U.S.-Maldives RelationsRichard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks a the American Corner, Maldives National Library
August 6, 2008
Assistant Secretary Boucher: Thank you, everybody. Good to see you here today. I can make a few remarks and then I will be glad to take your questions. I’m Richard Boucher. I’m from Washington and I am glad to be back in the Maldives. Many of you know, we have had a steady stream of visitors since [my last visit in May, 2007], including our Ambassador, Robert Blake, who covers Maldives for us. And he and his staff are down here frequently. I’ve had a chance today to meet with a lot of people. I met with the President, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister, the Minister of Finance, the head of the police, and members of the opposition parties. It’s been a good moment for me to come down and to really hear about everything that is going on, and different views, and the way forward.
We are very interested in the process and are following things very closely. I am excited that the constitution is going to be ratified. That is a step along the way. A very important step along the way, but a step that leads to many other tasks and many other changes that need to take place within the next few months. It means no time to celebrate, but a lot of work to go on as we go forward. Elections and the other independent commissions need to be formed. These to us are very important guarantors of democracy and -- having a fair election commission, having an open media, the right public service commissions, the right human rights commissions, the right anti-corruption mechanisms -- these are the things that can help guarantee a fair playing field for everybody.
Legislation needs to be passed in a whole number of areas. The Supreme Court needs to be formed and get to business. And obviously the media have very important work to do and all of you bringing forward the views of all the candidates in the election. We are encouraging everybody to cooperate and participate in laying these foundations. I met with the people from different parties, but also talked to the people in civil society and hope that everyone can find a way to contribute to laying this solid foundation for the way ahead.
We continue to believe that this type of foundation is good for long-term stability in the country. And the way to find that long-term stability is through a stable path of democracy. So, we do everything we can to help support that. The United States has been a partner with Maldives in a variety of areas. As you know, we had projects to help reconstruction after the tsunami. We have been strong supporters of democracy and working with the government in any number of ways, from sponsoring students on exchanges and scholarships and trying to find every possible way to work with people.
I have heard many ideas today from different ministers and different members of the society that I can take back to Washington and get back to work on, and see if we can continue to support people in the Maldives. We will watch the process ahead very carefully. We look forward to sending observers to the elections as the election commission gets started and tells us how to do that. But I have to reiterate very firmly, that we are here to support the process, the process of free and fair elections, the process of building democracy. We are not here to support any particular candidate of a party.
As a moderate Muslim country, trying to build and expand its democracy, the Maldives does matter to the United States. Even though we are far away we try to spend as much attention as we can and to help you along the path chosen, that you have chosen. Just to note finally, we had a very interesting meeting on SAARC in Colombo that I started out this trip with. I was able to see a lot of different people from around the region.
It is a very important occasion and we look forward to seeing that meeting next year in Maldives, and then you will have a chance to show off to people from all over the region. And I think that will be another important moment to show people from all these different countries in South Asia and the observers from places like the U.S. and Japan and Europe what you have accomplished and what you are going to accomplish between now and next year. So, once again, I am very happy to be here and I am glad to be back and I am glad to see all of you. And now I would like to answer any questions you might have. So who wants to start?
Question: You had high level meetings today. Can you discuss this in detail? Did you discuss the upcoming elections? Will there be observers from the U.S.? What type of assistance will we get from the U.S. for elections?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: Yes, what we discussed with the high-level officials was precisely this path that you are on, and what is going to happen, and how we watch the situation evolve, and the steps that can be expected, and what happens after the president ratifies the constitution, and how they can move forward quickly on this process of getting in place all the pieces that need to be in place to guarantee a free and fair election. So, that has been a primary topic of discussions and we do look forward to following the process as it unfolds, but also to send observers down to the election, and we…try to keep in touch with everyone as we’ve gone along, and every now and then to provide some expertise.
