Covering Kaashidhoo’s ‘buy-election’

When I arrived on Kaashidhoo Island on the evening of Friday April 13, the constituency’s parliamentary by-election campaign was already going full swing.

A billboard of Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Abdulla Jabir, as tall as the island’s coconut palms, dominated the harbor front. Numerous red flags in support of Jabir and yellow flags in support of Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Ahmed ‘Dhonbiley’ Haleem were strung from every harbor light, tree and café on the beach. The island rang with the cacophony of campaign music and speeches.

The crescent shaped island of Kaashidhoo lies 88 kilometers north of Malé city. Densely forested, it is home to a population of 1700 people, most of them farmers. Together with Gaafaru Island to the south, Kaashidhoo Island comprises one of the 77 parliamentary constituencies in the country. Its previous MP, Ismail Abdul Hameed, was removed from his seat in February 2012 after being found guilty of corruption.

My colleague Daniel Bosley and I had come to observe the by-election, scheduled for the following day, April 14.

During our two day visit to Kaashidhoo, we gathered testimonies from islanders which revealed a culture of extensive vote-buying. Instead of winning votes on the strength of their legislative agendas, islanders told us both candidates handed out cash, often in the form of investment in local businesses and financial assistance for medical expenses.

We had hitched a ride to Kaashidhoo with Dhonbiley’s campaign team. The speed boat was full of burly young men who said they were Dhonbiley’s security.

“The situation is pretty bad,” a curly-haired man had told us. He estimated there were more than 30 policemen on the island for the vote. The night before, a fight had broken out between Jabir and Dhonbiley’s supporters, leading to one man’s arrest.

The by-election was the first poll since the controversial transfer of power on February 7. The MDP alleged President Mohamed Nasheed had been deposed in a coup d’état, and had called for fresh elections.

New President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration meanwhile maintained that the country’s institutions, including the elections commission, were not ready to hold free and fair elections. Hence for many, the by-election was a test of the country’s capacity to hold peaceful polls.

Our contact on Kaashidhoo was 18 year-old Ahmed Fazeel*, a student living in Male’, who greeted us when we arrived. He told us we would have to wait for accommodation as the island’s guest-houses and rented rooms were full for the night.

Resort workers and islanders living in Male’ had come back to Kaashidhoo for the vote. Fazeel said more than eight speedboats had ferried people from Male’ to Kaashidhoo that day alone. As we sat in Fazeel’s front yard among stone-apple and mango trees, he told us tensions were high on the island.

“There’s a lot of conflict. Political competitiveness has become extreme to the point people are at each other’s throats,” Fazeel said. “I will vote for Dhonbiley because he gave my aunt medical assistance.” His aunt has a common blood disorder in the Maldives, Thalassemia.

In the distance we saw JP leader and business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim leading a march of men, women and children clothed in red, chanting slogans in support of Jabir. Gasim and Jabir had laid the foundation for a city hotel to be built on the island.

Local media had reported the hotel was a Rf 34 million (US$2.2 million) investment. Jabir pledged the hotel would be completed within 18 months and that a Kaashidhoo-based company would manage the hotel. He had also established a state-of-the-art football pitch on Gaafaru Island on April 9.

“We cannot trust Jabir, he has laid many foundations like that, in his previous constituency as well,” Fazeel’s uncle Mohamed Saleem* told us. Smoking a cigarette, he said he had initially supported Jabir. The MDP had fronted Jabir as a candidate until he swapped parties after the transfer of power.

“Jabir only donated six-air conditioning units to the mosque. But Dhonbiley donated over Rf 100,000 (US$6500) rufiya,” Saleem continued. “Also, Jabir first said he will build a resort, then said a 5-star luxury hotel, and now it’s simply a guesthouse.”

That night we met Mohamed Shahid* an MDP supporter, in a dimly-lit cafe for dinner. A TV on the cafe wall showed scenes of yellow-clad MDP supporters marching in support of Dhinbiley through the narrow streets of Kaashidhoo.

Shahid, 21, made a living from diving for sea-cucumbers. For him, the biggest problem the island faced was a lack of job opportunities.

“The people of this island will vote for money, they don’t have any principles,” Shahid said. “The problem is that people want to force you to vote for who they support. Everyone should have the right to vote for whoever they want,” he told us. “Arguments within families have gone to the point that people are losing face.”

“Both parties are handing out cash, in the guise of extending assistance for medical care. Some people even use the money for drugs.” Shahid said.

He said heroin addiction rate was high among Kaashidhoo’s youth population.

