MPs debate allowing civil servants to campaign for public office

The government has proposed revisions to the Civil Service Act that would allow civil servants to campaign for public office without resigning from their jobs.

“If these amendments are passed, our civil service employees would be able to campaign for elected posts while remaining in their jobs and have the opportunity contest elections,” explained Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Ameeth Ahmed Manik at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Presenting the legislation (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government, the MP for Raa Madduvari explained that the amendments to the 2007 law were part of a raft of bills proposed by the government to bring outdated laws in line with the new constitution adopted in August 2008.

Opposition MPs have expressed concern that the changes may lead to the politicisation of the civil service, which currently employs just under 25,000 Maldivians – over 7 percent of the population.

Ameeth meanwhile noted that the Supreme Court had ruled Article 53 of the act was unconstitutional.

In September 2011, the Supreme Court backed a ruling against the prevention of civil servants’ participation in political activities.

The courts referred to Article 30(a) of the Constitution, which states, “Every citizen has the right to establish and to participate in the activities of political parties.”

The case was filed at High Court in late 2008 by Mohamed Hanim, who was demoted from his post as director general at the Ministry of Youth and Sports after he spoke at a campaign rally of the then-opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.

Ameeth noted today, however, that the revisions would establish boundaries for civil servants who wish to be active in politics.

The amendments would prohibit civil servants from using powers to directly or indirectly influence political activities as well as participating in political activity either during official working hours or in a way that casts doubt on impartiality in the performance of duties.

Additionally, civil servants would be prohibited from filling any post in a political party or submitting a form to register a political party.

The restrictions were necessary to ensure that the civil service was free of political bias and undue influence, Ameeth said.

The amendments also stipulate that political appointees, judges, employees at state-owned enterprises, soldiers, and staff at the judiciary and parliament would not be considered civil servants.

Article 77(d) of the Civil Service Act – which prohibits campaigning for public office – would meanwhile be abolished.

Despite Ameeth’s claims, however, the bill does not propose abolishing Article 51 of the act, which stipulates that civil servants must resign six months ahead of contesting an election.

Conceding that the draft legislation could have shortcomings, Ameeth appealed for MPs to offer “constructive” criticism and noted that stakeholders could be consulted at the committee stage to address concerns of civil servants.


In the ensuing debate, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim alleged that the main purpose of the bill was to “force all civil servants to join PPM.”

He further claimed that employees hired for government-owned corporations were forced to sign PPM membership forms.

MDP MP Abdulla Shahid – former speaker of parliament – contended that the amendments would return civil servants to the “enslavement” of the years before 2007, warning that it could be used to dismiss large numbers of civil servants.

Civil servants could be fired if they refuse to attend “certain rallies” or put up campaign posters, he claimed.

MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik meanwhile called on the government to set a minimum wage of MVR4,500 (US$292) a month for civil servants.

Statistics published by the Civil Service Commission in June showed an estimated 40 percent of civil servants are paid less than MVR4,999 (US$324) per month.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi noted that current President Abdulla Yameen – who resigned from the government and formed the People’s Alliance party in 2008 – had backed the legislation in the 16th parliament (2003-2008).

The prohibitions in the law were intended to establish a “professional civil service” and ensure “institutional memory,” she said.

Civil servants would have an undue advantage over other candidates since they could misuse their authority, she suggested.

Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan, however, insisted that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom deserved “full credit” for creating an independent civil service.

The present administration also deserved gratitude and praise from civil servants for ensuring the right to participate in political activity, he added.

MP Ahmed Amir of the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – coalition partner of the ruling PPM – meanwhile suggested seeking advice from the Supreme Court when the legislation is reviewed by committee.

While the amendments prohibit civil servants from being a signatory to a request to form a political party, Amir noted that the constitution guarantees the right to form political parties to all citizens.

PPM MP Abdulla Rifau said it was “regrettable” that parliament had not amended the law in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

The PPM government would ensure that civil servants receive a pay rise when the economy improves, he added.

Rifau went on to accuse employees in the health sector of “pestering” the government with politically motivated acts of sabotage.


PPM-MDA supporters protest against Nasheed in Velidhoo

Supporters of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) protested against former President Mohamed Nasheed when he arrived in the island of Velidhoo in Noonu atoll for a campaign trip on Friday (November 1).

According to local media reports, supporters of the pro-government parties in a pickup decked with PPM-MDA flags and campaign posters protested using a megaphone and attempted to prevent Nasheed’s team from getting on the island.

Nasheed reportedly alighted with the help of police and MDP supporters. While the presidential candidate shook hands with those gathered at the jetty to greet him at around 11:25am, MDP members made lines on either side of the former president.

While minor scuffles broke out between the rival supporters before the former president’s arrival, police were able to control the situation.

MDP-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reported that a PPM supporter on the pickup allegedly threw a stone at the television station’s crew, damaging the lens of a camera.

In his speech in Velidhoo, Nasheed said peaceful political activity was necessary for democracy to flourish in the Maldives.

Nasheed said he did not bear any ill will or rancour towards members of rival parties. The role of an opposition party was equally as important as the party in government, he added, which was to ensure that the government delivered on its campaign pledges.


Loyalty, support, money: The motivation behind Male’s political decoration

In the months leading to the September 7 presidential election, the streets of Maldives have erupted into a mosaic of party banners, with posters, flags, banners, and graffiti decorating every street corner.

While it may seem to an onlooker that the amount of material each party has placed around the country represents the amount of public support they enjoy, some volunteers putting up the decorations suggest another side to the story.

