Cabinet to discuss request to rename Thinadhoo next week

The cabinet will discuss a request by the council of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll to rename the island ‘Havaru Thinadhoo’ at its meeting next week, Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed today.

Zuhair said that legal advice has been sought following the request and that the cabinet will make a decision at its next meeting on Tuesday, August 3.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Thinadhoo Council Chair Ahmed Naseer said that the council sent a letter requesting the name change to President Mohamed Nasheed because “a lot of citizens asked it of us.”

“For hundreds of years the island was called Havaru Thinadhoo,” he explained. “And when the name was changed by former President Maumoon [Abdul Gayoom] in 1979, no reason was given for that decision and it was not requested by the people of Thinadhoo, either.”

Contrary to popular belief, said Naseer, Thinadhoo did not earn the title ‘Havaru’ for its its part in the short-lived secession of three southern atolls and subsequent depopulation by Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir on February 4, 1962.

The term ‘Havaru’ originally referred to the six divisions or companies of the public of Male’, which functioned as militia or army units. The word has since earned the connotation of ‘mob.’

In the late 16th century, Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu sent the six militias or the ‘Havaru’ to recapture Thinadhoo upon learning that the islanders had re-converted to Buddhism.

Following their victory, the island was endowed to the six companies, which continued to exact an annual tax from islanders until the practice was abolished by Ibrahim Nasir when he became Prime Minister.

Thinadhoo MP Mohamed Gasam of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile suggested that the “best way to decide the name change” would be through a public referendum.

“Some people in Thinadhoo want the name to be changed but others want it to stay the same,” he said. “There is some disagreement about this. We should find out what the people want.”

Councillor Naseer said that he had “no problem” with a referendum, but suggested that an election would be a costly affair.

“I think that even if there is an election [the name change proposition] is very likely to get passed,” said Naseer, who is also a member of the ruling party.

In the local council elections in February, the MDP made a clean sweep of the seven-seat Thinadhoo council.

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport

Thinadhoo Council Chair Naseer however insisted that the council’s request had “no connection whatsoever” to the announcement last week that the Male’ International Airport would be renamed ‘Ibrahim Nasir International Airport’ on Independence Day (July 26) in honour of the former President.

“We had been thinking about sending the letter [requesting the name change] for some time now, long before that announcement” he said, adding that the timing of the council’s letter was a “coincidence.”

MP Gasam meanwhile suggested that the council might have made the request last week as Independence Day would be an auspicious date for the change.

Naseer stressed that the letter to President Nasheed only sought legal advice as well as his opinion: “We would have no problem if the cabinet decided that changing the name would not be the right thing to do,” he said.

Asked about the renaming of the airport due to take place tomorrow, Naseer speculated that “no one who is from Thinadhoo” would support the change as the former President had ordered the “brutal destruction of the island” in 1962.

Meanwhile as the country prepares to celebrate its 46th Independence Day tomorrow – secured by Nasir on July 26, 1965 – local media reports that the former President’s eldest son, Ahmed Nasir, filed a case at the Supreme Court yesterday, appealing a High Court ruling in 1986 to confiscate the property and estates of his father.

The High Court at the time found that Nasir had misappropriated state funds and decided that his property and estates could be sold by the state to recoup the allegedly stolen money.

After resigning in 1978, Nasir moved to Singapore, where he passed away on November 22, 2008, just weeks after his successor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was ousted in the country’s first multi-party election.

Nasir’s lawyer, “Gnaviyani” Ali Shareef Ibrahim, told Sun Online yesterday that neither the judicial system under Gayoom nor the prevailing political environment 25 years ago made such an appeal possible.

Under the old constitution, which did not feature separation of powers or independent institutions, the President was both head of state and supreme authority on justice, with the power to overrule verdicts and dismiss judges.

The Supreme Court of the Maldives was established in September 2008 following ratification of the new constitution on August 7, 2008.

Shareef explained that Nasir was sentenced in absentia while angry mobs, including school children, were protesting on the streets.

The Nasir family lawyer also alleged in comments made to newspaper Haveeru today that the new administration of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom began selling Nasir’s property before the High Court verdict on January 30, 1986.

“[Proceeds of the sales] were deposited at Nasir’s SBI [State Bank of India] account, which was frozen by the government,” he said. “When the verdict was delivered, they took all the money out.”

Shareef revealed that the appeal was lodged at the Supreme Court in May as regulations gave the highest court of appeal the discretion to hear such cases in spite of the length of time between the original verdict and the appeal.

The elderly lawyer claimed that the previous administration vilified Nasir by “spreading lies to make him out to be an enemy of the country, a mercenary, a corrupt person.”

“The state media was constantly mocking President Nasir and showing all sorts of cartoons of him,” he said. “[Nasir] did not return at the time because he feared for his life.”