Waheed meets Manmohan, commits to early polls in Maldives

New Delhi, May 12: Mohamed Waheed, the new president of the Maldives, Saturday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here in his first-ever visit to India and is said to have committed to presidential polls in his country at the earliest.

The Indian prime minister responded by pledging India’s support to the Maldives in strengthening its democratic polity.

The Maldivian president is in India just three weeks after his political rival Mohamed Nasheed came to New Delhi to drum up support for his call for early presidential polls in the Maldives.

Waheed is paying a five-day visit to India at the invitation of Manmohan Singh. He is accompanied by his wife Ilham Hussain and a large delegation. They will be in India till May 15.

During a two-hour meeting here at the prime minister’s official Race Course Road residence, Waheed and Manmohan Singh focused on two key matters — the internal situation in the Maldives and the entire gamut of bilateral relations, according to official sources here.

Waheed informed Manmohan Singh of the current political unrest in his nation that followed the controversial ouster of his predecessor Nasheed in February.

Nasheed resigned Feb 7 this year in the wake of a mutiny by a section of the Maldivian police force, resulting in Waheed, the vice president, being given the reins of the country.

During the course of his discussions with the prime minister, Waheed expressed his “strong commitment” to democracy, as also to holding presidential elections at the earliest, the sources said.

In response, Manmohan Singh stressed that peace and stability in the Maldives was “important” for India and pledged the support of India to its South Asian neighbour’s democratic polity, they said.

The prime minister emphasised the need to “take all shades of opinions” in the Maldives along when finding a way forward in the archipelago’s political situation.

Waheed has earlier made a commitment to hold elections sometime in July 2013, and has already set up a Committee of National Inquiry to probe the circumstances that led to the transfer of power from Nasheed to Waheed.

The president told Manmohan Singh that the committee is going ahead to collect evidence on the situation that led to Nasheed’s resignation, which propelled Waheed to the president’s chair.

The inquiry committee completing its work, Waheed felt, could pave the way for early elections, though at present consensus was elusive, with different political groups expressing divergent opinions on holding polls.

He also talked about the requirement of a constitutional amendment to hold polls earlier than the original late 2013 schedule, for which a two-thirds majority was required in parliament, the Majlis.

Thanking India for its support to his government, the president stressed that the Maldives is relatively a very young democracy, having had its first polls in 2008, and sought to learn from the Indian democratic experience and practices.

With regard to the economic ties with India, Waheed told the prime minister that the Maldives seeks Indian investments, for which he would meet with businessmen both in Delhi and Mumbai, where he would be visiting Monday and Tuesday.

Reflecting on the long standing friendship between India and the Maldives, the president emphasised that his government, which is only a continuation of the Nasheed regime in actuality, will adhere to all agreements between Indian and Maldivian businesses.

“My government is a continuation of the previous government under then president Nasheed and hence there should be no doubt on this score,” he was quoted as telling Manmohan Singh.

Earlier Saturday, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna called on Waheed at the Taj Palace Hotel and the two were closeted for about an hour.

Waheed, later in the evening, called on President Pratibha Patil. External affairs ministry officials described both the meetings as “courtesy calls”.

IANS