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#Maldives Crisis: Can President Waheed field an independent investigation acceptable to MDP?

Male', Maldives.

Last night, ex-President Nasheed again called upon his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, to assist him to immediately remove President Mohamed Waheed and reinstate him. The MDP cannot sit around with folded arms, but must take action to remove President Waheed from office, Nasheed told party members gathered at a rally in Male' last night.

These statements come in the midst of international reports which say that Nasheed has agreed with foreign envoys such as US Special Envoy Robert Blake to join a unity government and work for reform leading to an election in 2013. However, neither Nasheed nor MDP have confirmed such a commitment.

The international community which collectively expressed support for the new regime earlier in the week have modified its stance after Britain and Germany supported Nasheed's allegations of a forced resignation by a military coup. The international community now collectively call for an independent investigation into the regime change in Maldives which took place in February 7th.

President Waheed has ruled out snap elections, but has agreed on an independent inquiry. Speaking to foreign correspondents yesterday, President Waheed said the priority now was to maintain calm, and that he was open to suggestions on an independent inquiry.

Luckily for Maldives, India, the US and the UN have made it explicitly clear that such an investigation must be an internal one. British Prime Minister David Cameron too first stated to Parliament that the matter was an internal. However, a day later, Foreign Minister Hague made additional statements to Parliament which hinted at British support for an international inquiry.

The British hand can also be seen behind a Commonwealth move to review Nasheed's allegations. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a group of nine foreign ministers from the 54-member bloc, will hold a teleconference "to review the circumstances pertaining to the transfer of power", said Akbar Khan, head of the Commonwealth delegation in the Maldives, according to the BBC. The CMAG has the power to suspend member states if they violate democracy, voting against Fiji in 2006, and Pakistan in 1999 and 2007.

However, the case may not be so dire for the Maldives since, in a meeting with President Waheed on Saturday, the Commonwealth delegation pledged support to the new regime, and stated that it was considering ways it would assist in the democratic reform process.

While Waheed has accepted the need for an independent investigation, it is debatable whether Nasheed would accept an internal investigation. Although Nasheed commands significant local support in Male's and certain islands, there is no evidence that he commands the majority support. As the historic civic protest against him on December 23 last year shows, there was greater civic opposition to his rule than there was support for it. The December 23rd protest, at which over 20,000 civilians protested against Nasheed, is said to be the turning point in Nasheed's slide down a slippery slope towards his eventual removal from office.

In contrast, as the past two months events show, there can be no denying that Nasheed has a very strong support base overseas, both in foreign governments and the international press. In fact, this is far bigger and more influential than the opposition parties combined. Key players include influential foreign governments such as the UK and Germany. Both Governments were heavily involved in the local and international campaign which brought Nasheed to power into 2008. Nasheed is said to have close personal links to British Prime Minister Cameron and the Conservative Party. Several of his political and publicity advisors in the Maldives hail from Britian.

The very loud silence by both international press and foreign governments during the 22 days of civic protest against Nasheed's military arrest of a senior judge and his violations of fundamental human rights against civic protestors, stands in stark contrast to the hype following his resignation. International media such as Reuters and Al Jazeera which had turned a deaf year to the Civic Coalition's pleas flew into Maldives that same day, followed by the British Ambassador.

Unfortunately for Nasheed though, he is in the difficult position of having to backtrack on his stand of the sovereignty of states to hold their internal investigation in the case of alleged human rights violations. While he was President, Nasheed was vocal on the international stage in supporting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse in his stand that a probe into alleged human rights violations during the Tamil War should be an internal one, and not by foreign investigators. It will be interesting to see the stand that Nasheed takes when his own personal interests are at stake.

Assuming that President Waheed can keep such an investigation within the country, he must urgently decide on the scope of the inquiry and the mechanism it would take. One critical question is whether the events of February 7th would be taken in context, or whether it would encompass events leading up to Nasheed's resignation, such as his military arrest of a senior judge.

