State broadcaster Television Maldives on Sunday aired a live question and answer session with the four candidates contesting the September 7 presidential election.
Moderator Heena Waleed stated that the questions asked – concerning education, health and economy, development and social protection – were based on a survey done by the Maldives National University (MNU) on citizens’ concerns.
The candidates included Gasim Ibrahim representing the Jumhoree Coalition – consisting of the Jumhoree Party (JP), Adhaalath Party (AP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and former PPM interim deputy president Umar Naseer and supporters, President Mohamed Waheed contesting as an independent candidate in coalition with the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) coalition, Abdulla Yameen representing the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) coalition, and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed.
TVM also held a running mates’ debate on August 26.
In their introductory statements Gasim, Waheed and Yameen spoke of the “deteriorating standard of living, torn up social fabric and the lack of peace and unity”, pledging to rectify these issues if elected.
Waheed said that he had assumed power in very dangerous times – referring to 7 February 2012’s controversial transfer of power – “I will remain a faithful leader,” he pledged.
Nasheed focused on reiterating the policies covered in MDP’s “Costed and Budgeted” manifesto, which was released on August 24.
The first question posed concerned what changes would be brought to the education system, with the host claiming that many citizens felt that while the country followed the UK system, other South Asian countries had “far better systems with a higher pass percentages”. This was followed by asking how the candidates planned to increase the number of people interested to pursue a career in teaching.
All candidates spoke of making arrangements to allow teachers to work on their islands of origin, to provide accommodation, and of introducing or continuing vocational technical training and higher education opportunities.
The three candidates from the current government’s unity coalition also emphasised that building interest in the field depended on how much financial and other incentives can be offered, pledging to increase them.
Gasim added that he will introduce Islam, Dhivehi and Quran as subjects, although all three are already taught in primary and secondary schools. He also said that all students in and above Grade 8 will be given a laptop and an internet connection under his government.
Nasheed spoke of his previous three years in office, noting that he had introduced single sessions for 150 schools, built 243 classrooms, and worked towards increasing the the number of students who passed at least five subjects in GCE O’Level examinations. He said that if elected, his administration will continue these efforts while also training educators to conduct multi-grade teaching.
Candidates were asked to name three steps that could be taken immediately to strengthen the country’s weakened economic status.
Gasim spoke of decreasing the deficit and establishing a tax system.
Waheed highlighted the importance of broadening existing industries, claiming that he was currently holding discussions with foreign bodies to introduce new industries including financial and ICT services.
He also claimed that he had brought down the budget deficit from 14 percent to 5 percent.
Yameen spoke of increasing investor confidence and establishing special courts to look into cases of concern for the investors. He added that fishermen would be given “a monthly salary of MVR 10,000 (US$650) whether they catch fish or not.”
“In the first two years we will make the budget zero or completely get rid of deficit. In the remaining three years there will be a budget surplus,” Yameen stated.
Nasheed stated that his party’s aim is to decrease the difference between the rich and the poor, adding that this can be achieved through setting up a solid tax system.
“It is very important to decrease debt. Although Waheed just claimed otherwise, our economic situation has been deteriorating ever since he brought about the coup d’etat. Debt is at 82 percent of GDP, there is a huge deficit, inflation is extremely high,” Nasheed retorted, adding that an MDP government would work to bring all of this back into balance again.
While all spoke of how the difficulty of getting foreign currency in the country could be addressed through increasing foreign investment, Nasheed alleged that investors are reluctant to invest in the Maldives “after the coup d’etat and the harassment of investors following it, including sending our investors without any justification”.
Waheed responded by saying that “It is ridiculous to claim we are not getting foreign investments now. They are very eagerly coming, even more now. One example of a great investor that I brought in recently is BlackStone.”
The US private equity firm bought both Maldivian seaplane operators, Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) and Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT), in February 2013 for an undisclosed sum.
Cost of living
All candidates pledged to establish sewerage and water systems on all islands.
Asked about policies focused on permanently reducing costs of electricity, Waheed and Nasheed spoke of increasing the use of renewable energy.
“While some people spend time acting in movies with the pretence of ‘protecting environment’ and managed to make no more than US$11 million available for renewable energy, in the past one and a half years I have raised US$200 million. I will make 30 islands run 100 percent on solar energy in the next two to three years,” Waheed claimed, referring to Nasheed’s documentary, the Island President, filmed while Waheed was serving as Vice President in Nasheed’s administration.
Gasim also spoke of introducing solar energy, promising to “create power stations and then connect them with a grid through submarine cables or something like this. In order to bring down electricity prices, we will maintain the same price countrywide for wheat flour, rice and sugar”.
All candidates except Nasheed spoke of establishing centres to care for the elderly. Nasheed’s proposal is to continue offering a pension to the elderly.
“I plan to build rehabilitation centres for the elderly in the atolls, which can be managed with the cooperation of the community. The problem of elderly or of health can be dealt with through a sustainable insurance scheme,” Yameen said.
Gasim said: “As Muslims, we see parents taking care of children, treating them like [the apple of their] eye. And we should return this care when parents grow old. Our manifesto also says we will provide health care through insurance or something so I have no worries about that,” Gasim stated.
Waheed, meanwhile, pledged to increase the current monthly allowance to the elderly of MVR 2300 to MVR 3500, while Yameen said he will increase it to MVR 5000.
Waheed was mainly asked how much independence should be granted to the judiciary, to which he responded, “I don’t think that in the history of the Maldives, except in the past year and a half, there has been a single president who did not meddle with the judiciary. I have never done so, and I never will.”
“I have done as much work as anyone else here to bring democracy and I will protect it. But differing opinions can’t be an excuse to commit arson and murder. A lot of people even accused me of not wanting to hold elections, but look, we are having elections soon. I will remain a faithful leader,” Waheed stated.
Responding to a question on what assistance would be provided to pre-schools if he was elected, Yameen said he would ensure that pre-schools stop charging fees.
“An elected president must be someone who will spend all day, every day thinking about nothing but the country’s economy,” he ended.
Gasim, asked about corruption and gang violence, among other topics, focused mostly on reviewing existing laws. He said he is of the opinion that corruption is lower in the private sector, adding that salary increments for government posts could be a possible solution.
He also said that gang crimes can be dealt with by introducing legal frameworks into the school curriculum and offering rehabilitation to gang members, while better implementing legal action against gang crimes.
“I will do all possible to make Maldives into a country like Singapore or Dubai,” was Gasim’s concluding statement.
Questions posed to Nasheed were regardingthe high level of corruption, separation of powers, and concerns that political activity and its broad media coverage has decreased national unity.
“Some people feel that remaining behind an authoritative leader without asking questions is unity. But in the new constitution we adopted, there has to be differences in opinion. We must be able to conduct freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” Nasheed began.
“Our aim was to expose and reveal all corruption cases that we discovered. This led to the illusion that corruption increased. However, after the coup, we have not seen the audit of the coup regime’s spending, nor has the corruption index been publicized. We will govern with transparency.”
He ended saying that Maldives needs to rid itself of its culture of coup d’etats, adding “we see the situation the people that called themselves “the unity government” is in now. The insults they hurl at each other are far harsher.”
Nasheed closed the show criticising his opponents for the lack of projects completed in the past one and a half years, while saying, “the people of Maldives are aware that the competitors are “baaghee” [traitor] who are part of a coup regime. The people want governments to change through votes. The people will no longer give a chance to those who flee at every sign of political turmoil.”
Watch the debate: