In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting interviews with incumbent MPs.
All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.
Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed represents the Nolhivaram constituency and is currently interim leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).
Daniel Bosley: What made you enter the political arena and how?
Mohamed Nasheed: During the 2004 reform movement, I was actually a columnist in Minivan Daily and that column was very popular among the readers – I was writing a political column called ‘shoot’, [which means] something like new beginning. When there was a vacancy in the the People’s Special Majlis – when Mr Ibra Ismail resigned – to go to the parliament, I was asked to run in the by-election. That was in late 2004, early 2005.
DB: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?
MN: I have almost one hundred percent attendance and I’m happy with what we have achieved in this parliament because, despite this is a hung parliament, and politically divided, and even though we are sitting with MPs who are not qualified to do some sort of legislatures we were able to actually involve them and get something out from this. I am quite happy with what we have got and with what we have achieved.
DB: What are the main committees you worked on? What particular bills did you focus on?
MN: I’m actually in a committee where no bills are going – I’m in the Public Accounts Committee, and I’m also the chair of the Petitions Committee.
DB: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?
MN: The biggest achievement is the tax regime. We have changed the whole system and now that people are aware about the taxes even though we have not finished all these bills, still we can get good revenue through tax. That’s one good achievement and also one big achievement is the penal code. Even though it’s still in the committee, before the end of this term we will be able to make it as a law. There are a few small things that we need to scrutinise, fine tune.
DB: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your political career? Why?
MN: Biggest mistake is the Supreme Court – definitely. I’m not saying that all the justices are not perfect, but the way we did it is not good. There was political will that day and everyone was awake at midnight and we passed a bill, and we amended that bill the same day, and the same day the president [Mohamed Nasheed] again gazetted it and published it. That was selected to the Supreme Court and we could have – if we had more time, if we had more compromise – we could have achieved a better Supreme Court with democratic fundamentals.
Today what I feel is that the Supreme Court as a whole is lacking the democratic fundamentals. They might even charge me with contempt of court for making this statement.
DB: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR20,000? Why or why not?
MN: What I believe is that People’s Majlis salary is fine, but at the same time what I believe is that civil servant salaries are very very low. So, we need to have an efficient civil service in order to minimise the number of people serving in the civil service. I mean we need to have multi-tasked people, we need to have technology and thereby we have fewer staffs and we can give them better salaries.
DB: But the committee allowance for MPs, is that something you’ve been taking?
MN: Yes and no.
DB: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?
MN: I think it’s good – then corruption and some misconduct could be minimised. We can’t totally get rid of these things, but we can minimise these things.
DB: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? Why? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?
MN: Yes. I had a second thought that I would not run for the parliament because this is my ninth year in public office, so I thought I would not run. But when I see some of the candidates who are running – some people who are running for party primaries in some parties – I think it’s my moral obligation to be in the parliament.
Otherwise, I feel that our parliament might lack intellectual people and parliament might lack sensible people. When we don’t have sensible and intellectual people in our parliament, we can’t have sensible laws and we will have bias. Now, we can’t see through pink-painted glass or yellow-painted glass, we have see through see-through glass – then only can we see it clearly.
DB: What do you think the DRP’s role will be in the next five years?
MN: DRP is all the time declining because after President [Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom left, we had a rough time, and just after the 2013 presidential election out leader Thasmeen Ali had also left the party. Now I’m working as the interim leader, but what we are trying to do is salvage this thing from the storm, and right now we have achieved a lot of milestones.
What I believe is that we are the third biggest party in the Maldives and we have our organs, our island branches functioning, and we have our grassroots support. The thing is that, in Malé, we are very low – and all the political activity happens in Malé. But if you want to have a rally in an island or an atoll, it will be easy for us. So we have to build everything from scratch.
I can see that the DRP is the only party with an ideology because PPM [Progressive Party of Maldives] is President Gayoom’s party and everybody knows that, and MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] is MDP’s party and everybody knows that. Definitely, you have to ask the question with JP [Jumhooree Party] – JP means Gasim, Gasim means JP. Sun Travel Shiyam’s party [Maldivian Development Alliance] – we don’t know the name of the party.
In time there will be about six parties and the only party with an ideology is Adhaalath, but because of the scholars and because they are using religion as a political tool, people have lost faith in these scholars. So, DRP is the only party with an ideology.
DB: What improvements do you feel the 18th Majlis will need to make to improve as an institution?
MN: We need to elect educated people. We need to elect people with experience. If we elect a bunch of uneducated people, irrational people, to the parliament, it’s very difficult to work with these kinds of people. Sometimes when we stay overnight and build a lot of hard work on the budget, some might come and mess up the place for all the wrong reasons. We can’t entertain these things – for the last nine years we have been entertaining these things. We need calm, we need to go forward in order to achieve something in the parliament as well.
I believe in the 17th parliament we have done a lot but if we can get more educated people there, they will behave properly and they will achieve something. They will at least have some sense of responsibility – the problem is that they don’t have any sense of responsibility.
DB: What are your thoughts on party switching? Do you think it undermines the party system?
MN: I have switched my party – I feel that because we are a very young democracy, we don’t have parties with political ideologies, this is the main reason that we switch parties. Back in 2004, as a young person, I wanted President Gayoom to go and that a new president should come but still between President Yameen and President Nasheed, I’d choose President Nasheed because I think he is a dynamic and energetic person who can change everything here in the Maldives.
What I feel is that all these systems are hijacked by a few individuals and people like me with ambition and who want to achieve bigger political portfolios, we don’t have the space to move around. In time to come there will be two or three parties – I believe that will be PPM, MDP, and DRP – other parties will vanish.