Party supporters are largely responsible for the colourful displays, but some parties are accused of spending thousands on hiring groups to help them keep up with the campaign craze, oftentimes spending large funds on the process.

“Doing it for democracy”

“We’re doing this for democracy. We don’t want any money or incentives for this. All we want is an elected government that cares about the people”, one group of young graffiti artists painting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) themed artwork in their neighbourhood told Minivan News.

“The thing is, if we don’t get involved and try to guarantee a better life for ourselves, why would anyone else bother? I’m all for MDP, especially after the rest of the political lot brought about the coup d’etat. That is the ultimate shove of their boot against the people, a blatant admission from the ‘baaghees’ that they have no respect or concern for the common man,” said Ahmed Affan, a 26 year old man, an accountant who volunteers in his free time with a team hoisting MDP flags across the streets of Male’.

Another 23 year old volunteer who frequents MDP campaign offices during his free time to help out with banner and t-shirt printing explained his own motivations: “With the best manifesto and policies, I want MDP to win of course, I volunteer to help as I believe our artwork and ideas would get the message across in additional ways to the public and help gather more support.”

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) teams also told Minivan News that they were voluntarily engaging in campaign decorating.

“It’s ‘Zaeem’ [Supreme leader – referring to former President and Leader of PPM Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] who has done the most for our poor country. We will do whatever he wants of us. We are determined to have our candidate [Abdulla Yameen – half brother of Gayoom] have a clear win in the election, and we are spreading this message to as many people as possible,” said a 37 year old man hoisting PPM flags and putting up posters down a street in Galolhu.

One team of PPM volunteers refused to speak with Minivan News, stating, “Our leadership refuses to speak to you, and that means we have nothing to say to you either.”

“Heartfelt support” vs “just for the money”

Aishath Zubaira, a 63 year old supporter of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who has posters of her preferred candidate on the walls of her residence, says she supports him “with heart and soul”.

While Minivan News spoke with two different groups streaming the streets with strings of small ‘Forward with the Nation’ coalition flags, they had contradicting reasons for doing so.

“Waheed’s a capable man, and the majority of his supporters are mature and, well, kind of elderly to be honest. There are few young people like us who are aware of just how much Waheed can do for this country, so we need to come out and help make him more popular,” said a 43 year old volunteer, holding a dozen or so rolled up posters sporting photos of Waheed with his running mate, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

Another man who appeared to be in his late twenties, who introduced himself as “Issey”, put up posters and distributed copies of the coalition’s manifesto. “It doesn’t matter which candidate’s campaigning I am doing, it’s not even like these ugly flags and photos will make a difference for any party,” he said.

“I sometimes even go with the Jumhooree Party guys. Point is, this is an excellent time to make some money on the side and I’m going to make the best use of it. But then, I know who I’m voting for and no one’s got any business asking me who it is.”

“They spend like crazy, we earn like crazy”

A 31 year-old man working at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) told Minivan News – on condition of anonymity – that he works in one of Jumhooree Party (JP) coalition’s campaign teams of six to ten persons each.

“When we finish putting up the strings of flags across a street, we need to ring a number that the party has given us. Then a party official will turn up with a file which has information on when and where the teams are active. They will put a tick confirming the job is done and pay us in cash on the spot. We get about MVR 3000 (US$195) a night on average,” he explained.

“Some teams wait a while after the official has left and then cut off the recently hung flags, thereby allowing some other team to earn from the same street a few days later. It’s probably not right, but well, the politicians spend like crazy when elections near, and so us lucky folks earn like crazy.”

Another young volunteer laughed when asked for his reason for being so actively involved in campaign activity, “Every JP graffiti artwork that goes up is a job done for about MVR 10,000 (US$650). We’re economizing the situation when there is a demand for skills like ours. Nothing wrong with that, eh?”

According to local media reports, Police have arrested at least eight people for cutting off lines of flags of various political parties in late August, though police media officials were not responding to calls at the time of press for confirmation.

Visit our facebook page for more pictures as Male’ dresses for the election


Former President Nasheed performs live techno-rap debut at campaign concert

Former president Mohamed Nasheed performed live at a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) music concert on Thursday (August 31) as certain supporters donned t-shirts proclaiming their presidential candidate an ‘Eco rock star’ ahead of his techno-pop-rap debut.

The ‘Emmen Ehburun’ (‘Everyone one round’) music show (August 29) showcased some of the Maldives’ most popular artists and a variety of musical styles in an effort to galvanise voters to participate in the September 7 presidential election.

The lively campaign event was hosted by MDP MPs Eva Abdulla and Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, and drew a crowd of nearly 4,000 people near ‘raalhugandu’, Male’s surf point, adjacent to the Tsunami Monument. A broad demographic of women, men, teenagers, small children accompanied by their families, and the elderly gathered to watch the show.

Maldivian rock band Eman’s Conspiracy fired up the audience with their unique style – some of the male band members sported women’s flower-print stretch pants and jumpers – and witty lyrics. One song joked about police breaking up protesters by tickling their stomachs, in reference to the Maldives Police Service’s violent crackdown on protesters, and former Civil Service Commission Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan’s dismissal in November 2012 over allegations he sexually harassed a female staff member by caressing her stomach.

After their performance the crowd around the stage rapidly multiplied and surged forward in anticipation of Nasheed’s performance. Cheers and shouts of ‘ehburun’ erupted from the audience as Nasheed took the stage with DJ Umar.

