Comment: President Yameen begins well, yet road-blocks remain

True to his public commitment on election to the nation’s highest office, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has extended an arm of all-round reconciliation. The MDP opposition, whose nominee and former President Mohamed Nasheed lost the polls by a narrow margin, has also risen to the occasion. Yet it will require all their collective will and commitment to stay the course, with scheduled elections to local councils and the parliament possibly occasioning a return to political adversity, if not unacceptable hostility.

Symbolising the reconciliation was the prompt MDP withdrawal of the no-trust motion against Deputy Speaker in Parliament, Ahmed Nazim who belongs to President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). As if by cue, the government side rendered a similar move against Speaker Abdulla Shahid ineffectual. President Yameen had to silence murmurs of protest from the PPM camp after two party MPs withdrew from the no-trust move against the speaker. It sent out ‘confusing signals’ but only for a while. The murmurs have died down and the reconciliation has held.

A more significant concession to the opposition was the resignation of Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz – the nation’s top cop. The MDP was critical of his role in the controversial power-transfer of 7 February 2012, when President Nasheed quit and his Vice-President Dr Mohamed Waheed took over as per existing constitutional provisions. The party was unhappy with the functioning of Riyaz even afterward.

Armed forces at bay

Addressing larger issues and concerns, the new government has proposed to bring up a bill before the People’s Majlis, proposing disciplinary action and procedure against errant personnel of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF).

Both during the pre-democratisation era and afterward, the MNDF has been in the eye of political storms. Frequent transfers and summary dismissals – caused possibly by the over-politicisation and political misuse of the forces – were not wholly uncommon. It will surprise any student of military history that Maldives does not have a disciplinary law for the armed forces. It is hoped that the new law would address not only individual acts of ‘indiscipline’ but also ‘institutional lapses’, protecting the MNDF hierarchy from political acts of avoidable transfers and demotions, and continually testing their ‘loyalty’ to the State (read: ‘loyalty’ to the person of the incumbent president).

Despite bifurcation of the National Security Service (NSS) into the MNDF and the Maldives Police Service, presidents – both during pre-democratisation era and afterward – have been known to have commanded the former to execute what were patently illegal acts of arrests and the like. Anyway, under the bifurcation formula, such arrests fell within the mandated responsibilities of the police, which unlike the MNDF was directly answerable to the nation’s judiciary.

However, the current efforts come on the heels of the Yameen Government dismissing at least eight MNDF officials in two groups, on charges of ‘spreading hatred’. It was said that some of the dismissed officials, including two seniors in the rank of Brigadier-General – one of them demoted – were identified with what could be described as ‘independent’ or ‘anti-government’ campaign since the power-transfer of 2012.

The MDP’s Nasheed has promptly criticised the dismissals. It remains to be seen how the party reacts to the issue and the promised new bill – in parliament and outside. While defending the dismissals, the Defence Ministry has said that it was in consultation with authorities on initiating legal action against those making such criticisms. Both the MDP charges and the caution about possible action are remnants from the past, and have the potential to rock the ‘reconciliation boat’ in more ways than one.

One solution could be to address issues futuristically as a nation, to see if and how the uniformed services could be ‘de-politicised’ completely, as is prevalent in many matured democracies.

Responsive to internal compulsions

Responsive to internal compulsions of the PPM-led coalition from the second round, Yameen named Umar Naseer – who had contested against him for the PPM presidential nomination, taking his subsequent defeat to the courts – as the all-important Home Minister. Naseer had sided with Jumhooree Party (JP) presidential hopeful Gasim Ibrahim, yet throughout the campaign seemed not to have resorted to political or personal attacks against the PPM and its leadership. He is a JP nominee in the cabinet.

Unlike the observed approach of predecessors, President Yameen seems to be keen on sharing official responsibilities with Vice-President, Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – a PhD holder in criminal law from the UK. That was an issue over which President Nasheed and Vice-President Waheed differed, for instance, contributing in no small measure to the subsequent controversies.

At the time, supporters of President Nasheed had argued that under the ‘US model’ adopted by Maldives, the vice-president was a stand-in for the president should the office fall vacant, and did not otherwise have any constitutional responsibilities. In the Yameen dispensation, Vice-President Jameel discussed the ‘visa issue’ with Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Sahare, indicating that he had a portfolio to call his own, thus sharing and shouldering part-responsibilities of his president.

Consensual economic policy?

Based on the parliamentary poll results of 2009, President Nasheed declared that there were only two major political parties in the country – namely, his MDP and the one led President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his predecessor for 30 long years. On issues and common concerns of the nation, it did not translate into a ‘bi-partisan approach’ to policy-making or programme-identification. The reasons were too many, including less-talked-about ideological differences within the Gayoom-led Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP) and the breakaway PPM.

By boldly talking about ‘lean government’ and slashing government expenditure even in his first news conference after election, President Yameen has adopted a policy otherwise close to the MDP’s heart. He straightaway offered to cut his presidential pay by half and ordered the recall of the 2014 Budget from Parliament, with directions to the Finance Ministry to cut down projections by MVR1billion.

Following in the footsteps of President Nasheed, President Yameen has also called for a review of pays and/or perks at all levels of government and ‘Independent Institutions’ under the constitution. In a nation with little job opportunities, the state provides employment to over 10 per cent of the population. The pay bill recorded a two-thirds hike in the last two years of the Gayoom presidency (2006-08).

