Former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed has called on tourism workers to strike, should run-off elections scheduled for September 28 be delayed.
Following Nasheed’s appeal, the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries (MATI) issued a statement warning of “irreparable consequences” to the Maldivian economy unless the election is expedited.
“It is absolutely important to expedite the election and settle the issue or else there would be irreparable consequences to the Maldives, and especially to tourism which is the back bone of the economy. Therefore, it is important for everyone to see the importance of this in the interest of the country at large,” said MATI Chairman M.U. Manik, one of pioneers of the country’s 40 year-old tourism industry.
The Supreme Court ordered the Elections Commission (EC) on Monday to indefinitely postpone run-off polls until it issues a verdict in an ongoing case filed by the Jumhooree Party, which placed third and is now seeking to annul the vote.
Nasheed emerged as the front runner in the first round of the polls with 45.45 percent (95,224 votes), followed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen who received 25.35 percent (53,099 votes). JP candidate and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim narrowly missed out on the run-off with 24.07 percent (50,422), and contested the results at the Supreme Court alleging electoral fraud despite unanimous positive assessments of polls by local and international election observers.
“I call on tourist workers to strike if there is no election on Saturday. For everyone to strike. There is an election scheduled on Saturday – whether that election happens or not is in one sense in your hands and mine,” Nasheed told tourism workers, at an event on Monday evening to explain the party’s manifesto.
Secretary General of the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM), Mauroof Zakir, told Minivan News the organisation was holding discussions on whether to endorse Nasheed’s call.
“We are discussing whether TEAM as an organisation will back [Nasheed’s] call or leave it up to individual resort workers. We have to think about the consequences on employees’ jobs. Many resort workers are calling us and are saying they are willing to go on strike, but in such a way that resorts continue to operate,” Mauroof said.
The tourism industry is indirectly responsible for upwards of 70 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, and a substantial majority of Maldivian resort workers support the MDP.
Results from resort ballot boxes in the first round revealed overwhelming support for the party, even at many properties owned by Nasheed’s political opponents such as Vice President Waheed Deen’s Bandos Island Resort (51 percent MDP).
The trend was particularly notable at prominent international chains in the luxury tourism sector, famous for providing relaxing and idyllic escapes for honeymooners, including Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa (58 percent MDP), Dusit Thaani Maldives (73 percent MDP), Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort (62 percent MDP), and One and Only Reethi Rah (75 percent MDP).
Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has meanwhile told local media he will not allow politicians to sacrifice the tourism industry and its workers, and appealed to staff not to strike.
“They plan and involve the tourism industry every time there is political turmoil, every time things do not happen as they want. They called for a tourism boycott in international media. There were effects from that. We are seeing the same thing now. We cannot allow any politician to involve the tourism industry in politics. We cannot allow politicians to sacrifice the tourism industry and its workers every time things are politically turbulent,” he told newspaper Haveeru.
The Supreme Court will be hearing closing arguments this evening.