Police are urging caution within the rhetoric used by the country’s politicians amidst concerns that numerous “small” clashes between followers of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in recent days could escalate into major violence.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that a number of violent clashes between apparent supporters of the MDP and DRP had been brought under control by police recently, including confrontations on Kaandehdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll yesterday following the arrival of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Gayoom, who is also the honorary leader of the DRP, was said to not have been caught up in the confrontations, according to party representatives.
However, the attacks have led to claims from prominent DRP MPs such as Ahmed Mahloof that a small number of their counterparts within the MDP deliberately incited their own supporters to injure opposition party members. Mahloof claimed that there was also video evidence to prove support his claims, although the MDP has denied any of its members were involved in encouraging the violence.
Sub-Inspector Shiyam said that no arrests had been made following the clashes on Kaandehdhoo, which lasted “a few hours”, and that injuries recorded as a result of the confrontations were not thought to have been serious, however he said that similar violence in recent days had affected power supplies on some islands.
Shiyam said that the police service was not blaming any individual political party for the apparent outbursts, but conceded there had been a number of cases of violent confrontations, particularly between MDP and DRP supporters of late ahead of next month’s local council elections.
“We would call on the leaders of political parties to ensure they have control of their people,” he said. “They have to be aware that small clashes can turn into big confrontations.”
Upon arriving on Kaandehdhoo yesterday along with Gayoom and former DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, Mahloof claimed that around 200 MDP supporters had shown up to protest alongside supporters of the opposition party.
“We understand that MDP supporters want to come out and raise their voices, but we cannot accept violence,” he said. “They [MDP supporters] attacked Umar Naseer and I have two broken fingers.”
Mahloof claimed that the trouble started when Gayoom had arrived on the island as part of his campaign strategy for the upcoming local council elections, before MDP supporters began to move towards where the former president was staying.
This movement was thought to have led to confrontations between rival supporters, sparking the violence that followed.
“Mr Gayoom himself didn’t see anything,” he said.
Mahloof alleged that MDP MPs Mohamed Qasam and Mohamed Nazim were involved in directly inciting the violence that took place on the island and that he had video proof to support his claims and would be consulting police over the issue.
“We are saddened to say that the MPs arrived with a group of thugs,” he claimed. “These are people who should try and do things in a democratic way.”
Ultimately, Mahloof said that although clashes between supporters had begun before Gayoom’s arrival on the island, the DRP were not a violent party and he himself did not want to encourage any further attacks from its supporters in the run up to the local council elections and beyond.
However, he suggested that there was only so much some supporters may be willing to take.
“We hope that the MDP leaders and the president will discourage supporters from again planning to attack us,” Mahloof claimed. “There are so many people who would be willing to die for Mr Gayoom.”
Allegations that MDP MPs were directly involved in the violent confrontations were strongly denied by party spokesperson Ahmed Haleem, who claimed that he was certain that Gasam and Nazim would not have supported attacking opposition members.
“They are going to talk with supporters and try to encourage non-violence within the party,” he said. “They are responsible MPs.”
Haleem claimed that the DRP was itself always trying to “put the finger of blame” on the MDP to try and insinuate there was violence within the party.
However, the MDP spokesperson alleged that it was the development of factions within the DRP between supporters of current leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and former head Gayoom that was leading to a number of violent confrontations during the election campaign.
“The DRP have been responsible for violent acts against Thasmeen from within Gayoom’s faction of the party,” he claimed. “The MDP is not a party of violence.”