It remains to be seen if President Yameen will be able to proceed on the same road. Before him President Nasheed found himself balancing the 20-percent cut in pay and staff with ‘freebies’ for select constituencies, and lifting the artificially pegging of the Maldivian ‘ruffiya’ against the US dollar – all proving politically unpopular. The Nasheed dispensation could not also resist the political temptation of creating elected, full-time island councillors, with pay and perks, adding to the Treasury’s woes. President Yameen has called for a review of the scheme, as had been promised when he was in the opposition in parliament.

Visible road-blocks

For all the good intentions and better equations that President Yameen is striving to achieve with the MDP opposition and allies alike, it is inevitable that the political road ahead is strewn with bumps and pot-holes. Even before the ink on the presidential polls dried, the Election Commission had scheduled nation-wide local council polls for 18 March, followed by the all-important parliamentary polls on 22 March.

In ordinary circumstances, the heat generated by the presidential polls does not inspire confidence in the current reconciliation process. For the street-smart MDP, the upcoming polls are a healthy way to re-energise their cadre, demoralised by the results of the presidential election. For President Yameen, he will have to extend the electability of his leadership beyond the immediate self, which ‘coalition calculus’ alone made possible.

For now, President Yameen is unlikely to leave party and coalition politics to the care of President Gayoom, the PPM chief and his half-brother. His government and leadership cannot escape the burden of any reverses, particularly on the coalition front. It will be more so in the upcoming elections to parliament, where already the MDP coalition has a majority.

Incidentally, President Nasheed did not have the parliamentary majority that his government sorely needed when in office. They could manage it only after the 2013 presidential polls were well under way, the Supreme Court having annulled the first-round elections of 7 September. The DRP, which President Gayoom had founded only to leave to form the PPM, has since joined the MDP coalition with seven or eight MPs to call its own. But its electoral contribution, as witnessed during the presidential poll, was next-to-nothing.

The JP can be expected to demand its pound of flesh in seat-sharing talks within the government, for the 23 per cent first-round Gasim vote-share that was ‘transferred’ to Yameen in the second-round of the presidential polls. Otherwise, the party has been reacting cautiously to post-poll initiatives of President Yameen. The JP seems to have adapted itself the role of a ‘political watch-dog’, otherwise the role of the MDP, which has promised to show how a ‘responsible opposition should conduct itself’.

Another ‘second-round partner’ of President Yameen – the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) has since indicated its intention to go it alone in the local council polls and the parliamentary elections. The party is now a partner in the Yameen Government, though its decision to go it alone in crucial polls is akin to its past record. In 2008, the party supported the MDP in the second round presidential polls and partnered with the subsequent Nasheed Government until pulling out and taking to the streets on ‘Islam-related issues’.

Though the AP may not win many parliamentary seats, it can make a dent on the local council front, more so than it did in earlier polls. The party can also make a difference in ‘marginal seats’ in the parliamentary elections. This should be a cause of concern for the ruling coalition. Some of the AP’s ideological positions could yet be cause for political concern within the new government and its leadership.

Early checks on hand

Ahead of the twin polls to the local councils and parliament in the first quarter of the New Year, December promises to be a crucial and critical month for Yameen presidency. The parliament should vote for the revised 2014 budget before the year is out. Speaker Shahid has also scheduled parliamentary approval for Yameen’s cabinet appointees for 29 December.

The Yameen cabinet features nominees that the MDP had frowned upon for their alleged role in 2012 ‘power-transfer’. Adapting the US model to suit the prevailing mood of the Gayoom era, the Maldivian Constitution provides not only for the Majlis to clear individual cabinet ministers – it also empowers the Majlis to recall individual Ministers at will and vote them out.

The democratisation era has already had its quota of controversies surrounding delayed parliamentary approval, denied approval, recall and vote-outs. The MDP’s Nasheed has declared that the party does not believe in a coalition arrangement and will vote only for President Yameen’s government – as the 48 percent voters who cast their lot with him too believed. Translated, it could mean that the MDP may clear the five PPM members of the cabinet, and hold back confirmation for the other 10, who represent the Yameen government’s ‘coalition interests’.

The next five years of rule, President Yameen may be faced with the possibility of ministers’ recall, and not only during immediate ‘confirmation proceedings. Unless the MDP leadership intervenes, it is not unlikely that the proceedings of the party-controlled ‘Government Oversight Committee’ of Parliament – which would initiate the ‘confirmation proceedings’ – could witness fireworks. How it translates into floor-level operation/cooperation in the house as a whole will remain to be seen during the long run-up to the parliamentary polls in March.

All this would render it imperative for Yameen’s government and the ruling coalition to go all-out to ensure a parliamentary majority in the president’s favour. The MDP for now has promised parliamentary support for policies similar to its own, but how far the promise holds remains to be seen in the context of ground-level political realities. Throughout, the MDP leadership would have to carry the ‘politically sensitive’ cadres with it, should they not risk further demoralisation of the rank and file.

MP jailed for ‘contempt’ – and freed

An early sign of post-poll reconciliation involved the Yameen leadership encouraging MDP parliamentarian Hamid Abdul Ghafoor to end his month-long ‘refuge’ in parliament and move home, to escape six-month imprisonment for ‘contempt of court’. Home Minister Umar Naser had said at the time that the government will do what is possible within the existing law. He even justified ‘house-stay’ for Ghafoor, explaining that the Government did not have resources to produce him in Parliament from a nearby island prison, three or four times a day to participate in the proceedings.

The Supreme Court has since ruled that parliamentary privileges amounting to violation of court orders would not hold in law. The government has since been left with little option but to send Ghafoor to prison for contempt. It is unclear, however, if and how the government would proceed against Ghafoor and other MDP leaders, arrested and charged with consumption of alcohol and drugs when President Waheed was in office.

