MJA elections scheduled for September 21

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has announced that elections for its steering committee have been scheduled for 9:00pm on Sunday, September 21.

In an announcement yesterday, MJA urged members to be present at the seminar hall of the youth centre ahead of time as entrance would be closed 15 minutes before the meeting starts.

Interested candidates have been told to submit applications before September 11. Candidates would also be able to put forward their names during the meeting.

Three previous attempts to hold the elections had failed due to disagreements among journalists. Heated confrontations took place at the last meeting of the MJA on August 24.

Former MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir announced his resignation the day after the disrupted meeting, citing the atmosphere as “not conducive” for holding elections.


MDP candidate for Feydhoo constituency alleges black magic led to election defeat

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate for Feydhoo constituency Mohamed Nihad – who lost the election to Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Ibrahim Didi – has today told the High Court that his opponent used black magic to win the election.

According to local media present at the High Court hearing held Thursday, the MDP candidate claimed that Didi buried coconuts that were suspected to be cursed by using black magic, in different areas of Feydhoo.

Nihad also alleged that the same type of cursed coconuts were buried inside his house and near to the polling station.

He also alleged that Didi went near the polling station during voting hours and campaigned there.

Nihad told the High Court that Ibrahim Didi had bribed people and campaigned after official hours, and that he had filed complaints with the anti-corruption and elections commissions without receiving a response.

Elections Commission lawyer Hussein Siraj told the court that first it should be determined whether the coconut was really cursed or not and to what extent the curse had affected the result of the election.

Ibrahim Didi’s lawyer also spoke in the court and denied all the charges, claiming that Nihad was attempting to destroy his good name.


Week in review: April 6 – 12

In a varied week of news, protests, primates, and possessed plants all featured in the headlines.

The top story of the week, however, involved the tragic death of two port workers in Malé, killed by faulty equipment in an accident the union suggested could have been avoided.

Beloved public health figure Dr Ahmed Razee also passed away this week after more than three decades of public service.

Meanwhile, tests run following the death of a Malé resident the week before revealed high levels of opium and benzodiazepine in the blood of the youth – released from rehab just 24 hours earlier.

Statistics from the Drug Court this week revealed that 101 individuals have completed the mandatory rehab programmes that had been prescribed since the court’s introduction in August 2012.

The case of a Russian woman accused of smuggling drugs into the country was sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office, while the passport of the doctor who signed the form allowing a convicted drug dealer to leave the country was held by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

The ACC were also occupied with investigating alleged wrongdoing in the Ramazan night market contract, with the commission telling the new city council that the deal had been terminated last year – to the bemusement of Go Media, the company currently organising this year’s event.

Police were also kept busy with the recent rush of child abuse cases, with commentators unsure as to whether the recent spate of incidents represented a rise in offending or a greater willingness to report such crimes.

One crime not reported to police this week was the apparent offence committed by a Jinn tree upon the residents of Haa Alif Thakandhoo, who took matters into their own hands, breaking into the school compound to hack down the accused.

Campaigners in neighbouring Haa Dhaalu atoll continued to gain support for their calls to bring resort development to the atoll, with the government assuring that the tourism industry’s ever-growing spoils would be equally distributed.

Teachers campaigning against pay discrepancies wore black to work this week, while civil servants seeking equal pay discussed a potential strike later in the month.

The Bar Association suggested that the government had failed to adequately consult the legal profession regarding new regulations to practice, as well as calling for the suspension of Chief Justice Ali Hameed after his alleged involvement in a sex-tape scandal.

The government’s plans to raise revenue continued this week, with MIRA expecting to receive an additional MVR110 million per year through the taxation of telecoms – revenue that will be essential should the soon-to-be concluded GMR arbitration case go against the state.

The Home Ministry was chastised for its failure to adhere to the schedule of the recently-implemented Anti-Torture Act, while the Environment Ministry revealed that euthanasia may be the only option left for the slow loris confiscated by police earlier this year.

The alcohol possession trial of departing MPs Abdulla Jabir and Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was postponed when the former was unable to attend after suffering health problems while in jail.

Legal challenges to March’s elections results continued to rise, casting doubt on the identities of a number of future MPs, scheduled to be sworn in on May 28.


Progressive Coalition to hold public feast to celebrate election results

The Progressive Coalition is to host a feast for the public to mark the Majlis elections success, according to local media outlet Vnews.

Speaking in a press conference held in Progressive Party of Maldives offices in Janavaree magu, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali stated that the feast, titled ‘Shukuriyyaa Gaumu’ or ‘Thank you, Nation’, was part of the festivities to mark their success in the parliamentary elections.

Muaz added that senior officials of the Coalition partners will participate in the feast. He also said that the Coalition had invited members of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

The Progressive Coalition won a total of 53 of the 85 Majlis seats being contested on March 22, with the subsequent addition of 4 more MPs-elect swelling the number to 57.


