Cablegate: Maldives Seeks "Managed Change" As Parties Register

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





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) To date five organizations have completed the
pre-registration process required to become political parties
in Maldives. In a June 16 meeting with the Ambassador in
Colombo, Maldivian Foreign Secretary Abdul Hamid Zakariyya
said that the Government of Republic of Maldives (GORM) is
"trying to move as fast as possible" in instituting
democratic change without inviting "chaos," but insisted the
GORM "is ready to go ahead in good faith." He appealed for
U.S. assistance for this effort. On June 14 the opposition
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a roundtable discussion
on democratic change in Maldives at a quasi-governmental
institute in Colombo. The GORM has protested to the
Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) its semi-official sponsorship
of the partisan event. Democratic change in Maldives appears
to be progressing in fits and starts, but in general the
trend seems to be in the right direction. End summary.

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2. (U) To date, a total of five organizations have completed
pre-registration requirements, as formulated by the Home
Ministry, to be recognized as political parties. In addition
to the Maldivian People's Party, founded by President Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom; the Maldivian People's Democratic Party
(heretofore known as the Maldivian Democratic Party, or MDP);
and the Islamic Democratic Party (Ref A), headed by former
National Security Service (NSS) officer Umar Naseer,
applications have also been accepted from the Maldives Labor
Party, headed by the vice chairman of the Bodybuilding
Federation of Maldives, and the Adalat (Justice) Party,
headed by Sheikh Hussein Rahman Hassan. (Note: The leaders
of the last three proto-parties appear to be relative
newcomers to the political scene, and little is known about
them, including among our regular Maldivian contacts. MDP
sources, however, were quick to accuse Naseer of torture
during his NSS days. End note.) According to Maldivian
government officials, the parties are currently canvassing
for supporters (3,000 signatures are needed to for full
registration), writing their constitutions and composing
their manifestos. Maldivian observers expect a few more
parties to emerge within the next few months.

3. (SBU) In a June 10 meeting, Hussain Shareef, a long-time
GORM civil servant, told poloff that he believes Gayoom truly
wants democratic change, but is sometimes held back by
members of his own family--specifically, brothers Atolls
Minister Abdulla Hameed and Trade Minister Yameen--from
pursuing those aims. Acknowledging that the appetite for
reform in Maldives is great, Shareef said he hopes Gayoom is
not deterred from these goals. If he lets himself be swayed,
his credibility will suffer greatly with the general public,
Shareef said.


4. (SBU) On June 14 the quasi-governmental Bandaranaike
Center for International Studies (BCIS) held a "roundtable"
discussion in Colombo on democratic change in Maldives. The
invitation, which was sent to Colombo diplomats by BCIS in
the name of board member and Foreign Minister Lakshman
Kadirgamar, listed Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama as the
keynote speaker. The list of participants at the roundtable
consisted exclusively of MDP members well known for their
anti-Government of Republic of Maldives (GORM) sentiments.

5. (SBU) Late in the day June 14 diplomats at the Maldivian
High Commission in Colombo made a hasty round of calls to
other diplomats to convey their dissatisfaction at the
partisan composition of the "roundtable," their surprise and
dismay at the apparent Government of Sri Lanka (GSL)
sponsorship of the event, and to poll diplomatic colleagues
on their intention to attend. (We sent a political officer.
Despite the claims on the invitation, no one from the GSL
turned up.) At the event later that evening, MDP
representatives stressed the continued need for reform. MDP
Chairperson Mohamad Nasheed (who returned to Maldives April
30 to set up the party), predictably castigated President
Gayoom as a repressive autocrat who "must go" before true
democracy can flourish. Nasheed implored the (sparsely
represented) international community to support reforms to
democratic processes in Maldives out of a sense of "common
human decency." MDP Spokesman Mohamad Latheef commended the
U.S. and the EU for their efforts so far to support democracy
in Maldives. Latheef also weighed in against Gayoom for
spending government funds to promote his own political party.
The event garnered little to no press coverage in Sri Lanka.


6 (SBU) On June 15 Maldivian Foreign Secretary Abdul Hameed
Zakariyya, accompanied by Counselor Ghafoor, called on the
Ambassador in Colombo. Zakariyya described the Maldivian
public as "very happy" with the move to register political
parties, asserting that the initiative has "raised President
Gayoom's credibility" and "demonstrated his commitment" to
reform. The challenge for the GORM now, Zakariyya continued,
is "to manage that commitment." To that end, the government
is "trying to move as fast as possible without inviting
lawlessness, chaos and disorder. We don't want to create
dislocation in society." Nonetheless, Zakariyya emphasized,
"I am here to assure you that we're ready to go ahead in good
faith." Maldivians must change their "mental framework,"
Ghafoor added. Because of the small size of Maldivian
society, "any step we take (in that direction) is huge for
us." Zakariyya reported that he had convoked the Sri Lankan
High Commissioner in Male' to protest formally the June 14
BCIS event. Zakariyya said he was told that the Sri Lankan
Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unaware of the event and he
had received assurances that it would more closely monitor
the wording of BCIS invitations in the future.

7. (SBU) With its desire to "manage change," Zakariyya
said, the GORM needs the "expertise and guidance" of the U.S.
Commending the work done by the National Democratic
Institute (NDI) in assessing Maldives' needs last year
(funded by UNDP), he expressed hope that additional funding
could be found to bring NDI or a similar organization back to
help the reform process. He noted that other institutional
reforms, e.g., of the criminal justice system and of the
judiciary, are also in train.

8. (SBU) The Ambassador said that the U.S. is encouraged by
the direction, in general, in which events are proceeding in
Maldives. Noting that many Muslim countries are currently
grappling with how to open up their political systems, he
said that Maldives could be a wonderful example of a moderate
Muslim nation making a successful transition to democracy.
He added that "managing" change is quite difficult,
especially since recent advancements in information
technology make information instantly available. Zakariyya
thanked the U.S. for "giving us comfort at a critical time"
in Maldivian history.


9. (SBU) The political reform process in Maldives appears to
have begun, albeit haltingly. While Gayoom seems to
understand the need for change, he wants to control the
change, regulating the scope and pace of reform to ward off
the "lawlessness, chaos and disorder" he sees as the
alternative to his steady hand. Once begun, however, the
process of change may be harder to manage than Gayoom and his
advisors appreciate. We remain generally hopeful that the
trend, despite several false starts, is in the right

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