The MDP promptly condemned the Hamid’s imprisonment. “This does not bode well for co-operation or compromise between the opposition and the ruling administration,” the party said, referring to Yameen’s post-poll commitment to be ‘President of all Maldivians’. The MDP claimed that the ‘courts are in control of the Executive’, and Nasheed himself claimed that the government could now arrest opposition MPs on the eve of crucial votes in parliament.

It may be recalled that almost throughout the shortened presidency of Nasheed, the MDP had claimed that the judiciary was opposed to the executive. The government was locked with parliament and the judiciary over the make-up of the Supreme Court bench under the constitution, leading and contributing to the MNDF lock-down of the court’s premises for a day, under presidential orders. It may be pertinent that any wholesale revisit of the post-democratisation government processes, if undertaken, will have to address issues such as the one flagged by the Hamid case, to see how other nations handle such issues.

For now, however, in a turn of events that has the potential to cement post-poll reconciliation efforts, the High Court overturned the lower court sentencing of Hamid, MP. In doing so, the High Court judge cited his written apology to the trial court for not honouring the summons the first time. The High Court also pointed out that the trial court order was not covered by the post-facto subsequent Supreme Court judgment.

MP Hamid was promptly freed from prison after the High Court verdict was known. It now remains to be seen if the State will go on to appeal against the High Court order. Technicalities and legal possibilities not with-standing, the next course of the Hamid contempt cas will be a marker of Yameen’s commitment to political reconciliation.

‘Judge Abdulla case’

Sooner rather than later, the Yameen government will also have to make a call on the criminal case pending against President Nasheed in the Judge Abdulla abduction case. This was again a case initiated by the Waheed presidency but with the PPM, JP and others lending political support. If resurrected, the case has the potential to become a ‘live issue’ for the twin elections ahead. It has a greater potential to derail the step-by-step process of national reconciliation, on which the Yameen presidency and the MDP are participating enthusiastically.

Faced with the theoretical possibility of disqualification from contesting the presidential polls, Nasheed had promised to stand trial after the elections. It is both a critical and sensitive issue for the MDP in particular, but it also has the potential to blow up into a political controversy within the ruling coalition and the nation as a whole, particularly in the midst of high-spirited election campaigns.

President Yameen will require all his political ingenuity and persuasive powers to carry the coalition and/or the nation in whichever decision he takes on the matter. To do so without distracting from his current efforts at national reconciliation and reviving the fallen economy are tasks that will no doubt be time and energy-consuming.

President Nasheed has promptly denied social media rumours that he would be contesting the parliamentary polls. Even as the MDP is busy preparing to face the new polls, it should be working to re-position Nasheed in the internal scheme of things. The party and the leader are inseparable. The party now seems to need the leader more than the other way round – or, so it seems. The party will need to keep Nasheed relevant to its internal and external political schemes for the foreseeable future.

The Judge Abdulla case and the like are thus as much political opportunities as they are personal inconveniences to President Nasheed. Needless to recall that it may have been the decision of the Nasheed presidency to summon predecessor Gayoom to a police station for questioning on issues purportedly pertaining to the latter’s days in office that changed the course of Maldivian history. President Yameen declared on his election that there would be ‘no witch-hunting’ of the MDP regime. But whether he meant to include personal cases against individuals then in office was/is unclear.

Nor is it clear how much the government can do in the matter of cases that are already pending before various courts. Yet such a line will not convince anyone, home or abroad, with a potential to re-launch an avoidable cycle all over again. However, the MDP would also be under the strain of having to win most seats in the two rounds of upcoming polls – and at the same time reassuring Maldivians that they are not there to try and torpedo the Yameen presidency at the first available opportunity.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Parliament privileges committee seeks Majlis intervention in MP Hamid appeal case

The Majlis Parliamentary Privileges Committee has unanimously decided parliament should intervene in the appeal case of member Hamed Abdul Ghafoor, who was sentenced to six months for failure to attend Criminal Court hearings.

“The committee was of the opinion that the Criminal Court had acted outside of the boundaries of the law by summoning MP Hamid to court on a day when the parliament as well as committee sittings were scheduled,” said Deputy Chair of the Committee and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy.

“Therefore this action by Criminal Court was clearly against the Privileges Act, thus a violation of privileges of both an MP and the parliament as a whole. On this grounds the committee has sent the report to Majlis Speaker to which the Speaker.”

Hamed was handed the custodial sentence during a month-long period of refuge sought within the grounds of parliament, which ended following the conclusion of the presidential election on November 16.

Hamed was originally asked to appear in court regarding an alleged refusal to produce a urine sample when asked by police following his arrest on suspicion of drug and alcohol possession last year.

He was arrested on the island of Hondaidhoo along with a number of senior MDP party members last year.

The MP himself, however, maintains that his stay in the parliamentary grounds was intended to highlight the importance of MP privileges.

“My holding up in the Majlis was in defense of parliamentary privileges, which was not reported in the media. We have found out members privileges are not understood,” Hamed told Minivan News today.

The Henveiru South representative suggested that Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed scheduled a hearing to clash with the parliamentary schedule as the case against him was failing.

He has subsequently been placed under house arrest, with the newly appointed Home Minister Umar Naseer telling local media that the state did not have the resources to transport the MP to and from Dhoonidhoo island prison in order for him to fulfil his parliamentary duties.

During his period of sanctuary, Hamed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) amended the parliament’s standing orders to allow an MP convicted of criminal acts to continue to attend Majlis sittings.

Hamed, as well as the Speaker of the House Abdulla Shahid, have consistently maintained that the summons to appear clashed with the MP’s parliamentary duties, contravening the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

“He has been issued court summons in violation of the Privileges Act. He has been issued a sentence because he took the privileges he is legally afforded as an MP,” Shahid told Minivan News earlier this month.

