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Updated: February 8, 2012 23:52 IST

National unity government is priority, says Waheed

R.K. Radhakrishnan
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Maldives newly elected President Mohammed Waheed Hassan gestures as he answers a question during a press conference in Male, Maldives. Photo: AP
AP
Maldives newly elected President Mohammed Waheed Hassan gestures as he answers a question during a press conference in Male, Maldives. Photo: AP

Maldivian President Waheed Hassan Manik has appealed to all political parties to come together to consolidate democracy and form a national unity government.

“As a nation, we are not proud of the kind of things that happened in the last few weeks. I want to assure all of you, and all of our partners that we will respect rule of law. We will uphold the Constitution. We will make sure that democracy is consolidated. That's why it is so important to me to bring all political parties together and form a government of national unity,” he said in his first press interaction as President.

Dr. Waheed will serve the remaining term of the former President, Mohamed Nasheed, at a time when Maldives sorely needs stability after debilitating protests over the past several months. “We are trying to form a new government. And I am in consultation with all the major political parties. I have had several meetings with them, including the president of MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party to which Mr. Nasheed belongs]. I am optimistic that I will soon have an indication how many parties are ready to participate, and, second, their suggestions for nominations,” he said.

One of the first steps that Dr. Waheed took was to release the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed. He had advised against the arrest and voiced dissent in public when his advice was not heeded. He made it clear that he would not interfere in the functioning of the judiciary.

The second thing that he intends to do is to consult the People's Majlis ahead of appointing a Minister. This is essential since no party has a majority in the Majlis. Mr. Nasheed's stand-off over his choice of Ministers nearly aborted the first democratic experiment in the Maldives in 2008. “My plan is to continue consultations with political leaders and then come up with nominations. But we will first go to Parliament [People's Majlis]. And we will ask Parliament to decide on their appointments. It will take a few days for the process,” he said on his plans for forming a new Cabinet.

Nasheed safe

Asked about Mr. Nasheed's whereabouts, given conflicting reports, he said the former President was at his house. “He continues to receive normal security protection that he used to have as President. No effort has been made to dismantle it or minimise it in any way, and, I have personally made sure that the enforcement agencies make sure that President Nasheed is protected according to the law,” he said. He said he did not have any objection to Mr. Nasheed leaving the country. But if there were any court proceedings against Mr. Nasheed, it would be handled by the courts.

On the growing clout of Islamist fundamentalist parties, he said they were part of Mr. Nasheed's government. He too wanted them on his side. “They will also be represented in the next government. They are part of this country. We can't ignore them. But I can assure you that we have a fairly wide range of people in government. I am trying to create a pluralistic, multi-party government that will bring in all views,” he said.

Indian concerns

Asked if the relationship with India will remain as close as it was with Mr. Nasheed, Dr. Waheed said: “Absolutely. I received a message of congratulations from the [Indian] Prime Minister. We have very special, very close relationships with India. This will continue.”

The biggest Indian private sector project that will face some trouble with the new regime is GMR's Male Airport (Ibrahim Nasir International Airport). GMR has increased the passenger fee and handling charges for airlines. Some airlines, including Qatar Airways, have protested and have threatened not to fly to The Maldives. GMR says the handling charges were revised after more than a decade. Asked about this, Dr. Waheed said the people had some concerns regarding the GMR contract. “We will discuss with GMR and try to resolve those issues,” he said.

He assured holiday makers that The Maldives was completely peaceful. “They are all welcome. I want to reassure our tourism industry that they have the full support of this government,” he said.

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