President Waheed has three basic choices under the Constitution for undertaking an investigation of the alleged coup. These are:
1) Follow Nasheed's steps in his persecution of former President Gayoom and undertake an investigation through a Presidential Commission;
2) Follow former President Gayoom's actions against former President Ibrahim Nasir and support a special Parliamentary probe; or
3) Let the Prosecutor General take the necessary actions to investigate alleged constitutional violations to do with Nasheed's resignation and take any necessary actions.

All three options have their pros and cons. The Constitution does provide for the President to commission independent inquiries, but it is debatable whether Nasheed and MDP would accept an inquiry headed by the very people they allege led the coup. On the other hand though, past history shows that MDP have accepted such commissions as independent during its own rule and that of Gayoom's. The Presidential Commission which probed the death of a prison inmate Evan Naseem and related events was accepted by MDP, as was the Commision report. MDP then contested Gayoom's actions following the Commission inquiry and report.

Similarly, Nasheed himself formed a Presidential Commission to inquire into allegations of wrong doing and corruption by the former President Gayoom, his family and his supporters. In doing so, he encroached on to the constitutional mandate of the Anti Corruption and the Prosecutor General, but contended that the inquiry was independent and free from his influence. This Commission was still operational when Nasheed resigned.

The second option, a Parliamentary investigation, may not received opposition support nor that of the majority of the public. In the past three years of Nasheed's rule, the parliament is widely seen as corrupt and working in the interests of political parties and big business rather than in the public interest. Reform legislation by Nasheed and opposition parties have been bogged down amidst parliamentary squabbling.

If the issue were to be taken up by Parliament, it would automatically go to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, a committee chaired by Nasheed loyalist MP Ali Waheed and in which MDP has a majority. This option is unlikely to be accepted by opposition MPs. The investigation can only go into a special committee of the Parliament, if such a motion can be passed. However, with MDP boasting almost the largest voting bloc with 34 seats, such a motion would have a difficult and acrimonious passage in parliament.

This leaves the third option, an investigation led by the Prosecutor General. Unfortunately, the PG Abdulla Muizzu hails from MDP and was Nasheed's personal lawyer until his nomination as PG. The PG's business partner was Nasheed's former Attorney General Husnu Al-Suood. Both Muizzu and Husnu Al-Suood are Nasheed's close class mates.

Additionally, the PG has to be ruled out due to direct personal interest in the outcome of any investigation. Nasheed's last Attorney General Abdulla Muizzu is the PG's younger brother. As Legal Advisor to the President, a member of Nasheed's National Security Council, and having defended Nasheed's military arrest of Judge Abdulla in court, Abdulla Muizzu will be one of the people whose actions will be investigated, and culpable in the event of a guilty verdict.

The Deputy PG, Hussain Shameem, is a hard core MDP activist, married to Nasheed's Special Advisor Ibrahim Ismail's younger sister Hindh Ismail. Hence, even if PG Muizzu recused himself from a PG led investigation, the Deputy PG would also not be accepted as independent and unbiased.

In effect, this leaves open a Presidential Commission as possibly the best possible option for all parties concerned. If President Waheed or external parties are able to broker an arrangement where such a commission comprised members accepted by Nasheed and other parties, this may perhaps be the more democratic and peaceful solution.

Keeping the investigation out of the Parliament has the added advantage of leaving open avenues for collaboration between the Government, MDP and other parties to push ahead with urgent reform legislation required to restore democracy.

This option also leaves the PG free to discharge his duty of prosecuting those responsible for the military arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed, an issue into which he has already started an investigation through the Human Rights Commission of Maldives.

President Waheed, in his first days in office, has shown a marked lethargy in addressing critical concerns of the public, such as the allegations of a military coup against Nasheed. This has given the MDP justifiable reasons to continue their protests against the Waheed Government. It has also fuelled public fears that he is indeed involved in an unconstitutional removal of a legally elected President.

If President Waheed puts peace and unity first as he has been stating publicly, he must settle public fears fast by informing his citizens of steps he has taken to initiate an investigation into the alleged coup.

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