Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish
The parties contesting Saturday’s presidential run offs have held final campaign rallies focusing on Islam in Malé tonight.
The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) promoted itself as the only choice to preserve the Islamic faith and sovereignty of the Maldives and heavily criticised international pressure following delays in presidential polls.
“When you go to vote next Saturday, think for yourselves, do you want Islam in the Maldives or do you want to allow space for other religions in the Maldives,” PPM presidential candidate Yameen Abdul Gayoom said.
President of 30 years and Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, called on the Maldives to leave the Commonwealth after the organisation placed the Maldives on its formal agenda pending the conclusion of presidential polls.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), meanwhile, defended its track record on Islamic Affairs during its three year stint in government and described Saturday’s vote as a decision between progress or the torture of Maldives’ authoritarian past.
Criticising the PPM’s sustained negative campaign, MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed said: “In this long campaign, they have used Islam as a tool to play with Maldivian hearts. They are spreading lies in this country, describing us as irreligious, and saying there are those who will allow the opportunity for other religions in this country. I assure you, as long as we breathe, there will be no space for another religion in the Maldives.”
The MDP and PPM gained 46.93 and 29.73 percent of the vote respectively. The third placed Jumhoree Party with 23.34 percent decided to back the PPM on Wednesday.
Speakers at the PPM’s rally – held at Alimas Carnival – celebrated the alliance with the JP, praised President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan for staying in power beyond his term and condemned international criticism as undue interference in the Maldives’ domestic affairs.
Speaking to hundreds of supporters, Gayoom criticised foreign ambassadors’ pressure on Dr Waheed to hand over power to the People’s Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid at the end of the current presidential term on November 10.
Ambassadors without “any manners” had “disrespected” Waheed by “turning up unannounced 10–12 times in a single day” at the President’s Office, demanding appointments and pressuring the president to resign, Gayoom said.
An hour before the expiry of the presidential term, Waheed declared he would stay on as president until the conclusion of presidential polls on November 16, but left the country indefinitely tonight on a private visit to Singapore. The Finance Ministry today confirmed Waheed had withdrawn MVR 525,000 (US$34,000) from the treasury for a supposed state visit to Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Gayoom went on to censure the Commonwealth for interference in Maldives’ domestic affairs and called on a new president-elect to “take steps to leave the Commonwealth.”
Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim said the Maldives was at present in a “vulnerable state” due to foreign interference and slammed the international community for pressuring Dr Waheed to hand over power to the Speaker.
He also called on the police and military to vote for Yameen.
JP leader Qasim Ibrahim accused the international community of backing a specific candidate in order to dictate the Maldives’ domestic policies. He also criticised at length Nasheed’s privatisation policies, particularly the decision to grant Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to India’s infrastructure giant GMR.
Dr Waheed declared the concession agreement void in November 2012.
“My appeal to you, to anyone I have helped, I am not asking for payment in kind, but save this Ummah. I am begging you to vote for Yameen,” Gasim said.
MDP’s final campaign rally
Speaking at the final campaign rally to a crowd of around 6000, Nasheed expressed confidence that “a government of the people will be established next Saturday.”
The new government will “fulfill your hopes, work for the people, provide social security, develop the economy at a rapid pace, increase the country’s finances and treasury again, and establish justice and fairness once again,” the MDP presidential candidate said.
“We didn’t hear anywhere, on any island, what PPM would do for this country. Their pledges were not budgeted or costed,” he said.
As Islam was “accorded the highest place in the hearts of Maldivians,” Nasheed said his opponents “used Islam as a weapon” to slander MDP with the label of “laadheenee” (irreligious or secular).
“I assure you, God willing, there will not be any room for another religion in this country as long as we draw breath,” he said.
Nasheed highlighted to the MDP government’s track record on Islamic affairs, which saw the formation of an Islamic Ministry and a Fiqh academy as well as the opening of an Islamic Bank.
“I had the good fortune of being the [Islamic] Bank’s first customer,” he said.
The MDP government also secured foreign financial assistance to upgrade the Faculty of Shariah and Law, constructed a new building for the Arabiyya School and trained Quran and Islam teachers to fill 150 vacancies in schools, Nasheed continued.
On the third day of the MDP government, Nasheed said, the government authorised scholars to deliver their own Friday sermons, which were previously “written only by President Maumoon and [former Chief Justice] Sheikh [Mohamed] Rasheed.”
“As you know, before our government, these scholars were in shackles in solitary confinement,” he said, adding that the MDP government secured the right for religious scholars to preach without fear of persecution.
While 55 mosques were built in the 30-year reign of President Gayoom, Nasheed said 42 mosques were built during the MDP’s three years in government.
The 96,000 votes that the MDP won in the first round was proof that the allegations of “secularism” were not damaging to the party, Nasheed said.
However, the persistent allegations were creating doubts in the minds of younger generation, he contended.
The MDP’s policies for the next five years included training 300 Quran teachers to first degree level, conducting an international Islamic conference with renowned foreign scholars and the construction of an “Islamic Knowledge Centre” with a library, lecture halls, and a mosque with a capacity of 500 worshippers.
Nasheed went on to say that the goal of the MDP was seeking “the proud Maldivian” who can stand tall and provide for his family through honest work.
The MDP government would “build a completely new nationhood based on Islam, human rights, social security and economic opportunity,” he said.
The government would secure a better income for fishermen and promote mariculture, he said.
Nasheed pledged to provide housing to every applicant of the MDP government’s flagship “Veshi Fahi Male'” de-congestion programme.
Nasheed also vowed to reform the judiciary for the public to have confidence in the justice system and Maldivian courts.
Referring to the MDP government’s “Second Chance” programme, Nasheed said he would not forget “youth languishing in jails.”
“Our country is at a crossroads, on the edge of a razor blade. We can reach a safe shore or go down the path of ruin. I am certain that the people of the Maldives will choose saving the country. I know the the Maldivian people will want a prosperous life. I am certain that the Maldivian people will want once again for a Maldivian Democratic Party government to be formed, for social security, for a better way,” he concluded.
Speaking at tonight’s rally, former Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari – who joined MDP today – said there were more than 300 religious scholars in the Maldives and many supported MDP. Bari also praised MDP’s “landmark” Islamic policies.
Meanwhile, JP Council Member Moosa Rameez said he had decided to back Nasheed against his party’s decision not because he did not love Gasim. Rameez recounted security officers invoking God’s name when they beat him in his genitals and said he could not support a return to 30 years of torture.