Political parties condemn escalation of ‘paint war’ as capital temporarily turned pink and yellow

The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has warned of an escalation in the so-called ‘paint war’ between rival political supporters in the capital unless authorities can address the practice of painting buildings, walls and even plant-life in party colours.

Supporters of the PPM have been accused this week of covering state property and government buildings, such as walls outside the new Supreme Court compound in Male’, in the party’s official colour of pink.

However, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan today condemned the practice, requesting that any supporters or “sympathisers” of political parties in the country refrain from painting public property in any political colour.

Unless the Male’ City Council (MCC), the police and the Elections Commission (EC) did more to prevent the painting of public property in pink, yellow and other political colours, the issue could become increasingly problematic ahead of September’s presidential election, Nihan told Minivan News.

The ‘paint war’ has seen “sympathisers” and supporters of both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the PPM accused of daubing walls and buildings in their respective party colours of yellow and pink in the Henveiru ward of Male’.

In recent days, the painting has expanded to other areas of the capital, although authorities have in some cases worked to restore affected structures, specifically government buildings, to their original colour.

A group of women recently painted the walls of the Henveiru stadium in the MDP’s yellow after PPM supporters painted a large section of the low walls dark pink, according to local media.

The PPM’s official colour was also painted on the walls of a compound in Sosun Magu designated for a new Supreme Court building, as well as on the walls at the artificial beach area of Male’.

However, on Saturday (June 15), a group of MDP supporters painted over the pink and turned a section of the artificial beach wall in front of the State Bank of India back to yellow.

Following the incident, the MDP urged its members, well-wishers and supporters, as well as members of rival parties to “immediately cease” painting party colours on public property.

PPM MP Nihan however has accused the opposition party’s supporters of instigating the painting throughout Male’ by covering entire areas of the capital such as its Usfasdgandu protest camp in yellow, leading to reprisals from rival supporters.

He said that with MCC having provided the MDP with its own campaign ground and protest camp in the form of Usfasgandu, rival parties had grown concerned they had not been provided with the same opportunities from the council.

Nihan alleged that it was a sense of disparity that had seen a surge in the painting of political party colours.

He also criticized the MDP for further exacerbating the situation in recent weeks, taking the example of an incident outside PPM Presidential candidate Abdullah Yameen’s campaign office in Male’. After the office was established, MDP supporters were accused of painting an area of land opposite in yellow and decorating it in flags.

PPM “sympathisers” soon retaliated by painting the surrounding area in the party’s own pink colour, according to Nihan.

Rather than being just a matter of graffiti, he expressed concern that attempts to cover walls and property throughout the country in different political colours could escalate political tensions into violence between rival supporters if unchecked.

Despite these concerns, Nihan added that covering buildings and structures in party colours was nothing new for the Maldives, with similar activities being conducted across the country’s inhabited islands ahead of the 2008 presidential election.

While pink and yellow are the predominant colours presently seen in Male’, he said that five years ago “every corner” in the country was painted yellow or blue to reflect support either for the MDP or the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – then headed by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Despite having previously founded the DRP, Gayoom later left the party, taking a faction of its supporters with him to form the PPM back in 2011 following a war of words with current Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

On the back of current concerns about the capital being painted in political colours, Nihan ultimately accused the MCC of turning a “blind eye” to the escalation of the so-called ‘paint wars’ between his party and the opposition.

He therefore requested that the MCC, in which the MDP has a majority, take proper action to prevent any further state buildings like the country’s courts from being painted.

“Male’ is only a small place, yet the MCC use their hall as a campaign post for the MDP,” he said. “The Decentralisation Act requires the council to keep the entire city clean.  The police have to stop [property being painted in political colours] from happening and the MCC must assist them.  In America, you wouldn’t see people painting over the White House in different colours.”

While the majority of political painting in the capital over the last week had been in the colours of the PPM and MDP, Nihan also accused President Mohamed Waheed of purposefully using white to cover buildings and pubic property painted by rival parties as part of his own campaign efforts ahead of the election.

The official colour of President Waheed’s party is registered as green.

MCC Mayor Ali Manik told Minivan News today that he had issued a warning to all political parties that it was illegal for them to post promotional material or paint on government property.  He added that ahead of the election, all political stakeholders wishing to win over the public should also be wary of breaking such laws.

However, Manik said that it was not the council’s responsibility to clean the affected areas, adding that the political parties would be required to take responsibility for areas that had been re-coloured against the law.

A spokesperson for the Maldives Police Service (MPS) said that while officers had begun a clean-up program targeting graffiti suspected of being created by gangs, the painting of public property in party colours was not within its mandate.

Responding to Nihan’s allegations that the country’s only opposition party had an unfair campaign advantage in Male’, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that the MDP had been leased Usfasgandu by the MCC after requesting land for political purposes.

He therefore questioned why other parties had not in turn requested similar arrangements from the council, adding that he could see no justification for what he alleged had been PPM supporters painting the walls of government buildings pink in response to the MDP’s campaigning.

The party meanwhile said in a statement on Sunday (June 16) that the Male’ City Council had shared concerns of party colours being painted on walls of government-owned buildings and facilities.

“We note that painting party colours on the walls of buildings of the government and other institutions is prohibited by the Elections Commission’s regulations and that painting party colours, sticking posters, logos and banners as well as any expression involving a political party on public property has been prohibited,” the MDP press release stated.

The party advised supporters to paint walls or put up banners and posters on the walls of their own residences as part of the re-election campaign of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Government concerns

Despite clean up efforts going on across the capital, the government of President Mohamed Waheed today also expressed concern over public property and state buildings being painted.

While the public and political parties were free to decorate their own property how they liked, the government requested that people refrain from painting public areas in political colours, said President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad.

“People are free to do this in their homes or on party property, but we wish for government institutions and buildings to be kept free of these colours,” he said. “I do not really think this is politically helpful to any party and simply alienates people not interested in politics.”

Masood added that from the perspective of President Waheed’s own Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP), there was no intention to begin painting walls and state property in its official colour of green.

Masood argued that the main concern about a rise in painting of political colours was the eventual cost to public finances, adding that the Supreme Court has decided to yesterday paint walls outside the compound designated for a new Supreme Court building public grey.

“Yesterday, independent of the government, the Supreme court decided it waned to change the colours of the walls outside the complex which I believe had been recently painted pink or purple,” he said.

“The cost incurred to do this as a result of the misjudgment by some member of the public will have to be paid from state funds.”