Carnival atmosphere in Male’ as capital prepares for polls

Votes on Male are divided for Saturday’s presidential election, however ‘Nasheed’ and ‘Yameen’ are the two names on people’s minds as they look forward to a resolution of the 18-month campaign season.

Forty-eight year-old shop owner Ahmed asserts that former president and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed, and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen, are the two most likely winners of Saturday’s election, but believes that the final decision will be made in a second round.

“The candidates are equal right now,” he said, suggesting that Yameen and Jumhoree Party candidate Gasim Ibrahim had conducted the most effective campaigns “because they have the money… to spend on traveling to the islands.”

To the Maldives’ 350,000 citizens, the four presidential candidates’ personal and political histories are familiar tales. For one middle-aged man surveyed on Majeedhee Magu, the present campaign cannot undo past experiences.

“Anni’s [Nasheed] campaign is most effective, he is good for campaigning but not for the presidency,” he said. He firmly believes that the MDP executed the most effective campaign, but feels that Nasheed’s actions during his presidency have lost him the vote to PPM’s Yameen.

“We have seen 30 years [under PPM president and former president Maumoon Gayoom, Yameen’s half brother]. And then we saw Nasheed’s three years. In these last three years we didn’t see development,” he said. “Giving my mom MVR 2,000 (US$130) is not development. Giving insurance to buy Panadol pills for my mom is not development either. I do believe Nasheed is the one who can bring the development we desire, but the way his Aasandha [health insurance] program and other policies are organised is not helping the most needy.”

The man explained that his request for then-president Nasheed’s help for his dying 18-year-old son elicited only a letter from the party stating that “the Attorney General has instructed them not to spend on anything beside state expenses.”

Across town, 49-year-old Asfari anticipates a 70 percent win for Nasheed in the first round, but allows that Yameen was the likely runner up. “He is the second-best man to be president,” she said.

For some, familiarity generates confidence; for others, apathy.

“Politics gives me a headache,” declared a middle-aged female shop owner.

Some youth surveyed were similarly apathetic.

“In my thinking there is no candidate that is suitable for the election,” said Naushad, age 22, adding that alienation of the young generation was a key factor. “Politics will destroy the country, 100 percent.”

Twenty-three year-old voter Ahamed said the campaigns “were really good, but some of them have been using money and buying people’s vote.”

Although he intends to vote, he expressed frustration with the way that voters we reacting towards free handouts.

“Most of the people just take it. If they’re given money, they don’t see the disadvantages of it… but the campaign will affect the votes, obviously. Some will even feel guilty when they vote.”

Ahamed pointed out that party manifestos have become another means of buying votes.

“One of my friends is voting just because one candidate promised to give a salary to all the national chess players,” he explained.

Of surveyed youth who said they will vote, most self-identified as MDP supporters who anticipated a sweeping win on Saturday.

Rhombus employee Ibrahim, age 23, expects MDP “will win 100 percent”. In a nearby shop Ahmed Ibrahim, age 19, declared “this is the young generation voting for Anni [Nasheed].”

Ahmed works on a safari boat that was recently chartered for President Waheed’s campaign tour in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll. He said he is tired of “chaos and fighting” and that if Nasheed is elected “everything will go back to normal and the Maldives will [progress].”

While many youth surveyed cited general hopes for calm and progress, a few highlighted the importance of a manifesto.

“I wouldn’t vote if there wasn’t a manifesto,” said Ahamed, noting that MDP’s manifesto was a “very different, good and cost-effective manifesto.”

Shauna Rashid, age 18, said that as a student she sides with MDP for its position on education.

Peaceful polls, but “we had a coup”

Security preparations for the election have been a concern since the February 2012, when forces clashed with protesting citizens over the change in government.

With the security forces on red alert all week, Male residents surveyed expect a peaceful election but were hesitant offer predictions beyond close of polls.

Several people, ages 20-50, said they expect the roads to be crowded with excited voters and are wary of possible trouble.

Naushad and Ahmed Ibrahim expect Male’ to be calm on Saturday. “But after the election something will happen,” Naushad surmised.

“There are a lot of concerns because we had a coup, so there is a possibility that there will be a fight,” Shafa said.

Others dismissed concerns of violence. “It will be normal,” said shop-owner Ahmed.

A Commonwealth-appointed security expert will oversee security activities this weekend.

