Maldivian opposition says it will renegotiate terms of China-funded projects

Ranatunga is being backed by the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa which is forcing the government to tone down the Chinese stake to 60% though only after ten years.

Published: 29th March 2017 04:24 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2017 05:41 PM   |  A+A-

Mohamed Nasheed, the democratizer, was ousted in 2012 by pro-Gayoom forces.

Express News Service

COLOMBO: The Maldivian opposition leader, Mohamed Nasheed, said here on Wednesday, that when the present opposition comes to power, it will renegotiate the terms of Chinese-funded projects to see if
they were fair and in the interest of the country.

“We will learn from the experience of the Sri Lankan Ports Minister Arjuna Ranatunga in re-negotiating the deal over Chinese built Hambantota port,” Nasheed told select Colombo-based foreign correspondents.

Ranatunga is waging a lone battle within the government against its bid to give 80% stake  in the deep water Hambantota port to the state owned Chinese company China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort) for an upfront payment of US$ 1.2 billion. Ranatunga is being backed by the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa which is forcing the government to tone down the Chinese stake to 60% though only after ten years.

When in opposition, the present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had roundly criticized the Rajapaksa government for circumventing tendering procedures and bartering away big ticket infrastructure projects to the Chinese on terms unfavorable to Sri Lanka. He had stopped the projects for almost year to conduct investigations. But had to resume the projects because of an US$ 8 billion loan to be repaid to the Chinese.

Nasheed, who is leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the largest of the opposition parties in the Indian Ocean country, said that when he or any opposition leader becomes President in the 2018
election, the Chinese projects will be re-examined.

But this is not going to be easy thing to do because 70  to 80 per cent of the Maldives’ external debt is to China, he noted. He is hoping to follow Sri Lankan Minister Ranatunga’s “strategy” in renegotiating
with the Chinese.

The Maldivian leader who was his country’s President from 2008 to 2012 when  he was unceremoniously ousted, said that China is  not transparent in its  dealings and it prefers to work with authoritarian regimes being itself authoritarian. He also said that he will not say that China has no territorial interests in the Maldives.

Asked why the opposition’s consistent efforts to oust Abdulla Yameen from power has not succeed so far, despite declarations of deadlines from time to time, Nasheed that the aim of the opposition is not just to overthrow the President by any means. The idea is to remove him democratically by getting support from parliament.

According to Nasheed, Yameen is now working with a wafer thin majority of four. If 10 people who oppose him come out in the open to support the opposition, he will lose parliamentary majority. They could come out in weeks seeing the unification of the opposition and the loss of support from the bureaucracy and the police. Nasheed pointed out that Yameen has not been able to arrest opponents en masse because the police would not cooperate.

Yameen had 61 out of the 85 members of the Majlis (parliament), but the recent non-confidence motion against the Speaker showed that it has come down to 48.

“I am not disappointed with the vote on the no-confidence motion, On the contrary, I am encouraged,” Nasheed affirmed.

The opposition leader hoped that Yameen would see the writing on the wall and come for talks with him and the opposition.

“I want him to change. I am not for denying him his full term. In the Maldives nobody has been able to complete his term. We want to change the leader but in a constitutional and parliamentary way,” Nasheed said.

“We are also keen on democratizing the structure first, before we change the head. We will use parliament to set up an independent judiciary, an independent human rights commission,” he added.

Asked if he would be the joint opposition candidate in the 2018 parliamentary election, Nasheed said that his expectation is that there may not be any need for it at that time. The political field will democratized so that every party can hope to win.

The international community is backing the opposition, some openly like the US, EU and Canada, but some support quietly, like India and Sri Lanka, Nasheed said.

“India always acts quietly. But Sri Lanka, being very close to us, should be more vocal. Sri Lanka needs to play a more prominent role as no scheme will work in the Indian Ocean without Sri Lanka’s cooperation. It is the only Indian Ocean country in the South Asian region. New Delhi is far away. Distance-wise, New Delhi is closer to Moscow than to Colombo,” the Maldivian leader remarked. 

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