Political figures and civil society organisations have expressed concern at a perceived accountability failure within the Maldives’ democratic system, which they allege allows MPs to switch freely between rival parties for personal gain.
Local NGO Transparency Maldives claimed the lack of mechanisms for investigating the alleged use of incentives to encourage MPs to transfer to other parties had done very little to “allay fears” among the general public of parliament being a corrupt institution.
Ibrahim Shareef, Deputy Leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), claimed while MPs were not necessarily having their allegiance bought by rival parties, there was “always a temptation” for elected officials to transfer to a party expected to come to power. He claimed such activities were likely a factor in growing public disillusionment with democracy.
The issue arose after Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ilham Ahmed was reported in local media as stating this his allegiance was “not for sale”, despite his “love and admiration” for Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim.
“Gasim is someone whom I love very much. He is a very good friend of mine since Television Maldives and through my teenage years. But loving or being close to someone is not reason to change parties,” Haveeru reported Ilham as saing.
While aware of MP Ilham’s comments, JP Spokesperson Moosa Rameez maintained it was against the values of the party to offer incentives to encourage MPs to join up.
“We have our doors always open for people who believe in our policies to join us. There have been no attempts made to bring Ilham to JP ,” he told Minivan News.
The JP is a coalition partner of the PPM within the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.
Transparency Maldives Project Director Aiman Rasheed maintained that a lack of investigative mechanisms and regulations within the Majlis to outline rules for MPs wishing to switch political parties had helped to further erode public trust in elected officials.
Rasheed pointed to a report published by Transparency International last year concluding that 90 percent of a surveyed group of Maldivians believed that the People’s Majlis was the most corrupt of the country’s institutions.
The “Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in Maldives” report surveyed 1001 people in the Maldives between April 23 and April 29 of 2011 to capture public perception of corruption in the country.
Rasheed maintained that reports and allegations of MPs switching to other political parties for incentives was one of a number of factors that had led to dwindling trust in the country’s parliament.
“The problem is that all these claims [of MPs switching parties or being bought] remain allegations. No one is doing any investigation into these claims and these is no interest in doing so,” he claimed.
“What this serves to do is erode trust in parliament, which our Public Opinion in Maldives report found to be seen as the most corrupt national institution. Parliament is not doing anything to allay these fears and it is really hard to verify such allegations.”
Rasheed claimed that Transparency Maldives was concerned that parliament was failing to do its duty by providing details of MPs’ interests and finances to the public.
He stressed that although efforts were taken to try and make an MPs assets and interests publicly available, parliamentarians themselves failed to agree on procedure for doing this.
Ahead of presidential elections scheduled for later this year, Shareef warned there was a “real danger” MPs would switch to rival parties to protect their political careers, regardless of ideology or political allegiance.
“The Maldives is in a transition state to a democracy, however the situation has been very volatile in the past five to six years,“ he claimed.
Shareef claimed a lack of understanding within the country about the workings of a democratic system had also led to difficulties following a switch from autocracy after general elections were held in 2008.
“Democracy is a word we all talk about. But the Maldives is a mostly youthful nation that chose to believe that democracy would bring solutions to all our problems. However, over the last few year that had been growing disillusionment with [former President] Mohamed Nasheed,” he claimed.
Shareef alleged that politicians on both sides of the country’s political divide sought to be in power by making unrealistic promises spread through what he believed was mostly privately-owned, politically biased media services.
“The media is being controlled and used as a tool to mislead [island] communities about MPs. There is always a temptation for MPs to go where the wind blows strongest,” he claimed.
“If it looks like a party might be coming to power, many MPs without a strong ideology might choose to switch to them to ensure they can keep their well-paid political positions.”
Shareef claimed that rather than earning condemnation from constituents for switching their political allegiance, MPs would at times decide to swing towards parties that would provide them with the greatest benefit in line with voter preference in their communities.
As well as criticising the ideology of the opposition MDP, Shareef also hit out at coalition partner the PPM, which he accused of favouring a “royalist stance” towards leadership in the country.
The PPM was formed back in 2011 after a split between supporters of current DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and those of his predecessor and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Gayoom had previously been the autocratic ruler of the country for 30 years from 1978 to 2008, when he was defeated in the country’s first democratic elections by former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Shareef accused the PPM of holding a deeply conservative ideology in favour of what he labelled a constitutional monarchy. He claimed such an ideology was focused on maintaining the former President’s legacy through his immediate heirs.
“They represent a very deeply conservative ideology of invoking a golden age of 30 years [of autocratic rule],” he said. “If you carefully observe, the top ladder of the PPM represent a legacy of Gayoom that will be maintained though his children.”
Shareef contended that traditionally, the president of the Maldives seemed as far away and distant to the everyday lives of the Maldivian people as the president of the US.
“Until recently, people saw the president as someone with divine authority to rule the country from Male’,” he said. Shareef claimed that efforts to change would be difficult.
When contacted by Minivan News today, PPM MP and Parliamentary Group Leader Abdulla Yameen said the party was busy with its congress and internal elections to decide on its key positions ahead of presidential elections later this year. He declined to comment on the issue.