Some observed that rainy forecasts may temper election enthusiasm- forecasts show a 40-60 percent chance of rain through Sunday.

Race to the finish line

Candidates are squeezing Male’ for votes prior to Friday’s 6:00pm campaigning deadline. Party camps were partially closed on Thursday while candidates and volunteers conducted door-to-door campaigns, representatives said. All parties will be holding rallies between Thursday evening and Friday afternoon; MDP, JP and GIP will hold marches on Friday afternoon.

MDP and GIP alleged that they are targeting all demographics, although JP hopes for a strong turnout from the elderly in response to the party’s welfare proposal. PPM and JP representatives were unavailable for comment.

Party representatives interviewed all said they are hoping to reach the winning minimum 51 percent vote on Saturday; one ambitious MDP activist said they anticipated more than 80 percent.


PPM manifesto released to criticism over economic plans

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s running mate Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has said the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) “concerning” proposal to slash the state budget by MVR 4 billion ($259.9 million) lacks critical detail.

PPM released its three-part manifesto on Tuesday (September 3) – just four days before the presidential election.

Cautioning that such a large reduction required careful adjustments, Thasmeen said that the proposed cut would have a negative impact on development projects and subsidies, reported Haveeru.

Thasmeen added that minimizing waste and promoting operational efficiency in the government would not yield sufficient funds.

His critique echoed concerns voiced by other MPs, including PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, over last year’s budget cutbacks.

Yameen has promoted himself as being strong on economic policy, with posters across Male’ touting him as the electorate’s best choice for an economic recovery.

Budget cutbacks attracted sharp responses from political parties in December 2012, after Parliament’s Budgetary Review Committee reduced the state budget by MVR2.4 million ($1.5 million).

Government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader and MP Abdullah Mausoom tweeted at the time that the cutbacks were “a deliberate attempt by MDP and PPM to ‘choke’ government and institutions by 2013”.

Yameen – then PPM’s Parliamentary Group Leader and a member of the review committee – observed that, based on the proposed budget cuts, the government’s policies were unclear.

Minivan News was unable to obtain comments from PPM spokespersons at time of press.

PPM Manifesto

The PPM’s ambitious proposals target legislation, administration and infrastructure in multiple areas. The party’s plans include a youth, a sports, and a ‘Yageen’ manifesto – the latter derived from the party’s campaign slogan ‘Yameen Yageen’, or ‘Yameen for Sure’.

The ‘Yageen’  manifesto outlines programmes targeting health, fisheries, decentralization, women’s rights, national security, agriculture, transport and tourism.

According the sports manifesto, athletic programs would receive new facilities and equipment, complemented by legislation to develop young talent. Sports administration would be facilitated by a Sports Act and a Maldives Sports PLC in partnership with all national sports associations, which would draft agreements to pay professional players.

The manifesto also states that all islands would receive a sports arena and Hulhumale’ would be developed as a youth entertainment city, including a National Aquatic Centre of olympic scale. Taxes on sports materials would be reduced from 25 to 5 percent.

According to the ‘Yageen’ manifesto, policies on education would expand teaching of the Quran and arabic language throughout the curriculum, and offer both expanded vocational and higher education opportunities. Educational centers would benefit from teacher training, expanded space, improved counseling services, and “modern libraries” equipped with digital facilities.

On the subject of women’s rights, the manifesto proposes subsidized childcare system, allowing women to work from home through the internet, and connecting them to employers. Gender quotas in the political arena and leadership skills courses for girls are also included, intended to equalize the workplace gender balance.

Other proposals include reviewing national legislation on women, particularly in the areas of marriage and divorce, property, and crime.

To build connectivity within and between atolls, the PPM “ensures” that every island will have access to air transport through regional airports, to be complemented by a ferry network. The party states that, in addition to expanding the services of Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) and Island Aviation, it will invite private companies to operate transport facilities.

The manifesto did not detail budgetary provisions for these proposals.

Download the manifestos in Dhivehi.


Cabinet’s convention centre re-zoning “for political gain”: Addu City Mayor

The Cabinet has advised President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to overturn the previous government’s decision to make the Addu Equatorial Convention Center (ECC) zone an ‘uninhabited area’, potentially allowing the sale of prohibited commodities such as liquor, as practiced for resorts.

The area was designated ‘uninhabited’ on November 19, 2011 by former president and current presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed.

Yesterday’s recommendation originated in the Finance Ministry, which submitted a paper on the subject during Monday’s cabinet meeting, the president’s office reports.

Spokespersons at the President’s Office said they could not provide details on the recommendation; Addu City Mayor Abdullah Sodig reports that the council was not consulted on or informed of the Cabinet’s recommendation, and claims that it was made for political gain in the face of this Saturday’s presidential elections.

“The Cabinet recommendation opposes Nasheed’s [tourism development] policy, and they want to show the public that they are trying to give land to people who need it. But it’s really just political gain,” Sodig said. “Three days before elections, I don’t think it’s about giving people land.”

Zoning laws in the Maldives determine which islands and areas may be developed for tourism and therefore exempted from national laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol and pork and enforcing compliance with cultural dress codes. Maldives’ southern atolls, including Addu and nearby Gnaviyani atoll, have historically benefited the least from the country’s tourism economy.

President Nasheed decreed the ECC zone uninhabited prior to the 2011 SAARC summit in Addu, effectively laying a foundation for resort, guest house and other tourism-oriented development activities.

Nearly two years since this decree the mood has shifted dramatically. Bids to develop the convention center and surrounding area were interrupted by the February 7, 2012 transfer of power, after which the new administration retained the building as a “national asset”.

Formerly enthusiastic about Addu’s growth potential, Sodig today expressed deep frustration with the government’s inaction.

“[The Convention Center] is never dusted, the toilets are never cleaned, the floors never polished,” he said, adding that the facility has only been used for a few wedding parties and political rallies since it opened in November 2011.

Sodig claimed that his repeated requests for maintenance funds and development activity had received minimal response from President Waheed’s government.

“I took the State Minister of Housing to the building and asked him to look into maintenance. I even met with the Attorney General, Azima Shukoor, for the same purpose in Male,” said Sodig. “She said she would think about it. But until now they have done nothing.”

Sodig reports that without tourism development the ECC, which as of January was mired in MVR 4 million ($260,078) of unpaid electricity bills, “would end up as a liability”. As of June, the Maldivian government owed State Electricity Company (STELCO) MVR 543 million ($35.2) in unpaid electricity bills.

The Cabinet’s sudden action this week suggests that the ECC zone is now being treated as a pawn in the housing debate for the presidential elections. Addu Atoll is home to a significant percentage of the population, and has historically supported President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

In 2002, 700 ECC-zone land plots were allocated to Adouin families. According to the mayor, only 150 plots have been officially registered as ‘in use’. In an atoll where the average household income is MVR 60,000 ($3,900) per year, the approximate cost of building a two-bedroom home is MVR300,000 ($19,500).

While Adduans who received land in the ECC zone objected to President Nasheed’s zoning decree in 2011, they were content with the island council’s compensatory proposal, Sodig said. He added that he was not aware of any recent complaints that might have triggered the Cabinet to recommend zoning reversal.

The ministries of Finance and Housing had not responded to calls at time of press.


Supreme Court rules on Elections Commission case

Additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

The Maldives Supreme Court has today (September 2) issued its ruling on the case filed last week by Ahmed Zaneen Adam, questioning the Elections Commission’s (EC) ability to oversee the coming presidential election.

The Supreme Court has issued an order requiring all relevant authorities to ensure a free and fair presidential election on Saturday, local media reported. The ruling did not specifically address all of Zaneen’s concerns, however.

Senior member of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Zaneen, filed a case requesting an audit into the EC’s IT system as well as a ruling confirming the legal mandate of security services to ensure a secure election.

Whilst neither of these issues are reported to have been directly ruled upon by the court today, it did address issues concerning the electoral register.

Sun Online reported that the order –  issued by five of the bench’s seven judges – pointed out the register contained names and addresses that did not always match and also the names of deceased citizens.

Lists containing the names of deceased people was used by the police earlier this year to investigate complaints of fraudulent party membership forms.  Today’s ruling is also said to have revealed the absence on the register of voters who had relocated to Male’ between 2009-10 in order be rehoused as part of the Hulhumale’ development project.

The court stressed that it was the EC’s duty to correct such errors without being prompted by individual complaints. Despite his position with the PPM, the party insisted that the case had been filed in Zaneen’s personal capacity.

Responding to the case last Friday, head of the EC’s legal team, former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood, contested that Zaneen’s case lacked any legal grounds and that he had filed requested preventive measures based on his personal concerns and doubt.