The ‘Eco rock star’ launched into an original rap spun by DJ Umar to a techno remix of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. Nasheed’s on-stage excitement was contagious, with onlookers energised by his political lyrics and unique techno-pop-rap musical style.

Although audio clips from some of Nasheed’s speeches have been set to techno house music and have been endlessly echoing through the Maldives since the controversial transfer of power in February 2012 – this is the first time the former president has sung live. (See below for translated lyrics and video of Nasheed’s performance).

Nasheed may have stolen the show with his techno-pop-rap musical debut, but the artists that followed kept the crowd in a fevered frenzy.

Famed boduberu (traditional singing, drumming, and dancing) group Harubee, two time winners of the Maldives Boduberu Challenge and invitees to multiple international events, riveted the crowd with renditions of classic Maldivian songs. The ladies in the crowd were particularly enthralled with lead singer Ibrahim ‘Mandey’ Mamdhooh, who forewent his drum in favour of impassioned singing and dancing.

Men and women alike were headbanging in the ‘pit’ that formed in front of the stage during Maldivian metal band Traphic Jam’s performance. Their rock performance and political protest song lyrics – “Anni (Nasheed) was there when I went to bed, when I woke up it was a baaghee (traitor)” – resonated with the youth who shouted the lyrics in time with the band.

The ‘Emmen Ehburun’ show resonated with young MDP  supporters, several of whom in the crowd described the eclectic mix of music as “habeys” (awesome) and that “Anni’s performance was epic”.

DJ Umar featuring former President Mohamed Nasheed:

“Fasten your seatbelts. We are cleared for landing. We will only rest after taking the oath of office as the President of the Maldives on November 11, 2013.

The people of the Maldives have seen, they have weighed, the people of the Maldives have decided to give this election to the Maldivian Democratic Party. We will win this election in one round. In one round. In one round. Forward, forward, forward, forward. Forward with the Maldivian nation.

Come. Come out with us, roll up your sleeves, and come out to develop this country. Our country has seen how things happened during 30 long years – our people has seen that. It was quite recently that education in the English-medium began in Maldivian schools. In our three years, we built 240 schools, in our three years we changed Maldivian schools to single session.

The people of the Maldives are yearning again for a Maldivian Democratic Party government. The people of the Maldives are yearning again for compassionate, good governance. We will come back. We will return. We will provide good governance for the people of the Maldives.

We cannot secure the change we seek without connecting the islands of this country with public transport. The people of the Maldives want development. The people want housing. We all want the same things. We want a good life – public transport, good healthcare when we’re sick, a good education for our children, we all want good governance.

We will come back. We will beat the traitors and win this election in one round. The people of the Maldives are not ready to leave this country to a coup. The people of this country want to establish a government of the people in the Maldives.

Forward, forward, forward. Come. Come out with us to develop this nation. We will not step back. Our courage will not slacken, our resolve will not be shaken. We will come back. We will offer good governance for the people of this country. The Maldivian Democratic Party will always remain with the people of the Maldives. Our prayer is always for a better way than this for our country. This country is rich in natural resources. We can develop and achieve progress. We can find a better way than this for our youth.

We want development. We want entertainment. We want housing, education for our children. We want compassion, social security. The Maldivian Democratic Party is a party that makes pledges and fulfils pledges. God willing, we will deliver on our pledges. Our country is headed towards a safe shore. Come out with us. Come out. We will secure our country. We can see the horizons of the Other Maldives. We have come out seeking this country’s development. We have always had one goal.

You would have heard the pledges of political leaders. When they go to an island first they’ll meet a fisherman. The fisherman will say, ‘Seytu [literally shopkeeper, used to refer to Gasim], my boat is on land.’ And Seytu will pledge a boat for every fisherman. In the middle of the island he will meet a teacher. The teacher will say I want a laptop and Seytu will say, ‘a laptop for every teacher.’ That is not a political pledge. Political pledges are those that can be fulfilled through a policy. The Maldivian Democratic Party manifesto is one that has been costed and budgeted. We are a party that makes pledges and fulfils pledges.

God willing, we will win this election in one round. In one round, one round, one round. Valhamdulillah. Thank you very much.”


Kolamaafushi voting venue painted yellow reports Sun Online, “orange” says Island Council President

A ballot box on the island of Kolamaafushi in Gaafu Alifu Atoll is to be placed in a building that has been painted yellow, reports Sun Online.

Citing an island council source, Sun reported that the island’s number two ballot box was to be placed in the building used by the island’s women’s committee.

Yellow is the party colour of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), members of which make up four of the island’s five council members responsible for designating the voting venues.

The island’s other ballot box is to be hosted in the island’s school, however the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has reportedly lobbied the Elections Commission requesting the box instead be placed in the campaign hall of President Mohamed Waheed’s ‘Forward with the nation’ coalition.

According to Sun, President of Kolamaafushi Council Ahmed Jameel contended that the fence of the offending building was in fact orange.

The PPM in June called for a cease-fire in the so-called ‘paint war’ between rival political supporters, with buildings, walls and even plant-life being painted in party colours.


Gayoom to tour northern atolls for PPM

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is campaigning in the north of the Maldives on behalf of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)’s presidential candidate, Abdulla Yameen.

Local media reports that Gayoom will visit Kinolhas, Alifushi and Dhuvaafaru in Raa Atoll, Funadhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaalu Atoll and Dhidhdhoo in Haa Alifu Atoll.

PPM Spokesperson, MP Ahmed Mahlouf, told local media that Gayoom would be accompanied by Yameen and his running mate, former Home Minister and former Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) deputy, Dr Mohamed Jameel.


Island politics: on the MDP campaign trail

This article was first published on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.

Only 102 days left until the presidential elections. Four candidates are in the running – Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP); Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM); incumbent Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik (of no party); and Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoree Party.

There are a record number of eligible voters to persuade: 240,302, to be exact, including over 30,000 additional voters since the first ever democratic elections in 2008.

There is little time left, and much to play for. None of the parties have officially launched their campaigns yet but several candidates – incumbent Mohamed Waheed and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, most notably – have been travelling the country ahead of the official campaign. The MDP, however, is the only party so far with a clear manifesto, a campaign strategy, and an open-door policy towards the media.

MDP’s initial plan was to take in all atolls in the country in what was called the Vaudhuge Dhathuru (Journey of Promise). March and April were turbulent times with the ‘Opposition Coalition’ doggedly pursuing the aim of putting Nasheed behind bars.

Vaudhuge Dhathuru was suspended, and in its place emerged Dheythin Fahethi (Five From Three) – mostly weekend visits scheduled around the erratic court orders to arrest Nasheed. The move of DRP MP Speaker Abdulla Shahidh to MDP in April, despite his role in the events of 7 February, gave MDP’s travels across the country a new boost and a new name: Eh Burun (In One Round).

In fact, MDP’s elections campaign began unofficially almost as soon it became clear it was the only option left for restoring democracy after the authoritarian reversal of 7 February. In December 2011 came its nationwide Door to Door strategy. Initially conceived of as arecruitment campaign to get ‘every existing member to recruit one more member’, it has now become one of the MDP campaign’s chief strategies.

It has also been a highly rewarding exercise for the party, with 125,000 people already indicating it will vote MDP in September. The pledged 125,000 votes are ‘no folklore’, the MDP has said. They are votes that members have actually pledged during its Door to Door visits to tens of thousands of households.

In a country yet to be introduced to the science of polling or ways to measure approval ratings of candidates, the Door to Door strategy has provided MDP with a wealth of information about potential voters. Currently there are almost a 1000 volunteers across the country, visiting households in every island of every atoll and every area in Male’, discussing MDP manifesto, individual policies, and gauging people’s political attitudes, affiliations and needs.

According to the official party line, this is also the information on which MDP has based the four main policy pledges it has made: the beginning of an agri-business; guesthouses in inhabited islands putting tourism industry wealth within reach of all locals for the first time; mariculture business; and the empowered worker initiative.

Part of MDP’s strategy has been to make each policy launch a colourful event hosted at a different island each time. All atolls participate by releasing it simultaneously in their areas. Each policy is presented in attractive packaging depicting utopian visions of MDP’s ‘Other Maldives’ full of industrious shiny happy people.

Only one atoll, Meemu, remains on Nasheed’s list of atolls to tick-off as having visited since the unofficial campaign began. Nasheed keeps a gruelling schedule, out in the atolls on average 15 days a month, three islands each day, 45 islands each month.

I joined Nasheed’s trip to Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal from 19-21 May to launch MDP’s Agri-Business policy as part of the accompanying media. Continue reading for a behind the scenes, island-by-island (page by page) look at Nasheed’s trips to Hanimaadhoo, Kulhudhuffushi, Kelaa, Filladhoo and Baarah.


We arrive at Hanimaadho International Airport around 8:30am. The Maldives is experiencing seasonal rains, made especially heavy by a typhoon in the Bay of Bengal. Still, this Saturday morning, the 18 of May, the rain keeps away. The sun is watery, saturating the islands with a softer light than normal. After a night of rain, the lush green vegetation all around looks and smells freshly washed. The sea, just behind the airport’s little coffee shop, is a calm, quiet blue.

After breakfast under a Nika tree with branches that spread wide, we are driven to, Faalsaage, a guesthouse run by Dhonthu (Ibrahim Abu Bakuru) and his wife Ameena, a Male’ couple in their sixties.

Ameena and Dhonthu are typical of a group of core MDP members and activists willing to spend all their available time and energy on securing a win for the party. Dhonthu and Ameena travelled to Hanimaadho the day before Nasheed so they could prepare the guesthouse for the campaign team. MDP bears the cost of renting the rooms and feeding its team, but the rest of what is involved in ensuring the team has a place to call a base during their time in Hanimaadhoo is all effort Ameena and Dhonthu expends willingly, without charge, for the party’s success.

The presence of such people across various atolls of the country, and the successful and strategic exploitation of that rich resource, has emerged as one of the MDP campaign’s core strengths.

At Ameena and Dhonthu’s place there are about a dozen or so men busy festooning the house and its neighbour opposite with yellow MDP flags.

A woman wearing a hijab with only her eyes uncovered is standing under a palm-umbrella weaving a frangipani garland to present Nasheed with. Some men are trying to set up a temporary shelter of sea-blue canvas to provide shade during lunch.

Nasheed is due to arrive in about two hours, and there’s a feast being prepared here and in several kitchens across the island. Ameena is in charge of gathering it all in one place and serving it up. About twenty or so women have volunteered to cook – the plan is to prepare the dishes at home in their own time, and bring them over to Ameena’s for lunch.

As far as the official business of the campaign goes, Shifa Mohamed, Minister of Education in Nasheed’s cabinet, is in charge. The MDP campaign has divided the atolls into seven regions, with one designated head in charge of co-ordinating all efforts in a deignated region. Shifa is the head of the Northern Provices, and area containing the atolls of Haa Alif, Haa Dhaal and Shaviyani.

