Dr Mustafa Lutfi was appointed as the running mate of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed for the upcoming presidential election on September 7.
He previously served as Minister of Education in Nasheed’s administration, having resigned from his post as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012. The MDP has continued to allege that the change in government last year, was a “coup d’etat”.
Dr. Lutfi also previously served in the cabinet of Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Mariyath Mohamed: What made you decide to accept the position as Mohamed Nasheed’s running mate?
Mustafa Lutfi: I accepted it very happily, not because of the importance or weight of the position offered, but because it is President Nasheed whose deputy I was asked to be.
President Nasheed is someone I deeply respect, as he played the most major role in the democratic revolution which has come to the Maldives. In my opinion, President Nasheed is among the few who has sacrificed much in order to guarantee independence for the Maldivian people – personal freedoms, to save the citizens from the repression they were in, to bring a more fulfilling state of living to the people – and also because President Nasheed is the most loved and respected person in this country. A chance to work with such a well-respected, loved man is a cause for happiness to me. I extend thanks to MDP and President Nasheed for appointing me, as they have done so by placing utmost trust in me.
MM: Many people have commented that by using the slogan “I will not be a baaghee” (nethey veveykah baaghee akah) you are campaigning with a highly negative message. Why was this theme chosen?
ML: I think then there is some misinterpretation. By the slogan, we are not meaning to say that I will not bring about a coup d’etat. What we mean is that we Maldivians are saying as a whole that none of us will be traitors, that we will all say no to coup d’etats.
Previously, we have often talked about the brutality, violence and bloodshed. Besides all of that, I have now come to know, through interviews I am conducting for a book I intend to write, that a far more painful effect has been made on the people – the psychological trauma. This is something we must talk openly about now.
MM: What aspects of governance will you focus on if you are elected?
ML: We are mostly looking at how the country’s development has been set back as a result of the coup d’etat and are focusing on setting that right.
Some people interpret ‘development’ to mean the construction of jetties, or seawalls, or large buildings. But what we mean by ‘development’ is not this alone. The root of development, as meant by MDP, is the individual person. The improvements that come to the person’s health, how his thoughts and ideas are broadened and developed, improvements to the individual’s social status and economic contentment. Our development goes full circle, and covers all aspects of an individual citizen’s life.
Sustainable development can only be achieved through the changes that come to an individual and his way of thinking.
Policies, Implementation and Impacts
MM: We have seen that, even in the previous MDP administration, development projects are completed at comparatively very fast speeds. This has at times given rise to concerns about the environmental impacts of such work. How much attention has been given to environmental impacts during the planning of your new policies?
ML: Sustainable development cannot be achieved if, in the process of development, the environment is harmed. The environment and its protection are very high in our priorities.
MM: The Decentralization Act was passed during Nasheed’s administration. In recent times, we have often heard reports of the councils facing hardships due to both budget constraints and a lack of cooperation from state authorities. Is the MDP aware of this, and are there any plans to empower and strengthen decentralized governance?
ML: I strongly believe that the people must be given the freedom to make decisions on matters that will impact them or concern them. It won’t do to just decentralize governance – they must also be given necessary training, a support structure must be set up, as well as a functional oversight mechanism.
MM: MDP’s education policy details increased opportunities for higher education both locally and abroad. However, there are certain instances where students drop out of school and are thus unqualified to apply for higher education. In such instances, what plans do you have? For example, do you intend to broaden vocational training?
ML: Even in our previous government, under a programme named ‘Hunaru’ (skill) we gave them special training to prepare them for the workplace and even assisted them to find occupation. We also formed a polytechnic to train skilled workers under our technical vocational education programme, both in the atolls and in Male’.
Our aim now is to ensure opportunities for all youth to be able to achieve higher education. If they have to leave school before they obtain the required qualifications, they will have the option of enrolling in either foundation courses or technical vocational training.
MM: When you were in Nasheed’s cabinet as Education Minister, you faced a lot of criticism from certain opposition parties for allegedly suggesting that Islam and Dhivehi be made optional subjects. In retrospect, do you think that was a wise decision, and would you recommend the same if MDP is elected again?
ML: That has been a much talked about issue.
One topic of discussion when drafting the curriculum was whether we should leave all subjects optional at higher secondary education level. And this too was just one among many topics simply opened for discussion. However, in the middle of the debate, a group of people brought it to a halt. We were not able to hold a wide and free discussion on the matter, and through the influence of a certain group of people it was so decided that the subjects cannot be left as optional. That is how it happened.
MM: Would you work to make the subjects optional again in future?
