COLOMBO: Even as targeted sanctions by the European Union loom on the political horizon, the Abdulla Yameen government and the opposition in Maldives are nowhere near finding middle ground to hold talks to ensure a free and fair Presidential election slated for September 23 this year.

The government as well as the opposition have called for talks to sort out grave issues before the election. But while the government wants unconditional talks, the opposition wants the government to fulfill several conditions to be met before talks are held.

Both have re-iterated their conditions, which appear to be irreconcilable as of now.

The deadlock is all the more serious given the fact that the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Center has announced a “framework” for imposing targeted sanctions against individuals in the regime who have violated the Rule of Law and human rights.

The EU has said that if things do not improve to enable the holding of a free and fair Presidential election, sanctions will be applied.

One of the major issues dividing the Yameen government and the opposition is the release of political prisoners before the talks.

President Yameen has categorically stated that the prisoners concerned are “criminals” and that their release will destroy “peace and stability” in the Maldives. But the opposition has stated that there can be no talks until the “political prisoners” are released.

The principal prisoners are: former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed; the Jumhoory Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and the Adaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Nasheed, Gayoom and Sheikh Imran had been sentenced for terrorism while Gasim Ibrahim was jailed for bribery. However, only Sheikh Imran Abdulla is actually in prison. Nasheed and Gasim are living abroad as fugitives from the law.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the principal opposition outfit, the Malrdivian Democratic Party (MDP), put stringent conditions for holding talks.

“In order to hold genuinely free and fair, the government must free all political prisoners; allow all parties to contest with a candidate of their choosing; allow the parliament and the judiciary to function in accordance with the Constitution; restore all Constitutionally guaranteed rights; reconstitute the Elections Commission so it is independent and free from political manipulation,” the statement said.

Further, the dialogue must be internationally mediated, time-bound, and with clear targets. It must pave the way for genuinely credible, fair, transparent and inclusive elections, it added.

“The MDP sincerely hopes President Yameen uses the remaining window of opportunity to remedy the situation. The party notes that the EU will be keenly watching the Elections Commission’s August 9, 2018 announcement on the list of candidates eligible to contest the Presidential elections.”

“The MDP pledges to play a full and responsible role in any dialogue, and will engage in talks via a representative of the party’s choosing,” the statement said.

However, President Yameen said on Tuesday that he will not release the prisoners.

Speaking at a ceremony held to mark the completion of a sewerage system project in Haa Dhaal Atoll Nolhivaram island, Yameen said that "freeing criminals" would undermine the stability in the country and would plunge the nation into chaos.

"No one wants to or likes imprisoning people. But crimes cannot go unpunished. We have to order to ensure a peaceful and stable society," he added.

Yameen slammed the Joint Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih alias Ibu, for declaring that he would release these prisoners on the first day of his taking over as President.

On Monday ,the EU’s Foreign Affairs Center in Brussels, adopted a framework for targeted sanctions in the Maldives, making it possible, if the situation does not improve, to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on relevant individuals and entities.

The EU further stated that individuals likely to be sanctioned include “persons and entities responsible for undermining the rule of law or obstructing an inclusive political solution in the Maldives as well as persons and entities responsible for serious human rights violations.”