It is very easy to take to Shifa. She works without pretensions or fuss, and has an easy way with people. Having spent several weeks visiting houses in the area and co-ordinating Door to Door, ‘Shifa Madam’ is familiar to the people. On several occasions, women open up to her, voluntarily speaking of family woes and social troubles without reservation. Shifa is a good listener.

In the garden of Faalsaage, a wheelbarrow full of coconuts appears. One of the men shaves and cut the tips off the young kurumba to serve as a welcome drink when Nasheed and his team arrive. A woman sits at the corner of a table in the garden, frangipani garland in hand. She will be the one putting it around Nasheed’s neck when he comes.

To her right is another smaller table on which now stands a cake. ‘Happy Birthday, our hero,’ says the green and yellow cake. Two women stand near, swatting away flies with the intention of landing on their creation. One of the women is the same one in a hijab I noticed earlier.

“It was Nasheed’s birthday yesterday,” she tells me. There is excitement in her eyes, the only part of her I can see.

“He is our hero,” she repeats what they have already said in confectionary. With only eyes as a guide, I guess her to be anywhere between fifty and sixty years of age. A group of women collected MVR 20 (US$1.30) each, bought the ingredients, baked and decorated the cake, she tells me.

By noon, the steady trickle of women turn into a stream. Having cooked and delivered the food, all the women have returned in their best dresses to greet Nasheed. Almost all are wearing black from head to toe.

It is an astounding change from about a decade ago, when any gathering of Maldivian women would have brought together every colour of fabric under the sun. Today, the only relief from the monotone of black are bolts of canary yellow—women accessorising with yellow burugaas or children dressed in yellow.

When Nasheed arrives there’s close to a hundred women at the guesthouse. There are also about half that amount of men.

Nasheed shakes hands with them all, chats to people over his drink of fresh coconut, cuts the cake to the obvious delight of the women, and disappears upstairs with Shifa, a group of councillors and Hanimaadhoo’s resident campaign team. They will discuss the area’s Door to Door strategies.

Lunch is the feast that it promised to be. There is garudhiya, kulhimas, roshi, all sorts of mas-huni, faiy riha…a whole range of Maldivian dishes that taste as delightful as only island-home-cooked Maldivian dishes can taste.

As Nasheed rests, prays and strategises, I spend the time chatting to some women who still linger. They are waiting to say goodbye when Nasheed leaves for Kulhudhuffushi in a short while.

It is easy to chat with the women. Despite their attire, and the appearance of conservative religiosity, the women were as mischievous and their banter as full of flirtatious double-meanings as women in the region were famed for before Islamists began exercising control over the conduct of their daily lives and faith.

I learn from the women that this part of the island, closer to the airport, is where the people of Hon’daidhoo settled when they were relocated after the 2004 Tsunami wrecked their island. ‘The indigenous people of Hanimaadhoo live over on the other side,’ one of the women tell me.

Most of them, says Mariyam Nazima (35), are also on ‘the other side’ politically—that being supporters of PPM and Gayoom loyalists.

The women are eager to gossip. They tell me Waheed and Ilham have a holiday home on Hanimaadhoo and visited recently. ‘Waheed made it seem like he’s from the island,’ Nazima laughs. ‘But we knew they got land during an earlier decentralisation plan.”

I ask why they like Nasheed. “He’s like one of us. He treats us like equals,” she says. Other women on the jolis beside us agree. “He visits all the houses, rich and poor alike.”

On all islands that I visit with the MDP campaign team, this is what supporters point to as the reason they like Nasheed most: ‘he is one of us’.


We arrive in Kulhudhuffushi at about 3:30pm in the afternoon by speedboat from Hanimaadhoo. People line the harbour area to welcome Nasheed. Here there are more men than there were in Hanimaadhoo, but the women still out number them by far. Nasheed will launch the Agri-Business policy at the school hall in Kulhudhuffushi in about half an hour. Close to 200 people attend.

The MDP’s Agri-Viyafari policy is ambitious. The plan is for the government to lease plots of land on various inhabited islands in each atoll, along with equipment, seeds, fertilisers and labourers to anyone interested in setting up a farm. The government will operate a mobile shop, a vessel called Fresh-Isles, which will be perpetually travelling to the islands and buying their produce.

“This way, all farmers will always be guaranteed a market,” Nasheed pledges.

Transporting local products to Male’ and other relatively large markets from their own islands is one of the biggest problems Maldivian farmers encounter today, Nasheed says.

This is a week in which such statements hit home. Newspapers are full of reports lamenting hundreds of thousands of lovely ripe mangoes from Fuammulaku that went rotten for lack of transport in the unusually rough weather. MDP’s AgriBusiness policy means a reduction in such losses.

“Farming should put Rufiya in the pocket, not just food on the table. It’s not about having enough muran’ga leaves to put in your omelette in the morning.” Over the course of the trip Nasheed warms to the muran’ga analogy and repeats it on different islands.

Currently the Maldives imports MVR 245 million (US$18.8 million) worth of agricultural products a year. AgriBusiness aims to slash the amount down to MVR 108 million (US$7 million), Nasheed tells Kulhudhuffushi.

“If we are going to reduce the amount of products we import, then we must increase the duty for those products” ensuring an attractive price for local products.

