US rues Maldives govt’s intolerance for criticism, competition

The leading members of the Maldives United Opposition in London.

The leading members of the Maldives United Opposition in London.

The United States has expressed concern over the government’s intolerance for criticism or competition by saying that the legitimate political space is narrowing in Maldives,

“We remain greatly concerned about the narrowing of legitimate political space: too many opposition politicians are behind bars because the government’s intolerance for criticism or competition,” a US State Department spokesperson said.

“We support a vibrant political opposition, just as we support vibrancy in all democratic institutions. Unfortunately, we continue to see political leaders sent to jail after flawed judicial processes,” the spokesperson said in response to a question on the current political situation in Maldives with the opposition parties seeking the next general elections under an interim government.

“We support the Maldivian people’s desire to see their country reinforce its democracy, rule of law and judiciary,” the spokesperson said in response to a question.

The newly formed opposition alliance had said it will seek to oust incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and form an interim government to ensure free and fair elections scheduled in 2018.

Five rival opposition groups had announced a united front to remove president Yameen from office.

The Maldives United Opposition brings together the Maldivian Democratic Party, the Adhaalath Party, two of Yameen’s former deputies and his former defence minister.

The coalition had announced a 19 member shadow cabinet comprised of senior opposition figures and former top officials of president Yameen’s government.

An interim administration is crucial to restore democracy and to “protect the many people being persecuted,” Ahmed Naseem, the shadow foreign minister told reporters in Colombo.

“The primary objective of the Maldives United Opposition is to strive for the removal from power of the dictator in Maldives, through all legal and lawful means, and pave the way for a transitional administration as soon as possible,” Naseem said.

President Yameen’s government has come under heavy criticism and condemnation from the archipelago’s international partners after several of his political opponents were forced into exile or have been jailed.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s jailing on a terror charge last year was a key trigger of the current political crisis. He was allowed to leave the country in an internationally brokered deal in January.

Nasheed won the country’s first multiparty election in 2008, defeating Gayoom’s half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the country from 1978.

Nasheed, however, resigned three years into his presidency amid public protests for ordering the military to detain a sitting judge.

Jameel had meanwhile fled to the UK last July days before he was impeached in a controversial vote. At the time, the Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim were already in jail.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail last year but was given asylum in Britain after traveling there for back surgery. Nazim is serving an 11-year jail term for possessing a firearm, and former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor was sentenced to 25 years in prison last week on two counts of terrorism charges, including an assassination attempt on the president.

All these convictions have been decried for a lack of due process.

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