Cablegate: Maldives Update: Un Election Mission Delayed

DE RUEHLM #0137/01 0361359
P 051359Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: In a series of meetings on January 30, the
Embassy learned that the Special Majlis considering
constitutional reform has not yet resolved the section on
transitional arrangements, because of disputes over whether
President Gayoom should be allowed to run and whether a
transitional government should be appointed to oversee the
Presidential elections. The New Maldives group expressed
concern about the ruling DRP party's attempt to discredit
them and limit their candidate's access to state-run
television and radio. They also expressed disappointment
that India has not engaged on democracy issues in the
Maldives. The Islamic Adhaalath party criticized President
Gayoom for failing to address growing social problems such as
drug abuse and for exploiting religious extremism to gain
international support. They attributed growing extremism to
the influence of radical ideas Maldivian youth read on the
internet and the failure of the Maldivian educational system
to teach Islamic values. The Foreign Minister told the
Ambassador that he had asked the UN to delay the visit of the
UN election assessment team from mid-February to mid-March so
that the Constitutional Reform process would be complete by
the time of the team's visit. Ambassador told all
interlocutors that the U.S. had not taken a position on the
question of an interim Government or whether Gayoom should be
allowed to run again, but assured them the U.S. would
continue to press all sides to support the creation of
independent institutions such as an Elections Commission, an
independent judiciary, an independent Civil Service
Commission (so the President cannot force the bureaucracy to
campaign for him), an independent media, and an independent
police, so that these institutions can help ensure free and
fair elections. End Summary.

New Maldives Express Concern About Ruling Party Tactics
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (SBU) In a meeting with the "New Maldives" group
consisting of the former Foreign Minister, Justice Minister,
and Attorney General the three expressed concern about
tactics the Government is using to try and discredit them in
advance of the Presidential election campaign. They alleged
that the Government had accused New Maldives of terrorist
plotting on an island none of the three had even visited.
The President had also accused opposition parties of being
behind the stabbing attempt against him (ref A). The
Presidential spokes person went further, alleging that "a
opposition alliance" was behind the attempt. This was a
clear reference to New Maldives in the view of its three
leaders. The New Maldives leaders also complained that
state-run T.V. and radio where providing exclusive coverage
for the President's campaign-style travel around the country,
while providing no coverage whatsoever for the speeches and
visits of the New Maldives candidate Hassan Saeed.

3. (SBU) The New Maldives group was also concerned that two
associates of the President had applied to register "the New
Maldives movement" as an NGO in the Maldives to take this
name away from New Maldives. Former Foreign Minister Shaheed
said he had received a clear promise that the ruling party
would not do this. He alleged that with the movement now
registered the Government had threatened to arrest New
Maldives members if they attempted to use that name. Shaheed
said that New Maldives has now submitted an application for
"The New Maldives Association" which he hoped would be
approved. (Note: Ambassador subsequently raised this with
the Foreign Minister - see para 16.)

4. (SBU) Asked for their assessment of the Special Majlis'
progress on constitutional reform, the three leaders expected
that the Special Majlis would be likely to complete its work
by the end of February. They said there remains a major
dispute about whether the President should be allowed to seek
another term. At the same time they claimed Gayoom would be
the easiest candidate to beat. They noted for example, that
on a visit to the southern atoll of Adu the previous day, a
far smaller number of islanders had turned out for the
President's visit than a year earlier for a visit that the
three ministers had helped to organize when they were in

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5. (SBU) The New Maldives leaders also alerted the Ambassador
to a potential major new development, which was the
possibility that the President's Finance Minister Ibrahim
Qasim might split with the President to form his own party
and possibly team up with MDP leader Munnavar who had been
told by the MDP that he would not be the party candidate for
President. Qasim's money and influence coupled with
Munnavar's MDP support would make their new party a strong
contender, Shaheed predicted. The Ambassador asked how many
candidates would be allowed to stand in the elections.
Shaheed responded that there could be as many as five to six
candidates, from which the top two would compete in a run-off
provided no candidate received 50 percent of the vote in the
first round.

US For Independent Institutions

6. (SBU) Asked for his views on whether Gayoom should be
allowed to run and the opposition's push for the appointment
for an interim Government to supervise Presidential
elections, Ambassador responded that U.S. had not taken a
position on the question of an interim Government since it
was hard to defend appointing an interim government to
replace an elected one. He also said it was up to Maldivians
to determine whether Gayoom should be allowed to run. The
U.S. would, however, continue to press all sides to support
the creation of independent institutions such as an Elections
Commission, an independent judiciary, an independent Civil
Service Commission (so the President cannot force the
bureaucracy to campaign for him), an independent media, and
an independent police. The U.S. also supports the visit of a
UN team to assess what measures needed to be put in place to
ensure a free and fair election.

India's Role Disappointing

7. (SBU) The Ambassador asked if the Indian High Commission
in Male' and the Indian Government more broadly were engaging
in any of these democracy issues given India's public support
for the democracy agenda in the UN and elsewhere. All three
leaders responded that only the U.S., EU and UK were playing
helpful roles. India had not engaged, which they said was
"very disappointing".