Question: There is a lot of concern especially from the opposition that the timeframe for elections will not be enough. What is your assessment on that?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: Well, it is hard to for us to assess how much time it is going to take. But, I guess all we know is how much time that has been allotted for that and we hope that everyone can cooperate and move very quickly. I did hear different views from the opposition. A lot of them raised the timing, the obstacles, some of the difficulties, particularly coming into Ramadan and that makes things a little harder, as well. Yet, many of them said that despite these difficulties we want to move forward and we’d rather see it on time than postpone it. So, I realize there are different views, everybody knows, and even the government people know how many things there are to do. So, I think our bottom line is to hope that everyone can cooperate and get these things done, so that the election can be as free and fair as possible, so it can have that foundation when it does occur.
Question: (inaudible) I have a follow-up question to the same concern on not having enough time to prepare for the elections.
Assistant Secretary Boucher: There is enough time to have an election, but it is going to require a lot of work and it is difficult. We are convinced people can do it if they try and if they try to work together to do it.
Question: It's said that Maldives is going to begin a new era from tomorrow. What do you expect from the New Maldives?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: A lot of hard work, unfortunately. I think you can be an example to others of how to move forward. You can be an example to others of laying a solid foundation for long-term stability and laying a solid democratic foundation in a Muslim society. That is very important and no matter your size, I think people all over the region and all over the world…are looking for these examples and looking for how to do this. We hope that you succeed, because that will be an example to others. So, there is a lot to do, but it will be of benefit to you directly but also to others who are doing it.
Question: You have met with the opposition parties. What are the concerned areas for the upcoming months?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: I think the opposition has had a chance to talk to you all and had a chance to talk on television, so I don’t want to speak for them. I do think that the number of things that need to be accomplished and the time needed to do them is basically the most important concern I heard from them. But as I said, they all pointed out, even the government people pointed it out…different people lead to different conclusions about what that means.
Question: How do you plan on sending observers from the U.S.? How many and when? Maldives is referred to as a majority Muslim country, but after last year's bombing the Information Minister spoke a lot about risks of extremism in the country. Is this a concern to you?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: What was the first part?
Question: About observers.
Assistant Secretary Boucher: Sorry, I am not good at two part questions (laughter). I usually pick which one I like best. On the observers, they will probably come out of our embassy. (inaudible) We will have less than a handful, but haven’t reached a final determination yet, but they will probably join up with other observers and hopefully coordinate in a way so that we get to different places.
The bombing was a great concern to us and it really violated a lot of principles and people in the Maldives and what we heard and knew about Maldives. It was really distressing to see this happen to your people here. Maldives does have a tradition of being a moderate country and being a country that is open to the world, being a country that has high rates of literacy, a county that is modernizing very quickly. And so, I think that is what we support and what we hope to support here in Maldives. The extent of this extremist or fundamentalist feeling, I can’t measure, but I do think that people want to continue with their traditions and not move away from them and so we will do everything we can to support progress and continuation of the modern Islamic traditions.
Question: The ruling DRP made a televised statement condemning the opposition for bringing in white foreigners into the politics of Maldives. What is your view?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: All kinds of things are said during the election process. I write most of them off as politics. I think we have fundamental things that we will watch closely and we will listen to all the people in the country.
Question: The EU expressed concern over the delay in the ratification of the constitution. What does the U.S. think about the EU’s statement on the ratification of the constitution?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: I think it is good not to make predictions or hypotheticals a day before something is about to happen. So, everything I have heard…everything I have heard from the president today, from government people and even from opposition members, is that they expect this ratification to happen. We will need to focus now on how to make the next step, the next step, and the next step happen. It is where our focus is right now. Rather than speculate, I think it is incumbent upon us all to see that the process moves forward.
Alright, let’s just leave it at that. I had a nice conversation. Thanks for coming. It is good to meet you all. And remember you guys have an important job to do, too. It is going to be a lot of statements and a lot to report and make sure the public gets to hear it all and make up their minds when it comes time for the elections. As we say, we will be watching this closely and a lot of people will be watching this closely and a lot of people will be watching your reports -- TV and your internet reports. So, tell us what is going on. Anyway, thank you very much.