Blue VS yellow: election fever comes to a head

Streets of blue and yellow flags and posters of politicians carpeting every available surface leave little doubt that election fever has hit Male’, ahead of the country’s first local council elections.

Maldivians will go to the polls on Saturday to elect local councilors in the third major election since the introduction of multi-party democracy.

Candidates will compete for nearly 1100 positions across island, atoll and Male’ city councils.

According to data from the Elections Commission, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will be fielding approximately 930 candidates, and the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) around 880. Of these, the MDP is fielding almost 60 women, the DRP 80. The religiously conservative Adhaalath Party is fielding 53 candidates, including two women, while the Jumhoree Party has 46 candidates and the People’s Alliance (PA) eight candidates, the same number as the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). The Vice President’s Gaumy Iththihaad Party (GIP) has 10 candidates.

Several key themes have emerged during the election campaigns, as both major parties convince voters of their respective merits.

President Mohamed Nasheed has spearheaded the MDP’s campaign, touring the country and highlighting government projects on each island, the number of people receiving welfare, completion dates for harbours and other such metrics of government assistance.

The DRP campaign has followed a divergent path after a factional split between leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and former Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, who was dismissed by the party’s disciplinary committee just prior the party’s election campaign but contends his dismissal was against the party’s regulations.

The relationship between the two remains frosty after a party rally in mid-December descended into a factional brawl, after supporters of the dismissed Naseer gatecrashed the venue.

However, the split has given the party two fronts in the campaign – “It has worked in their favour since they have been able to cover more fronts than the MDP,” observed the President’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.

Opinion poll

Significantly, the local council election triggered the return to politics of former president and DRP ‘Honorary Leader’ Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, apparently backing Umar Naseer’s faction, despite anointing Thasmeen as his successor following his retirement from politics in February 2010.

Gayoom remains an enigmatic figure in Maldivian politics. The extent of his popularity since the DRP’s win in the parliamentary elections over two years ago is unclear, given the absence of independent and impartial political polling in the country and passionate partisan politics.

By his own account, recorded in a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron late last year, “I continue to enjoy the strong support, love and affection of the people, and have been voted by the public as ‘Personality of the Year’ in both years since stepping down from the presidency.”

Certainly his return shook the MDP – Zuhair observed that Gayoom’s presence will “certainly get [the DRP] more votes. After 30 years of tenure many people still believe he is their benefactor.”

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf has previously suggested that the MDP was afraid of Gayoom and the loyalty he inspired in the party faithful.

“Gayoom is the only person with popular support, and that was clearly seen in the parliamentary election. [The MDP] are scared he will run in 2013,” Mahlouf said, on Gayoom’s return last month.

The MDP contends that its infrastructure and development projects have won over many islanders – hence the focus of the election campaign. However many Maldivians – especially Thasmeen – still live in the shadow of their ‘Honorary Leader’ of 30 years and blame the MDP for the many teething problems and political upsets of the fledgling democracy.

Gayoom’s return has raised the stakes, for both major parties. The results of the local council elections will serve as the first national opinion poll in two years, revealing both the extent of Gayoom’s continuing influence and whether the MDP has been able to successfully convince people that its politics are progressive.

The Addu factor

The cancellation of the City Council elections in Addu Atoll, has, in the words of a senior source in the President’s Office, “effectively disempowered 30,000 Adduans for the sake of vested political interests”.

It has also cost Rf220,000 (US$17,100) in wasted public money, according to the Elections Commission (EC), which was today defending itself from the MDP’s political wrath over this speed-bump in the party’s ambitions to decentralise the country.

A referendum held in October 2010 over the administrative consolidation of small islands, while suffering voter turnout of less than 30 percent, was overwhelmingly against the proposal – except in Addu Atoll, where the islands of Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo and Hulhudhoo endorsed it, while only the islanders of Feydhoo and Meedhoo did not.

“In my view, the results of the referendum showed very clearly that citizens of the atoll want to develop as a city. So we will designate Addu Atoll as one city island,” President Nasheed announced.

The plan was derailed by the opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), when Deputy Leader Imad Solih succeeded in January of getting the Civil Court to rule that Nasheed did not have the authority to declare Addu a city as the criteria to do so had not been established.

That led to the burning of an effigy of Solih and protests outside the home of the party’s leader, former Attorney General Hassan Saeed, by both angry Adduans and MDP activists. One of the latter observed that the DQP’s case was something of an “own-goal” given that Saeed is himself Adduan.

