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Cablegate: Maldives: Government Appears Ready to Register

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000946

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR SA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM MV
SUBJECT: MALDIVES: GOVERNMENT APPEARS READY TO REGISTER
POLITICAL PARTIES

REF: A. COLOMBO 0845
B. COLOMBO 0837

--------
SUMMARY
---------

1. (SBU) On May 21 President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom asked the
People's Majlis in its next session to take up the question
of whether to allow the registration of political parties.
The President's directive follows an opinion issued by the
Attorney General overturning a 2001 finding from his
predecessor that political parties are not allowed under the
Constitution. The People's Majlis, which in the past has
functioned largely to rubber stamp "requests" from the
President, is expected to move expeditiously on the question
when its second session opens on June 1. Opposition
activists from the unregistered Maldivian Democratic Party
welcomed the move, while cautioning that they expect Gayoom
to try to co-opt the process by forming his own political
party. End summary.

------------------------------
PEOPLE'S MAJLIS TO REVIEW
LEGALITY OF POLITICAL PARTIES
------------------------------

2. (SBU) On May 21 President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom asked the
People's Majlis to review in its upcoming session an earlier
decision rejecting the registration of political parties in
the island republic. The President's request, conveyed in a
letter to the Speaker of the Majlis, referred to a May 1
opinion issued by Attorney General Dr. Hassan Saeed finding
that the Constitution as currently framed does not prohibit
the registration and operation of political parties (Ref A).
Saeed's finding contradicts a 2001 opinion issued by
then-Attorney General Mohamad Munavvar (now, ironically, a
founding member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party)
that the Constitution did not provide for the registration
and operation of political parties. The next session of the
People's Majlis is scheduled to open on June 1. According to
the Canadian High Commission, Attorney General Saeed told the
High Commissioner that he expects the Majlis to move quickly
on the question, possibly deciding within a week of its
opening session.

------------------------------------
MALDIVIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY HAPPY--
FOR ONCE
------------------------------------

3. (SBU) In a May 23 meeting with poloff, Mohamad Latheef,
the head of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who lives in
self-imposed exile in Sri Lanka, and Ibrahim Zaki, former
SAARC Secretary General who was detained after the August
12-13 civil unrest in the Maldivian capital, said they
welcomed Gayoom's move. Latheef said he believes it signals
a recognition by the President that he cannot turn off
popular demand for reform--but also a desire to control and
shape those reforms according to his own agenda. That said,
by approving the drive to register political parties, the
President's "agenda is now our agenda," Latheef declared. By
directing the People's Majlis to "reconsider" its 2001
decision that the Constitution does not allow for political
parties, Latheef said, Gayoom was bypassing the slow-moving
Special Majlis, which had been specifically formed to review
proposed constitutional amendments. Since a "request" from
the President is generally interpreted as an instruction, the
People's Majlis can be expected to act quickly to endorse the
recommendation, the pair indicated.

4. (SBU) Zaki and Latheef described themselves as optimistic
about current trends, including ongoing efforts, initiated by
the April 30 return to Maldives of MDP Chairperson Mohamad
Nasheed (Ref B), to organize the MDP in the island nation.
Nasheed had succeeded in renting office space--not advertised
publicly as an MDP office, according to Latheef, but everyone
knows what/where it is--distributing leaflets, signing up
7,200 unofficial "members" in the capital of Male' and
holding several unofficial meetings and forums, Latheef
reported, without harassment by government authorities. So
far efforts to organize on outlying atolls lag behind those
in the capital, Latheef acknowledged, but indicated there are
plans to move ahead.

5. (SBU) The MDP has formed a five-man leadership
committee, composed of Latheef (who remains in Sri Lanka),
Nasheed (who has just returned to Maldives), Zaki, People's
Majlis Member and former detainee Ibrahim Ismail, and former
Attorney General and former People's Majlis Member Mohamad
Munavvar. Latheef said that he hopes to return to Maldives
to meet Gayoom, together with the other four MDP leaders, but
only if the President guarantees him "safe passage."
Although President Gayoom has made no direct overtures to
members of the MDP, Zaki and Latheef said, his personal
secretary has sent out "feelers" to Zaki and a few others.

