15 Minutes with Mohamed Latheef, Spokesperson for the MDP

Minivan News spends 15 Minutes with Mohamed Latheef, spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party.

Q1: There is confusion over the number of seats won by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the government and those who are independent in this election. Can you clarify what the MDP’s position is on this?

Eighteen of the 36 candidates we backed some three weeks before the election won their seats. Some of them are government servants. We backed them because we believe that when the political climate changes, as we believe it will, their candidacy will openly espouse the liberal democratic reformist ideology that the MDP propagates.

Q2: So are they all signed-up, card-carrying members of the party?

Please bear in mind that the MDP is not registered in the Maldives, in violation of the constitution, and is in fact persecuted by the government. So, many who are vehemently for reform still do not openly claim their support for MDP as a party. We can appreciate this reluctance given our oppressive political climate in the Maldives.

Q3: The government is claiming that they have 30 seats – 30 MPs who will back them on any issue in the Majlis.

That is interesting. The government spokesman claims that they won 30 seats. This of course, proves our claim that the government has been working as a party whilst depriving us of the same. You can now imagine the level of fraud, intimidation and corruption which went with this election.

The island chiefs and government officials in the islands who actually ran the campaign on the behalf of the government were the very same ones who were in charge of the polling booths and the ballot boxes.

One reason why we swept the urban areas so convincingly was because intimidation and fraud was less pronounced in the urban areas where the voters were more aware of their political rights.

Let us wait and see how many MPs actually do back the government on the key issues. I believe to get 30 votes on every issue the government will have to have a standing threat of imprisonment hanging over the MPs. This of course, may well happen.

Q4: President Gayoom, in a recent interview with AFP, said that he “envisages a multi-party political system, as well as the office of the prime minister, a supreme court… within a year”. I know the MDP has been pushing for a timeframe for the reform process for a long time. So, you must be really happy with the President’s commitment?

Commitment is a word I would be very wary of when describing Gayoom’s sweeping declarations. Promises of reform are throw-away pronouncements he uses whenever he is under political pressure.

His grand declaration last June about constitutional reform is one such deception. Nine months later not one productive meeting of the constituent assembly has taken place.

Bear in mind that this is the man who took seventeen years to come up with the present constitution wherein he concentrates all the powers in himself reneging on his declared intention of changing the Maldives from an autocracy to a democracy.

Having said all this, I am still excited that he has at last placed a timeframe on his proposed agenda. At least now the international community and the people of Maldives can hold him to a definitive timeframe.

Q5: I understand that the MDP has been very busy meeting the international community over the election period. Is the President’s timeframe for reform part of your discussions?

Very much so. The international community is very excited. They feel that at least Gayoom, if not the hardliners, understand the imperative for change. Whilst we do express our fears, we also give the international community a full guarantee that we will back any of the President’s positive moves without reservation.

The international community is excited that the parties will be registered and competitive politics would be a reality in months. Like the President has stated on many occasions, and I quote: “the laws of the country do not bar anybody from forming a political party if they want to” [Gayoom’s biography: A Man for all Islands, 1998, Times Editions] Also, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for example, has indicated that registration of political parties is not so much a legal issue as a political one. We take this as true.

Yes, we give our assurances to the international community that we will put past acrimony behind us and work in good faith with the President towards the goal of greater freedom and democracy. However, the President and his regime must display an equal level of commitment and good faith towards achieving this noble goal.atheef, Spokesperson for the MDP