With plots of land, seeds, equipment and labour readily available for farmers to hire from the government, Nasheed says the AgriBusiness policy would increase national productivity by 1.7 percent. MDP will ensure the creation of at least a thousand agricultural experts in the country and will create 2500 new jobs for implementation of the policy alone.

Nasheed tells the people of Kulhudhuffushi that his government would have the farms and markets up and running within two and a half years. What MDP wants, Nasheed says, is the empowerment of people through their own industry, in public-private partnerships that opens up the country to the globalised market place, and puts money in all local pockets.

As Nasheed’s campaign has progressed, the gist of his speeches at policy launches has been this: Maldivians deserve better than their current hand-to-mouth existence. If people only stop to think about it, the Maldives has rich resources that can make the entire society wealthy rather than a handful of individuals filthy rich. People must reject habits of patronage ingrained in the ‘Maumoonism’ of the last 30-years and vote for an MDP government to, instead, work for a better life for themselves.

Agri-Business offers attractive prospects, and Nasheed is on top form in Kulhudhuffushi, bristling with energy and enthusiasm. Yet, the reaction among the crowd is somewhat muted. Nobody asks any questions when he opens up the floor. There’s applause at some points during the speech, but there is very little spontaneity among the audience.

“Kulhudhuffushi is always a difficult island. People are peculiar,” a campaign team member observes later, when I ask about the muted reaction. What ‘peculiar’ means is not defined by any of the several people who gives me the same response about the people of Kulhudhuffushi—‘eiee varah faadegge baeh’ [they are a very peculiar people].

A more likely explanation is the turbulent politics in the island’s recent history. On 8 February, when the police cracked-down brutally on MDP supporters in Male’, Kulhudhuffushi is one of several islands where people reacted with violence. There was an arson attack on the police station, and a further two incidents of unrest since. When Nasheed visited the island on 27 February 2012, tensions between MDP and PPM supporters broke out into direct confrontations.

At the moment, 28 MDP members (including two councillors) from the island currently stand accused of various charges ranging from terrorism to obstruction of justice. Eleven hearings were held on May 19, the day after Nasheed visited Kulhudhuffushi.


Kelaa is stunningly beautiful. It has long wide roads lined with lush vegetation, and beautiful houses on large plots of land with lovingly tended gardens rich with tropical flowers and fruits. There are several hundred more people gathered at the harbour as the sun sets to welcome Nasheed to Kelaa. The Kelaa crowd is the biggest, and the most unreservedly welcoming so far. In what I can identify as a pattern at this stage, men out-number women. Here, the gender gap is much smaller, though.

In Kelaa, there’s dinner, followed by a campaign speech by Nasheed at the main school hall at 9:30 pm. This rally is apart of Eh Burun (In One Round) segment of Nasheed’s campaign.

There’s excitement in the air. Kelaa supporters of MDP are enthusiastic and passionate about winning the elections. The councillor, Haulath Mahira, is on fire. She loudly denounces policies of the previous government, condemns the February 7 coup, and rallies the crowd to vote for Nasheed.

“We must not let ourselves be dragged back to those days,” she screams into the microphone. The crowd erupts into applause.

Kelaa welcomes the Agri-Business policy with loud hoots, cheers and claps. They are enthusiastic about the prospects and the potential it has for making their farming businesses more successful. The people of Kelaa are already committed farmers.

“We’ll buy everything. Everything,” Nasheed tells them to loud applause. He argues for public-private ownerships that opens the island up to numerous opportunities in the globalised world. Like in Kulhudhuffushi, he talks about forming partnerships with fast developing countries in the region and the rest of the world, and argues against protective nationalism and isolationism.

“We have been too hung up on ownership. Whether our partner in business is foreign or not, Kelaa will always belong to the people of Kelaa.”

Nasheed’s supporters lap up his digs at the opposition’s isolationist approach that has alienated several foreign investors during the last year. This is what the opposition media coverage of Nasheed’s campaign focuses on the next day.

There’s bon’dibaiy after the hugely invigorating rally. I notice a woman wearing a yellowburugaa that has Maldivian Democratic Party printed on it. I wonder if it is unique, this new Maldivian habit of making their Islamic headgear also a political statement.

One woman from Filladhoo told me that there is a brigade of women on the island who support anyone but Nasheed. They change the colour of their burugaa according to party colours of whichever non-Nasheed candidate is visiting the island. Blue for Thasmeen, Pink for Gayoom Yameen, and so on. Talk about a mish-mesh of religion and politics.

We are leaving after breakfast, scheduled for 8:30am. I wake up early and use the time to catch up with an old Kelaa friend, a 44-year-old mother of four, and explore the island a bit. Kelaa is clearly more prosperous than other islands in the atoll.

The houses are large, well-built and modern. Several, however, are empty. Many families are forced to leave their life on the island for Male’ once their children near the end of their secondary school years.

“If we stay, what will happen to my daughter?” Shadiya asks me.

Shadiya, in her forties, lives in a beautiful house, painted completely yellow and boasting all mod-cons of modern luxury with her two daughters. Her husband works on a resort island near Male’, and can only visit occasionally.

Their older daughter is sitting GCE O’Level exams this year. “I want her to get an education, so we must go.” Reluctant to send their children to Male’ on their own for higher eduction, all parents who can afford it leave their comfortable houses for a cramped and difficult life in the city so their children can get the education necessary for university.

It is a sad sight to see, all the lovely houses in Kelaa standing empty and lifeless.

Along the way, we meet my friend’s 8 year-old mother-in-law. She is hobbling slowly with the help of a walking stick. Her mood seems despondent.

