Former President Mohamed Nasheed has called on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters to vacate the ‘Usfasgandu’ protest area in favour of the various ‘jagaha’ (meeting halls) established across the capital ahead of September’s election.
Nasheed was quoted in local media as requesting that the opposition party’s supporters make use of the official meeting areas being set up by the MDP across Male’, rather than the protest site that has been the basis for many of the party’s activities since the controversial transfer of power last year.
“I will ask members of the MDP’s executive committee very sincerely to clear Usfasgandu. We are a party that wisely takes whatever steps are needed at the time,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.
Usfasgandu, which is presently being leased to the party, has been at the centre of an ongoing legal dispute over the last 12 months between the MDP-dominated Male City Council (MCC) and the government’s Housing Ministry, which is seeking to claim ownership of the site.
Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muiz told Sun Online last week that a notice had been sent to the MCC requesting they clear and vacate the area by June 27 – or else police would be requested to assist in clearing the site.
Dr Muiz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press, while Deputy Housing Ministers Abdulla Muththalib and Mohamed Faiz today declined to comment on the matter.
A police media official, who declined to be named, said it had also received no communications from the ministry requesting assistance to clear Usfasgandu by tomorrow’s supposed deadline.
Despite reports of the Housing Ministry’s intent to reclaim the Usfasgandu area, Mayor Ali Manik said no order had been received by the MCC requesting the land be returned. He added that any decision on whether to clear the are could only be made by the MDP.
The MDP told Minivan News today that while it has also not received any notice of attempts by the state to clear the site, the importance of the area to the party had “waned” as its campaigning spread across the capital and country ahead September’s election.
The opposition party said it intended to focus on local campaigning through the establishment of various jagaha across the Maldives.
Nasheed today opened the latest MDP jagaha adjacent to the country’s justice building – despite authorities contesting the legality of its location. The MDP contends that the jagaha was further than a distance of 50 feet from the building as demanded by law, and was therefore legally situated.
Addressing the future of Usfasgandu, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said there was a “general feeling” within the party that Usfasgandu was believed to have served its purpose.
He added that the party had been considering vacating the area over the last week in order to limit the possibility of confrontations with authorities.
Ghafoor added that an official parade to commemorate eight years since the founding of the MDP would begin at Usfasgandu this evening, but its relevance as an area for campaigning was already waning with the establishment of jagaha areas.
“The general view of the party is that the area is not really useful anymore and is slightly irrelevant to our campaigning, though I understand there is nostalgia among many people for the area,” he said. “In time, I think we would have seen the site slowly die out.”
Ghafoor alleged that reports of the Housing Ministry seeking to reclaim Usfasgandu reflected an attempt by the state to intimidate political rivals such as the MDP and its supporters ahead of an election.
He claimed that this intimidation was part of attempts by the state to destabilise the country ahead of September’s presidential election in order to cast doubt on whether the country was capable of holding a national vote.
Ghafoor said as a result the MDP was wary of any potential clashes with authorities, such as those seen during attempts to evict the party from Usfadsgandu in May last year. He said that many in the party believed that keeping the area was “not worth” the potential for unrest should police intervene.
Although Usfasgandu was later returned to the MDP after the clashes in May 2012, police once again moved to cordon off the area by January 2013 at the request of the High Court.
The court at the time ordered that Usfasgandu not be occupied by any party until it delivered a verdict over a dispute between the Housing Ministry and the MCC over ownership of the site.
In early February, the Civil Court ordered the MCC to clear the land plot and hand it over to the Housing Ministry, though the order was later overturned by the High Court. The High Court ruled that the Civil Court order had failed to follow legal procedures in its hearing of the case and was therefore unlawful.
Usfasgandu was handed back to the MDP by the MCC in March of this year, with the council claiming at the time that no other party had requested use of the land at the time.
A spokesperson for the High Court today said that no further rulings had been made concerning the legal ownership at present, with its previous order overturning the Civil Court still said to stand.
Despite now opting to vacate the site, Ghafoor claimed that the lack of notification from the Housing Ministry over its attempt to reclaim the Usfasgandu reflected a further breakdown in communication between state departments.
“The Housing Ministry had been completely isolated on this matter and no one seems to be taking it seriously,” he said.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press from Minivan News.
The MDP’s political rivals have continued to criticise the MCC for providing a plot of land to the opposition party, expressing concern that their supporters had not been given similar opportunities in the capital.
Government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan alleged last week that it was this sense of disparity among political rivals that had led to a so-called ‘paint war’ across the capital resulting in private property and even plant-life painted in political colours.
Supporters of the PPM were accused 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.
PPM MP Nihan meanwhile accused MDP supporters of instigating the painting throughout Male’ by covering entire areas of the capital such as Usfasdgandu in yellow, leading to reprisals from rival supporters.