“I have written about this matter to the Prosecutor General [PG]. The Prosecutor General agrees with me. He has written a letter to the Supreme Court. He feels that the judiciary in this case has gone out of its way to punish Hamid.”

The PG Ahmed Muiz has since resigned as the Majlis prepared no-confidence proceedings against him – the President’s Office is currently accepting applications for his replacement.


Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation arrive for urgent visit

A delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has arrived in the Maldives in order “to help find ways to improve trust and confidence between State institutions”.

“The frequent intimidation, harassment and attack of MPs as they go about their work have been deeply worrying,” read an IPU press release.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases – 24 in total – involving Maldivian MPs currently filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has meanwhile called upon the Supreme Court to ensure that all MPs are treated impartially whilst calling upon members not to abuse parliamentary privileges for personal gain.

The IPU delegation, having arrived on Friday (November 1), will spend one week in the country during which time it will meet with government leaders, senior parliamentary authorities – including Speaker Abdulla Shahid, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and members of the Supreme Court.

The group will also meet with President Dr Mohamed Waheed – recently returned from a private trip to Singapore and Hong Kong.

“The mission not only aims to promote confidence and trust between State institutions ahead of the forthcoming election, but also to have a better understanding of recent allegations of human rights violations against members of parliament. These include arbitrary arrests, attacks and intimidation, including death threats,” says IPU head of human rights programmes and mission member, Rogier Huizenga.

The delegation’s arrival follows a fraught week in the People’s Majlis, during which two MPs were unseated by the Supreme Court – a decision subsequently rejected by the speaker.

Meanwhile, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – who has sought refuge within parliamentary grounds – was handed a six month jail term by the Criminal Court.

Both the verdict for Hamid and for the MPs unseated by the Supreme Court were given in absentia, a tactic the MDP has described as reminiscent of “old autocratic practice”.

The party described the Hamid sentence as “the latest move by the Maldivian judiciary in a political witch-hunt to purge MDP MPs following the party’s newfound majority in parliament.”

Transparency Maldives

Whilst calling for neutrality in the courts, Transparency Maldives (TM) has also condemned what it characterised as “attempts to shape laws and rules for protecting personal interests of the Members of the Parliament and abuse of parliamentary privileges and the institution of the Parliament.”

In a statement last week, TM contended that such attempts “weaken the legal system and obstruct the rule of law. Similarly, such acts undermine the integrity of the Parliament, eroding public confidence in the institution.”

“Members of the Parliament must be provided with appropriate privileges and immunities in order to carry out their duties as lawmakers. However, Transparency Maldives reiterates its concern that the Parliamentary Privileges Act affords undue privileges and powers to the MPs,” the statement read.

The press release followed this week’s submission of amendments to the penal code, the Drugs Act and the parliamentary rules of procedure by the MDP.

The amendment to the penal code seeks to abolish article 81 regarding public servants exercising their authority to detain innocent persons. The MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed is being charged under the article for the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The amendment to the Drug Act meanwhile proposes shortening the jail sentence for the offence of refusing a urine sample from one year to 15 days while the amendment to the parliament regulations would allow MPs convicted of a criminal offence to attend parliament and participate in votes.

In addition to his sentence for refusing to attend court hearings, MP Hamid stands charged of drug and alcohol offences, as well as allegedly refusing to provide police with a urine sample.


Criminal Court hears separate cases against opposition MPs

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Hamid Abdul Ghafoor were brought before the Criminal Court today for separate hearings to face the respective charges of “scandalising” the country’s judiciary and refusing to provide a urine sample to police.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy ‘Inthi’ has pleaded not guilty to charges of “disobeying orders” for contemptuous comments allegedly made about the country’s Supreme Court earlier this year.

Meanwhile, fellow MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor asked for his Criminal Court case, in which he is charged with refusing to give a urine sample to police, to be thrown out completely.

Ghafoor allegedly failed to provide the urine sample after being arrested on an uninhabited island along with a group of MDP politicians and other senior political figures.  A number of those arrested with Ghafoor were charged with alcohol and drug possession.

However, Ghafoor today told the Criminal Court that police had not asked him to provide a urine sample following his arrest on November 16, 2012, arguing that the case should therefore be dropped.

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office had previously told the Criminal Court that it has 11 witnesses testifying against Ghafoor, proving that he was in possession – and under the influence – of alcohol when arrested on the island of Hondaidhoo last November.

Meanwhile, MP Fahmy stands accused of making contemptuous remarks about the country’s judiciary during a television show earlier this year – charges he denied during the opening hearing of his own case today.

The opposition MP added that the court had granted him the right to appoint a lawyer before reconvening. The next hearing is currently scheduled for November 24.

Fahmy argued that as an elected representative in parliament, it was questionable why he could not make comments criticising the country’s judiciary on television when he had made the same accusations during live transmissions broadcast from parliament.

“In a free democratic society, the offensive of scandalising court is not even recognised. It’s dead elsewhere in the world, but still alive here in the Maldives. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Fahmy case background

In April, Fahmy told Minivan News that Police had begun an investigation of a case filed by the Department of Judicial Administration against him, over his allegedly “contemptuous remarks” against the Supreme Court and its judges.

Addressing the allegedly contemptuous remarks made during a program broadcast on Raajje TV, Fahmy argued this week that he had been addressing the concerns of constituents by expressing his belief that the country’s Supreme Court had encroached on the powers of parliament.

