Delegates travelling to Male’ to vote in the third congress of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) “were bought before they even got here”, claimed Dr Faathin Hameed, one of the DRP’s formative members and niece of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the party’s Honorary Leader.
Faathin alleged the elections held during the party’s congress “were not free and fair”, because the island-level elections of delegates were compromised by vested interests.
“There were a lot of complaints from the islands lodged directly at the DRP office,” Faathin said. “I made a point of writing to the committee in charge of the congress, headed by the [Parliamentary] Speaker Abdulla Shahid, reporting the complaints I was receiving and requesting action in order to ensure a transparent, free and fair democratic process.”
Members complained they were deliberately excluded from participating in island-level meetings, that island-level meetings were not announced or held in secrecy, that agendas were not announced in advance and that candidates were not given the opportunity to put themselves forward. There were also disputes over vote counting.
“There is a procedure for electing delegates,” Faathin explained. “At least 48 hours notice must be given to all DRP members on the island; the date, venue and agenda have to be publicly announced, along with the number of delegates to be elected; and members have to be given fair and equal opportunity to submit their names. This procedure was not followed, and on some islands DRP members did not even know the meeting was being held.
“I was involved in the formative meeting of the party and in each of the three congresses, and in each one these the issue of delegate elections has been very problematic.”
In the absence of party procedure, Faathin claimed “there were delegations from Male’ who went to the islands to ‘assist’ in holding the elections – teams sent by people with vested interests.”
She claimed the DRP’s “failure to fund its grassroot groups” had made the party dependent on outside financial support at the island-level.
“It costs about Rf1000 just to hold a meeting [to elect] a delegate,” she explained. “Renting the hall, the speaker system, the chairs – it is usually funded by a well-to-do person on the island or externally (from Male’) by an ‘interested’ person.”
Furthermore the party did not adequately provide for the logistics of bringing so many delegates to Male for the three day congress, Faathin explained.
“It’s an expensive thing to come and stay in Male’ for three days,” she said, “and the party said it did not have funding. Congress participation was structured so that every delegate got Rf600, for three and a half days, which is not enough for accommodation and food. The transport cost was also supposed to be paid by the delegate, to be refunded by the party when they got to Male’, but again some people don’t have that sort of [upfront] money to buy an Island Aviation ticket or get on the boat.”
The delegates from the islands were thus “dependent on handouts”, Faathin explained.
“The party was considering limiting the number of delegates. But then it got ‘well-wishers’ who were willing to fund delegates travelling from certain atolls. That structure led to delegates depending on any handouts that were given.”
When delegates arrived at the congress, Faathin said, “they were met by certain candidates’ campaign groups, taken to their campaign headquarters and given tea and the handout. Almost all delegates got that.”
Guest houses were “also booked in advance by these campaign offices, and gifted to delegation leaders and key delegations. You’re looking at an influx 800 people, and no way can that number be easily accommodated – people who arrived in Male’ at the last minute were running around trying to find accommodation.”
Faathin was one of eight candidates for the DRP’s four deputy leader positions. The new vice presidents were Ibrahim Shareef (642 votes), MP Ali Waheed (645 votes), MP Ahmed Ilham (593 votes) and Umar Naseer, former president of the Islamic Democratic Party (502 votes).
The other candidates were Abdullah Mausoom (383 votes), Afrashim Ali (288 votes), Mohamed Saleem (239 votes) and Faathin, with 210 votes.
Faathin acknowledged she would likely face accusations of being a ‘sore loser’, “but the issues I am raising are not related to my winning or losing. I raised these same issues in writing much earlier, at the beginning of February when we started getting complaints. I have no issue with the vote counting, I believe it was done in a very proper way.”
Of primary concern
More important than the alleged rigging of the election process, Faathin stated, “was the then-council trying to undemocratically influence delegate voting on amendments to party regulations, particularly around the issue of [holding] primaries for the election of the party’s presidential candidate.”
She criticised the DRP council’s decision to appoint a three member committee to review amendments and make official recommendations, noting that one of these members was a rival candidate for the deputy leadership.
“There was ample opportunity for sabotage and the council really scuttled my candidacy,” she claimed.
“I myself submitted six major amendments, all of which were targeted at making the party’s internal processes more democractic, more transparent and make the DRP more accountable to its members,” she said. “I also focused on reversing the neglect of the island wings by the party’s leadership.
“The official congress paper on amendments circulated to all delegates contained the council’s directive on each amendment proposed by an individual member. On each amendment to be voted on there was a paragraph on how the council felt about the amendment,” she said.
“This is what every delegate was looking at when voting. What do you think the delegate is going to be thinking? Vote against the party leader?”
“Each delegate got that council paper the night before the congress began. The next day a lot of us protested, and a motion was even put forward that this paper be discarded and reprinted without the council recommendations, so that fair chance might given to us to present our reasoning. But the chair (Abdullah Shahid) ruled this could not be done because there was no space for motions.
“The party’s regulations say any party member can put forward a motion at the congress. It was very upsetting – this type of thing is detrimental to the whole party.”
