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Volume 736: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current political situation in the Maldives.

My Lords, we remain concerned about the situation in the Maldives. We agree with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group that early elections are required to establish confidence in the legitimacy of those who govern the country. We welcome the appointment of Sir Don McKinnon as the Commonwealth’s special envoy. We are pressing for all sides to show calm and restraint and to work towards a sustainable political solution.

My Lords, the image of the Maldives as a tropical tourist paradise is indeed correct but it was not a democracy until 2008, when elections finally took place. The individual who was selected as president by the people of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, had suffered personal abuse and imprisonment and had exile in this country—a terrible personal saga. A few weeks ago he resigned, clearly under duress, and the new Government are unwilling to hold elections. If democratic underpinnings and democratic consent are the basis of the Commonwealth, unless these elections take place quickly, should not suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth be considered?

My noble friend is very close to the situation and has followed it over the years. On the last part of his question, it is for the Commonwealth as a whole, not for an individual member, to decide about membership. That is a decision that the Commonwealth comes to when it judges it appropriate. That has not arisen so far in this case, but the rest of my noble friend’s analysis is exactly right. We must move to encourage democratic elections, and that is what is proposed in the India-brokered plan, which we welcome and support, for there to be early elections. So far a commission of inquiry has been established, a special envoy has been appointed, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group was there last month on a fact-finding mission and our own high commissioner was there last week. My noble friend is right that elections are what are needed to establish legitimacy.

My Lords, I was privileged to get to know President Nasheed very well and was impressed by that young, dynamic world leader. As a member of the Commonwealth, are the Government doing enough to ensure that there is a genuine independent international inquiry into what happened, which some say is tantamount to a coup? Do the Government agree with that and will they press for early elections? That has to be the best solution.

We do not recognise this as a coup, although obviously there has been a change. Mr Nasheed is known to many people and greatly admired. We still need to establish the full circumstances of what occurred and we hope that the commission of inquiry will do that. Yes, the pressure is on: the Commonwealth, through Don McKinnon and others, is pressing very hard that there should be early elections and that it should be established who the legitimate Government of the Maldives are. We can then proceed calmly to repair the damage and see that the situation is restored so that the Maldives, as my noble friend has said, remains the paradise and attractive tourist area that it has always been and continues to be, because at the moment we do not judge that there is any danger in the tourist areas.

My Lords, is it not encouraging that the Commonwealth, true to its proper role, is playing such a positive and key part—just as, for example, Chief Emeka Anyaoku did as Commonwealth Secretary-General over South Africa? Is it not therefore disappointing that the Perth CHOGM failed to reach agreement on an enhanced role for both the secretary-general and the secretariat as a whole? Is there any positive progress regarding the role of the secretariat and the secretary-general, or might it emerge over the coming year?

Yes, but the position is not quite as the noble Lord described it. They did not fail at the Heads of Government meeting to reach agreement; in fact, they agreed on a whole range of reinforcement of the upholding of standards in the Commonwealth by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and the new mandate for the secretary-general. The action in the Maldives is a welcome demonstration of what I hope is a much more active role to come. A whole range of other proposals put forward by the Eminent Persons Group is being discussed. The proposals have not been shelved. They are to be discussed by a ministerial task force and analysed further when Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meet in the autumn to take them forward. My hope is that a great many of them will be implemented. Some remain difficult, I fully agree, but generally, there is a huge surge in commitment throughout the Commonwealth to be a body that truly upholds its standards of democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

My Lords, has it now been agreed that the committee of national inquiry which has been formed to investigate the legality of the transfer of power in February should be reinforced by a person nominated by the United Nations? Secondly, will the CMAG at its meeting in April look into a plan B in the event of it being unable to persuade the parties that elections should be held before the end of the year?

Both those propositions are really up to Sir Don McKinnon, the special envoy. He has been in the islands, in Male, in the past few days; I think he leaves today. He will be looking at precisely those points. Our hope and determination must be that elections are brought about. If they are not, of course we would have a new and more difficult situation that would require further resolution and effort. For the moment, we concentrate on following the plan which the Indians have so helpfully brokered.