He also alleged that the Supreme Court’s judges were not qualified to understand or interpret the country’s democratic constitution, arguing the apex court was the most “undemocratic” institution among the three branches of state.

Fahmy added that his comments were mostly reiterating the conclusions drawn by numerous international legal experts about the Maldives court system in recent years; including the views of UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.

Knaul, in a report released earlier this year, expressed “deep concern” over politicisation within the country’s court system.

The special rapporteur stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit to the Maldives this year that the composition of watchdog body the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – which draws members from sources outside the judiciary, such as parliament, the civil service commission and others – was “inadequate and politicised”.

This complaint was first highlighted in a report published by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in 2010.

Current presidential candidate of the Jumhoree Party (JP) and former JSC Member MP Gasim Ibrahim later called Knaul’s findings ‘lies and jokes’ at a rally held in February.

“[Gabriela Knaul] claimed that the judges were not appointed transparently, I am sure that is an outright lie. She is lying, she did not even check any document at all nor did she listen to anybody.”

“She is repeating something that was spoon-fed to her by someone else. I am someone who sits in JSC. She claimed there were no regulations or mechanism there. That is a big joke,” Gasim claimed at the time.


MDP MP Ilyas Labeeb appeals to police to refuse “unconstitutional” orders, as protests continue

MDP member of parliament and parliamentary whip Ilyas Labeeb appealed to police to protect the constitution, refuse to follow unconstitutional orders, and to learn from the action of the senior MNDF officers who recently sent a “letter of concern” to Chief of Defence Force about the matter.

Ilyas Labeeb delivered his speech from the campaign truck kept on Fareedhee Magu in the middle of the crowd, facing the police standing behind barricades.

Just as Labeeb began addressing the crowd, police lit up floodlights to spotlight the MP.

“Shining that light in our faces, or implying we are marked for arrest, does not intimidate me. Violently taking MP Ali Azim into your custody does not intimidate me. Even if you come and take me away now, that still won’t scare me. I will come back here and speak out as soon as I am freed again. We are asking for elections, for our constitutional right,” Labeeb said.

“Aren’t you ashamed to be bowing down to unconstitutional orders? Nineteen MNDF officers have sent a letter against the following of constitutional orders, against the politicisation of the security forces. The MNDF is more senior than the police force. Listen to them, learn from them. Give it up now. Your stand on February 7 was that you were demonstrating against unconstitutional orders. What are you doing today?”

“We are standing up for the constitutional rights we are entitled to, for our sake, for the sake of our families, yes, but equally for the future of you and your families. Start protecting the constitution, police, that is in the best interests of the nation.”

Ilyas Labeeb ended his speech by leading the crowd in chanting “Where’s my vote? You stole my vote”, “Election now” and “Forward, forward, swiftly forward”.

By this time, just over a dozen regular police officers formed a line of obstruction behind the barricades, facing the protesters.

Labeeb moved to the frontline of the protest and appealed to the police again, this time speaking directly to them without the aid of a microphone or making it a public speech.

“You boys must think deeply. Why are you following unconstitutional orders? Neither the Police Act nor the Constitution mandates you to do so, in fact it is clearly stated that you must not follow an unconstitutional order,” he said.

“Don’t you realise what they are doing? They send you out here against hundreds and thousands of citizens, you come with your name tags and in simple regular uniform, and you face scorn from the people. Yet it isn’t you, but the Special Operations who hide behind their masks and helmets who run into crowds and brutalise citizens. They are using you young boys as a shield to hide behind. You don’t have to be slaves to the SO officers or the Commissioner of Police,” Labeeb continued.

“Look at [Commissioner of Police] Abdulla Riyaz. He’s hiding in his rooms after sending you all here. He has secured an apartment abroad, planning to run away as soon as the government changes. All the leading people who were part of the coup have. They won’t think of you then. What will happen to you boys if you continue following unconstitutional orders?”

“Remember all that talk about housing flats for the police? Do you know who took the first flat? Abdulla Riyaz. It was meant for regular officers like you, but he took one for himself first. Is this how you want things to be? Are you still going to stay back quietly and let things proceed like this?”

“I know that as you are all listening to this speech of mine now, your seniors will take you in for a chat later tonight. But they are not the ones you should be believing, nor should you believe me. Instead, read for yourselves what is in the Police Act and the constitution. If you need assistance, we can arrange lawyers for you; not lawyers affiliated with MDP but other experienced lawyers.”

“Regardless of how long it takes to get back our right to vote, we will continue demanding it. And when the elections are on, we will beat them with votes. We will win the elections.”

MP went back into the crowds after concluding his monologue to the line of officers.

Monday – the fourth consecutive day of protests – saw protesters grow from a few hundred to just over a thousand by around 10:00pm.

Crowds later thinned out once the SO officers came to the area after protesters moved, and later hid the police barricades at the protest site.

Minivan News observed teams of SO officers run into the crowds twice and make two arrests – one of whom was a man who had previously crossed the police line set out by the regular police officers, referred to as ‘Blues’.

The SO later drove six times to and fro through the protest area in one of their trucks after crowds had thinned out, locating a barricade hidden in a construction site on Fareedhee Magu and sending regular officers to retrieve it.

“Targeting MDP MPs as an intimidation tactic”: MP Alhan Fahmy

Meanwhile, police have been arresting and summoning MDP parliamentary group members in relation to various cases in the past few days after the party started direct action asking for immediate elections.

MP Alhan Fahmy, who was summoned to police headquarters for questioning at 2:00pm on Tuesday described the events as “intimidation tactics being used by the police. They [the government] are using multiple state institutions in their actions of undermining the constitution and its powers”.

