MP Riyaz Rasheed proposes dissolving DRP-DQP coalition

Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed, deputy leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), has proposed dissolving the party’s coalition with the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), contending that DRP MPs are working against the interests of the national unity government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

MP Riyaz Rasheed declared at yesterday’s sitting of parliament that the coalition with DRP “no longer exists” after an abstention by DRP MP Ali Azim allowed the now-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to narrowly win a vote to debate a motion without notice on police brutality.

Accusing the largest party in the ruling coalition of “making deals with the MDP,” Riyaz said at parliament yesterday that he “strongly condemn the efforts carried out jointly by DRP and MDP to plant doubt and suspicion in the hearts of people about the service of the Maldivian police and army.”

Riyaz noted that the current Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was a senior member of DQP and claimed that Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz was a member of DRP.

The Vilufushi MP was not responding to calls at the time of press. Riyaz however confirmed to newspaper Haveeru today that he has submitted the proposal to the DQP council.

“The Qaumee Party will decide to sever the coalition agreement,” he was quoted as saying. “Whether or not I remain in the Quamee Party will come down to that.”

Riyaz explained that in addition to MP Ali Azim voting in the Government Oversight Committee against a proposal by the Waheed administration to form two new ministries, Azim’s abstention in yesterday’s vote allowed the MDP’s motion without notice to be debated.

DQP’s main priority was sustaining the national unity government until presidential election in 2013 acting as “a shield for Dr Waheed’s government”, Riyaz continued, accusing the DRP of undermining the national unity government.

DQP meanwhile released a statement yesterday calling on parties in the ruling coalition to refrain from any action that could “encourage the efforts of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned on his own, to bring the two oldest institutions of the country into disrepute and cause loss of public confidence [in the police and military].”

The statement added that “abetting Nasheed’s efforts to cause division and discord among the public is against the pulse of the people.”

It was therefore obligatory upon all parties in the ruling coalition to “defeat and fail Nasheed’s efforts to bring the government into disrepute and harass the police and army,” adding that the security services had become “prey to unlawful orders” during the past three years of MDP rule.

“In spite of political rivalry, what the Maldivian people want right now is for the allied parties to work in one spirit,” the statement reads, adding that the ruling coalition should band together to “uphold the dignity” of police and army officers “working courageously and tirelessly day and night for religion and the nation.”

“Oil man”

MDP’s motion without notice to debate both alleged police brutality and recent incidents involving police and army officers in uniform robbing expatriates was voted through with the support of two independent MPs – Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed and Dhuvafaru MP Mohamed Zubair – and government-aligned Jumhoree Party MP Abdulla Jabir.

MP Ali Azim meanwhile tweeted today: “When MP Riyaz Rasheed voted in favour of Speaker’s no-confidence motion, QP [Qaumee Party] did not utter a single word regarding the need for unity in coalition government and the best interest of the nation.”

On her twitter page, MP Rozaina Adam dismissed Riyaz Rasheed’s claim that current Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz is a DRP member as “an absolute lie”.

“CP Riyaz is not a DRP member. Never was. He was an advisor to DRP on law and order as a professional,” the MP for Thulusdhoo tweeted.

During yesterday’s debate, Rozaina argued that any issue of national importance submitted to parliament should be accepted for debate.

“There are a lot of issues we want to raise concerning this matter [alleged police brutality]. Thus, the only solution is not to dismiss the issue. The way forward would be to debate it,” Rozaina said.

MP Abdulla Jabir meanwhile concurred that motions without notice should be accepted for a debate on the floor.

Speaking to Minivan News today, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef lambasted Riyaz as a political opportunist whose allegiances depended on “which way the wind blows.”

“I don’t take what Riyaz Rasheed says seriously,” he said, adding that his remarks had “no weight or substance” and that his political decisions were based on personal benefit and in favour of “whomever is willing to give him the biggest loan.”

“He is the oil man,” Shareef continued. “What he says and the way he votes always depends on the availability of credit facilities to buy oil. Look at his past history of voting in the Majlis and what he has said when he was in the Special Majlis.”

On April 26 this year, the State Trading Organisation (STO) issued a press statement announcing that it would file a case at Civil Court to recover Rf19,333,671.20 (US$1,253,804.88) unpaid by MP Riyaz’s Rasheed’s Meridian Services.

