- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Maldives‘ first democratically elected president says the United States must acknowledge that he was ousted in a coup and press the current government of the Indian Ocean island nation to hold presidential elections this year.

“If we delay the elections, the regime will get more entrenched,” Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned Feb. 7, said in an interview with The Washington Times on a visit to Washington on Tuesday. “They will start playing with the constitution and an election would increasingly become elusive.”

Mr. Nasheed’s successor, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, has said the earliest that elections could be held under the Maldivian constitution is July 2013. Mr. Manik was vice president in the Nasheed government.

Mr. Nasheed, an ardent advocate of the perils of climate change and the rising seas that threaten to submerge his low-lying nation, famously held an underwater Cabinet meeting in 2009 to draw attention to the problem.

He says he was forced to resign following a coup staged by Islamic radicals, the police and the military. However, the U.S. has not acknowledged that Mr. Nasheed was overthrown and has recognized the legitimacy of Mr. Manik’s government.

Mr. Nasheed met assistant secretaries of state for South and Central Asian affairs and human rights, Robert Blake and Michael Posner, respectively, on his visit to Washington. Those meetings revealed no indication that the Obama administration has revised its position, he said.

A Commission of National Inquiry is investigating the circumstances surrounding Mr. Nasheed’s resignation and is expected to publish its report on July 31. Mr. Nasheed is confident it will conclude that he was toppled in a coup.

“If the international inquiry comes out and pronounces it as a coup, it is going to be very difficult for the State Department after that,” he said. “It is getting difficult for them to maintain their position and the logic of it is lost … but they want to stick to their guns.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration will “look to the report of the Commission of National Inquiry … to provide further clarity on the events surrounding the Feb. 7 transfer of power.”

“We would expect that the commission’s report would also inform the decision on whether and when to have early elections,” she said. “The U.S. and other international donors will do what we can to assist Maldives if a consensus develops on the need for early elections.”

Mr. Nasheed says he’s puzzled by the U.S. position. “I find it very difficult to see how it can be in their interest or our interest to maintain the status quo.”

He says his opponents had spread rumors that he was trying to undermine Islam, the official state religion of the Maldives. His supporters say the coup plotters were loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose 30-year-rule came to an end when Mr. Nasheed was elected in 2008.

As president, Mr. Nasheed sought to launch a corruption probe against his successor, and earlier this year asked the army to arrest a senior judge who was blocking the investigation. Anti-government protests soon rocked the tranquil islands better known as a luxury honeymoon destination.

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