First Ever Meeting with Islamic Party Adhaalath
--------------------------------------------- --

8. (SBU) In the first ever meeting with the U.S. Embassy,
Adhaalath party President Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed and
Vice President Dr. Mauroof Hussain explained that they had
registered Adhaalath as a political party to promote social
justice in the Maldives. The two leaders claimed that the
party has 6,000 members registered with the Election
Commission, another 4,000 unregistered members, and offices
on 35 islands in the Maldives. Sheikh Ahmed noted that
Maldives faces significant social challenges, including
rampant drug use by the majority of Maldivian youth,
widespread corruption, and degradation of moral values such
as the decline of respect by children for their elders.
Sheikh Ahmed accused the present Government of not doing
enough on any of these issues, which had led to the September
bombing in Male and an increase in crime.

9. (SBU) Ambassador asked for their views on religious
extremism in the Maldives. Sheikh Ahmed responded that his
party is concerned about the rise of extremism in the
Maldives, but that so far the extremists represent a
minority. He attributed extremism to the Government's failure
to understand and properly deal with the problem. When
tensions rose more than a year ago on the island of
Himandhoo, Sheikh Ahmed said he met with the Maldivian Chief
of Police and urged that Adhaalath be allowed to talk to the
disaffected youth on the island and that the Government not
repress them. The Chief of Police refused, leading to the
confrontation that had taken place in late 2007. The
Ambassador asked why they thought the troubles had started in
Himandhoo. Dr. Hussain said the troubles began when the
Government decided to build a mosque on the site of a
graveyard, which is forbidden in Islam. The people refused
to worship in that mosque and opened their own unlicensed

COLOMBO 00000137 003 OF 004

one, to which the Government objected.

10. (SBU) Both Adhaalath leaders accused President Gayoom of
exploiting religious extremism, so that he can seek
international support to fight it. The Ambassador reassured
both leaders that while the U.S. opposes extremism
everywhere, the U.S. was not supporting Gayoom or any other
candidate in the 2008 elections. Rather, the U.S. supports a
free and fair democratic process. The Adhaalath leaders
welcomed the U.S. position and characterized the present
regime in the Maldives as the country's biggest hurdle. Dr.
Hussain complained that no institutions are free, and that
the Government controls the civil service and has "cronies"
to run all the islands.

11. (SBU) The Ambassador asked where the support for
extremism came from, particularly whether any foreign
countries were providing support. The two leaders again
sought to downplay the influence of extremists, pointing out
that there is no organized extremist movement in Maldives.
They said Maldivian youth are not receiving adequate Islamic
education and are therefore easily influenced by extremist
ideas they read on the internet. Both leaders accused
President Gayoom of using Islam for the Government's
objectives rather than for promoting Islamic values. The
Ambassador asked if the Imams in the country's mosques dare
speak up against the Government. Sheikh Ahmed said they do
not because they are appointed by the Government and are
afraid to lose their jobs.

12. (SBU) The Ambassador asked for Adhaalath's views on
education in the Maldives. Both lamented that the Maldives
has no recognized university, which forces students to go
overseas. They observed that most primary and secondary
schools in the Maldives now teach in the medium of English.
Only two schools have instruction in Arabic where both
Islamic and secular subjects are taught. These too are
Government-run, but Dr. Hussain pointed with pride to the
fact that students graduating from the Arabic medium schools
were far less prone to drug use than their counterparts in
secular schools.

Government Delays UN Assessment Team

13. (SBU) In a subsequent meeting with Foreign Minister
Abdalla, the Minister told the Ambassador that he had written
UN Under Secretary General Pascoe to delay the visit of the
UN election assessment team from mid-February to mid-March so
that the Constitutional Reform process would be complete by
the time of their visit. The Minister expressed satisfaction
that the majority of constitutional articles had been adopted
with cross-party support. He was particularly pleased that
the chapter on rights is "totally consistent" with the
Universal Declaration on Human Rights. For example, the new
Constitution provides for the right of assembly without prior
permission and contains strong provisions on press freedom,
he said. The Minister noted that the Special Majlis was
still debating the sensitive question of transitional
arrangements prior to the elections.

Religious Freedom Challenge

14. (SBU) The Minister candidly divulged that he was not
satisfied with the provision in the Rights chapter that every
Maldivian must be a Muslim. He said this particular
amendment would contravene obligations that Maldives had
undertaken in joining several international conventions.
Already, he said that the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of
Religion had written to express concern about this Amendment.
The Foreign Minster explained that he had already written
the Special Majlis to reconsider this particular Amendment.

15. (SBU) With respect to the opposition's call for the
appointment of a transitional government to supervise
elections, the Minister said there was no justification for
such a proposal. He questioned the rationale for appointing
an unelected interim administration to replace a
democratically elected government. He said that the
Government was proposing that candidates for the Election,
Civil Service, and other independent commissions be approved

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after consultation with all parties. These independent
institutions could then supervise elections. Parliamentary
elections would then be held within 6 months after the
Presidential elections.

16. (SBU) The Ambassador repeated that the U.S. had not taken
a position on the question of an interim government, but
would strongly support the appointment of independent
institutions to supervise and ensure free and fair elections.
He said that international judgments on the fairness of the
elections would hinge in part on how free and impartial such
institutions as the Election Commission, judiciary, and the
media would be. He shared with the Minister opposition
complaints that already that state-run T.V. and radio had
blacked out all coverage of Hassan Saeed. Once the formal
campaign began the Government would need to make a special
effort to allow balanced coverage from all of the candidates.
The Ambassador also urged the Government to approve the New
Maldives application to register "The New Maldives
Association". To deny it would be petty and of no real
benefit to the Government. The Minister agreed and thought
the Association would be approved.

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