Need for internal democracy
Faathin said she felt the outcome of the congress was “very negative”, as beyond the elections “we lost the chance to fully democratise the party.”
“I believe [democratisation] is very important if we are going to be competitive in the upcoming presidential elections,” she said. “The leadership has to be elected through a democratic process. It is not democratic to have an automatic process [of selecting a presidential candidate]. That’s an autocratic way of looking at it and one that this country has outgrown.”
“The voter base for any party to win the elections is not only its members – the members can be very loyal to the party but they are only about 30,000 strong. To win, we need the support of sympathisers and people who believe in what the party stands for. Without showing internal democracy and strength in that respect, it will be very difficult to win any election.”
Faathin said she feared the lack of internal democracy and focus on parliament at the expense of the party’s wings would alienate the party’s professional support base and lead to “dissatisfaction at the grassroots level.”
“If you look at DRP’s beginning, when we began we had a very wide membership – a lot of educated and experienced people and a very solid front line, even at the island and youth level,” she explained. “A respectable membership of people working in business, government – there was competence within the party.
“But as we have progressed, this has evolved into something different, and now if you look at the party you do not see a party frontline that gives confidence that it can form an alternative government. What is difference between MDP and DRP now?”
The DRP risks running for election having lost the support and experience of those who worked in the previous government, and the promise of an alternative, she claimed, noting that ‘lack of experience’ was one of the main charges levelled at the MDP when it came into power.
“It was a new team,” she said. “It had a lot going for it when it came into power. 30 years is a long time – anywhere, in any country – especially for youth. It was a negative the DRP could not counter. But now MDP is in power, when we come to 2013, DRP will not have that working for it. Any government as time goes by will find its footing, will learn from its own mistakes, and I’m sure MDP will also do that.”
When the elections are called, “all the DRP [will have going for it] is the MDP will not have performed,” Faathin predicted. “What the DRP has to present is a viable alternative – more experience, better planning, a team – and build confidence that it can run a better government. Right now we’re coming up to midterm and DRP doesn’t have that. Why would people want to take a risk? Why would a normal citizen vote for just another new team?”
New thinking, old models
MDP was struggling to to change its image from that of “radical street activism” to a “respectable governing party”, Faathin observed.
“They are having a difficult time at it, when same faces are there. But I don’t think modelling DRP on pre-election MDP is the solution – that model worked for MDP because the MDP activists at the time had the fundamental commitment from their own self-grievances, and that gives a lot more commitment than someone who is just trying to overthrow the government because they don’t like the party who’s running it. It’s a massive difference in mental outlook.”
Faathin said she felt that with its parliamentary focus and preoccupation with the civil service salary issue and the provinces bill, the DRP had missed a lot of chances to capitalise on MDP’s mistakes and address people’s issues.
“[The salaries and the provinces] are the two things the DRP leadership has been talking about, but they are not key issues for people in the islands,” Faathin said. “Their issues are the revisions to education system and the social sectors, health insurance, what is happening to their pensions, medicines, cost of health services and the issue of utilities companies hijacking their property. They are tackling these issues on their own right now, and there’s quite a lot of dissatisfaction at the lack of party assistance and advice. DRP is losing very good opportunities to build its support base.”
Speaker and DRP MP Abdulla Shahid dismissed Faathin’s claim that the delegates attending the DRP congress had relied on handouts from vested interests to make the journey.
“The party paid the transport and provided pocket money for the delegates while they were in Male’,” he said, but would not comment on whether he considered the Rf600 a reasonable amount for three days in Male’, only noting that “party finances are limited.”
On the subject of the complaints about the island-level elections he deferred to the DRP’s Secretary General Dr Abdulla Mausoom, but suggested that such complaints were common after an election: “The voting was very transparent.”
Shahid also said the DRP council’s practice of commenting on all amendments was appropriate because of their unique “view of the totality”.
“That is why DRP’s council has always reviewed amendments,” he said.
Regarding the party’s internal democracy and the subject of primaries, he noted that the same question had been put to him as chairman of the congress organising committee, “and I managed not to comment on it then.”
Mausoom, who like Faathin also ran unsuccessfully for the party’s deputy leadership, said no complaints regarding the party’s election procedures had been referred to him by the party’s internal election bureau.
“As a candidate I was 100 per cent happy with the whole election. I don’t think any party could have held them more perfectly,” he said.
As for Faathin’s claim that limited funding compelled delegates to accept handouts to attend the congress, Mausoom said that “all DRP members took part in the conference on their own initiative. Any financial support from DRP was a gesture of goodwill.”
Claims that grassroots support for the party was slipping were unfounded, he said, noting that in his own constituency of Kelaa Dhaairaa 27 people had recently joined the party in a single evening.
“The population at large is unhappy with the present government,” he observed.
Mausoom also dismissed Faathin’s concern that the council had influenced votes by publishing directives on the amendment papers, commenting that DRP members could think for themselves “as they are highly educated.”
Furthermore, he said, the correlation made between holding primaries and the party’s internal democracy was unsubstantiated.
“People attending the congress choose the leader who becomes the presidential candidate, not a nominee. All members can vote,” he said.