Nasheed quickly corrected the technicality by installing Home Minister Hassan Afeef in the contentious Local Government Authority (LGA), which published the requirements for a city that afternoon in the government’s gazette.

Then, days before the election, the Civil Court ruled in a second case that the city criteria was invalid as it required “a majority”. Unable to wait for legal wrangling, the Elections Commission formally cancelled the local council elections for Addu, removing them from the contest and next to guaranteeing upheaval on Saturday.

“[The DQP] are arguing that the government is acting against the constitution, which is not correct,” Zuhair stated. “There is no rule stipulating the number of members required on the LGA. We will appoint the LGA and reissue exactly the same criteria, but because of this, Addu will have no representation on the Authority.”

Independence remains a sensitive subject for the southern atolls, particularly Addu, which in 1959 led the formation of a short-lived break-away nation called the United Suvadive Republic, together with Huvadhu Atoll and Fuvahmulah.

This was crushed in 1962 when Thinadhoo was destroyed on the orders of then-President Ibrahim Nasir, and the island of 4800 depopulated.

In one of history’s odd parallels, the Adduan under whose name the second Civil Court was filed was also a Nasir.

“He’s a cook on board a safari boat. He’s registered with the Vice President’s party [GIP], but our information suggests the DQP is behind this,” said Zuhair.

DQP-aligned news website, Maldives Today, waxed lyrical about the “proud son of Addu” who had succeeded in cancelling the atoll’s elections.

“He might be a crew of a wooden ship that carries rice, flour, and other consumables from Male’ to Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo. But nobody thought that this crewman might challenge the highest authority in Maldives. He challenged the president of Maldives in the civil court regarding how the criteria was set to make his home land Addu a city,” wrote the website.

“Some rogue elements within Addu blindly says that he is a villain,” it added.

The government has said it intends to appeal the decision, but that is unlikely to happen before Saturday, when the entire country will vote apart from Adduans. Protesters have already barricaded two courts, television news crews have been sent to the atoll, and there have been dark mutterings about the atoll’s potential for secession.

Zuhair contended that the intention of the opposition’s disruption was “simply to portray the government as ineffective – to make a political point.”

“The opposition [to decentralisation] in Male’ is there because traditionally the atoll and island chiefs have looked to influential office bearers in Male’ for what they need. This election will make them the masters of their own development,” he claimed.

“For example: in Male’ the planning department will design a 200 by 300 foot harbour for 20 islands, none of which are the same size. Many harbours are built this way, without local involvement.”

Expensive proposition

The new layer of government introduced by the elections will cost the Maldives over US$12 million a year in salaries and allowances, or US$220,000 per month. The President of every island council will receive a salary and allowance of Rf 15,000 (US$1160), council members Rf 11,000 (US$850). The mayor of Male’ will receive Rf 45,000 (US$3500).

In addition to salaries, explained acting Finance Minister Mahmoud Razee, parliament has allocated a further Rf200 million (US$15.5 million) to office expenses – at a time when the country has a double-figure deficit, a crippling foreign exchange shortage and complete reliance on a single industry.

“At this point in time we have to increase revenue and decrease waste – that’s the only way we can afford this,” Razee said, adding that the government was continuing to work with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to “right-size” the bloated civil service.

“Nothing is easy in politics, but we have a moral obligation to do so. Insofar as the government and the CSC are concerned, our objectives are not far apart.”

Foreign consultants were, he said, presently working with the civil service to determine “if positions are required, and that the grade they are paid matches the work they are doing.”

Their report, he said, could be ready as soon as March-April. However international funders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were last year expressing a growing frustration with the Maldives’ tendency to put politics above economics, and the bill for the local council elections had not escaped their notice.

One senior MDP figure, questioned as to whether the Maldives was in a position to afford local government – or, for that matter, anything – responded with a cavalier “we’ll figure it out after the elections”.

UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox summarised the problem.

“This is going to be a very interesting experience, perhaps in some ways a difficult experience for the Maldives,” he said.

“We all know the challenges of development in the Maldives; the geography makes transport very expensive, very difficult, and some of the islands which are inhabited are very small. It can be very hard sometimes for some of these islands to have their voice heard at a national level.

“The opportunity that is offered by these elections is that people can take greater responsibility for the government which affects them on a day to day basis, and it’s very interesting in theory. But in practice, how is that going to work?”