“I wanted to go to the harbour to greet Nasheed, but my bad knees won’t let me walk that far,” she explains. “I don’t know if I will live long enough to see him again.”

I have run into an elderly fan of Nasheed. Over the course of the day, I run into many more. Over 65s, I find out, are one of Nasheed’s core support groups.

Breakfast is at the Kelaa MDP Haruge. Yet another feast of Maldivian food prepared by women supporters who had stayed up the night to ensure everything on their candidate’s plate this morning is fresh. There is roshimashunikulhimas, sweet black tea and various kinds of curry. About twenty women are busy serving, exchanging easy banter, and glowing from the excitement of meeting Nasheed. “He is one of us,” they tell me.

Perhaps this excitement and adoration that Nasheed seems to evoke in his supporters is what incites the opposition’s frequent accusation that MDP is a cult led by Nasheed.


Filladhoo is a small island with a population just over a thousand. On arrival, like on other islands, there’s coconuts waiting, and the news that forty people had signed for MDP overnight. Twelve of them were waiting to sign their membership forms in front of Nasheed.

Later he holds a policy meeting in the cramped living room of a small house—unlike Kelaa or Hanimaadhoo, there is no dedicated campaign headquarters for the team on this less well-off island.

Just as in Hanimaadhoo, here too, Nasheed’s voice carries loud and clear outside the room onto the street where we wait. The first stop in the door-to-door round of the afternoon is a house owned by an MDP family like Ameena and Dhonthu’s.

The woman of the house, Shaheedha Ismail, 50, has prepared a snack of aveli [an old Maldivian dish] for the team. Nasheed takes gamely to mixing the aveli and chatting to MDP members Shaheedha has invited to join.

One wall of the entire living room is filled with pictures of Shaheedha’s seven children at their respective weddings. Shaheedha, too, is an ardent fan of Nasheed and makes it a point to tell me that she always opens her doors for any activity that will benefit the party.

Why does she like Nasheed so much? “I want someone who lives like us,” Shaheedha says. “He has been very good to my parents.”

During the door to door visits, Nasheed catches up on the fate of a sick child, listens with concern to a woman’s worries about the treatment of her child at school, and is delighted to meet a woman cutting muran’ga leaves.

“This is a picture I want,” Nasheed says. “This is what I have been talking about – when our Agri-Business policy gets going, farming won’t be just about having enough muran’ga to put in your omelette.” There’s childish glee on his face to have come across what he sees as the actualisation of a picture he had earlier created with his words.

In one house Shifa listens to a woman tell her about a 35-year-old daughter with special needs that the State refuses to recognise as being in need of state benefits.

I learn that Filladhoo has been without a doctor, or even a community health worker for over three months. “The Health Ministry says it will send a doctor when it can,” she tells me. There is no knowing when that will be.

What happens in case of emergency?

One of the MDP volunteers tells me there were two emergencies in the last month – a school boy broke his arm and a man fell off a coconut tree breaking his leg. Both had to be taken to Kulhudhuffushi, all costs born by the patients and their families.

Previously, the people of Filladhoo could take a ferry to the island of Dhiddhoo for Rf20. Dhiddhoo has a hospital. But the ferries have been discontinued since the coup and anyone in Filladhoo unfortunate enough to suffer an illness or injury must hire a Dhoni for over 2000 Rufiyaa to take them to Kulhudhuffushi.

“Filladhoo’s pregnant women now travel to Kulhudhuffushi in their eighth month – with no doctor on the island, none of the women want to risk labour complications. Most have to stay in rented accommodation, accumulating huge expenses families find hard to bear”.

On the road back to the jetty, we meet a woman well in her eighties who cannot recall her exact age.

She is out on the street, holding her daughter’s hand to steady herself, on the off-chance of running into Nasheed. Nasheed chats to her easily, and tries to calculate her age from her earliest memories. She remembers Hassan Fareed very clearly, she says. Nasheed calculates her age to be roughly around eighty-five.

He’s still muttering about Hassan Fareed when he runs into another woman of about the same age. She, too, is lingering on a side street on the off-chance of running into Nasheed.

Before we get to the jetty, we meet a third woman in the same age group, waiting in a lane-way, alone.

“She has a tough time, that Dhaththa [older sister, generic term used for older women],” an MDP councillor explained. Her children do not want her supporting Nasheed.

Intimidation by children who do not want their elderly parents to support MDP or vote for Nasheed is a trend common to several of the islands. The women I talked to in Hanimaadhoo recounted several such stories, as did the ones in Filladhoo.

Some grown-up children, I learn, also confiscate their parents’ ID cards and bank cards, keeping the parent a virtual prisoner both politically and financially.


The island of Baarah is shaped like a C, with the jetty right at the centre. On both sides is turquoise blue sea and a long white strip of beach lined with tall coconut palms and other large tropical trees. It is the island where national hero Boduthakurufaanu met his wife, and the island of Ramlah, the winner of the first Maldivian beauty pageant held back in the glory days of Mohamed Amin Didi.

Lunch is at a small restaurant attached to a house which opened its doors for MDP on Baarah. There is the usual splendid array of Maldivian food—rihaakuru garudhiyabambukeyo lee baiy,lonu mirus, even kan’doo from the kulhi with fresh grated coconut and grilled reef fish.

Over a dozen women move in and out of the restaurant area. Like on other islands, they have pooled their efforts to cook up the feast.