Zaneen’s case came after weeks of criticism from both the PPM and the Jumhoree Party towards the EC, particularly concerning the commission’s  use of Indian IT staff.  EC chief Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News earlier this month that he was confident that no grounds for legal action existed.

“We have so much confidence in our work – we have done really good, professional work – that we are giving it openly [to the public] to see and tell the EC if we have incorrectly listed any person in the voter registry or if any person is missing,” he said.

“If anybody is missing from the list, we will very clearly tell them why the person is missing,” he added.

Thowfeek stressed that the EC had consistently acted with openness, working closely with –  listening to the complaints – of all parties.


Commonwealth to observe polling stations in nine atolls

A Commonwealth Observer Group has arrived in Maldives to witness the proceedings of the 2013 Presidential Elections, and assess the transparency and credibility of pre- and post- election activities.

The 17 male and female observers come from  Europe, North America, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, with experience in politics, elections execution, diplomacy, and civil society. They will be traveling to nine atolls later this week for the September 7 election.

Group Chair and former Prime Minister of Malta Dr Lawrence Gonzi addressed the press today regarding the Commonwealth Group’s activities and intentions.

“Our task is to consider all the factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole, and to assess whether the election is conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which Maldives has committed itself, with reference to its own election legislation as well as relevant regional, Commonwealth and other international commitments,” Dr Gonzi said in a statement.

Gonzi specified that the group would consider “whether conditions exist for free and competitive elections; whether the Elections Commission is independent and effective; the transparency of the process; whether candidates have been free to campaign; whether public media has been impartial; whether voters are free to express their will; and whether the results process is transparent.”

He added that the group would be neutral, impartial, objective and independent in its activities and assessment.

“We are here in our individual capacities as eminent and experienced Commonwealth citizens. The assessment by the Group will be its own and not that of any member government,” Gonzi said.

The group has had informational meetings with representatives of the presidential candidates as well as the Elections Commission and other key stakeholders, and will continue to meet with these figures and relevant civil society organisations and NGOs, Gonzi noted.

He deflected questions about initial observations or concerns, however he did acknowledge that “there are issues related to procedures and processes.”

Earlier this week, Transparency International released its oversight plan for the 2013 elections proceedings, and Indian election observers arrived in Maldives. The United Nations has also announced that it will be sending an observer group to the country.

The Commonwealth Group said that it will be working cooperatively with these groups to gather information from all atolls and voting sites, “but we do have our own methods and tasks as mandated by the [Commonwealth] Secretary General.”

Observation of the Maldives’ first multi-party elections in 2008 and 2009 was conducted by Transparency Maldives, the Commonwealth Observer Group, and the Delegation of the European Commission to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Domestic observation was supported by the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). Transparency International’s report on the election noted that restrictions on accessibility to polling stations according to type of observational body created confusion.

The Observer Group will write its report and release it “as soon as possible” after the September 7 election. The group will remain involved in proceedings in the event of a second round.


Political ‘speed dating’ draws young voters

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has held a one minute ‘speed dating’ event for 200 young Maldivians aged 18-25 at Seahouse Cafe.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) booked out Seahouse from 9:30 pm to 10:30 pm on Friday night and prepared 200 ‘date’ tokens. The tokens ran out early in the evening however, while questions ran until 11:30 pm.

“The purpose was for first-time voters to meet directly with President Nasheed and to give them a chance to ask any questions that they wanted,” said MDP Youth Wing Leader Shauna Aminath. She added that the many new faces may indicate a boost in voter turnout this Saturday.

Shauna noted  that post-event comments over Twitter, Facebook and other media indicated a demand for a second session.

“I have always wanted to meet President Nasheed  personally and even a minute with him is quite a lot out of his busy schedule,” 24 year-old attendee Isha told Minivan News. “I was very impressed by the event and the fact of getting to speak directly with him was a chance I wouldn’t miss.”

“I wanted to take a selfie with [President Nasheed] because he is one of my greatest idols, and I wanted to show my support. I think he is the best candidate,” said Hassan Sharm, 24.

Nasheed was both a listener and a speaker during the event, fielding questions on higher education, particularly A-level intakes and scholarships, the economy, exclusivity of surf breaks and the MDP manifesto. He also asked about issues important to his young supporters.