STO and Meridian Services signed an oil trade agreement on March 31, 2010, which offered the company a credit facility worth Rf20 million (US$ 1,297,016.86) for purchasing oil from STO, stipulating that payments had to be made within a period of 40 days.

However, in August 2010, STO lowered its credit limit from Rf20 million to Rf10 million (US$648,508.43) and shortened the payment period from 40 to 30 days, prompting Meridian Services to sue STO for alleged breach of contract.

Meridian Services however lost the case after Civil Court Judge Abdulla Jameel Moosa ruled in favor of STO.

Meanwhile, on Riyaz’s accusation that the DRP was “making deals with MDP,” Shareef said the Vilufushi MP suspected so because he was “number one for making deals.”

“He has made deals with both governments of [former President] Nasheed and [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom,” he alleged.

On the possible dissolution of the coalition agreement with DQP, Shareef insisted that the party was “not worried.”

“DRP is a party that can stand on its own feet now,” he said. “We will always work in the best interest of the nation in line with the views of the majority of our members.”


Youth Minister Mundhu Shareef defends ministry from DRP’s allegations of incompetence

Youth Minister and spokesperson for former President Gayoom, Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Hussain Shareef, has hit back against the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP)’s allegations that the government had not made “adequate efforts” to address the country’s recent economic and political upheavals.

Mundhu’s response followed allegations last week from DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef that some top officials in the present coalition government – of which the DRP is one of several parties represented – had not shown themselves to be “capable” or “proficient”.

Speaking to online publication Channel News Maldives, Mundhu said the DRP’s criticism targeted ministries headed by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) because ministries headed by the DRP had themselves not done sufficient work after the government came into power.

Mundhu also claimed that the criticism leveled against the PPM was with the intention of helping the government sort out its challenges, but was instead a personal attack. He also stated that when Shareef criticised the youth ministry, he did not realise that it was one of the most efficient ministries in the current government.

“If one had looked into Male’ alone, there has been significant progress made since I assumed the position,” Mundhu claimed.

He said that renovations had been brought to the youth centres in Villimale and Galolhu wards, and also the youth center in Hulhumale. He added that maintenance works were being carried out in Maafannu Stadium leveling its ground and fixing the lighting system, and that his ministry had planned further enhancements to the National Stadium as well.

“These are just a few works to date. The Youth Ministry is one of the most efficient ministries since Dr Waheed came to power,” he added.

Mundhu alleged that the DRP  had been making up stories “because the ministries that they control are failing.”

“They want to say the government is not functioning properly so they can walk away from the government. President Waheed will know of this,” Mundhu said.

Mundhu was not responding at time of press.

During a press conference held last week, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef expressed particular concern over the conduct of the Foreign Ministry, which he alleged had not sufficiently explained to the international community the current situation in the Maldives since the new government came to power. Both the Foreign Minister and State Minister are from the PPM. State Minister Dunya Maumoon is also Gayoom’s daughter.

Shareef also raised criticised accusations by the Foreign Ministry that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had sided with the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – a claim he did not agree with.

Shareef told local media that despite the “major achievement” of the coalition remaining in power for its first 100 days, it had been difficult for the DRP to “execute its policies and beliefs” in line with other parties.

He said he was confident that several ministries overseen by DRP representatives, including areas such as finance and tourism, were functioning “efficiently”.

Tempers have been flaring between the two parties, who make up the majority of the now ruling coalition of political parties backing President Mohamed Waheed Hassan. Waheed was sworn in on February 7 after former president Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation.

Vice President of the PPM Umar Naseer has alleged to local media that DRP’s recent criticism of the government was due to their intention to leave the ruling coalition, an argument the DRP has denied to this date.

Speaking to newspaper Haveeru at the time, Naseer accused DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali of trying to “get things done in his favor” through the present government.

“The DRP is seeking to get a sovereign guarantee to pay off Thasmeen’s debts. As soon as they know it can’t happen, they will break away from the coalition”, Naseer claimed.

However, Shareef denied Naseer’s allegations and accused Naseer of continuously attempting to defame Thasmeen.

“Umar accused Thasmeen and Abdulla Shahid of being involved in the [awarding of the airport] to GMR. If that is so, why aren’t they investigating the matter now that they are in the government? There is never any truth to what [Umar Naseer] says,” Shareef said at the time.

Naseer claimed that PPM deserved more positions in the current government than the DRP, as PPM had played the “most important role” in the transfer of power in February.

