ELECTION MONITORS IN HOLIDAYMAKERS’ CLOTHING? The Maldives’ ambassador to the EU, Ahmed Shiaan, complained in a letter to European Parliament President Antonio Tajani about a group of MEPs and others, who he claimed travelled to his country ahead of its September 23 presidential election on tourist visas but then “presented themselves as though they were an official delegation of the European Union.” The group included three MEPs — Maria Gabriela Zoană (of the Socialists and Democrats, from Romania), Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP, Czech Republic) and Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR, from Poland’s ruling PiS party) — and Henri Malosse, the former president of the European Economic and Social Committee, and committee member Madi Sharma. Playbook has obtained a copy of the letter; here’s yours.
The group, Shiaan said, traveled to the Maldives “on a privately sponsored visit under a tourist visa and engaged in their ‘investigation,’ in utter disregard and violation of the rules and laws of Maldives Immigration.” The ambassador expressed “significant concern” about the fact that the MEPs “did not meet any officials or representatives of the Maldives Government,” therefore denying them a right of reply.
The EU’s case: The Maldives is a country in the Indian Ocean which is quite the holiday destination for those who like tropical islands, white sandy beaches and long-haul flights. It’s also been a subject of disquiet in the Council and the European Parliament — the latter expressed in a motion “its deep concern over the serious and deteriorating political and human rights situation in the Maldives, and the increasingly authoritarian rule of President [Abdulla] Yameen.”
Shiaan’s letter raised red flags in Parliament: “The EU did not send an official observation mission to the September presidential elections in the Maldives. I regret that some members traveled there on a tourist visa in a purely private capacity and made some statements that might have misrepresented EU and [European Parliament] positions on the situation in the country,” MEP David McAllister told Playbook. “They had no mandate to speak on behalf of the European Parliament.” McAllister co-chairs the Parliament’s democracy support and election coordination group, which is responsible for any election observation activity.
The consequences: McAllister said that the “presence of these members in the Maldives at a sensitive time has already been raised internally by Ms. Jean Lambert, the chair of the delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia and it will also be on the agenda of the democracy support and election coordination group … Let me also note that Mr. Czarnecki, as a result of his previous unofficial activities, has already been prohibited from participating in any official European Parliament election observation missions during the current mandate.” Czarnecki was among the three MEPs from the ECR group who were excluded from all missions to observe foreign elections after they went to Azerbaijan without a mandate (and made positive comments about the outcome of its presidential ballot).
MEPs surprised by the waves they are making: “I never, never publicly stated that I was there as an official EP representative!” Czarnecki told Playbook in an email.
Zdechovský, Parliament’s rapporteur on the Maldives, said in a phone conversation that he wanted to go to the Maldives “to see how the situation is really looking.” He added that the visit was “private and even secret, it was about meeting the opposition. It was absolutely not official,” which is why he traveled “on my private passport, not on my diplomatic passport.” Zdechovský told Playbook he paid for the trip himself, and said he was “very surprised” when Zoană “started to present us as an official delegation.”
Zoană called on Sunday evening while driving. She too said she was “totally surprised” by the complaints (and promised to answer more questions in writing in due course). She insisted that she knew the visit was not an election observation mission, and claimed she didn’t represent it as such. She said she visited the Maldives in the context of her role in the EU40, a platform for younger MEPs and the EU’s 28 national parliaments.
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