“The minute was more about him hearing us,” Isha recalled. “He asked what we did for work. Then we brought up some of the problems we face – slow internet and expensive broadband, and unfortunately he couldn’t comment on it since one minute was over and he had to move to the other table. But I hope he heard us.”

Isha added that Nasheed’s “positive attitude” and attentive ear established him as “one of the most friendly persons I have met in my life.”

Sharm questioned Nasheed on a central issue in post-election projections. Citing the heavy involvement of public security forces and senior political figures in February 2012 transfer of power, “I asked, ‘If you are elected, what is your plan to bring these people to justice?”

Sharm said Nasheed in his reply emphasised that revenge was not part of the equation, and that the focus should be on rendering justice to the injured civilians.

Sharm told the former President that housing was a major concern for young people, as well as a lack of space for community programs.

President Nasheed is known for his unique campaign tactics and strong interest in his youth base; he took the mic at a techno music concert the previous evening. Meanwhile, candidates from the competing Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party (GIP) coalition, and Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) have thus far exercised comparatively formal and traditional campaign methods.

Asked whether they would welcome a similar Q&A with the other candidates, Isha and Sharm indicated that the dialogue was mostly about showing support.

“I do not support any of them, would be very hypocritical of me to go,” Isha reasoned.

Sharm declared simply, “No, no, never. Not a chance.”

Aminath pointed out that a critical factor in bringing young people to the table is establishing a sense of ease between the candidate and voter. “Engagement has to be inspired by leaders. [Voters] are inspired by President Nasheed,” she said.

Asked about the competing candidates, attendees Isha and Sharm indicated both concerns and confusion over the other parties policies.

Isha was curious to know whether the others were “intimidated by Nasheed”, while Sharm said he would ask PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen about allegations of PPM’s involvement with Male’s gangs, President Mohamed Waheed about his involvement in the February 7, 2012 controversial transfer of power, and the JP’s Gasim Ibrahim about his plans for national improvement, citing general confusion over what Gasim’s communications on policy and platform to date.

“I would love to know what his plan is,” Sharm explained.


Maldives will disappear from climate stage without democracy: Nasheed

As news of the Maldives’ so-called coup d’état grows stale on the international palate, the release of documentary film ‘The Island President’ in New York last week has refreshed the Maldives’ image as a key victim of rising seas. It has also renewed former president Mohamed Nasheed’s image as a climate change activist, who is now pushing democracy as a core ingredient to the climate change movement.

‘The Island President’, produced by Richard Berg and directed by Jon Shenk, chronicles Nasheed’s tumultuous rise to power under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and his fight against global warming. Nasheed was ousted from the presidency last month in a “seriously staged coup” engineered by Gayoom, who he claims has effectively returned to power.

“What I would like to do initially is have democracy back in the Maldives,” Nasheed informed an audience of approximately 200 climate change academics, activists and journalists at Columbia University’s Low Library in New York City on Thursday evening. He stressed that all change is people-based.

“Even UN legislation happens because the people want it, and have the ability to voice their concerns,” he said.

Jointly addressing the topic of climate legislation and the US’ rapid recognition of the Maldives’ new government, Nasheed also encouraged the public to “ask bigger countries not to be so hasty in always defending the status quo.”

Adding that the Maldives’ current government has not addressed climate change – “they only just came to power” – Nasheed expressed concern that without a strong platform on the issue the Maldives would disappear from international awareness.

Climate change has become a pressing item on many diplomatic agendas. Yet few have clearly stated that the matter can only be addressed in a democratic environment.

“I think there is widespread understanding of the close linkage between climate change and politics,” wrote the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and Director of Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law, Michael B Gerrard, in an email to Minivan News. “However, in few places other than the Maldives is there such a close linkage between climate change and democracy itself.”

Gerrard organised and moderated Thursday’s event.

During his tour in the US, Nasheed has claimed that talking about climate change is a matter of human rights – “the minute you start talking about it people start pulling skeletons out of your closet.”

The People’s Politics

“Politicians only do things they are told by the people. I am afraid American’s don’t tell enough.”

Nasheed challenged his audience to make the environment a key platform in the US’s current presidential campaign. “Now, you cannot win an election in Germany without having proper environmental legislation and preparation. I can’t see why it can’t be like that here. It’s really up to the people in the US.”

