As the first female MP and a stalwart of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Aneesa Ahmed is a household name. Minivan News brings you the first in a two-part interview with the DRP parliamentary leader on her decision to quit politics and the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Youâ€™re not running for parliament. Did that come as a surprise to people?
Many people questioned me so I guess they were not expecting me to retire but I had decided to do this in 2005, to retire actually after the presidential term was over but then since Iâ€™m in parliament and the term is expiring I thought Iâ€™d wait until our term was over.
Iâ€™ve been in politics for quite some time now and I think itâ€™s time that I take time off and do something which is more relaxing and more personally satisfying.
What are you going to be doing with your free time?
Right now I have many thoughts. Iâ€™ll probably do some charity work. Maybe work as an activist to make Majlis more accountable because of my experience. Just a thought.
Personally I am thinking of doing something more relaxing, to be truly away from politics, but thereâ€™s a lot of pressure on me from friends and peers not to give it up all together.
To be somehow or the other involved in politics in a different way. Away from mainstream politics. I may be doing that but I havenâ€™t given it serious consideration.
How do you think the preparation for the parliamentary elections has been going so far?
Well, I am only hoping that itâ€™s going to be free and fair elections this time like the presidential elections. So far it has been. Except for the fact that Iâ€™m not too happy with the president and his cabinet colleagues actively involved in campaigning for the government candidates. That is not right and itâ€™s not fair.
What do you think about the parliamentary candidates, especially those who lack experience?
It is to some extent a concern. I am not undermining these candidates or their capacity because all of us when we first come into parliament didnâ€™t have the experience. But thereâ€™s a difference between the way activists should function and how MPs should function.
Iâ€™m only hoping the voters will make the distinction to check between those who can, who do have the capacity to perform as MPs, as responsible MPs and those who are only activists.
Iâ€™m not saying all activists are not suitable, Iâ€™m not saying that at all. Itâ€™s just that there are people who can adapt themselves as MPs and there are others who in my view cannot. But please keep it in mind that Iâ€™m not undermining any of the candidates.
In terms of voting, what do you think people vote for? Personality or issues?
Voters have not been educated properly. Until now the constituents say every individual MP should be working for the welfare of an individual constituent rather than for the constituency.
They feel that itâ€™s for their personal benefits, like supporting them for medical treatment rather than expressing their views in parliament and trying to legislate for their benefit. So in that way people have still not accepted that that is actually the role of an MP.
Thatâ€™s going to take time I think, we have to educate voters. We have to change. We have brought in a liberal democracy to the country and we need to promote that and maintain that rather than function in the way we were doing earlier.
How do you think the party campaigns have been going so far? Do you think there is a lot of negative campaigning?
There is a lot of that happening. I am only hoping that this is very temporary and in the next elections, I am hoping we wonâ€™t see this. I think itâ€™s because of the sudden change that weâ€™ve brought in. People were not prepared for it. Those who are actually bringing change and those who are the beneficiaries of change. Itâ€™s just too sudden and too much all in one go.
I want to believe that is why things are in pretty bad shape right now. Thereâ€™s a lot of money politicking, which I for one never believe in. In the two terms that I actually campaigned, I never spent money. In the sense that I have never given people any money.
I have helped them but never given them cash. Thatâ€™s something I donâ€™t believe in and I donâ€™t think is right. And also these personal allegations, unfounded allegations. Itâ€™s very wrong. Youâ€™re not trying to assassinate the character of the opponent.
What do you think about the number of women contesting in the elections?
Itâ€™s not a good number when there are so many hundreds of people campaigning. As things are I still feel the status of women in the Maldives in the nineties and early 2000 actually did come up and you could see more women in public life, but we are regressing.
I feel itâ€™s partly because of the extreme views of our religious people. Well I think the influence of fundamental Islam. People are afraid. When we were in school you never questioned religion. Maldivians generally are not quite certain of what Islam is all about.
What Iâ€™m trying to say is that they donâ€™t know much about the religion but when it comes to certain religious views, you donâ€™t question them. And these people, these religious scholars who are preaching in the country now also donâ€™t have a very broad view of Islam, they know very little. They feel Islam is a religion of rituals only but itâ€™s not. Itâ€™s much broader. Itâ€™s a very enlightened faith.
What do you think needs to be done to encourage women to take a more active role in politics and in public life?
Thereâ€™s been a lot of rhetoric on it, but in actual fact there are many restrictions on women candidates. For instance financial support, especially these days when thereâ€™s so much of money politicking.
Women donâ€™t have that the wealth so they need to be supported, financially supported and also their families will have to give them support. Unless they have an understanding and supportive husband, itâ€™s going to be difficult.
And then again the whole attitude, the mindset of people will need to be changed. We still have the majority of the people with the mindset that women canâ€™t perform in public in the same way as men and women donâ€™t have the intelligence or the capacity to be members of parliament or public figures.
Itâ€™s not only among men, itâ€™s also among women. And also that by coming into public life youâ€™re not disgracing yourself, that is something again.
Like in my case, I have short hair, Iâ€™m called a man. Even now, practically everyday Iâ€™ll get one or two SMSs abusing me because I talk like a man in Majlis, I behave like a man because Iâ€™m out in public and because I have short hair. They donâ€™t realise I have short hair for convenience. I donâ€™t behave like a man, I donâ€™t want to be a man and I donâ€™t feel as if Iâ€™m masculine.
Check back on Minivan News for the second part of the interview when Aneesa discusses the future of the DRP and whether ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom should step down as party leader.