FORMER Prime Minister Bruce Golding is to lead a Commonwealth observer mission to the Maldives this week, to assess the conduct of its parliamentary elections scheduled for April 6.
The Maldives had withdrawn from membership of the Commonwealth in 2016 after being warned by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) of the possibility of suspension if meaningful steps were not taken to uphold human rights, democratic values, the rule of law, and judicial independence.
The CMAG cited the imprisonment of political opponents, manipulation of the judiciary, restrictions on the media, and curtailment of free speech and association among the issues that needed to be addressed.
The situation deteriorated further last year when the Government declared a state of emergency and arrested several key figures, including the chief justice and another judge of the Supreme Court, as well as prominent Opposition members.
Shortly after the presidential elections last September in which the Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih defeated incumbent president Abdulla Yameen, the Government submitted a formal request to rejoin the Commonwealth. The report of the observer mission will help to inform the decision of the Commonwealth heads of government when they meet in Rwanda next year on the Maldives’ application to rejoin the Commonwealth.
Golding had led a similar observer mission for parliamentary elections in the Maldives in 2014. Among the concerns cited in the report of that mission was the unconstitutional removal by the Supreme Court, two weeks before the elections, of the chairman and vice-chairman of the electoral commission. The report included several recommendations to improve the democratic process.
The Maldives is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean consisting of over 1,000 islands, less than 200 of which are inhabited, and has a population of just under 450,000. It is an exotic tourist destination, attracting 1.5 million visitors each year.
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