Gerrard separately stated that American public opinion on climate change has fluctuated amidst economic instability and contentious scientific reports. “There is little prospect for aggressive US action on climate change until the pendulum of public opinion swings back. With an improving economy and growing evidence of the perils of climate change, the political situation may be improving, but things are still in flux,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, several audience members rose to Nasheed’s challenge and asked for further specifics on “the average person’s” role.

“I think we are all average, so all of us should be advocating,” he told one individual, expressing firm belief in street demonstrations and community action.

While channeling the spirits of revolution and humanity sat well with many, other audience members retorted with America’s more prevalent campaign season sentiment – cynicism.

Citing her own allegedly futile efforts to reach state politicians through demonstrations and correspondence, one frustrated activist asked for new approaches. “I don’t know. I have no new advice,” Nasheed admitted. “So, it’s bodies in the streets, basically?” the woman asked, deflated. “I don’t think there is any other, easier way,” he explained, reiterating his support of public demonstrations and community action.

Extreme measures and new economics

If world powers do not reach a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions in the next seven years then the next Maldivian generation will have little country to claim, Nasheed believes.

Reminding the audience that approximately 40 percent of the world population currently lives within 100 kilometres of a coastline, he added, “It’s an issue for all countries, rich or poor, big or small.” He further urged developing countries such as India and China to move away from the “not my fault” discourse that surrounded the Durban talks in December 2011.

While island states such as Kiribisi are reportedly weighing options for relocation, such as the construction of floating islands, Nasheed observed, “You can always relocate a person, but to relocate a culture and a civilisation, is impossible.” Quoting a Maldivian grandmother for whom her place was synonymous with her self, he believed “a vast majority of people [in the Maldives] will stay.”

Shifting the dialogue from sentimental to proactive, Nasheed admitted that constructing islands and relocating communities struck him as “extreme…but we must be thinking about extreme ideas.”

His position on economics was similarly revolutionary.

“The existing economics in which air is a free good is false,” he explained in answer to a question about market-based mechanisms and the Kyoto Protocol. “We need a new economics that will address the issue.”

Focusing on adaptation, Nasheed recommended reversing the language of climate change diplomacy. Stating his feeling that “the UN process exists simply for the sake of process,” he suggested asking countries to take new actions on renewable energy rather than to cut back on existing energy use. “I believe we may be able to arrive at the same destination with renewable energy,” he said.

“So, do it!”

The current political situation in the Maldives was a central talking point with the audience. Questions addressed the arrest of Judge Abdullah Mohamed, the international community’s response to the new government, and even Nasheed’s coping techniques.

One audience member said she had seen the Island President film and was dubious about Nasheed’s genuine nature – suggesting that he was enjoying the celebrity –  but said his manner during the discussion and response to questions at Colobmia was reassuring of his uniquely genuine interest and manner.

Overriding the Gerrard’s cut-off of queued audience members at five minutes before the scheduled end of the discussion, Nasheed found himself face to face with a young woman who had “a question or suggestion”—that he and his team make their views more accessible to the climate change-curious public by expanding their use of social media. Taking in her observation, Nasheed tipped his head and affirmed that it was possible.

“So, do it!” she said.


HRCM condemns attacks against demonstrators as Male’ gears up for “huge” rally

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has condemned police for carrying out acts of violence against civilians participating in a demonstration organised by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on February 8. HRCM has also condemned acts carried out against police property in the southern islands of Addu City Gan, Fuvahmulah, Raa atoll Dhuvaafaru, and Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo, among others.

“We highlight the fact that a lot of civilians and police officers have inflicted injuries of varying degrees during the demonstrations organised by the MDP, which became a confrontation between police and protesters,” a statement read. “With regard to the demonstration, this commission is in the process of investigating the matters under its mandate.”

Regarding the destruction in the Maldives’ south, the commission has requested the public “not to repeat such actions in the future.” The commission’s statement did not address allegations that residents on those islands have been beaten and arrested without charges following the events of February 8.

Addressing police forces and the public, the commission requested both parties to safely support the rights beholden in Article 32 of the constitution, which provides for the freedom of assembly.

“We also advise the police to maintain their actions to standards that would not lose the public trust on the police service and we call the public to support and assist the police in executing their duties,” reads the statement.

The European Union Heads of Mission (HoMs) to the Maldives, based in Colombo, have further warned that provocation of or use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies in the Maldives during the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally scheduled for Friday, February 17 “would be completely unacceptable at this point.”