ML: This is not at all about what I want. Nor about what the government wants. It is in essence about what the citizens want. The danger here is that these things go in the manner that a particular small group from among the citizens insists upon. In a democracy, those who speak up and express their opinions are those who get heard. This is why it is important to engage in discussions about matters that will impact you.
A lot of people want to leave the subjects optional, especially higher secondary level students and some parents. Yet they did not speak up about it. The curriculum drafting team will only be aware of the views that are openly expressed. The group who spoke most openly and loudly on this matter were some from among the religious scholars. So this ended as these scholars wanted it to.
MM: It is a common criticism levied at the MDP that the party consists of ‘ladhini’ (anti-Islamic/irreligious) leadership and members. What level of importance is given to matters of the religion by your party?
ML: Our government was one that gave a lot of attention to religion even before. We established a separate ministry to handle matters related to Islam, we built a large number of mosques across the country, we facilitated prayer rooms to be made in schools. Our government was the one that first gave complete freedom to religious scholars to spread their knowledge. For the first time they were able to preach in mosques, streets or other public places, and to bring in foreign scholars.
President Nasheed and the rest of the leadership of MDP perform prayers and other religious obligations just like other Maldivians. The other aspect is belief. Just saying that one is a Muslim is not enough, it is between oneself and God.
And unlike certain others, we do not lie. We do not try to defame others, or make up tales about people. We do not spread discord. So, as I see it, we are living within Islamic principles. No one can rightfully say that people in MDP are ‘ladhini’.
The biggest difference between us and certain other members of the opposition is that we do not go around saying we are religious, nor we do accuse others of being irreligious.
Moving from GIP to MDP
MM: You were very actively involved in the formation of President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP). What was your perception of people’s expectations from a political party such as GIP at that point in time?
ML: We brought on board people with the qualifications to be able to sit on a cabinet were we to be elected to run a government. This included many PhD holders, and people that society would accept as being respectable.
To be honest, we found members by using individuals who we intended to include in our cabinet, and their merit, as our strongest selling point.
MM: Do you notice any difference between now and then in what appeals to people, and what convinces people to support political parties?
ML: There’s a huge difference. Through the work of MDP, the majority of citizens now believe that a people who wants to come to power must approach the electorate with pledges which are based on policies formed with people’s needs in mind.
The opposition and their verbose criticism has assisted us in proving to the people that we are capable of fulfilling our pledges. For example, our pledge about connecting the islands with a transport mechanism. They mocked us and made sarcastic comments asking what would we join the islands with, is it with a thread, and so on. Today, the people see that we have connected the islands with ferry services, making travel between one island and another more convenient than ever before. The people know that MDP will fulfill any pledges that we make, in good quality and at a very fast pace.
MM: You initially joined the MDP government through a coalition between the party and GIP. After the GIP/MDP coalition split up, you joined MDP. What made you decide to do so?
ML: I had an interest in MDP and the work they were doing even when I initially left President Maumoon’s government. If I do join a party, it is my character to become very actively involved in it. However, at that point in life I wanted to focus on one of my life’s ambitions, which is writing. So during those two years, I wrote and published a number of books, while working at a boat construction company of a relative in Thilafushi. I was still doing this work when [President] Waheed approached me to form GIP.
I joined MDP later because I had worked closely with President Nasheed as a cabinet minister and he had won my respect even then due to his energetic approach and his empathy towards the people of Maldives. The leadership of MDP are people who very passionately engage in the reform and democratic movement, and this inspired me.
February 7, and moving forward
MM: Having worked so closely with President Waheed, how did you perceive the role he allegedly played in the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012?
ML: It didn’t at all come across as a shock or surprise to me.
I did have suspicions that Waheed would come out against Nasheed in the latter two years of the MDP administration. I did not, however, expect Waheed to join a group of people and commit an act of treason by orchestrating a coup d’etat.
MM: How much importance will be given to police reform, military reform and judicial reform?
ML: MDP is coming with the intention of conducting things with the best interest of the people in mind – and this too, will be carried out as is best for the people.
MM: At the time of the power transfer, you were serving as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University. What made you decide to leave the post?
ML: I am one who never backs away from anything that I believe I must do at any given time.
In this way, last year it occurred to me that it is pointless for me to remain as chancellor of the university when the state of my country was deteriorating due to the events we faced. I thought it is more important, and something I must do in national interest, to join the movement against the coup d’etat, to actively work to bring back our democratic rights and freedoms. There are many others who are capable of being chancellor, and yet more people were needed at the time to actively dedicate time to this movement and come out onto the streets.
I believed that it is ultimately more important to express my sentiments against what I believe to be an unacceptable act, an act of treason, being carried out in my country.