Shahid said he had at first supported Jabir. “But Jabir does not fulfill his promises. He first approached the youth cub, Ekuverige Tharika, and gave the club Rf 20,000 (US$1300). Nothing else. But Dhonbiley gives us coffee, petrol for motorbikes and phone credit. It’s very easy. Even the island’s harbor was started under President Mohamed Nasheed,” he said.

The harbor had been damaged in the South Asian tsunami of 2004, and construction of a new harbor had started in 2012.

After dinner, we ventured out through the sandy streets of the island. Candidates had to cease campaigning for votes by 6:00pm on the eve of polling; hence, the island was fairly quiet. However, people continued to mill around the campaign offices.

Outside Jabir’s brightly lit campaign office, we met Mariyam Sheeza* , 31, who told us she supported Jabir because he had promised to bring development to Kaashidhoo.

“Jabir is building a guesthouse. We only have agriculture on the island. But this hotel will create jobs, especially for women,” she said. Sheeza said she had four children to support and the guesthouse would give her the opportunity to earn some money.

“Dhonbiley does not check on the people. He does not know if the people have a second meal in a day or whether we sleep on the floor or on mattresses,” she said. Moreover, she said Dhonbiley only worked for MDP supporters’ benefit.

“When MDP was in power, 388 farmers asked for subsidies, but Dhonbiley gave subsidies to only 150 farmers. The subsidies were only given to MDP supporters. We don’t know what happened to more than Rf 22,000,” she said.

“Dhonbiley ate the subsidies,” shouted a group of men lounging on joalis within the campaign office. At that point, a lanky man came up to us and said JP leader Gasim Ibrahim had invited us in. As we walked in, he showed me a large bloody graze on his arm. He had sustained the injury in the previous night’s scuffle. “MDP paid Rf 2000 (US$130) to some young man to beat me up,” he told me.

Gasim, a hefty bespectacled man and one of the country’s wealthiest resort tycoons, was sitting with a group of men at a broad white table under a white canvas canopy strung with red and green flags. Women served juice, eggs dyed red and sausages to supporters. Gasim said he was confident of Jabir’s win the next day.

“Jabir has already performed in Majlis. He was an MP during the formulation of the constitution. He is successful and courageous. He came with a manifesto to the people to create job opportunities and development,” he told me.

“Dhonbiley has failed in everything in his life, even running a business. People do not accept MDP anymore. They are not religious. They want to destroy this country’s Islamic social-fabric,” he said.

Gasim had been involved in the MDP’s formation, but after being jailed in 2004 he had defected to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s party, and took up the position of Gayoom’s finance minister. He ran for presidency in 2008, and supported Nasheed against Gayoom in the second round of elections after no candidate managed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes.

He had served as Nasheed’s home minister for 20 days but quit, criticising Nasheed for being authoritarian.

“They are irreligious. Maldivian citizens do not support that. They cannot build idols here. Nasheed was in power by spending a lot of money, and by coercing and intimidating people. The people appreciate what we are doing for them. We know the people’s needs. We know this island needs agriculture, the other one needs fisheries, and what the youth want,” he told us. He predicted Jabir would win with over 80 percent of the votes.

Voting day arrived on Kaashidhoo with a brief but heavy rain storm. We saw Jabir, a short dark man, pass by in a car. He waved hello to us as we sought shelter under a broad Hirundhu tree on the harbor front. Daniel and I were looking for a cafe for breakfast when the storm had hit. We also saw a white van with four police officers passing by. When the rain thinned, we headed to an open air cafe near MDP’s main campaign office for breakfast.

We sat down near a group of three boys heckling a mute man to vote for MDP. A short-haired white-shirted boy said, “Jabir is a dog! What has he ever done for you?” Another threatened, “We buy coffee for you, we buy cigarettes for you. We will cut you off if you don’t vote for MDP.”

A few minutes later, Dhonbiley walked in for breakfast with MP Ahmed Easa and a group of his supporters.

“The problem is the current government came to power through a coup,” the tall former football star told us. “They want to delay early elections. They want to try and show the international community the atmosphere is not right. Tension is high. Jabir’s supporters have sprayed graffiti calling me a bastard.”

He pointed to graffiti on the building next to the cafe. The words had been sprayed over. I recalled a banner I had seen the night before that proclaimed Dhonbiley had been banished for fornication.

“My supporters have reached the limit of their patience, but I have told them to keep calm,” he told us, and said he was confident of a win that day. He also claimed Gasim had walked through the island the night before handing out Rf 4000 (US$260) for votes.

After Dhonbiley left, we overheard the boys at the next table on the phone, requesting their breakfast be put on the MDP’s bill.