Former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7 under conditions his government has called a “coup d’état.” Video footage of events that day indicate that he left office under military pressure while a rogue faction of the police service turned against the military and MDP supporters in the streets of capital Male’.

In the days following the change of power, security officials have allegedly beaten and detained MDP members and supporters in various parts of the archipelago.

“There must be an end to violence and no political retribution,” the HoMs stated today.

In January the MDP’s National Committee selected February 17 for a political rally to address judicial reform. Previously, rumors maintained that islanders would be coming to Male’ for the event. Rather than deter the public, last week’s dramatic change of power appears to have further motivated the Maldivian population.

“It’s going to be huge, the biggest ever on Male’,” said MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy. “People are in fear to some extent because of the police, but they are still willing to come out,” he added.

Addu resident Mohamed Yooshau pointed out that half of the Maldives 350,000 citizens do not live on Male’. “We elected [Nasheed], and when we woke up the next day it was like Male’ had brought down our president,” he said, adding that “the concept of a democracy is having a say.”

Although the political situation has changed, Fahmy said Friday’s rally “will stay on track” with its calls for judicial reform.

Squeezed by growing public and international pressure, and adjusting to the new leadership of commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who has been criticised for his lack of experience, the police are attempting to maintain a strict order.

“Police will take necessary actions, responding according to intelligence and our understanding of the motives behind public actions,” said police media official Ahmed Shiyam.

He did not specify if security forces are taking unique measures to secure Male’ during the upcoming demonstrations.

The face of public security has however been tainted by recent aggressive behavior towards members of the public.

One individual who requested anonymity reports being verbally harassed by police officers while walking on the street the day after Nasheed’s resignation.

“One of my friends was wearing a yellow tee shirt [MDP party color] by chance, not for any political reason, and these cops say, ‘Miaathun nah eves kameh nuvaane,’ or ‘these people can’t do anything’, but in a rude way,” said the source.

Within an hour of that incident, police attacked a non-violent MDP demonstration outside of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), sending over 50 individuals to the hospital and MDP party chairperson and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

This week, demonstrators have begun mocking police as the paid servants of Maamigili MP and Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, who also owns the Villa Hotels chain. Prior to the official re-opening of MDP’s camp (haruge) yesterday, gathering party members taunted two police officers driving by at separate times with cries of “Villa police! Lari lari lari!” A lari is a fraction of the Maldivian currency rufiya, akin to a US cent.

While some police officers have told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that they regret the negative impact the actions of a reported few has had on their image, police Media Official Ahmed Shiyam today stated that “police are well-trained for anything that comes along and will act professionally.”

When asked whether the public should be more mindful, Shiyam said, “there’s no need for that. We know who is doing this, and it’s not all of the MDP nor is it always MDP who are harassing the police.”

Meanwhile, Friday’s rally will be preceded by a Silent White Movement on Thursday afternoon, calling for peace during protests and for justice for those security officials who have committed violations in the line of duty.

“Our concern is the current injustice that we are facing today as Maldivians, for not having the right to gather in peace and to raise our voice for freedom of speech,” reads the movement’s statement on its Facebook page.

“We demand the government to do a thorough investigation with the help of the international community, and seek the root cause of violence created among the civilians of this country. We believe this is a civil movement that supports justice and non- violation of human rights in the norms of international standards.”

Participants are requested to wear white or change their Facebook profile pictures to white color blocks in support. Approximately 2,000 people have confirmed their attendance.

A spokesperson from the movement emphasised that all members of the public of any party or organisation are welcome to join the event.

A separate demonstration calling for prompt elections has teamed up with the movement. To avoid any confrontation with the Gaumee Itthihaad party, which is today protesting against violent acts carried out by MDP members last week, the elections group is coordinating its efforts with the Silent White Movement’s event tomorrow.

The party of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, Gaumee Itthihaad currently has approximately 2,600 members- 400 short of the 3,000 members required for registration and only 0.007 percent of the Maldives population.

Silent White Movement observed that demonstrations in the Maldives have a rocky track record, due in part to still-young democracy. Noting that protesting first began after prison guards killed Evan Naseem in 2003, the source said “it began as violent but after the new government came to power in 2008 protest became peaceful. But around 2010 protests became violent again with the opposition, probably because they had a political motive.”


