MALE (Reuters) - The European Union and some Western nations on Friday urged the Maldives to hold a credible and transparent presidential poll, after police executing a court order disrupted an opposition effort to pick a candidate for the September election.
The Maldives foreign ministry, however, said in a statement that actions taken by the government to stop illegal activities and to maintain law and order should not be seen as aimed at curtailing fundamental freedoms.
The Maldives, home to 400,000 people and best known as a tropical paradise for tourists, has experienced political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically-elected leader, was forced to quit amid a mutiny by police in 2012.
Nasheed, the sole candidate in this week’s primary election held by his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was convicted of terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in prison after a controversial and widely criticized trial.
Although Nasheed campaigned from Sri Lanka to win 43,922 of the 44,011 votes cast in Wednesday’s election, the Elections Commission declined to accept the results and vowed to take action against the MDP.
In a joint statement, the ambassadors of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States said they had followed the deterioration of the situation with increasing concern.
“Legitimate opposition is a vital part of any healthy democracy, and it is critical that authorities respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly and speech,” the European Union said.
“We urge authorities to demonstrate genuine commitment to a credible, transparent, and inclusive election process.”
In a statement, Nasheed said it was inspiring to see Maldivians rising up with the belief that “Democracy must prevail, despite the atmosphere of military rule and repression” imposed by President Abdulla Yameen.
The Maldives foreign ministry said it was vital that all political parties conduct their business responsibly in accordance with the constitution.
“Attempts to undermine the constitution...to hoodwink the people and hype pre-election political rhetoric cannot be considered as responsible political activities,” it said.
Yameen’s administration has rejected a demand by a U.N. human rights watchdog to let Nasheed stand for the presidential election.
The opposition has accused the government of locking up most of its leaders who could challenge Yameen’s bid to be re-elected for a second five-year term, a charge the government denies.
On Wednesday, an hour after the voting started, a court ordered police to block the MDP primary, saying it was unlawful, since Nasheed, as a former convict, is barred from contesting.
At the primary, police confronted party members, cleared out voting stations and confiscated ballot-boxes and voting papers at the party’s main office in Male. But MDP supporters continued voting.
The Indian Ocean island chain has faced upheavals since February, when Yameen imposed a state of emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed.
During the 45-day emergency, Yameen’s administration arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and a Supreme Court administrator on charges of trying to overthrow the government.
In 2016, Nasheed was allowed to go on medical leave to Britain, where he received political asylum. Since last year, he has been in Sri Lanka, working to unite opposition parties to defeat Yameen.
Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Clarence Fernandez