Preparations for presidential elections underway: President Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has assured the public of a “free and fair” presidential election in 2013 as part of his New Year statement.

Waheed used his address to announce that preparations for the 2013 presidential elections were already underway and that the government intended to take “all necessary measures” to ensure a fair election.

Following political tension in the nation following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012, President Waheed said it would be vital in the build up to this year’s election for society to put aside its differences.

“As we prepare for the upcoming elections, I urge the people to strengthen the harmony and unity that have existed in the Maldivian society over the years, and not to allow anyone to disrupt this social harmony,” he said.

“The year 2012 saw major challenges, especially in the political challenges, in the country. It was, however, a year in which steps were taken with patience to maintain the security, safety and harmony of the country and its people,” he said.

The President assured the public that the government intended to improve both the general welfare and security of the people within the capacity of the budget passed by the People’s Majlis on December 27.

“The government will continue to create a safe society with reduced crimes. I call upon the people of the Maldives to put national interest ahead of their political interests,” Waheed added.

President Waheed’s government was brought to power on February 7 last year following a controversial transfer of power later deemed legitimate by a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

However, Dr Waheed’s predecessor, former President Mohamed Nasheed, has questioned the CNI’s findings, alleging that he was forced to resign from office under “duress”.

Concerns about the CNI’s conclusions were also raised last month by former Human Rights Minister Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed after she was dismissed by the present government back in November.

“Stolen democracy”

In his own New Year statement, former President Nasheed claimed that democracy had been “stolen” from the public by individuals looking to “further their narrow political ambitions”.

“We have seen a worrying return of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence and intimidation. With this we saw an increase in violent crimes including the tragic murder of Member of Parliament and Islamic scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali, fatal attacks on a journalist and members of public of whom some are children,” Nasheed alleged.

The former President claimed the country had been reported in the world’s newspapers for “all the wrong reasons” and that the Maldives is no longer the “successful Muslim democracy” it once was.

“Instead, the media has been full of stories about human rights abuses, coup d’etat and the government’s disastrous foreign policy decisions that forced out the largest foreign direct investor in the Maldives,” Nasheed added.

“I hope that this year, we will see a genuinely free and fair election, in which everyone is allowed to compete.”


State Environment Minister plays down budget dispute, alleges media “misunderstanding”

State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed has played down a report that his department yesterday slammed the proposed state budget for neglecting the “fundamental rights” of Maldivians, claiming there had been a “misunderstanding” with local media.

The Sun Online news agency yesterday reported that senior environment ministry officials had raised fears before the Majlis’ National Development Committee that it had been allotted an insufficient budget for proposed water and sewerage projects needed across the country.

Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Ahmed Saleem was quoted as claiming that some 15 projects proposed by his department had been excluded from the budget is being debated within parliament this week. These projects were said to deal with issues including waste management, as well as supplying water and sewerage systems to more islands around the Maldives.

Saleem was reported as saying that complaints over the matter had also been sent to Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, who had in turn had responded that any amendments to the budget would have to be made through the Majlis with support of MPs.

Both finance chief  Jihad and Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Speaking following yesterday’s meeting with the National Development Committee, Permanent Secretary Matheen claimed that Saleem’s reported comments had been the result of a “misunderstanding” by its author.  He alleged that the journalist had focused on a few points of a long meeting with the committee.

While Matheen said that there were some “concerns” about the present status of the budget allocated to the Environment Ministry, he that alleged the article’s conclusions were “very misleading”.

“The budget issue is very sensitive right now, so i’m afraid I cannot make any comments about the matter at present,” he said. “The islands are all asking what they will have from the ministry.”

Matheen added that he was presently unable to comment on the exact nature of the “misunderstanding” contained within the Sun Online report due to the fact discussions on finalising the state budget were ongoing.

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Hassan Adil, a member of the National Development Committee, was unavailable for comment when contacted on the challenges in trying to balance ministry expenditure in the current economic climate, asking Minivan News to call this evening. However, Adil was not answering calls at the time of press.