Government must guarantee safety and rights of journalists: Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed strong concerns for media freedom in the Maldives’ following the release of strong evidence that police forces used firearm prohibited to their role to force open the station of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7, 2012.

The station was overrun by security forces as violent clashes broke out across Male’, culminating in the resignation of then president Mohamed Nasheed “at gunpoint”, he has said. By early afternoon MNBC was re-branded as Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

MNBC’s former director general Adam Shareef described the situation to RSF.

Shareef said he had noticed that the situation on Male’ had become “serious”, and around 4:00am requested the Defense Minister to send more security to the station.

MNBC headquarters and some journalists were previously attacked during the opposition-led protests which began on January 16, 2012, when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military after attempting to block his own police summons. The government at the time backed their decision by citing the judge’s record of professional misconduct and blocking police operations, as well as holding suspects without evidence and releasing suspects with strong evidence against them, most notably an accused murderer who killed another person soon after his release.

Shareef said he was shocked when the Defense Minister “refused to send any security forces to MNBC. At that time I knew there as something wrong with the police and defense forces. We were in shock at the refusal, and we were waiting from the early morning until 7:30am. At 7:30 the security members had left their shift, so there was no security at MNBC.

“I was alone with my staff, and I ordered them to stay calm and cooperate with MNDF [Maldives National Defense Force],” he said.

Shareef explained that individuals aligned with the opposition came to the station in the late morning and requested that the station be signed over to their control. When he refused, Shareef was informed that Nasheed had stepped down and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had assumed control of the country.

“I said I hadn’t heard the news,” Shareef told RSF, pointing out that the confrontation took place before Nasheed had formally resigned at 1:00pm that day.

Shareef goes on to describe the violent take-over of the station, which left many of his staff in fear.

A video released yesterday corroborates Shareef’s account of the take-over. A police officer uses a gun to open the locked gates of the state broadcasting station, allowing dozens of police and military forces as well as civilians to rush the building where staff can be heard crying and shouting in fear.

Police in the Maldives are not issued firearms.

Noting that the Maldives ranks 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 RSF press freedom index, “Reporters Without Borders hopes that the Commonwealth ministerial mission, which is to investigate the circumstances of last week’s change of government, will also shed light on the takeover of MNBC, the use of threats and violence against certain journalists and media, and the threats to which several journalists continue to be exposed.”

Members of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have today signed a petition requesting parliament to acknowledge last Tuesday’s events as a coup; to bring those involved to justice; and to hold elections as soon as possible.

Since the station takeover TVM has filled its airtime with Disney movies and cooking shows, streaming pre-recorded programs even during the police force’s violent crackdown on a peaceful MDP march on February 8.

In a February 13 statement, RSF warned that Maldives media is in a precarious position amidst the political turbulence.

“The international community must take full account of the danger to the media and to freedom of information in the Maldives,” reads the statement. “For the moment, media coverage of the incidents taking place in this Indian Ocean archipelago is limiting the violence against journalists.”

Foreign media groups including Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, AFP, India Express, the New York Times and Japan’s leading paper The Yomiuri Shimbun converged on Male’ on February 8, bringing the murky politics of the perceived island paradise into global focus.

“But, once the international community’s attention moves on, we fear that media personnel, especially those who are branded as ‘pro-Nasheed,’ could be exposed to reprisals by supporters of the new government or by the security forces, which may not be fully under the new government’s control,” RSF cautions.

It didn’t take long for Maldivians to wonder if they may be subject to similar rules of social behavior.

Following the crackdown in Male’, local media Raajje TV inaccurately reported that two MDP supporters had been killed. Islanders in six southern atolls responded with a firey attack on police stations, court houses and prosecutor general’s offices, leaving public facilities and legal records in ashes.

The next day, Male’-based media received reports opposition party supporters were leading police and military forces to the homes of MDP supporters, who were consequently beaten and arrested without charges.

In a previous article Minivan News investigated the claims. While the reported aggression appear to have calmed some citizens of Addu, Maldives’ southernmost atoll which reported the most severe damage, expressed concern that the quiet was temporary.

“We are not safe because we don’t know when again it will start,” said one man speaking to Minivan News outside Feydhoo’s smoldering court house.

Alif Fahumy Ahmed, whose brother-in-law was still detained in Gan’s burnt police station on February 11, was similarly watchful. “Things in Addu have calmed at the moment, but they may continue once HRCM and the reporters leave,” he said.