Nasheed announces former university chancellor Musthafa Luthfy as running mate

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has announced Dr Musthafa Luthfy as his running mate in the September 2013 elections.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor confirmed the announcement, made at a meeting of the party’s national executive committee this morning.

One of the conditions Dr Luthfy had agreed to, Ghafoor said, was that if Nasheed was elected President and later “killed or incapacitated”, Luthfy would declare an election.

“Nasheed discussed the choice with the national council, but it believed the choice should be left to Nasheed,” Ghafoor said. “The general opinion was that the person should be faithful, a party member, totally in support of the party’s manifesto, and not necessarily an expression of who the next president would be.”

He noted that Nasheed during a previous committee meeting had narrowed the choice to what he described as a “religious person, a military person, and a development person. In our context, these are very relevant [themes].”

Development person

Dr Luthfy served as Education Minister during Nasheed’s administration, initially appointed to the post under a coalition agreement with then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), alongside Economic Development Minister Mohamed Rasheed.

One of the founding members of incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s GIP, Dr Luthfy joined the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) following its acrimonious split with GIP in 2010.

The MDP severed the coalition agreement after GIP leader and then-Vice President Mohamed Waheed’s publicly criticised the government on an opposition-aligned media outlet.

Rasheed was ejected from the government following the split, while Luthfy remained in the post of Education Minister until the mass dismissal of Nasheed’s cabinet by parliament in late 2010. He was subsequently appointed as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University, resigning from the post in protest against Dr Waheed’s controversial ascension to the presidency in February 2012.

Education reformist

As Education Minister, Dr Luthfy was among the first to flag the country’s low O-level pass rate as the source of many social challenges facing young people, such as high levels of unemployment and lack of both tertiary and vocational education opportunities.

“When students finish Grade 10, and when they do not have many other avenues to go to for education, they remain in society and have two years before they become adults at 18 years. So they have two years of not being able to get a job, and this is also a crucial period in their physical development,” Dr Luthfy told Minivan News, in an extensive 2010 interview.

“During this time they are not in a school and due to this I think there will be negative impact on their behaviour and also on society. We are trying to keep students in the system until they are 18. We can do that by diversifying our curriculum – some can do A-Level, some can go for other programmes such as foundation and certificate level courses, and through that proceed to higher education,” he said.

Luthfy and his successor, Shifa Mohamed, presided over “mega reform” of an education sector which had last been revised in 1984, overseeing an increase in the O-level pass rate from 27 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2010, and 37 percent in 2011. In 2012, the pass rate leapt to 46 percent.

Some proposed reform attracted controversy, and was quickly exploited for political leverage by the government’s opponents.

One of these was the proposal to make Islam and Dhivehi optional subjects at A-level, which became a wedge issue with the MDP’s remaining coalition partner, the religious conservative and nationalistic Adhaalath Party (AP).

A-Level students typically study between four to five subjects. Some university prerequisites demand as many as three or four subjects, particularly for university-level science courses. Luthfy had suggested that making the subjects optional would give A-level students greater ability to pursue careers of their choosing, and become “world citizens”.

Speaking to Minivan News in 2010, he justified the Education Ministry steering committee’s recommendation as opening many more doors for students to seek tertiary education, stating that it would “give students many different subject options, so they are not forced to take some subjects – rather they have the freedom to choose whatever they want.”

Religious groups and the Adhaalath Party seized the issue as an assault on national identity and evidence of the government’s supposed irreligiousness, a point of view disputed by Dr Luthfy.

“I think there is a certain group of people who actually think that it is their responsibility and their duty to safeguard Maldivian culture and Maldivian religion, and that others are not treating this fairly,” he told Minivan News at the time.

“But in fact we, as the educationalists, we are also taking care of our culture and religion and trying to train our students to become world citizens, rather than narrowing their perspective. That may be one of the reasons why they have suspicions that we are not trying to do justice to the religion or language [of the Maldives], and that is obviously untrue. Whether the subjects will be optional or not, we will revise them, and the curriculum, and we will train our teachers to teach these subjects in a better manner.”

Adhaalath-aligned MP Ibrahim Muttalib – who had previously sought the total elimination of alcohol from the tourism dependent economy – levelled a no-confidence motion against Luthfy over the issue in June 2010.

The day before the vote was due to be held Nasheed’s entire cabinet resigned in protest over what they termed the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

Nasheed subsequently re-appointed the ministers, however the constitutional requirement for newly appointed ministers to receive parliamentary approval ultimately led to the mass dismissal of all but five members of Nasheed’s cabinet later that same year. Luthfy was among the seven ministers dismissed, but was soon after appointed the first Chancellor of the newly-opened Maldives National University.