Fahmy said that the police had accused him of threatening Supreme Court judges and their families at a protest held on September 26.

“I told them I have done no such thing, that I never called for attacks or threatened any of these judges they speak of or their families. That all I said at the rally was my perspective on the current judges sitting on the SC bench. I told them that I had spoken of a video clip showing indecent behaviour that police has said Ali Hameed has been seen in, and that if so I believe Ali Hameed should no longer be sitting on the bench,” Fahmy told Minivan News today.

MDP International Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was also taken into police custody on Monday afternoon, allegedly for not accepting court summons. He has been transferred to house arrest today after the first hearing of the case.

Ghafoor’s lawyer, Fareesha Abdulla O’Shea, however claims that due process was not followed when delivering the court summons.

She said that the case is being presided over by Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

“The case is about Hamid’s refusal to give a urine sample and he is being charged under section 123 of the Drug Act. I advised not to enter a plea as we haven’t received any of the related documents or information from the court yet,” O’Shea said.

“Today, after the hearing, Hamid was issued another summons relating to charges levied for possession of alcohol,” she stated.

MP Ali Azim was arrested from the protests on Sunday night, with SO officers pulling him off the campaign truck, throwing him onto the ground and dragging him away into custody. He was brought to a court hearing on Monday, where the courts added a seven day extension to his detention on account of him being “a threat to national security”.

Azim attended a meeting of the Parliament’s Privileges Committee after his hearing yesterday, where he alleged that he had been ill-treated even after arrest.

“The SO officer on my right side tried very hard to break my finger, I have photos to prove this. Upon being pushed into the van, one of the officers grabbed hold of my groin area very hard,” Azim told the committee.

“They also asked me to provide a urine sample, but I didn’t because my lawyer advised me against it as the charges levied against me did not allow police to make such a request. I was also handcuffed on the trip from Dhoonidhoo to the court in Male’, and on the way to this parliamentary meeting,” he added.

DRP MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed was also arrested at protests and later released, while MP Ibrahim Rasheed is being investigated for allegedly assaulting police.

MP Eva Abdulla has also been arrested at protests on Tuesday.


JSC appeals against “obstruction” following MDP protest march

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has appealed against “obstruction” of the commission’s legal and constitutional responsibilities in a press statement yesterday (May 26), following a protest march by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Saturday (May 25).

The party marched on the streets of Male’ to protest against JSC Chair and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla’s alleged attempts to unduly influence the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The MDP contends that Adam Mohamed was abusing his power and authority as head of the judicial watchdog body to intimidate judges on the High Court bench.

On April 1, the High Court ordered the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to suspend Nasheed’s trial pending a ruling on the legitimacy of the panel of judges appointed by the JSC to preside over the case.

The JSC has sent letters to the High Court requesting expedition of Nasheed’s case, the party noted in a press release last week.

The MDP objected to the judicial oversight body summoning the Chief Judge of the High Court for questioning over a complaint filed more than a year ago.

The move amounted to intimidation of judges and undue influence on judicial processes, the party contended, calling on the JSC to cease its “dirty and cowardly” efforts as the commission was the adverse party or respondent in the High Court case.

In the first hearing of the case, the JSC contested the High Court’s jurisdiction to rule on the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench constituted by the commission.

“It is strange that the JSC’s legal counsel contested jurisdiction of the High Court to hear the case on the grounds that they had sought the advice of the Supreme Court in determining the bench,” MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, spokeswoman of the former president said after the hearing.

Meanwhile, in its statement issued a day after the MDP protest march, the JSC noted that the constitution and Judicial Service Commission Act of 2008 mandated the commission to investigate complaints against judges and enforce disciplinary measures.

The commission was entrusted with powers to summon and question persons and take witness testimonies, the JSC stated.

There were “no legal or constitutional grounds” to interpret carrying out the commission’s legal responsibilities as intimidation or exerting undue influence on judges, the statement added.

The JSC statement concluded by calling on all parties to “not commit any act or participate in any activity that could obstruct the constitutional and legal responsibilities and duties of the commission.”

Responding to the statement yesterday, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor tweeted,

UN Special Rapporteur report

In her report to the United Nations Human Rights Council following a visit to the Maldives in February 2013, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul expressed concern with “the significant backlog of complaints with the Judicial Service Commission that are not dealt with or at least are perceived as not being dealt with. Some judges that have several complaints and cases for misconduct against them are still sitting.”

Moreover, Knaul wrote that according to several judges, “disciplinary procedures before the Commission lead to public humiliation and damages to their reputation.”

“Some even said that, when summoned by the Commission, the principle of presumption of innocence is not respected and they do not have appropriate time and access to information to prepare for their cases. Judges are also often not told for what allegations they are being investigated. It is common that, after an appearance before the Commission, judges are not informed if their case was dropped, if a decision was taken, or if it is still pending,” Knaul wrote.

“The Special Rapporteur is worried that disciplinary proceedings before the Judicial Services Commission are not in line with international law and principles, and may sometimes be used to expose and question the integrity of judges and magistrates before the media and the general public before the conclusion of a proper investigation into the allegations. She wishes to underline that, according to the Basic Principles on the independence of the judiciary, judges are entitled to a fair hearing under an appropriate procedure, which should be subject to an independent review.”

Among a number of recommendations to reform the Maldivian justice system, Knaul suggested taking “appropriate measures to enforce the code of conduct of judges in a transparent and consistent manner, with full respect for the fundamental guarantees of fair hearing and bearing in mind the importance of the reputation of judges and magistrates.”