The rain left shallow puddles on the sandy street that quickly disappeared in the sweltering heat. Daniel and I arrived at the polling station at around 9am. Two booths had been set up at the Kaashidhoo School and voters queued peacefully under the shade of a tree in the school yard. Two policemen sat a few meters away from the voters.

Outside, both candidates had set up exit poll booths under wide parasols, and were crossing off people who had voted. The booths were also serving drinks to supporters.

Outside the polling booths we met Aisha Mohamed*, a skinny scarf-clad girl with a mole on her cheek, wielding a large Nikon camera. Aisha, 24, was a photographer, and supported the MDP. Her dream was to open a photography studio on Kaashidhoo.

“People have to go to Male’ to take passport photos for ID cards and passports. So we asked Jabir to invest in lighting equipment and he offered a partnership,” Aisha said.

“But when he changed parties, I did not want to vote for him. I cannot change my party like I change my clothes. So the investment fell through,” she said.

Aisha took us to a juice shop near the school, which served the popular Jugo juice, a cold fruity-flavored, sugary sweet milk-blend. The shop’s owner, Amjad* offered us free drinks and said he was serving free drinks to MDP supporters. When I asked him why, he said that Dhonbiley had invested in a deep freezer for the shop.

By midday, most of the island’s registered voters had cast their ballots. The streets were calm, an atmosphere of expectancy prevailed throughout the island. The police presence was palpable. Aisha, Daniel and I saw Jabir standing in view of the school near the island’s health centre. He said he was confident of a win but declined to comment further. Outside the health centre, Aisha introduced us to her eldest brother Ahmed Azeez*, 53, a JP supporter.

Azeez worked as a laborer at the health centre. He earned Rf 3000 (US$195) per month.

“I support Jabir because he gave my daughter return tickets to India for a medical trip and Rf 10,000 (US$650) for expenses. Since she was 11 years-old, she has had lesions on her skin. She is 24 now, and she has two children. We still haven’t found a cure,” he said. He also said he hadn’t been able to gain any assistance from the government’s free health-care scheme Aasandha.

Later Aisha told me when Jabir had been the MDP candidate she had contacted Jabir for the medical assistance.

“I asked my brother to vote for Dhonbiley. But he refused. But we could have gotten that assistance from Dhonbiley too,” she said.

* Names changed


21 thoughts on “Covering Kaashidhoo’s ‘buy-election’”

  1. Essentially the article proves that the election was peaceful and fair. Both parites did their best to win voters and, JP at the end won. And as far as I understand MDP has accepted the results. This artcle is hardly any news.

  2. i especially hate this zaheena charecter's news articles. full of MDP propegenda. now we know why. because they are welcomed by, dine with and paid by MDP. This article proves it.

  3. zaheena is back covering politics. She was spotted with MDP protests this time? Another biased article by a pro MDP supporter. What a grt way of reporting by minivan news

  4. "People do not accept MDP anymore. They are not religious."

    So, how religious is Gasim? Where does his money flow from? Directly as "Rizq" from Allah? The guy is full of shit! He grew fat on the sales of alcohol and pork, both forbidden in Islam and he calls MDP "not religious".
    Don't make me vomit.

  5. @suvarudheeb

    hell more relgious than animal anni. This is not minivan news. This is mdp-zionist-islamaphobe news. Its a shame people who claim muslims are advocating the idiot scheme. Oh well, there has to be some of you guys as well, otherwise we would all be blind, deaf and dumb.

  6. People do not accept..MDP...They accept only money ...i...phones etc.Democracy is Maldives will soon be a form of government 'for the rich of the rich and by the rich". Let them worship money and go to "Paradise" (island resort)

  7. A man should know everything about something and something about everything....Jabir knows everything about making money, like selling lolly as he is famous as Lolly Jabir...leaked audio also told the people jabir is a person of money-hungry.......yes, he may also know something about an MP...let's wait and see what he does for the people who elected him

  8. Some good does come from politics ! We see people like Jabir and Dhonbiley helping people out, in order to seek seats. Politicians should always work like this, helping the ordinary citizens who need aid. Cheers to both Jabir and Dhonbiley for their charitable work.

  9. Haters will be haters Zaheena. But this was an excellent piece. Well written and fair too. I don't think there is any room for people to accuse you of bias since you covered both sides of the story too. Well done and keep it up! 🙂

  10. As the saying goes 'put your money where your mouth is' these guys are doing the same. Politics is a dirty game can't play it without getting your fingers dirty!

