By N. Sathiya Moorthy
The announcement by Ali Mujthaba, moderator/convenor for the All-Party Roadmap Talks, that the leaders of all major political parties in the country have agreed to revive the stalled negotiations at the highest levels should come as a relief for a nation staring unsurely at the consequences of the current deadlock. How and when the talks would recommence is unclear as yet, and Mujthaba, for his part, has said that he would be talking to them all for fixing a meeting date, early on.
Mujthaba said that the leaders of various political parties that he has been in touch with were serious about finding a negotiated settlement to the current impasse. All the same, he has indicated that the future talks would involve mainly the larger parties and with higher levels of representation than in the past. In the past, the talks floundered owing possibly to the participation of smaller parties, which tended to look at the immediate than the larger issues and a longer time-frame. By sending in representatives not authorised to indicate the position of their respective parties at the talks, the leaderships also ended up making a mockery of the proceedings, unintended though.
The fallout was visible even as Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai proposed the Roadmap Talks in the first place during his second visit to Maldives in as many weeks, following the February 7 change-of-guard in Male. The Indian efforts were frustrated on the occasion, so was the initiative of President Waheed Hussain. On that occasion, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of former President Mohammed Nasheed could not be blamed for the stalemate beyond a point. They wanted early elections, and the issue discussed at the Roadmap Talks, and on a priority basis.
The revived process, particularly the ‘Bandos experience’ where the representatives haggled over non-issues, was equally frustrating. However, some of the 30 points that were identified for further discussions at Bandos, based on inputs provided by the participants and the Roadmap Talks Secretariat, flowed from the six-point agenda already agreed upon and made seven with the addition of MDP’s demand for early presidential polls, could still be taken forward for detailed discussions. The fact also remained that apart from the 16 hours that the participants spent together at discussions, there were also focussed discussions between select groups, depending on the issues involved, and with Mujthaba, too. The fact still remained that the Bandos process has helped the parties to remain in touch, and also keep the nation’s hopes alive, however flickering it be.
To the indomitable spirit of Mujthaba owes the continuing efforts at reviving the stalled process at every turn. He has since said that the Bandos process did not achieve any breakthrough, and seems to have wanting to apply course correction whenever the previous efforts had hit a road-block. The very fact that he has been able to revive the deadlocked process, and inject fresh ideas to his continuing efforts need to be acknowledged, too. Maldivians need not despair, as it is all again a part of the democratic learning-curve for the nation just as other events since Elections-2008 have been.
However, a day after Mujthaba’s statement, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former President and founder-cum-acting chief of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), a key partner in the Government of President Waheed, declared that he would not share a table with his successor Nasheed. Gayoom recalled how President Nasheed had called him a party to the conspiracy that the latter alleged had led to the coup of February 7, culminating in his resignation. An earlier statement by a Nasheed aide that the MDP would not press the charge against President Gayoom does not seem to have impressed the latter, either.
Between CoNI and Roadmap Talks
In a way, the Roadmap Talks have been stymied by the presence and work of the Commission for National Inquiry (CoNI), in turn looking into the MDP’s allegations of coup. The expansion of the CoNI at the instance of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and insistence of the MDP, and the consequent extension of deadline for it to submit its report, has also contributed to the lack of political interest in the Roadmap Talks. Though the participants to the Roadmap Talks haggled over the priroritisation of the agenda, which had already been agreed upon, the date of presidential election alone seems to be attracting and hurdling any meaningful progress.
It is time the nation’s divided and at times disparate polity, and the larger society, acknowledged the distinguishing features of the two processes. One is aimed at fixing political responsibility, if any, for the events leading up to the February 7 resignation. The other, the Roadmap Talks, has a much larger agenda for the nation, for a long, long time to come. The former cannot be overlooked, but the latter can be ignored only at the nation’s peril. The former, despite the findings, has an inevitable element of a divisive nature, woven into the script. The latter aims at identifying a common approach to the nation’s problems, going beyond February 7 events.
That early polls, as demanded by the MDP, has formed part of the Roadmap Talks should be a welcome sign. Yet, that was/is only a beginning. The MDP, after initial reservations, which in the party’s habit became the cause for street-protests, too yielded on prioritising the agenda for the Roadmap Talks, not insisting any more on early polls as the sine quo non for participation and contribution to the reconciliation process on hand. The agenda for the Roadmap Talks, in a way, comprised various issues that the party had flagged against the then Opposition, when President Nasheed was in office:
- Which laws have to be amended, and what new laws are needed.
- Discuss and determine the changes that need to be brought to independent institutions and independent positions in the Constitution
- To discuss amendments that need to be brought to the Constitution
- To determine a date for the next presidential elections
- Find out the present condition of the budget
- How to have the March 1 Majlis opening proceed in a peaceful manner
- How can to tackle and solve the present discord in Maldivian society
Of the original agenda-points, though, the MDP managed to scuttle the March 1 inauguration of Parliament session by President Waheed. Yet, weeks later, Speaker Abdullah Shahid was able to talk all parties into commencing the Parliament’s proceedings with the mandatory President’s address. If there are issues that have since scuttled parliamentary proceedings, Maldivians have to look around to acknowledge that they are all part of a vibrant democracy, elsewhere too. In the immediate context, however, these are causes for frustration among the elite – and desperation, at times in the nation’s youth.
Announcing the agenda for the Roadmap Talks, Mujthaba had said in end-February: “I am not happy at the speed of this. I would wish today or tomorrow that there would be some kind of agreement.” Today, months later, the situation has not improved, either. The focus is still on early elections, and by extension, the work before the CoNI. But what the Roadmap Talks aimed at, and rightly so, are issues over which the MDP, too, while in power, had problems convincing the Opposition parties of the time. Now in Government, most of them would know where the shoe pinches. They should acknowledge it as such, and proceed accordingly.
Independent of the Government in power, the nation’s economy has been doing badly, and the MDP’s sustained call for global tourists to boycott Maldives, if acted upon, could only make matters worse. On the administrative front, the MDP used to call for ‘institutional reforms’ when President Nasheed was in office, and continues to do so. After President Waheed took over, the Government parties have since replaced it with a call for ’empowerment of the institutions’, such as the judiciary, Election Commission, Civil Services Commission and the Human Rights Commission. There has been a spurt of ‘Integrity Commissions’, whose numbers and effectiveness in a nation of 350,000 people could be contested.
Likewise, the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldivian Police Force (MPF), carved out of the erstwhile National Security Service (NSS), with clearly defined responsibilities have come under heavy fire in the aftermath of the February 7 events. The politicisation of these two forces has been appalling and dangerous, with service-terms of the bosses linked not to age or experience or expertise, but to their purported political loyalties of the man in office, or the perceived suspicions of the party in power. This does not add to the credibility and confidence of the forces, whose future role after presidential poll, whenever held, is in doubt. It does not augur well for the nation.
These are issues identified for the Roadmap Talks, at the height of the political crisis which was focussed at the time exclusively on the MDP demand for an early date for presidential polls. They need to be discussed, debated for answers to be found, early on. Independent of the CoNI’s work, and independent of its findings, whenever announced, the Roadmap Talks have to be taken with the seriousness that it deserves. It is not just about early polls alone. Nor is it about what the MDP says is ‘institutional reforms’ and the present-day rulers have since dubbed ‘institutional empowerment’. The Roadmap agenda goes far beyond that. Maybe, there is thus a need for conferring permanency of sorts for the process that Mujthaba now heads -aimed not only at national reconciliation but even more at national consensus and consequent national reconstruction, too.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)