Local Council Election Guide (English)

Credit: Analysis spreadsheet prepared by Aishath Aniya. Data sourced from Elections Commission.

Correction: A calculation error in an earlier version of the election spreadsheet mistakenly listed the number of independent candidates as 2500. The actual number is 765. This has been corrected.


21 thoughts on “Blue VS yellow: election fever comes to a head”

  1. Good article, Mr Robinson.

    About Gayyoom's popularity, you forgot to mention that in the latest of the polls, that asked whether DRP needs Thasmeen or Gayoom as their leader, more than 2/3 of the voters said that they need Thasmeen for DRP and not Gayyoom.

    I am a bit keen to give my prediction of the results. So here it is.

    DRP 65 percent
    MDP 20 percent
    Adhalat 8 percent
    Jumhoory Party 3 percent
    PA 0.8 percent
    DQP 1 percent
    Itthiaad 0.5 percent
    Cancelled 3 percent

  2. I just realised that my calculation of the votes breakdown is wrong. So here are my revised figures.

    DRP 65 percent
    MDP 20 percent
    Adhalat 6.7 percent
    Jumhoory Party 3 percent
    PA 0.8 percent
    DQP 1 percent
    Itthiaad 0.5 percent
    Cancelled 3 percent

  3. This is a new experiment. If this works, we can continue, if doesn't, we will figure it out how it is going to work.

  4. Most well researched news item on Minivan so far. great effort and thanks to Aniya's excel.

  5. "...and there have been dark mutterings about the atoll’s potential for secession."

    Dark mutterings indeed. These dark mutterings, if there are any, will be from the usual sources. The very same sources that have kept Addu in the stone age for the last 40 years.

    Truth is, there are powerful forces that DO NOT want to see any kind of major development for Addu.

    If and, it's a very BIG IF, Addu did break away from Male, the Atoll and its neighbours will fare much better on their own. Addu will need to join up with it's 2 neighbours just as it did in 1959. The southern atolls can become self sufficient and without the baggage of Male around their necks will fly high. Hmm, food for thought...

  6. With my wife being Maldivian, and our two children half-Maldivian, I have the interests of your beautiful country at heart. I may be a foreigner and therefore, to many, not with a right to comment on your matters. I repeat something I had posted on a different article yesterday.

    I would just like to share with you a story. It is a story by Tommy Douglas, who was one of Canada’s best known democrats. Tommy was a democratic socialist, someone who placed human rights and needs above the mere pursuit of profits and power. He held it that such principles must be implemented at the wish of the majority of the people. He held the view that a social-minded government would plan the economy of the country to allow all people to share in the country’s wealth and have equal access to such basic needs as health and education.

    Below is Tommy’s 1944 story, which he called “Mouseland.”

    Start of story

    “It’s the story of a place called Mouseland. Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died. And they lived much the same as you and I do.

    They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election. Used to walk to the polls and cast their ballots. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. And got a ride for the next four years afterwards too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big, fat, black cats.

    Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada for last 90 years and maybe you’ll see that they weren’t any stupider than we are.

    Now I’m not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws–that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren’t very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouseholes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds–so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much effort.

    All the laws were good laws. For cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn’t put up with it any more, they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en masse to the polls. They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.

    Now the white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said: “All that Mouseland needs is more vision.” They said:”The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouseholes we got. If you put us in we’ll establish square mouseholes.” And they did. And the square mouseholes were twice as big as the round mouseholes, and now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever. And when they couldn’t take that anymore, they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. Then they went back to the white cats. Then to the black cats. They even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up of cats with spots on them: they were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but ate like a cat.

    You see, my friends, the trouble wasn’t with the colour of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.

    Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, “Look fellows, why do we keep on electing a government made up of cats? Why don’t we elect a government made up of mice?” “Oh,” they said, “he’s a Bolshevik. Lock him up!”

    So they put him in jail. But I want to remind you: that you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can’t lock up an idea.”

    End of story

    You can also listen to it on YouTube at

    As you cast your ballot, vote wisely. God bless your beautiful nation.

  7. vast majority of candidates are not independents. Pls get your facts right. Only about a third are independents.

  8. Its time for Addu Fuvahmulaku and Huvadhoo once again to say goodbye to Male' based autocratic dictatorial regimes. This article also well said how United Suvadeeb government was crushed by dictator Nasir and now again the same gang is in power playing the same game.