  11. No doubt Minivan News is very much biased . Sometimes Coments which are Critical of MDP are not posting.

    Thank you for your interest in our commenting policy. Minivan News posts all comments that do not conflict with our commenting guidelines. On rare occasions some legitimate posts may be misfiled by our spam filter, which we review weekly. -Minivan News team

  12. Sheikh Imran thought Qasim was an Allah-fearing man because Imran is a narrow-minded scholar who only studied how to read and write Islamic teachings. Now we all understand that he requires to understand Islam

  13. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Hats off to the author who is putting into focus REAL PROBLEMS facing our society in these beautiful that we call home. The fact that these problems has been with us from as far back as any of us can remember should not make these problems more acceptable.

    Needless to say that these problems are not unique to our homeland and in this instance highlighted in Kashidhoo. This is a malaise (dare I say – a cancer!) that is ubiquitous, and takes different forms depending on which part of the world you research it in. Whether it is in Australia, China, Malaysia, India, Iran, Saudia, Italy, Germany, Moscow, Norway, UK or USA the cancer thrives as much a problem as in our own Kashidhoo. Each has its unique characteristics and presentation,

    Having highlighted the problem so admirably in this article, I waited with impatience and withheld breath expecting a writers “enlightenment” to shed light on how to tackle the cancer. Perhaps it would come in another piece and we wait with impatience.:-)

    I was happy for Ahmed Fazeel & his thalassaemic aunt, Shahid and friends enjoying coffee, petrol for motorbikes and phone credit, Mariam Sheeza with her 4 children who was able to dream of a better tomorrow, Aisha, Amjad and all those who enjoyed a freebie this election season. I was happy at the thought that maybe all 1700 got their Mrf 4000.

    It’s such a shame that elections are not held every month! It would be so great for all our brothers and sisters. Forget the fineries, at the end of the day it was a godsend for many. Alhamdulilahi! :-)!

    Last but not least the author is accused of MDP alignment; if that is true it gives me heart. That party we had so much of hope and confidence need desperately young people who can think.Young Minds that are willing to hear the people of this land and sensitive to the immense NEEDS of our people and their struggles day after day.

    Boy oh Boy! We have so much to pray for!

    Thank you and May Allah Bless you for remembering Fazeel, his aunt, Shahid, Sheeza, Aisha, Amjad, the youngsters who would give an arm for some kick and those 1700 brothers and sisters of ours. A lot of food for thought! Well done!

  14. Perhaps it would serve us well if we give our scholars a chance. Specially our religious scholars. Maybe being too hasty with regard to them might be pushing us towards hating something that’s really good for us. If that happens wouldn’t that be a shame? Think about it! 🙂

    Consider! What is a religious scholar striving for? In effect he is striving for us to remember Allah and His Messenger? For what? So that the Fazeels, Shahids, Sheezas, Aishas, Amjads are able to live their life in dignity, where their children are safe, and the family unit is free to thrive without fear of breakup and each member realising his or her true human potential without endangering the dignity of his/her brother and sister.

    Put into ~enlightened parlance~ wanting for your bro/sis what you want for yourself.

    So why do we hate our religious scholars? Listen to their words! DON’T JUDGE! Why? We all make horrible judges. Just love your bro/sis! We are human beings we all make mistakes, and is it so terrible that we remind each other of that? SURELY! 🙂 Just a thought!

  15. The richest guy in Maldives, having more than 30 islands is a politician having his own party & his party Vice President Jabir is the candidate, who too is a corrupted business Tycoon, every Maldivian knows.

    This man is tough & all corrupted.
    Ask any Maldivian, but why people do vote him ????

    Gasim & Jabir said we have proven that money plays & this is a true success story.
    We can buy the votes, we made contracts after paying them. It says, I confirm my commitment to work Jabir campaign for x amount.

    It's legal 🙁

    They just bought the people, make them swear upon wholly Quran & contracts too.
    The People are so poor that they have no choice & nobody can compete these business tycoons 🙁
    But MDP candidate took so much of Vote which I can't even believe.

    By the way, I too am a member of JUMHOORY party & I got money too, wid a similar contract.
    But i voted Haleem, because I believe this a Coup.

    May Allah Save this Wirld from Gasim, Jabir, Jagiya Nazim & from all these business corrupted people.

    Alhamdhu lillaahi

  16. @Milion. If What you said is true then you are a hypocrite. You are no better than Gasim or Jabir. Because you knew they were courrupt but you were beautifying their courruption to others by campaining them. You were feeding them more arrogance.You said you are from jumhooriy party, In that case they will get money from election comission every year on your behalf. So they can buy more people. Shall I tell you worst moving creatures? The worst moving creatures are 'two face' people. My friend , honorable people will not sell their faith, their self, their vote, their Country. They will stick on to the principle and values which they believe. They will reject bribes, neither intimidation, influence and threat affect them.


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