Comment: Polls underline coalition reality of the times

In a not wholly unexpected development, President Abdulla Yameen’s ‘ruling’ coalition – led by his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – has won an absolute majority in the recast 85-member People’s Majlis.

To an infant democracy that was tottering through the first five years, it should be a welcome first step, ensuring political stability for the government to address equally important and immediate issues – beginning with the nation’s tottering economy.

Between them, President Yameen and former President Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed – leader of the losing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – have hinted at a stable polity for the next five years. Nasheed readily conceded defeat long before the official results were known, congratulating President Yameen on the victory. Though Nasheed may not have added the names of any other leader of the ‘ruling’ Progressive Coalition, from the MDP’s side, it was saying a lot.

President Yameen had commenced the reconciliation game even before the parliamentary polls. In one of his last campaign rallies, he was quoted as saying that his government would not resort to witch-hunting or appointing commissions to probe alleged wrong-doings by previous governments. This was a reiteration of the commitment Yameen had made in public immediately after winning the hotly-contested presidential polls against Nasheed in November last.

When numbers add up

Give or take a seat or two, the provisional results – being updated sluggishly by the local media owing to a slow vote-count – showed (at the time of writing this piece) that the Progressive Coalition had won a total of 53 of the 85 seats. The opposition MDP bagged 26 seats, down by a single seat from the numbers held in the outgoing house of 77 MPs.

From among the ruling coalition members, the PPM – founded by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – of which President Yameen is at present the torch-bearer, has won 33, the Jumhooree Party (JP) of former Special Majlis chairperson Gasim Ibrahim 15, and the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA), five.

Five seats have gone to independents, with Progressive Coalition leaders claiming that they are either ‘rebels’ from constituent parties and/or would soon back the government. If true, the government would have a two-thirds majority in the new parliament.

Apart from the independents, one seat has gone to the religion-centric Adhahalath Party (AP), which had backed Yameen in the decisive second run-off round of the presidential polls last year. The party has fallen out with its ally from the first round presidential polls, the JP, over seat-sharing for parliamentary elections.

The lessons from the current series of three elections – to the presidency, the local councils, and now parliament – are clear. The Maldives will not escape the rigours and realities of coalition politics for some time to come. Coalition politics and administrations need not be bad after all, and party leaderships should accept this reality if democracy is to take deeper roots.

The absence of such realisation on the part of the MDP after Nasheed’s election as President in 2008 may have been among the major causes for the troubles that the nation and the constitutional scheme had to face in the years that followed. This meant that, unlike at present, the Nasheed government had to do without an absolute majority in parliament, which was controlled by an opposition comprising the traditional rivals in the Dhivehi Progressive Party (DRP) – then of President Gayoom – the People’s Alliance (PA) of President Yameen, and Gasim’s JP.

Nasheed attributed the poor MDP showing to the low voter turn-out, caused in turn by the Supreme Court’s alleged compromising of the independence of the Elections Commission by sacking two members a fortnight before the poll. With less than a sixth of the vote-sheets to be counted, the reported voter turn-out was 16 percent lower than the highest ever 91.41 percent in the high-voltage second-round of presidential polls on 16 November, 2013.

MDP to rebuild

While conceding the parliamentary polls, Nasheed has called upon the leaders of the MDP (which is still the single largest political party in the country in terms of registered membership) to share the blame for the electoral defeat. He has also called for laws to prevent post-poll defection by elected members, apprehensive as he may have been on that count.

While neighbouring nations like India, the world’s largest democracy, has an effective anti-defection law, the fact remains that the MDP itself mustered a parliamentary majority in the outgoing house only by encouraging defections of the kind.

Nasheed has also called upon the MDP to restructure the party organisation, and to induct younger members into positions of decision-making. As may be recalled, the MDP has been without a president and vice-president since 2012.

At 47, Nasheed may have had enough of politics and elections, and he has indicated that he is ready to pass on the baton, while continuing to remain and work in the party of which he is a co-founder as well as its most-popular face and effective advocate – both at home and abroad.

In restructuring the party, the MDP leadership would also be addressing the requirements of the future, to face the presidential and parliamentary polls five years hence. Three years from now, the MDP may have an occasion to test capacity of the restructured organisation in the local council polls. In a way, these will be a referendum of sorts on the Progressive Coalition.

Commitment to the coalition?

Even with all five independents on its side, no government is possible for the Progressive Coalition without the JP and Gasim on board. Though not immediately, but possibly after the next local council polls, the partners of the ‘ruling’ combine would be tempted to review their own positions and partnerships in the long run-up to the presidential polls, if they have not started doing already.

For now, President Yameen and JP’s Gasim – whose party has won rich dividends in the parliamentary polls owing to the continued commitment to the alliance – among others, have sworn by the Progressive Coalition.

