Religious freedom difficult to accept, Nasheed tells EU

Self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed on Friday welcomed the European Union (EU) recommendations on electoral reform in the Maldives as "vital" but insisted that Maldivians would find the one on religious freedom "difficult to accept."

A report following an Electoral Follow-up Mission (EFM) to the Maldives in January insisted that the archipelago had failed to implement any of the 22 recommendations made by the mission during its initial visit last year after the parliamentary elections in 2014.

The focus of the government, parliament and the opposition has been on receding fundamental freedoms and human rights violations, the report said.

"Domestically, neither the government nor the People's Majilis [parliament] nor the opposition have sought to address the issue of electoral reforms," it read.

"To date, the political and institutional environment of the Republic of Maldives has not been conducive for the adoption of meaningful and concerted electoral reforms."

The report also urged the government to extensively discuss the draft laws that are set to address the recommended electoral reforms within the parliament ahead of the presidential elections.

Nasheed on Friday took to Twitter to welcome the EU recommendations which he said were vital to ensure free and fair elections in the Maldives.

"Maldivians find one of these recommendations - religious freedom - difficult to accept. The remaining recommendations are vital and must be implemented," the former president said.

Nasheed's comments came after the government had slammed the report saying that it had "largely disregarded" the progress made by the country.

The government in a statement noted a draft Bill consisting of the changes being brought to the electoral framework has been formulated in accordance with the constitution.

"This Draft Bill will aim to establish clear demarcations of functions between the Elections Commission, Anti-corruption Commission, Prosecutor General’s Office and the Maldives Police Service, as well as incorporate the 16-pointer guideline issued by the Supreme Court of Maldives in 2013, pertaining to voter registration," the statement said.

The government further said the draft law would also address election offences, penalties and specific timelines for registration and re-registration of voters.

"It will further propose guidelines to ensure that the campaign finances are accounted for and are in the interest of allowing a fair campaign ground for all candidates and establish guidelines to be followed by media in allocating campaign time slots," it read.

"The Government, however, sadly notes that while the Government had presented the progress of the implementation process since 2014, this was largely disregarded in the report."

The statement also insisted that the country would not entertain any recommendations made to review or revise the constitution to allow for multi-religion.

"The religion of the State of the Maldives is Islam and Islam shall be the basis of all the laws of the Maldives. "

The government also noted that the presidential elections slated for this year and urged all relevant stakeholders "to offer the Elections Commission their full, unreserved support for the conduct of their work."