The men of Baarah are also surprisingly hands-on in serving food and overseeing lunch. We meet a most interesting man as we linger over the meal. Moosa Bey (Moosa Ibrahim) is a 75-year-old man who bursts into loud uncontrollable tears suddenly and without warning.

“I have a very big and very soft heart,” he tells us before beginning to cry loudly. It takes a few of us media people a good half hour of trying to console Moosa Bey to realise what the whole island already knows: Moosa Bey likes to act.

Still, he is a very likeable man, and we visit his house to meet his wife Faathuma. En route, he flirts  with the twenty-something year old volunteer who joined us from Kulhudhuffushi. He wants his picture taken with her.

Moosa Bey proudly claims that his house, almost complete now, is being built with the MVR 2000 (US$129) benefit for the elderly that he and his wife receives from the government every month. Moosa Bey’s house is modest, and there is no furniture just yet.

Walking around, I notice people here are even more polarised than on all the other islands we have been to. Non-MDP supporters are openly hostile, even to us ‘media people’ walking around with neither Nasheed nor any member of the MDP campaign team anywhere in sight. They refuse to smile or greet us, choosing instead to look on glumly, staring daggers.

It is sad to see traditional Maldivian hospitality vanishing in the strong emotions of partisan politics. I meet a twenty-something year old woman who is not an MDP supporter but is willing to talk. Only because she has a friend among the media.

I learn that on Baarah the PPM and/or ‘opposition coalition’ supporters are more forceful in intimidating MDP supporters than the men I heard about on other islands. “MDP members hired a woman’s Bodu Beru group to welcome Nasheed.

The group is composed mostly of members of DRP and supporters of Gayoom. The women were willing to play for money, though, Nasheed or not. But the men intimidated them into pulling out at the last minute. “They were going around making all kinds of threats,” she tells me.

It is around 4:00 p.m now and the trip is coming to an end. Nasheed leaves for Male’ at 7:30 pm and we need to be in Hanimaadhoo airport by 5:00. At the jetty, a fishing boat has docked. Women gather to buy the catch. One by one, they come back with varying amounts of fresh fish which they will cook at nightfall.

Nasheed will leave for Noonu Atoll tomorrow.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in international relations

For more photos of the trip, visit Dhivehi Sitee Facebook Page


Will increase PPM membership to 65,000 if elected: Yameen

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential primary candidate Abdulla Yameen has claimed he will increase the party’s membership to 65,000 before the September elections.

According to figures from the Elections Commission, PPM has a total of 22,765 members as of February, meaning that Yameen will have to increase the party’s membership by 37,235 in just six months to reach his target.

Speaking at a campaign rally on Sunday (March 24), Yameen said that on  request of his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, he had worked to increase the party’s membership since it was first established, local media reported.

“If you give us assurance from the vote on the 30th, by the time we reach the presidential election, with more effort and without show of any fatigue, by August I will increase our party’s count from 31,000 to 60,000 or 65,000, God willing,” Yameen was quoted as saying in SunOnline.

The presidential primary candidate claimed that PPM is the most legitimate of political parties as fingerprints are recorded when registering members to the party.

According to local media, Gayoom’s children made an appearance at Sunday’s rally in order to show support for Yameen.

In a display of solidarity, Dhunya Maumoon, Farish Maumoon, Gassan Maumoon and Yumna’s husband Mohamed Nadheem went on stage to hold hands with Yameen, local media reported.

PPM’s former Deputy Leader Abdul Raheem Abdulla reportedly told the audience that because Gayoom’s children supported Yameen, it would be a reason to vote for him.

Both Yameen and Umar Naseer are competing in the PPM presidential primary on March 30.


Will form large coalition to “shock” Nasheed if elected: PPM Umar Naseer

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential primary candidate Umar Naseer has revealed he intends to form a multi-party coalition should he win the PPM presidential election.

Speaking at artificial beach on Friday night (March 1) as part of his campaign rally, Naseer announced that a “wide coalition” must be formed in order to defeat the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the elections scheduled for later this year, local media reported.

Latest figures from the political party registry of the Elections Commission (EC) show that PPM currently has 22,765 members signed to its party – 23,769 members less than the MDP’s 46,533 total membership.

“It is not the way these days to do things on your own. If you give me the PPM leadership, I will form a wide coalition, God willing.

“I will attain this country’s power through a coalition that will shock Mohamed Nasheed,” Naseer was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

When Minivan News attempted to contact Umar Naseer today (February 2), his secretary stated: “Umar said we are not sharing any information with Minivan News”.

Speaking at the rally, Naseer claimed that Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) refusal to form a coalition during the second round of the 2008 presidential elections had been a mistake, further claiming that should DRP decided otherwise, the MDP may not have achieved power in 2008.

“It is possible that Mohamed Nasheed could not have been able to get the last three years if the DRP had reached to other parties and formed a coalition.

“It was a strategic mistake we made that day, to not work with parties. PPM shall not make such a mistake,” Naseer said.

The PPM presidential primary candidate claimed there is now a need for leaders to work against the MDP from coming to power, assuring that he will make the effort if he wins the PPM ticket, local media reported.

Last month, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) called on the Elections Commission (EC) to dissolve the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), calling it a “terrorism party”.

“There is the fear that MDP might come to power again. They are planning it very well. They even have the money. They are still a threat.

“This country needs strong leaders. Because this country is still not rid of MDP’s threat. I would like to tell you that if you give me the votes and elect me, I will achieve this for you,” local media reported Naseer as saying.