Female participants in Maldives tourism training declining: Four Seasons Hotels

The Four Seasons Hotels group has encouraged the government to promote technical and vocational training “much more aggressively”, while also expressing concern at declining female participation over the last decade in its apprenticeship program.

Four Seasons has graduated 288 apprenticeship students in the Maldives over the last 12 years, with 47 youths completing the latest program in 2013. However, only one female graduated from the scheme today during a special ceremony held in the capital Male’, while two women are enrolled in the 2014 program.

Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Regional Vice President and General Manager Armando Kraenzlin explained to Minivan News today (April 13) that the number of female apprenticeship program participants has been declining over the last 10 years.

“We never had many participants – 5 to 7 per batch – but it used to be easier [to recruit women] about ten years ago. Unfortunately, numbers have dropped,” he said.

Kraenzlin said he believed the declining number of women in the training program could be the result of more jobs being available outside of the tourism sector, or parents hesitating to let their daughters work at resorts.

“We are talking to government ministries and the press to promote idea of ladies working,” he added.

Also present at today’s ceremony, Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed told Minivan News that he believed female participation in the tourism sector and Four Seasons apprenticeship program was increasing.

“Last year’s program had one woman, whereas two are enrolled in the 2014 batch. This is gradual improvement, although much less than we would like,” he said.

The small, insular Maldivian island environment instills very close family ties, which makes it difficult for parents to allow their children to leave and “stay long periods in a hotel”, according to Ahmed.

“The culture here is for children to grow up and grow old in same house,” he claimed.

“In the Maldives, you go to work [at a resort] and live there. It’s a very difficult thing to get your head around.”

Ahmed explained the nationwide need for women and parents to be more aware about the conditions of female employees working at resorts, particularly in terms of accommodation arrangements.

“It is important parents buy into this and believe resort work is beneficial and reliable [for their daughters].  The other challenge is we have to provide child care and other facilities that will release the women to go and work,” he added.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told Minivan News that he believed women were not participating in the industry because families were adhering to the “past culture” of keeping children at home, in addition to being concerned about where their children would be living.

“Females are leaders in the houses. The men go out to work,” said Adheeb.

“Kids grow up and take care of their parents. In many cases, when boys get married they go to the girl’s house to live, because parents like to keep their daughters with them.

“This is why especially parents don’t want their daughters to go and work,” Adheeb added.

“Radical change”

Earlier this year, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that he believed a “radical change to the tourism approach” was needed in the country.

“Resorts must have close-by islands with flats so employees can go home to their families [after completing their shifts],” Hamid said.

Additionally, he believed the response rate for tourism training programs was decreasing in the country because Maldivian parents were discouraging children from participating due to “religious xenophobia”.

Hamid also accused the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) of propagating the view that “anyone who is not a Muslim is an enemy”.

“I’ll probably be the next Dr Afrasheem Ali for saying this, but maintaining this hate of the ‘other’ is very dangerous and not discussed openly. This confusion has to be sorted. It’s a race against time and ideas,” he stated.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Adbulla was not responding to calls at time of press.

Public vs private programs

During the graduation ceremony for this year’s apprentice trainees held at Mandhu College in Male’ today, Kraenzlin praised the skills of the latest batch of participants, emphasizing that “the Maldivian work ethic is among the highest I’ve observed in my career”.

“It is very exciting to see what a well spent year can do in the life of a young person,” he added.

“Training young people requires commitment and resources. Resorts taking in the minimum number of apprentices a year and certifying them successfully should be supported, recognized and incentivised,” Kraenzlin said.

“We encourage govt to promote Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) performance objectives much more aggressively. It’s a great system.  In this way hundreds of vocational training positions can be created. We think it’s not that difficult.”

Tourism Minister Adheeb and Education Minister Ahmed also both praised the apprenticeship program for its development of young people in the Maldives.

“This corporate social responsibility effort takes a big burden from the government to the private sector,” stated Adheeb, during his commencement speech.

“All other resorts and general managers should follow the example of Armando [Kraenzlin] and the Four Seasons,” he added.

Minister Ahmed echoed these sentiments stating, “this is an important program for the rest of the tourism industry to emulate”.

Additionally, both ministers mentioned the STEP program, a training and education initiative launched this January for ‘O’ level graduates as part of a collaborative endeavor between the Education Ministry, Tourism Ministry, and Ministry of Human Resources Youth and Sport.  Some 15 partner resorts are also included in the scheme, according to the Education Ministry.

The year long Four Seasons Apprenticeship program was recognized as the Maldives’ first government accredited TVET certified apprenticeship scheme in 2010. Graduates are able to earn TVET, PADI divemaster, or Ministry of Transportation boat driving license certifications, the hospitality company claimed.


Former President Gayoom urges public to join PPM to protect democracy, Islam

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has urged Maldivians to join his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) if they wish to safeguard democracy and the role of Islam in the country.

Speaking at a rally in the island of Fuvahmulah yesterday (April 12) to mark the official launching of PPM’s presidential campaign, Gayoom reportedly called on all Maldivians wishing for democracy to prevail in the nation to join with his party.

“Some people keep talking about parties forming coalitions, that they are forming alliances with others,” he was reported by Sun Online as saying.

“What I want to say is, if any of you want a perfect democracy, if any of you want Islam be sustained in the Maldives, if any of you want Maldivian sovereignty to be protected, I would like to ask that person to quickly join PPM.”

Gayoom autocratically ruled the Maldives for 30 years until being defeated by a coalition of parties backing former President Mohamed Nasheed in the country’s first democratic mutli-party elections in 2008.

Speaking to Minivan News today, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said that Gayoom has long been established as being committed to upholding the country’s religious values and sovereignty.