Budget discussion

Presenting the budget to parliament last week, Finance Minister Jihad explained that next year’s budget deficit was to be financed with MVR 971 million (US$62 million) as budget support and MVR 1.3 billion (US$84 million) from Treasury bill (T-bill) sales.

However, as debate on the budget commenced yesterday amidst, regularly coming to a halt due to frequent loss of quorum – most MPs complained of the lack of funds allocated for development projects in their constituencies.  these projects included developments such as harbours, water and sanitation systems, additional classrooms and upgrades to health centres.

Meanwhile,  it was revealed last week that the proposed budget for defence expenditure for 2013 was found to be 14 percent higher than the funds allocated during 2012.

A total of MVR 930.9 million (US$60.3 million) was proposed for defence expenditure, which amounts to 5.5 percent of the total budget.

Balance of payments

With the Majlis currently contemplating the 2013 budget, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to the Maldives last month noted that a ballooning fiscal deficit had “implied a rise in the public debt ratio, which now stands at over 80 percent of GDP.

According to the organisation, these developments also helped to boost national imports, thus worsening dollar shortages in the economy and putting pressure on MMA (Maldives Monetary Authority) reserves.”

The IMF forecast for the current account deficit was “nearly 30 percent of GDP this year.”

“Gross international reserves at the MMA have been declining slowly, [and] now account for just one and a half months of imports, and could be more substantially pressured if major borrowings maturing in the next few months are not rolled over,” the IMF mission warned.

The mission recommended formulating “a realistic and prudent budget for 2013″ to rein in the fiscal deficit, suggesting hiking taxes and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.

According to an overview of the economy presented by the Finance Ministry along with the state budget (Dhivehi) proposed to parliament last week, the current account deficit in 2012 was expected to be 27 percent of GDP.

Water shortages

Following water shortages that authorities said affected over 100 inhabited islands back in May, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig at the time claimed financial support was the key challenge in ensuring sufficient supplies of drinking water to the public, even with the assistance of local resorts and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Minivan News reported back in April that in the country’s southerly Addu Atoll, an estimated 90 percent of the local population were reliant on rainfall to bolster their drinking water supplies.

Numerous islands in the atoll are said to experience severe supply issues for drinking water annually as a result.


Government rules out 2012 presidential vote on the back of by-election “Mandate”

The government has said that victory yesterday for its coalition partners in two parliamentary by-elections is a clear indication of its “mandate” amongst the Maldivian people to remain in power until 2013, despite continued local and international calls for early elections.

Following the weekend’s elections, government spokesman Abbas Adil Riza today called on international bodies to take the results of the polls into consideration when reflecting on the need for fresh national polls.

Amidst mostly peaceful voting, official provisional results from the country’s Elections Commission showed that Ahmed Shareef of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhoory Party’s (JP) Abdullah Jabir both beat ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidates to take seats in the People’s Majlis.

From a government perspective, Abbas claimed that the by-elections should be seen as a “vote of confidence” by the public in the national unity government made up of parties such as the JP, the PPM and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

However, the MDP maintained yesterday that the by-elections indicated that the country was able to hold “free and fair elections” as soon as possible.

“The MDP has consistently called for early presidential elections in the Maldives to resolve the political deadlock that exists since the unlawful transfer of power on February 7 following police and military backed coup in the Maldives,” stated MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor .

“Elections today are held at a time when [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayyoom has publicly stated early Presidential elections would not be held in the Maldives citing conditions for elections are not right and also that Elections Commission does not have the capacity to hold early elections in the Maldives.”

Public support

In addressing the MDP’s claims, government spokesperson Abbas believed the results of polling for the two parliamentary and two Island Council seats indicated public acceptance of President Waheed’s administration.

