In the months leading to the September 7 presidential election, the streets of Maldives have erupted into a mosaic of party banners, with posters, flags, banners, and graffiti decorating every street corner.
While it may seem to an onlooker that the amount of material each party has placed around the country represents the amount of public support they enjoy, some volunteers putting up the decorations suggest another side to the story.
Party supporters are largely responsible for the colourful displays, but some parties are accused of spending thousands on hiring groups to help them keep up with the campaign craze, oftentimes spending large funds on the process.
“Doing it for democracy”
“We’re doing this for democracy. We don’t want any money or incentives for this. All we want is an elected government that cares about the people”, one group of young graffiti artists painting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) themed artwork in their neighbourhood told Minivan News.
“The thing is, if we don’t get involved and try to guarantee a better life for ourselves, why would anyone else bother? I’m all for MDP, especially after the rest of the political lot brought about the coup d’etat. That is the ultimate shove of their boot against the people, a blatant admission from the ‘baaghees’ that they have no respect or concern for the common man,” said Ahmed Affan, a 26 year old man, an accountant who volunteers in his free time with a team hoisting MDP flags across the streets of Male’.
Another 23 year old volunteer who frequents MDP campaign offices during his free time to help out with banner and t-shirt printing explained his own motivations: “With the best manifesto and policies, I want MDP to win of course, I volunteer to help as I believe our artwork and ideas would get the message across in additional ways to the public and help gather more support.”
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) teams also told Minivan News that they were voluntarily engaging in campaign decorating.
“It’s ‘Zaeem’ [Supreme leader – referring to former President and Leader of PPM Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] who has done the most for our poor country. We will do whatever he wants of us. We are determined to have our candidate [Abdulla Yameen – half brother of Gayoom] have a clear win in the election, and we are spreading this message to as many people as possible,” said a 37 year old man hoisting PPM flags and putting up posters down a street in Galolhu.
One team of PPM volunteers refused to speak with Minivan News, stating, “Our leadership refuses to speak to you, and that means we have nothing to say to you either.”
“Heartfelt support” vs “just for the money”
Aishath Zubaira, a 63 year old supporter of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who has posters of her preferred candidate on the walls of her residence, says she supports him “with heart and soul”.
While Minivan News spoke with two different groups streaming the streets with strings of small ‘Forward with the Nation’ coalition flags, they had contradicting reasons for doing so.
“Waheed’s a capable man, and the majority of his supporters are mature and, well, kind of elderly to be honest. There are few young people like us who are aware of just how much Waheed can do for this country, so we need to come out and help make him more popular,” said a 43 year old volunteer, holding a dozen or so rolled up posters sporting photos of Waheed with his running mate, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.
Another man who appeared to be in his late twenties, who introduced himself as “Issey”, put up posters and distributed copies of the coalition’s manifesto. “It doesn’t matter which candidate’s campaigning I am doing, it’s not even like these ugly flags and photos will make a difference for any party,” he said.
“I sometimes even go with the Jumhooree Party guys. Point is, this is an excellent time to make some money on the side and I’m going to make the best use of it. But then, I know who I’m voting for and no one’s got any business asking me who it is.”
“They spend like crazy, we earn like crazy”
A 31 year-old man working at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) told Minivan News – on condition of anonymity – that he works in one of Jumhooree Party (JP) coalition’s campaign teams of six to ten persons each.
“When we finish putting up the strings of flags across a street, we need to ring a number that the party has given us. Then a party official will turn up with a file which has information on when and where the teams are active. They will put a tick confirming the job is done and pay us in cash on the spot. We get about MVR 3000 (US$195) a night on average,” he explained.
“Some teams wait a while after the official has left and then cut off the recently hung flags, thereby allowing some other team to earn from the same street a few days later. It’s probably not right, but well, the politicians spend like crazy when elections near, and so us lucky folks earn like crazy.”
Another young volunteer laughed when asked for his reason for being so actively involved in campaign activity, “Every JP graffiti artwork that goes up is a job done for about MVR 10,000 (US$650). We’re economizing the situation when there is a demand for skills like ours. Nothing wrong with that, eh?”
According to local media reports, Police have arrested at least eight people for cutting off lines of flags of various political parties in late August, though police media officials were not responding to calls at the time of press for confirmation.
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