Going by preliminary figures, the JP has now won 15 parliamentary seats against the lone seat Gasim had won for the party in 2009. Gasim has since argued that the coalition lost a few seats owing to ‘rebel candidates’ and ‘cross-voting’. Other coalition leaders have claimed that all five independents who have won this time are natural allies of the ruling combine.

An occasion would present itself immediately on testing the Coalition’s resolve to stay together when they short-list a nominee for the speaker’s post. Going by the multi-party democratic experience with and under outgoing Speaker Abdulla Shahid – who crossed over to the MDP last year – the government parties would be cautious in their choice of the next speaker.

Gasim has now thrown his hat into the ring, having previously shown his efficient floor-management as the Chair of the SpecialMajlis and effective coordination with Gayoom at a crucial stage in contemporary Maldivian history – just the qualities that are required of a parliamentary chair in the country just now. It would still be left to the twin PPM leadership of President Yameen at the administrative level and Gayoom at the political level, to take a call on this issue.


Transparency Maldives reveals details of election day observation mission

Transparency Maldives has today confirmed it will be fielding the only nation-wide domestic elections observation mission for this Saturday’s Majlis elections.

The mission will comprise of over 300 trained observers and volunteers, spanning all 20 atolls and foreign countries hosting ballot boxes for the country’s second multi-party parliamentary elections.

In addition to election day efforts,  Transparency will be conducting long-term election observation in order to ensure that the pre-election is free from obstructions, and that voters can make an informed choice without undue influence.

Transparency Maldives’ long-term observer network has been functional since 1 March 2014.

“Though the pre-election environment is largely peaceful, Transparency Maldives has identified vote buying, allegations of abuse of authority and state resources, and the lack of political financing transparency as major issues of concern through the long term observation,” read the press release.

Transparency will be releasing a press statement on the opening of polls on the afternoon of election day, as well as a statement on the closing and counting of ballots the following day.

A final report on the findings with recommendations will be published within a month of the polls.


Government seeks to “revert back to centralisation”, says MDP

Threats to disband Addu City Council are “impossible” and show lack of “political understanding” the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said.

The statement follows warnings from President of Local Government Authority (LGA) and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim that the council could be disbanded if it did not cooperate with the government.

The six member council was one of two administrative divisions – along with Malé City – designated as cities in the 2010 Decentralisation Act.

Both are dominated by the opposition MDP, with all six of Addu’s council seats being won by the party in recent local elections.

Speaking at a government coalition campaign rally held in Addu’s Hithadhoo island earlier this week, Nazim said that residents did not cooperate with the government and that this can create problems, local media reported.

“Action may have to be taken against them, and could lead to dissolving the council”, he was quoted as saying.

Speaking at the same rally, President Abdulla Yameen remarked, “while the MDP may say that they would hold the government accountable if they win a majority in parliament, they would in reality create problems for the government.”

In response to these comments, the MDP have released a statement characterising Nazim’s “unlawful threat” as a “warning to stop the empowerment and development of Addu City citizens.”

The opposition party accused the government of attempting to dissolve the Addu City Council in order to revert the country to autocratic rule.

“However, the people of Addu City have always shown that they will not bow to such dictatorial actions,” the statement read.

Spokesperson Hamid told Minivan News that the threats made by Nazim were impossible, and a sign of the government’s “desperation” and lack of political understanding.

“Decentralisation is very much welcome and they have tried to revert back to centralisation” he added.

As part of its Majlis election campaign, the MDP has pledged to amend the Decentralisation Act in order to empower local councils. Former President Nasheed has said the party’s aim was to secure financial independence for local government.

“We want each council to conduct business transactions using the island [to generate income] for establishing sewerage and water systems, build roads or even construct a harbour or do work needed for the school – we want to find a way for you to undertake these efforts on your own,” said Nasheed last month.

Budget for Addu

Prior to Nazim’s remarks, President Yameen told residents in Hithadhoo that the 2014 state budget comprised of developmental projects that would solve the problems in Addu City.

Speaking at a parliamentary campaign event held on Tuesday (March 18), the president said that apart from the projects that will be run via the state budget, he had also planned other developmental projects for Addu by obtaining funds from other sources, reported Haveeru.

“According to my information, 50 percent of the finance needed to deal with the land erosion problem has been arranged by the Saudi government. We have written a proposal to Kuwait Fund to attain the remaining 50 percent funds as loan aid,” Yameen was quoted as saying.

In addition, Yameen said that work on building the Islamic Centre in Hithadhoo will commence in June this year.

If the public wanted to see these plans completed, the governmental coalition would need to acquire the parliament’s majority, Yameen said, calling upon the people to vote for candidates representing the government’s Progressive Coalition.

Shortly after this year’s budget was proposed, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig suggested the financial difficulties facing his council were a result of the failure to implement the Decentralisation Act properly.