SIPDIS
So far the MDP is resisting these overtures, seeing in this
approach a divide-and-conquer effort to isolate key members,
Latheef said.

--------------------------
GAYOOM TO FORM OWN PARTY?
--------------------------

6. (SBU) Zaki and Latheef said they believe President Gayoom
is trying to form his own political party to counter the
popularity of the MDP and had invited prominent businessman
and former detainee Ibrahim Gasim to join his party. They
indicated that Gasim, whom they described as still
traumatized by his earlier incarceration, may feel pressure
to accept the offer. Even if the President's effort ends up
being no more than "a sham party" with little popular
backing, at least Gayoom is "going through the process" of
institutionalizing a party system, Latheef commented, which
the MDP can only welcome. Other parties besides the MDP and
the President's might also emerge, including one or two
Islamic parties, Latheef indicated. Expressing doubt that
Gayoom "really wants competitive politics on a level playing
field," Latheef warned that special care must be exercised to
ensure that the nascent system allows for the development of
truly democratic parties. Specialized organizations like the
National Democratic Institute might be able to help in this
process, he suggested.

7. (SBU) According to political officer Jean-Philippe
Linteau of the Canadian High Commission, Canadian High
Commissioner Valerie Raymond heard similar information during
her May 8-9 visit to Maldives. Education Minister Dr.
Mahmood Shaugee reportedly claimed credit for urging Gayoom
to move ahead with his own party, advising him that, in the
absence of such an institution, competing family interests
(specifically, Gayoom's brother and Trade Minister Abdulla
Yameen and brother-in-law and Transport Minister Ilyas
Ibrahim) would split and weaken pro-Government forces.
People's Majlis MP and MDP member Ibrahim Ismail predicted to
Raymond that when/if parties are legalized, the MDP might
likely split into several opposition parties, including one
or more Islamic parties.

----------------------
SPECIAL MAJLIS: SLOW
BOAT TO REFORM
----------------------

8. (SBU) In a May 13 meeting with poloff in Colombo, Ali
Faiz, a Special Majlis MP who was detained after the August
12-13 unrest, said he believes that some members of the
Special Majlis, including the Speaker, are deliberately
slow-boating review of proposed constitutional amendments.
Faiz said he had proposed several steps to speed up
deliberations--including increasing the number of working
hours (an average of three and a half hours a day, which is
more or less standard for Government officials) and
regularizing the schedule of sessions (now a sporadic two
days a week but adhering to "no special pattern"), all of
which have not been acted upon. Right now, Faiz said, the
Special Majlis is still enmeshed in considering no fewer than
66 rules of procedure--a process begun in October--and has
not even begun to take up the proposed amendments. Moreover,
the rules of procedure are being adopted in such a way as to
allow the pro-Gayoom Speaker ample "room for maneuvering,"
Faiz warned darkly, e.g., leaving the Speaker too much leeway
in deciding what items get put on the agenda. The leisurely
pace adopted by the Special Majlis suggests to Faiz that
"truly they (the Government) don't want to move fast" on
reform. Instead, "Gayoom is buying time" to delay, the
former detainee charged.

--------
COMMENT
--------

9. (SBU) Gayoom may indeed have mixed motives for legalizing
political parties including, as the MDP suggests, a wish to
control the direction of reform his way. Nonetheless, even
the perpetually pessimistic MDP finds cause for optimism in
Gayoom's move, and so do we. If parties are legalized, the
next important step, as the MDP suggests, is to ensure that
the ensuing institutions are truly democratic in organization
and operation. We will monitor impending developments
closely to see what scope there may be for U.S. assistance in
this effort.
LUNSTEAD

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