Maldives gov't seeks consensus with opposition

AP News
Posted: May 05, 2011 11:24 AM
Maldives gov't seeks consensus with opposition

The Maldives government on Thursday invited the opposition to join hands to address economic woes after days of protests over alleged mismanagement and inflation.

The invitation comes a day after a U.S. diplomat urged both sides to work for consensus on how to bridge the country's widening budget deficit.

Presidential spokesman Mohamed Zuhair has asked the opposition to present alternative plans if it opposes International Monetary Fund proposals implemented by the government.

"The government is implementing reforms, on the advice of the central bank, the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral donors, to reduce the colossal budget deficit it inherited and ensure long-term economic stability," Zuhair said in a statement.

"At this difficult economic time, the country should unite for the common good."

The opposition has led protests over five nights against the government's economic policies and demanding President Mohamed Nasheed step down.

Thasleem Ali, leader of the opposition Dhivehi Raithunge Party, welcomed the statement but said the government must take genuine steps to reduce expenditures.

"We will be always willing for a dialogue and discussion, but we expect a genuine attempt to reduce public expenditure. In the past we haven't seen that," he said. Ali added that public service has swelled and become a burden to the country because of political appointees and accused Nasheed's government of spending public money to boost its image.

The opposition has tried to draw connections between the protests and the recent uprisings against long-time Arab dictatorships in the Middle East. However, there are few similarities.

President Nasheed, a former political prisoner, was freely elected in 2008 in the nation's first true democratic election, ending Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's 30-year rule. And the protesters' chief concerns appear to be the struggling economy, not repression or lack of freedom.

They oppose the government decision to allow the Maldivian currency the rufiyaa, to float against the U.S. dollar. The currency quickly fell in value, resulting in higher prices for essential commodities, most of which are imported.

Maldives' US$1.4 billion economy has a 16 percent deficit and the government says through the IMF proposals it plans to bring it down to single digit by next year.

Police arrested scores of protesters over the last five days in the capital, Male.