High turnout in Dhiggaru by-election

Some 82 percent of eligible voters have cast ballots in the parliamentary by-election for Dhiggaru constituency today.

Election Commission (EC) figures show some 2017 of the 2,555 voters had voted by 4:00pm. The commission has closed all six ballot boxes and has started counting votes.

Official results will be announced by 8:30pm tonight.

The main contenders are the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Ahmed Faris Maumoon leading and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Ahmed Raazee.

The election was triggered by the imprisonment of ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim on corruption charges in April.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Faris promised development for the five islands in the Dhiggaru constituency.

“I don’t want to compare myself with the other candidates. That’s a job for the voters. I have already stated my credentials and what I will do for the constituency. The voters will weigh and decide,” he said.

“Over 90 percent of people I met agree that this constituency has had some development over the years. I am looking to speed things up and bring even more development to this constituency.”

Faris is the son of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the nephew of president Abdulla Yameen. The opposition has accused the PPM of vote-buying and bribery after PPM donated x-ray machines and air conditioning units to two islands in the constituency.

President Yameen last week pledged to provide a 140 kilo-watt power generator for Dhiggaru and said he will prioritize PPM constituencies for development projects.

The government has also signed an agreement with the state-owned Maldives Transport and Construction Company to build a harbour in Dhiggaru.

Dhiggaru is a PPM stronghold and a support base of the former president.

The MDP candidate, Raazee, said he hoped voters will elect him, and condemned what he called efforts by the PPM to deceive people.

“The ruling party has tried to influence elections. They have brought in excavators and construction materials at the Dhiggaru, Maduvvari and Muli harbors, to trick people to think there will be development,” he said.

“But I’m sure people will not fall for that and elect me. I am from the constituency and I know their needs.”

Raazee also condemned a police raid of a boat carrying some 40 voters from Malé to Dhiggaru last night.

Police prevented the boat from leaving the Malé harbor at 2am last night until they searched all individuals on board on suspicion of carrying drugs. The police dog squad was brought on to the boat to search for drugs.

The boat was only cleared at 1:00pm today. A police media official declined to comment on the matter.

The boat’s captain Adam Waheed said all passengers had left Malé on speed boats, but three of the crew on board will not be able to vote as the journey will take seven hours.

No drugs were found on board, he said.

Speaking to reporters outside the Dhiggaru polling booths, EC member Ahmed Akram said the commission had received only one complaint.

“It was regarding some envelopes distributed in Muli last night with campaign and anti-campaign material after the official campaigning time closed,” he said.


Police dogs to be used at airport and seaports

Police are planning to conduct operations to combat drug smuggling using its new dog squad at the country’s airports and seaports.

The Maldives Police Service signed Memorandums of Understanding with the ports authority, airports company, immigration department, and the customs authority yesterday to use the sniffer dogs to locate drugs.

The MoUs outline mechanisms for relaying information, conducting joint operations, and sharing resources, according to police.

In an exclusive interview with Minivan News last year, home minister Umar Naseer said tackling the country’s entrenched drug problem was his main priority and vowed to “seal” the gateways to the Maldives.


Advance payment of €40,000 for police dog squad

The Maldives government has made a €40,000 (US$50,000) advance payment to a Netherlands-based company for the delivery of a dog squad to combat drug trafficking.

A police media statement explained that the payment was made to the Dutch company yesterday which is to be called ‘Faara Gema’.

Police also announced employment opportunities working at the ‘Faara Gema’ dog squad kennel which is to be located in Hulhumalé.

Police give the utmost importance and high priority towards fighting against drug use and trafficking and also establishing the ‘Faara Gema’ dog squad, read the press statement.

While speaking at a press conference last week, Police Drug Enforcement Department head, Chief Inspector Ahmed Shifan revealed plans to use the dog squad in the atolls during special operations, but refused to provide any further details.

Minister of Home Affairs, Umaru Naseer flew to the Netherlands in June to finalise arrangements for the dogs, which the ministry has said will first be transported to Sri Lanka.

“The dogs will be trained in Sri Lanka for three months. After that the Maldivian police team will travel to Sri Lanka and train with the dogs for another three months and the dogs will be brought to the Maldives for the first time to form the squad,” explained media officer Thazmeel Abdul Samad.

A total of 15 police officers are to be given training to work with the animals, local media have reported.

The Maldives has previously employed dogs for drugs and security, with the most recent example being the use of dogs for security operations at the 2011 SAARC Summit in Addu City. On that occasion, the dogs were handled by a special Sri Lankan task force.

In October 2002 two sniffer dogs were brought to the Maldives from Sri Lanka, and were used at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport under the supervision of National Security Service – and later the Maldives National Defence Force.

In 2008, the chair of the parliamentary committee on narcotics, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said that no drugs were ever confiscated with the help of the two dogs. The committee’s investigations found that the dogs were in fact unable to recognize drugs, said Solih.

The home minister has pledged to focus his efforts on the battle against drugs while in office, noting that illegal narcotics were overloading the criminal justice system and fuelling gang crime.

He has identified stricter control of the country’s borders, a crack down on large-scale drug dealers, and rehabilitation of drug users as the key ways in which to tackle the problem.

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