“It is clear that there is public support in the country for this government and that there are not any problems with its constitutional mandate to be in power. In three out of the four elections held, the coalition won by a clear majority,” said Abbas. “The MDP has continued to call for early elections, though yesterday’s elections show that the public backs the government until early elections can be held in July 2013.”


Abbas’ comments were made as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which was last month criticised by President Waheed’s government for showing “bias” in calling for early elections, is set to convene tomorrow.

The political situation in the Maldives since the transfer of power that bought President Waheed into office on February 7 will be a key topic of discussion for the tomorrow’s meeting. The CMAG panel meeting tomorrow comprises of foreign ministers from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, Sierra Leone,Tanzania and Trinidad and Tobago.

Since CMAG made its original statement last month about the Maldives situation, the US and EU have also pledged to support the Commonwealth in working to facilitate fair, early elections.

Earlier this month, the US government pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) to help fund an elections program to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election.

In announcing the elections funding,Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Colombo Valerie Fowler said at the time that the US would “work with the Commonwealth to help the Maldives work through the current situation to elections”.

The US will lend any support, including technical assistance, to ensure the next presidential election in the Maldives is conducted “smoothly and observed the rule of law”, Fowler said.

“Through USAID we are in the process of starting an election programme that will assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election. We have allocated US$500,000 to start that process and anticipate that we can begin as soon as July 2012.”

However, Fowler noted that the US believed there needed to be an “environment conducive to early elections”, an aim that could only be created through dialogue, as well as capacity building measures.


Jumhoree Party’s council appoints Gasim presidential candidate

The Jumhoore Party (JP) council yesterday appointed party leader and MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim as the party’s presidential candidate to run for presidency in the 2013 presidential elections.

In an interview Gasim gave to his own TV station, Villa TV (VTV), he thanked the council for making the decision and vowed to bring prosperity to the Maldives, and solve all the current issues if he was elected as President.

He accused the current government of destroying the social justice, the constitution and selling state assets, and said the Maldives was “currently in a very serious situation”.

Gasim then called on the citizens to work with courage, saying that he would establish a legal administration and would keep his actions within the law.

Gasim is one of the country’s most successful local resort tycoons, and well known philanthropists, as well as an MP and leader of the JP who enjoys strong support in his home constituency of Maamigilli and was key to the development of Maamigilli airport.

Formerly a coalition partner of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), his small party subsequently aligned itself with the opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), and later with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

As well as owning VTV, Gasim was last year narrowly appointed as parliament’s representative on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the body at the centre of the current judicial crisis following its acceptance of a civil court injunction against the investigation of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed.

During the recent protests Gasim has campaigned for the judge’s release, and was also a key figure supporting the December 23 protests calling for the defence of Islam in the Maldives.

Under the former government he presided over the treasury as finance minister during a period in which expenditure on the civil service increased 400 percent, leaving the incoming government with a budget deficit of 33 percent.

In 2010 he was accused by the current government of corruption and bribery, however the case was swiftly thrown out by Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

MDP MP Mohamed Mustafa told Minivan News that it was “not surprising” that Gasim had been appointed as the JP’s presidential candidate.

‘’JP is owned by Gasim and it is Gasim himself that decides that Gasim should be the presidential candidate. No one should be surprised about it,’’ Mustafa said. ‘’JP is not a very democratic party, everyone knows that.’’

Mustafa contended that Gasim would be inappropriate as president because he did not have the necessary capability and knowledge.

‘’He will not win the next presidential elections. When it is time for the elections this opposition coalition will split because everyone in the coalition wants to be president,’’ he predicted, adding that Gasim would find himself competing with the ambitions of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his half-brother Abdulla Yameen, DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Leader Dr Hassan Saeed.

‘’When Gayoom feels like he may win the elections, he will ask the others to wait,’’ Mustafa said. ‘’We are all going to wait and watch this happen.’’

He speculated that the Adhaalath Party would likely side with Gasim “because senior figures of Adhaalath are employed by Gasim.”

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Spokesperson and MP Ahmed Mahlouf did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.