    Aduu Fuvahmulak and Huvadhoo makes almost one third of Maldives population. Its time to rethink and once again form our autonomous independence from Male'. We need to make United Suvaadheeb once again, I call upon every Addu person to think about this and work for this.

  9. @Italian Maldivian,

    Good one. One BIG CAT ruled here for 30-long years. But was voted out. Lets hope that CAT stays out so that we mice can live happily.

  10. Dear author,

    I wish to focus on Maldives for my research. To begin with, i want to study the upcoming local council election. However, the website of election commission is not in english, nor does it have option of translation. Can anyone help me on that?

  11. @Robin. Which poll are you talking about. Who monitored it?
    How can an opinion poll be accurate when you can vote more than once.

  12. Yep, we had a big black cat with lots of ideas who ruled us for 30 long years. He still keeps on saying, he's the best cat in the country and that he wants his old job back.

    All he did was take advantage of little mice and their little brains!

  13. Sarangu Adam Manik is the biggest candidate....he deserves to win...he is the only guy who is a true politician 🙂

    Hop hop Adam!!Go get it!!! you will run for president one day!

  14. @ Robin
    No vote for any independent candidate? Surely they'd vote for themselves.

  15. To Mr Italian Maldivian: Save your senseless story for Mr Berlusconi who is paying to have sex with under age prostitiutes these days. Stay out of our country's politics. You are not from a better place to criticise us. So vai via porka boiya.

  16. Finally we have come to a conclusion after a huge challenge faced from all people without common senses.It is very clear for me and all those who has their common senses, that Addu should be voting for a city council.

    We had an election earlier to make up our minds to decide whether we will be voting for a city council, and from a good poll Adduans has decided it will be voting for a city council.This was very clear to all Maldivians.The decision of the citizens of Addu.Where all laws,rules and regulation should be applied accordingly.
    The one who went court with this matter at the last stage does not know how to write or read and there is no school he has attended.He does not know that what he was doing.means that some stupids are hiding at the back stage by hoping that they can win.But everything went against their will.
    If majority is on one side, Addu to be a city, those hypocrites should be cooperating instead of creating problems and putting themselves into hatred of the majority.
    How they can open their mouth now,who will accept them from the society if they are so negative and without any vision for the mission.They do not see the big picture and the real image.
    If anyone wants be a politician them first of all they should have a good vision of future or otherwise they will be failed at the very beginning.They will feel it now.The result of their work.
    Addu is place with +30'000 people.They are so keen to develop their home land.If anyone has doubt about it go and see the history of Addu.
    How many years they have suffered,how many offers they received to develop it and its all been rejected by former Governments.But let us all Maldivian be with Adduans and cooperate with all bodies to develop Addu for a city which can be better then any city in Maldives.There are lots to be done to reach the final stage.There will be lots of challenges ahead of us, but we will not turn back again and we will go forward to reach our goals.
    We will have hatred within the society it is very clear to all Maldivians.But lets keep the jealousy on one side and keep moving forward to achieve the vision and decision of Adduans.It will be benefited by all citizen in Maldives.

    At least we have a city name, means that we should be provided with our basic needs in next few months or within a year.We have schools,hospitals,roads,international airport and port but those areas needs lots of improvement.We do not have running water and sewages,these areas also should implemented.We are not only
    just working for name.We are hoping for addu to be develop as a good city in next few years.

  17. @ Addu

    "How can an opinion poll be accurate when you can vote more than once."

    I don't know. Ask Gayyoom. He is the one who sends the results of such votes to David Cameron.

    @ Abdulla
    "No vote for any independent candidate? Surely they’d vote for themselves."
    I forgot about them.
    In that case I will revise my figures again.
    I am afraid I will have to take 2 percent from my allocation to MDP for the independent candidates. So MDP will get 18 percent and independent candidates will win 2 percent.

    What are your figures, Abdulla?

    @ Ibrahim Yasir
    Your comment is so funny.

  18. @Italian Maldivian:
    thank you for sharing that beautiful story with us and thank you for your obvious kindness towards our country - which you are clearly very much a part of 🙂

  19. @Italian Maldivian

    thank you for sharing your chromosomes with Maldives..really appreciate it,it's really so kind of you to show your love to this stricken poor little country with little rats and some cats! some are smart cats who always get away with the cream while the rats and mice live in misery & in fear of cats!


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