Ahead of an election contesting the first presidency for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) youth arm later this month, standing candidates and opposition politicians claim the country is at a critical juncture to ensure its largest demographic is not denied a voice and role a within national development.
The MDP is trying to attract a sizable youth vote in the next election, and has mimicked the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) by establishing a Youth Wing to outline policies and opinion from the perspective of younger voters. Serving opposition party youth representatives claim that the country’s twenty-somethings are keen supporters of hard line measures to offset fears of gang culture and its perceived prominence among their peers.
Alongside the upcoming elections for MDP President scheduled for April 30, members will also be given a vote for selecting a candidate to represent young people in the party.
The candidates include Hussain Waheed, serving councilor for Medhu Henveiru Lufshan Shakeeb in Male’, and former Minivan News journalist now working in the President’s Office, Aminath Shauna.
According to Shauna, statistics show that the largest age group in the Maldives is represented by 20 to 24 years of age, followed closely by citizens aged between 25 to 29 years. Despite this apparent numerical prominence, she believes that for over 30 years there have been a scarce number of programmes to prepare young people of working age to responsibly lead initiatives or to take part in higher education beyond a minority of people, setting back the role of young people in the Maldives democratic transition.
For MP Ahmed Malouf, who is responsible for the Youth Wing for the opposition DRP, the appointment comes at a “very bad” period of time for young Maldivians, particularly in relation to gang violence and crime.
The DRP MP told Minivan News that after having previously spent nine years in the Ministry of Youth, he believed that long-standing gang violence between young people in the country had further intensified of late, creating an environment that have made the streets of Male’ unsafe for both local people and foreigners at night.
Mahloof said that having spoken and met with a wide sway of young people from across Maldivian society, the issue of gang violence had arisen as a foremost challenge to his work as Youth Wing head for the DRP.
“We need to find a way to save young people and give them a way out of this [gang] lifestyle,” he said. “Often they become trapped and are unable to get out even if they want to.”
As part of his attempts to appeal to young voters, Mahlouf said he has pressed ahead with promoting tighter legislation. This legislation includes an amendment sent to parliament last month to alter the age by which young people were recognised by the law as an adult to 16, as opposed to the current age of 18.
The MP has claimed the amendments, which have attracted criticism from some human rights bodies, were designed to try and reduce youth crime by ensuring young people suspected of engaging in serious crimes would be treated as adults and face full responsibility for their actions.
”The purpose of changing the age is due to the significant increase in the involvement of minors in crimes sinister in nature, and they cannot be sentenced to the full extent as they are considered minors,” said Mahlouf after announcing his proposed amendments. ”Although they are considered as minors, they are sometimes very dangerous.”
In addition, Mahlouf said he has also forwarded amendments to the Act on the Prohibition of Gang Violence to the Majlis in an attempt to remove the right for suspects linked to police investigations into gang violence to remain silent and for release from custody, providing judges with the power to enforce such restrictions.
To try and finalise these aims, the DRP Youth Wing head claimed that he did not wish to politicise the need to address gang issues and was calling on Maldivians to pressurise all parliamentarians – regardless of party – to pass pending legislation relating to crime needed to curb what he believed was a worsening gang situation.
Mahlouf claimed that having consulted with young artists, including local musicians, he was aware there were also issues of a lack of alternative amenities and youth centres available for young people to engage in nationally.
“From what I have seen things are going backward here. Young people I have spoken to, including musicians in rock bands, say they are fed up,” he said. “Services aren’t being delivered and gang violence is at a very high level, we need to talk with them and find solutions.”
Although critical of the role that the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports was playing in trying to overcome these alleged concerns, Mahlouf conceded that government and parliament alone could not shoulder the responsibility to overcome gang problems, claiming parents and families also needed to take responsibility and a role.
From an MDP perspective, Shauna claimed that she believed the party, through activism and campaigning, had been a vital part of bringing young people into national politics through democratic reform over the last few years. However, she conceded that the sufficient challenges facing young people in the Maldives had meant it was now vital to address the difficulties beyond partisan political thinking.
“The time is now to act. We have to put pressure on the government. We have to put pressure on political parties, on the MDP, the National Council and everyone to help us develop a youth programme to make us better people and a part of the whole [national] development process,” she said. “We have to provide opportunities and make sure there are things besides going to work and drinking cups of coffee everyday. What I mean specifically is that we have to have entertainment opportunities as well as jobs.”
Shauna claimed that rather than being seen as a token position within the party, the MDP Youth president was “desperately needed” to play a vital role in outlining policies for young voters that directly affect their future – something she believed was currently missing from the party.
“Over 50 percent of the MDP’s membership is under the age of 35, so we cannot move forward without their opinions, without their input and without really developing people of our age,” she said.
“The few people who make decisions are older and they are not the majority of the country. This is alright, but then again you have the middle management sector who are not very prepared to do what is needed right now,” Shauna added. “There is so much work to do in terms of nation building and state building to do. Yet the majority of the civil service are saying that they have just barely finished high school. This is the kind of environment that we are having to develop from. It is a hard thing to do and a lot of the time, younger people are only doing simple things, administrative things, like drafting letters, that is it.”
At present, Shauna claimed that even in politics, the involvement of young people was generally consigned to putting up posters and going out on the streets, while there remained an apparent lack of activism and representatives responsibly speaking out about the needs of their peers in relation to developing democracy and human rights.
“Very few young people have been trained or have been given the tools to achieve these things,” she said.”I think it’s imperative that we have a voice and a group that advocates for training, scholarships and entertainment opportunities. Unfortunately the only thing that is discussed about youth is the violence and the drugs and crime.”
Shauna’s fellow MDP Youth Wing candidates, Hussain Waheed and Lufshan Shakeeb, were contacted to outline their positions but had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.