Nihan said that since the PPM’s formation in 2011, the party had sought to prioritise defending the nation’s sovereignty and Islamic faith as outlined in the constitution.

He added that even before the PPM was formed by a breakaway faction within the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – which Gayoom established back in 2005 – preserving Islam as the country’s only religion and protecting local culture has been a key focus for Gayoom’s supporters.

Addressing these supporters during last night’s rally, PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen pledged to reform the taxation system and attract large foreign direct investment to the Maldives.

Yameen argued that levying a tax on “the person who imports the noodles packet” was better than taxing the consumer who buys it.

PPM would “revolutionise” how the state raises revenue, local media reported Yameen as saying.

Meanwhile, in his speech at the Fuvahmulah rally, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed called on all parties in the government coalition to back PPM in the presidential election.

Jameel joined Yameen’s campaign team during the recently concluded PPM presidential primary. The home minister currently faces a no-confidence motion in parliament.

Jameel’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has recently announced its intention to form a coalition with President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP) for the September election.

DQP Leader Dr Hassan Saeed previously said that the party would not consider forming a coalition with either PPM or the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“Weakening faith”

Meanwhile, speaking on Thursday (April 11) during an ongoing tour of North Maalhosmadulu Atoll, President Dr Mohamed Waheed expressed concern that “weakening faith” among Maldivians was allowing unspecified “foreign powers” to increase influence over the country.

“Our national anthem, national flag, and national colours that symbolize the country should come first,” read an official President’s Office statement quoting Dr Waheed.

His comments were slammed by the opposition MDP, which accused him of being double-faced, while also using the language of a “dictator”.

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor rejected suggestions that President Waheed stood as a unifying force for Islam in the Maldives, accusing him of politicising the nation’s faith for his own gain.

Hamid claimed that many Maldivians were aware that the president had sought to “play Islam” for political gain since he took office following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.


DRP deputy leader interprets CNI timeline as evidence of “evil and dangerous plan”

Deputy Leader of the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Ibrahim Shareef yesterday accused former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed of planning to murder members of the December 23 coalition during the unrest that led to Nasheed’s resignation in February.

“President Nasheed’s evil and dangerous plan has now been revealed to the people,” Shareef has been reported as saying.

MDP International Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor called the claims “outrageous” and “irresponsible politics”.

Speaking at a coalition press conference at the Nalahiya hotel, Shareef said it was the presence of the police during the night of February 6 that thwarted the aims of those hired by Nasheed to kill members of the coalition.

The group, named after the December 23 protests, purportedly held to defend Islam against the policies of the Nasheed government, consists of former opposition parties and religious NGOs.

Shareef’s accusations appear to refer to the period during the night of February 6 when December 23 coalition and MDP supporters faced off at the artificial beach area with only a police line to separate them.

Shareef was unavailable for comment at the time of press.

A timeline chronicling the events that led to Nasheed’s eventual resignation on February 7 was released by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) last week. The timeline was translated by Azra Naseem.

The CNI has recently been reformed following widespread concern over its impartiality and independence.

President Waheed announced that the reforms, which include the introduction of a Singaporean judge to act as co-chair and the inclusion of a Nasheed nominee, Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed, would be completed by June 15.

Despite the impending resumption of the CNI’s work, the commission’s original members decided to release a report based on their investigations so far.

This report claims that both the Home Minister at the time, Hassan Afeef, and then Nasheed himself ordered the Police Commissioner to remove the police from the area (sections 29 and 32 of the report).

The timeline went on to say that officers on the ground told both Afeef, who then told Nasheed that the “atmosphere was not good” (section 30).

Nasheed is then said to have repeated his request to remove police from the artificial beach area on the night of February 6 (points 34 and 40). This request was refused by officers in the area who insisted that they be replaced by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) (point 38).

The replacement MNDF forces were then asked to step down, according to the report, before violence erupted between the opposing protesters (points46 and 48).

Shareef suggested that these points prove Nasheed’s intentions.

“I’ve said this because Nasheed did plan to murder the members of the December 23 coalition. He hired people to carry out the murder and then ordered the Police to fall back,” Shareef is said to have told the press.

Shareef also alleged that Nasheed had planned to create conflict between the police and the MNDF in order to instigate bloodshed that would result in foreign interference in the Maldives’ internal affairs.

The CNI report provided little detail regarding this accusation, stating only that the leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Dr Hassan Saeed, had received reports that the Indian Military were preparing to intervene.

“Deputy leader of the Qaumee Party announced to the public at the Republic Square that Dr Hassan Saeed had received assurances from the Indian High Commission that Indian military will not be coming to the Maldives,” read the report.

Ghafoor said that Shareef’s claims were completely without evidence.

“He should have been more careful and directed his accusations to a serious and credible report,” he said.

“We must remember that Shareef likes to get attention – nobody takes him seriously,” added Ghafoor.

The MDP released the report of its own investigations into the events on Saturday. Prior to its reformation, the MDP had refused to work with the CNI.

The MDP’s version of events had claimed that opposition figures were had plotted the overthrow of the government with the help of a police and army officer protest from as early as September last year.

The report claimed that coup conspirators then engaged in concerted efforts to cultivate an atmosphere of unrest and to conscript willing agitators from within the security forces.

The report names numerous figures within the security forces, including current Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Police Commissioner Abdullah Riyaz.

Government Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza described the release of the report as “terrorism” whilst the MNDF today threatened legal action against “those who make false claims about the Maldivian military, issue reports, and act in ways that causes loss of public confidence in this institution.”

Meanwhile the MDP have interpreted the CNI timeline as indicating that there had been a coup and that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan should therefore resign.