The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that the momentum behind an ongoing series of protests against the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan remains undiminished as its supporters await the outcome of increased Commonwealth pressure on the new administration.
In the latest round of protests yesterday, the party estimates that 6,000 people took part in a peaceful march around the capital passing several major streets and landmarks such as Majeedhee Magu, Sosun Magu, the People’s Majlis and Fareedhee Magu before returning to the party’s protest area. Police confirmed to Minivan News that no major disturbances or arrests were made by its officers during the march, which began yesterday afternoon at 4.00pm.
The government has responded that yesterday’s demonstration was not an official protest called by the MDP and instead represented followers of former President Mohamed Nasheed – who is affiliated with the party. The government said that the demonstration was not therefore seen as a “major issue”.
Since the controversial transfer of power in February that saw President Waheed succeed Mohamed Nasheed in office, MDP supporters have been linked with both peaceful protest action and violent clashes against police over claims security forces had been part of an alleged “coup d’etat” to remove Nasheed from office.
MDP Women’s Wing spokesperson Aishath Aniya told Miniva News that yesterday’s march, which began from the Usfangandu area, was devised to call on the government to take heed of the Commonwealth’s calls for early elections this year. The demonstration’s organisers have said that protesters also called on the president to consider the ramifications of potential expulsion from the Commonwealth unless a more “credible” and “impartial” commission is established to review the circumstances that brought the government to power earlier this year.
“While we can’t say what exact economic impacts there will be. We will lose participation in many scholarships, art and development projects if the Commonwealth removes us,” she said. “We have been in the Commonwealth for over 29 years and have been offered many opportunities internationally such as participation in the Commonwealth Games.”
While the number of participants attending yesterday’s march was reportedly down from those taking part in a similar protest held in the capital last week, Aniya said she believed that the number of anti-government protesters had remained consistent.
“I don’t see the numbers of protesters decreasing, though [turnout] does depend on the time and place of demonstrations,” she said. “We would obviously get a lot less protesters during school hours.”
Aniya claimed that from her experience, during instances where former President Mohamed Nasheed was in attendance, larger numbers of people had been found to attend demonstrations.
The Women’s Wing spokesperson added that there was “tremendous pressure” among its members at the moment to mobilise demonstrations at various events attended by the new president around the capital and the wider country.
“We are informed that our members often wish to be there to protest and shout Baghee Waheed [at the president],” she said.
Aniya said she was unable at present though to disclose any future dates or plans for protests of which a “huge number” of people were wanting to take part.
“ We have to be careful though as many people are sitting their A-level examinations right now, we don’t want to be encouraging large amounts of noise that may disturb them. We also do not want people getting arrested or injured by police,” she claimed. “We have two weeks left before the next Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) review. I’m sure there will be more protests before this, but we don’t want to disclose the frequency of them.”
After several demonstrations have been conducted in the capital during the last two weeks, Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that there had been “no problems” regarding disturbances or arrests during yesterday’s demonstrations.
“One thing you will see is that the MDP do not provoke police,” she said.
Aniya added that the party continued to allege that police had abused their powers in certain cases over the last few months in regards to the treatment of anti-government protesters. However, she believed increased international pressure on the government had appeared to ensure demonstrations were conducted much more peacefully.
“We protest as peacefully as we can, mostly by trying to stay away from police as much as possible. The High Court has also outlined where we cant assemble, so we walk around these areas instead,” she said.
Aniya alleged that previous reports of anti-government protesters violently attacking police and throwing projectiles had been the result of government aligned parties using young people to infiltrate MDP’s protests. It was these infiltrators, she claimed, that were often responsible for violent acts that provoked police to use force against them.
Aniya accepted that police officers in the present political environment were often put in a “very difficult” situation due to allegations that some key figures in the service had involvement in deposing former President Nasheed in the run up to his controversial “resignation”.
President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News that from a government perspective, recent demonstrations like yesterday’s march were not a serious issue for President Waheed as they did not officially represent the wider views of the now opposition MDP.
“The protests were themselves called by former President Nasheed and are not an issue for us. Any MDP protests should be called from the party’s national council representation,” he said.
Minivan News also questioned the President’s Office on the reportedly peaceful nature of the recent demonstrations. Abbas responded that the lack of clashes with police appeared to show that the party had begun to move away from “violent factions” in its organisation that he claimed were linked to the former president.