.
Immediately after I was sworn in, I consulted various friends; the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the governments of India, and many other countries. And I was advised that we should move fast on setting up an inquiry commission, trying to find the best people I can who were not politically active, and who had good a reputation in the country. We identified 3 people, tried to get comments from MDP, but they were not in a mood to cooperate. We setup the commission. The commission has been continuing its work.
In addition to that, I believe from day one that the country, as small as it is, requires to patch the deep crevices that have been formed, due to the political struggles that we have had. And for that reason from day one, I said that we should have a government of national unity at this stage. And I invited all the political parties to join. Again Mr Nasheed’s party was reluctant. They attended the first meeting. The President of the party came with all the other political party leaders for the first meeting, but then after that they decided to stay away.
I formed the government. We have now 6 political parties and some NGO representatives, and independence in the government. There are 15 of them now, out of that the two major parties, PPM and DRP, each have 3 cabinet members. The government is also formed with junior ministerial posts, all allocated to the different parties.
I said from day one, I wanted to demonstrate my sincerity in this, and therefore I said, I didn’t want anybody from my party to be in the cabinet. That’s the way it was done until today.
In order for us to promote dialogue, having worked in the UN as long as I have, I came up with a road map with inputs from UN and from other countries. We put together a road map, drafted a road map, which was presented to all the political parties. I appointed a convener for talks, who was the first President of our independent Human Rights Commission.
So he is leading the process. It’s moving on. All the political parties, including Mr Nasheed’s party, participate in these talks. And these talks, I believe, could do better. I would like to see them agree on the legislative agenda, for example, and get the parliament to move on with that. At least, I take comfort in the fact that they use this forum, to vent their frustration, and not take that out on the street all the time. So the talks are continuing.
As for the inquiry commission, Mr Nasheed raised issue with the impartiality and integrity of the commission, because the Commonwealth agreed with that. But nobody had really observed the workings of the commission.
I invited foreign advisors to sit on the commission but that hasn’t taken place. We exchanged a terms of reference for a judge from Commonwealth. It was agreed by Maldives, but the Commonwealth has insisted that we should change the composition of the commission. Their special representative Sir Don McKinnon, from New Zealand, is currently in Maldives. I have had several discussions with him. And we have agreed with him that the terms of reference is open. We have had discussion of it, and we have come to an understanding of revised terms of reference for the inquiry commission.
Similarly, we have also agreed in principle that we could welcome a co-chair that is acceptable to the Commonwealth and to Mr Nasheed. So these discussions are going on in Maldives. I believe today or tomorrow there will be an announcement from the Commonwealth Special Envoy on what he has been able to achieve.
I do not want in any way to interfere in that. The commission, from day one, has been established and given a budget. They recruited their staff, their legal assistance. They have brought legal expertise from Singapore. And also an Indian judge has been helping them out. So I am confident whatever they come out with in terms of findings, will be of good value and should be respected.
So that’s where we are today. Of course there have also been discussions about early elections, and if I don’t talk about it I’m sure some of you will ask me.
Let me explain. I’m all for elections. I am all for free and fair elections, and as soon as it is possible. As I explained to you, we have a presidential system. There is no mechanism for the President to find the right time, and then call for early or snap elections as in a parliamentary system. There is a 5 year term. If a seat gets vacated, the constitution provides a mechanism for filling that. I have taken my position accordingly. But as I said, I am not against early elections. There are some complications. I will tell you what they are;
First, an early election before July of next year, and usually the elections would be held around October of next year. But it is possible for the Election Commissioner to bring forward the elections up to July according to the constitution and I have said very clearly that I will favor that.
When I said that I’m for elections in July, the Commissioner came out and said “Look Mr President, that’s none of your business. Because it will be decided by me, by the Commissioner.” Any way, that’s in his hands.
The complication is we have to revise, we have to make major amendments to the constitution, and it will require two-thirds majority in the parliament. And two-thirds majority in the parliament is not in favour of making those big amendments for various reasons; mostly political, but also symbolic.
Symbolic in the sense that, 11th of November in Maldives has been the Republic Day since we became a republic in 1968. And this change to please Mr Nasheed would also mean we have to change the Republic Day.
Political reasons; a forced election before July next year entails the resignation of the President and the Vice President. And so today I will have to resign, and the Vice President will have to resign and vacate the posts, and hand over power to the Speaker of the Parliament.
The Speaker of the Parliament is also from another party. He has a candidate for the President. There are other parties equally big, or if not bigger, who are not ready. They don’t have a candidate. They haven’t had their congress, and they haven’t had their primaries. So they are not in a position to accept an early election. So you have political complications there.
I believe that it is in the interest of Maldives to calm down, to move smoothly towards elections in about a year, in which time the political parties themselves will have their congress, will have their primaries, and identify their candidates and be ready for the election.
Already it’s beginning to happen. Four parties have already identified their presidential candidates. But some big ones haven’t. They have also scheduled their congresses toward the end of the year.
So I believe that if we all support a smoother transition, we should have elections by about the middle of next year, a year from now, and then ensure that free and fair elections are held in Maldives. I will ensure that foreign observers are invited to the elections, and guarantee that I will not stay a day longer without elections, as prescribed by the constitution. So any fears that this government might cancel elections is totally unfound. This is the message I would like to give to you.
I appreciate your continued support and patience with Maldives. Our democracy will go forward. We are committed to upholding our constitution, the rule of law, and maintaining a stable Maldives. If you come to Maldives now, you will realize it’s normal like every other country. But as a democratic country, there will always be some descent. There will be some demonstrations that you will see in Maldives.
But as tourists, you come to Maldives, you don’t see any difference. You just come to the resort, you enjoy your stay there and you leave. Because all of these things you have heard about Maldives has not affected the airport, has not affected the resorts.
You may not believe from what you have already heard. We haven’t closed a single school during this time. We haven’t closed any government offices or businesses in the country.
So, I’m happy to say that there is a reasonable stability and calm in the country. And we want to assure you of our firm commitment to democracy. We will not turn back, and with your support, Insha Allah, we will succeed in having a democratic country.