The past two weeks were dominated by the build-up to, and the fall-out from, the first round of the presidential elections. Last minute campaigning saw Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed try his hand at both rapping and speed-dating in order to bolster his support.
Nasheed also took time from the campaign to talk with Minivan News about post-election justice, and lessons learned over the last 18 months. The party estimated 10,000 of its supporters gathered for the final pre-election rally, where Nasheed pledged his commitment to developing the country.
Other parties continued to express their concerns over the upcoming poll, with both the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhooree Party (JP) citing the potential use of disappearing ink to alter the result. Responding to an elections related case filed by a PPM member the week before, the Supreme Court urged the Elections Commission to ensure the freedom and fairness of proceedings.
The EC responded to the non-specific ruling by saying that it would not be making any late changes to the voting registry. The PPM’s manifesto arrived with just days to spare, revealing plans to slash the state budget by MVR 4 billion ($259.9 million) as well as the introduction of extensive youth and sports programmes.
Final preparations for polling day saw the details of both international and domestic observer missions finalised, while activists of all colours (and motivations) decorated the streets of Male’ as a carnival atmosphere took hold. Incumbent President Mohamed Waheed spoke with Minivan News just hours before the election, declaring his confidence that the following day’s vote would be the best in the nation’s history.
Waheed had been joined by his three opponents earlier in the week for a live presidential debate. His singling out of the Blackstone seaplane takeover – as an example of his government’s success in attracting foreign investors – appeared ill-advised, however, as numerous tourist industry stakeholders later revealed the detrimental impact the deal was having on business.
Meanwhile, it was the impact of the election in the atolls which attracted international headlines, with two separate instances of cursed coconuts, as well as a black magic doll and possessed children – all allegedly linked to party politics. Up to three people were also arrested on Kulhudhufushi on suspicion of illegally printing ballot papers, although island council sources stated that these were oversize laminated versions produced by the MDP to demonstrate the voting process.
Despite a peaceful and much-praised polling operation, the EC’s critics were demonstrating against the outcome before the commission had been able to announce the provisional results. After initially claiming 10,000 additional votes had been cast, leader of the third-placed Jumhooree Party Gasim Ibrahim soon declared that he ought to have come in first, despite finishing over 40,000 votes behind the first-placed Mohamed Nasheed.
After JP supporters held protests outside of the EC Commissioner’s residence, Fuwad Thowfeek hit back, dismissing the party’s unconvincing allegations as something a ‘small child would not believe’. The High Court was quick to reject the JP’s requests to see the first round results sheets and to postpone their official announcement. The EC also took aim at the JP’s coalition partner, the Adhaalath Party, warning them that they faced dissolution if they continued to use Islam as a political weapon.
The MDP resumed campaigning optimistic of securing the “few thousand additional votes” that would see their candidate secure a return to the presidency. “The people have again said a resounding ‘no’ to Gayoom, as they did in 2008,” a triumphant Nasheed told supporters at their first post-election rally. The party’s optimism will have been enhanced by the new that the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party – aligned with President Waheed in the first round – would support Nasheed in the second, though it will be wary of the PPM’s apparent determination to prevent Nasheed taking office, regardless of the election’s outcome.
Despite the past weeks being dominated by the choosing of the next president, the issue of how the incumbent took office was not off the agenda. The appearance of a supposed ‘coup agreement’ on social media – apparently outlining a planned overthrow of the Nasheed government – was dismissed as a fake by those implicated in the document.
This did not prevent the MDP requesting the Prosecutor General look into the issue, despite its leader’s prior suggestion that the PG is unable to act impartially in the current system. The MDP continued to argue that cases against its MPs are being fast-tracked, in particular charges against Abdulla Jabir and Hamed Abdul Ghafoor in relation to alcohol possession.
The police commissioner’s appointment shortly after the February 7 transfer of power was deemed legal by the Police Integrity Commission, although Abdulla Riyaz’s poltical tweets were not – the watchdog has recommended the Home Ministry take action. Riyaz defended the police against renewed allegations of partisanship as well as rewarding his force with 300 apartments in the same week.
This week also saw the conclusion of the Criminal Court trial into the deaths of British honeymooners Emma and Jonathon Gray. Swedish national Filip Eugen Petre was acquitted of all charges related to the quad-biking accident on Kuredu Island Resort in August 2011.
Away from politics, the Maldives national football team began the South Asian Football Federation Championship in high-scoring form, scoring 18 goals in their first two group games, including a record-breaking 10-0 win over Sri Lanka. The team’s prowess in front of goal would prove their undoing, however, as a healthy goal difference saw them top the group and draw champions India in the second round. In an ill-tempered game, the Indian’s sneaked a one-nil victory, going on to lose to Afghanistan in the final.
Four Seasons Kuda Huraa hosted its third consecutive annual surfing competition with domestic and international surfers competing in multiple events. The site of the competition’s – at Thamburudhoo Island – ensured that politics were never far away from this event, however, with three Australian surfers questioned for five hours by police. The surfers – wearing ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ t-shirts – were questioned regarding their involvement in the local campaign against the privatisation of the surf break. Politics was even discussed with the Maldives premier musical export Nothnegal, who revealed details of their new EP to Minivan News this week.