“Right now decentralisation in this country is just for show,” Sodig told Minivan News in December. “The government and Majlis need to resolve these issues if the citizens are to benefit from decentralisation in a meaningful way.”

Under the landmark legislation, the LGA is tasked with monitoring councils, ensuring standards, improving technical capacity, and coordinating with the central government.

The LGA board consists of a cabinet minister appointed by the president, a member appointed from the MCC, four atoll councillors elected from among members of atoll councils, a representative from civil society appointed by parliament, a member of the general public appointed by parliament, and a member elected from the Addu and Malé city councils.


Vandals attack campaign offices of Majlis speaker

Speaker of the People’s Majlis and MP for Keyodhoo constituency Abdulla Shahid has today condemned an attack on his office, following the news that two campaign offices had been vandalised in the early hours of the morning.

“It was more than damage, it was an attempt to intimidate,” Shahid told Minivan News, declaring that he “would not back down” in the face of “intimidation”.

Police have confirmed that two attacks that took place in the early hours of this morning (March 13).

Speaking with Minivan News, Shahid confirmed that he was awoken at around 4am by supporters saying that there had “been some damage to the office”.

“It looked like it had been a big piece of rock damaging the class panel, and caused considerable damage,” explained Shahid.

A police statement reveals that as well as vandalism carried out at Shahid’s campaign hall, the campaign offices of Machchangoalhi Dhekunu constituency candidate Hassan Mamdhooh.

Shahid is campaigning for the 18th Majlis on a Maldivian Democratic Party ticket, while Mamdhooh is running as an independent.

The police said they are investigating the matter, but that no suspects have been arrested.

Shahid suggested that the perpetrators were intending to “intimidate the public. They want to send a message to the people that politics is violent, politics is not safe, a message to the public to lay off politics.”

Earlier this week, Shahid’s name appeared on a letter sent to the chief justice and attorney general, stating that the recent dismissal of the president and vice president of the Elections Commission (EC) was contrary to the constitutional procedures which reserved such powers for the Majlis.

The letter – also signed by Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – was based on legal advice from the parliament’s consul general after an analysis of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Currently, the vacant seats in the EC are being filled in an effort to keep the parliamentary elections timely. So far, parliament has approved Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem to replace former commission member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed.

When asked about the parliamentary elections, Shahid remarked: “I’m hoping against hope that it will happen,”  adding that any more delays in the elections “will destroy the democratic process of the country”.

He finished by stating that the political system will only work when there is a “peaceful environment” in which it can flourish.


EC dismissals: Majlis says commissioners’ removal was unconstitutional

The People’s Majlis has written to the chief justice and the attorney general, stating that the president and vice president of the Election Commission (EC) were removed contrary to the constitutional procedures governing their appointment and dismissal.

The letter – signed by Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – also noted that the move contravened the Elections Commission Act.

According to Majlis, the content of the letter was based on legal advice of parliament’s counsel general after her analysis of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

The Supreme Court yesterday sentenced EC President Fuwad Thowfeek to six months imprisonment under Article 88(a) of the penal code, and ordered the enforcement of the sentence be delayed for a period of three years.

The verdict also declared that Fuwad and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz had “lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission and that the pair’s seats on the commission have become vacant”.

The letter stated that it was the People’s Majlis which is tasked with the appointment and removal of EC members, and that for any given reason a member of that commission can only be removed by a simple majority of votes in a parliament sitting as “clearly stated” in Article 177 of the constitution and Article 14 of the Elections Commission Act.

“Referring to the said article of the constitution and the elections commission act, it is clear that the authority to appoint and remove member from that commission is especially reserved for the People’s Majlis without the involvement of any other party.”

The letter also said that the removal of the pair by the Supreme Court contravenes the procedures specified in Article 177 of the constitution and Articles 5, 10, and 14 of the EC Act.

The letter referred to a number of statements from the Supreme Court’s verdict nullifying parliament’s removal of Mohamed Fahmy Hassan from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) in March last year.

The Majlis today noted that the constitutional procedures for removing EC members and CSC members were the same, saying that the court’s previous ruling had said the following:

“It is clear from the letter of the constitution that the constitution does not allow any of the three powers of the state to carry out the constitutional jurisdiction or functions of another, and that it is clearly stated that the system of separation of powers, and check and balance established between three powers by constitution is an principal feature of the constitutional system and the constitution of the Maldives.”

Referring to the same verdict, the letter said that the court had stated that “all powers of the state should fulfil their jurisdictions and functions within the constitutional limits set for that power by the constitution”.

The same ruling also stated that constitutional procedures regarding independent institutions are there to ensure their independence. In this regard, the verdict noted that tasking the executive with appointment, the parliament with removal and accountability, and the chief justice with oath taking are also check and balance procedures established under the constitutional principle of separation of powers.