“Ninety-nine percent of the anti-government protesters were from PPM. 99 percent of the injured were from PPM. Our members sacrificed the most to change the government. And DRP does not deserve to get an equal number of government positions as PPM,” Naseer said.

Naseer’s comments follow last week’s press conference by the DRP criticising certain government officials and describing them as incompetent.

The Progressive Party of the Maldives formed from a splinter group in the DRP, under the leadership of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. Gayyoom and Thasmeen came to blows after Gayyoom’s faction alleged that Thasmeen had been running the party through “authoritarian” means.


Electronic voting depends on public awareness in Maldives

The Maldives has expressed support for electronic voting systems in India and Pakistan, and is taking steps to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to its own electoral process.

At an informal meeting of Electoral Commissioners from SAARC member countries in India, the Maldives joined Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka in praising India’s use of EVMs and indicated that “legal amendments would be thought of to see that EVMs were made popular to ensure free and fair polls in their countries,” Indian news outlet The Hindu reported yesterday.

Commissioners met to discuss Afghanistan’s voting procedures in light of waning financial and other aid from NATO allies.

Maldives Elections Commission President Fuad Thaufeeq said the commission, which is developing a proposal for Parliament regarding EVMs, has met with the Committee on Independent Commissions to discuss their implementation.

“So far, we have been getting information from many countries in Europe, South America and Asia which have used these. Regionally, India, Nepal, and Bhutan have used the machines and we are also getting advice from them. Hopefully the system will work, but some laws will have to be changed and the public must support the decision,” said Thaufeeq.

Prior to the 2008 Presidential election, India had offered to donate several hundred EVMs to the Maldives. “But it was the wrong time,” said Thaufeeq. “The machines India was using could not do print-outs. This year, they upgraded and added a verification process. I think it’s necessary for the Maldives to have a verification system,” he said.

Thaufeeq indicated that the commission may approach India’s High Commission to renew their offer of donations. Otherwise, he said machines will be chosen through a negotiation process with various companies, and bids may be solicited.

Electronic and internet voting systems have been used worldwide for decades, and have triggered much debate.

India first used electronic voting machines in 1982; in 2002, they became an election standard nation-wide. However, India’s 2009 elections were discredited when Omesh Saigal, an IIT alumnus and IAS officer publicly proved that the electronic voting system may have been rigged.

In 2006, the Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service proved that electronic voting machines could be eavesdropped from up to 40 metres. EVMs were subsequently eliminated.

Since the 2000 presidential election, the United States has reported problems with electronic voting machines in a number of local and national elections. Mis-punched cards, security flaws, and touch screen malfunctions were some factors that have tipped votes over the past decade.

Internet voting was proposed for the Maldives’ Parliamentary elections as a means of cutting costs and confusion for Maldivians living abroad. Project Coordinator at NGO Transparency Maldives Aiman Rasheed said the motion was swiftly rejected by Parliament, and although Transparency has not been officially informed of the discussion, doubts that EVMs will be treated differently.

Observing that EVMs are acceptable under the right conditions, Rasheed explained that the advantages of using EVMs in the Maldives did not justify the disadvantages.

“In a large country with dense population centers, they can be useful,” he said. “But the Maldives is so small, and population areas are so widely spread out, with only 400 polling stations I don’t think that they would be a major improvement.”

Rasheed said the disadvantages of EVMs could have a significant political impact, and believed the public should be involved in the decision.

“I think Parliament and the Elections Commission should carefully consider the cost-benefit. Is the quick count worth the room that the new system with EVMs would leave for accusations of fraud or lack of transparency?” he said, noting that Maldivians tend to have a high “trust deficit”, and pointing out that Maldivian law does not allow for exit polls.

Building public trust is driving the dialogue over EVMs in the Maldives. Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef  agreed with Rasheed’s assessment.

“There is a lot of suspicion about new innovations that people are not familiar with. If done correctly, and people are informed, then EVMs shouldn’t be a problem for democracy in the Maldives,” he said.

However, Shareef observed that “any electronic machine with passwords can be corrupted,” adding that corruption is a higher risk for small communities. He recommended the Elections Commission “prove it cannot be manipulated” by issuing public education programs through the media.

“There is no public participation in the Election Commission’s discussion right now. Many islanders are unaware of how these things work. Without building trust, there will always be suspicion,” he said.

Rasheed explained that the “trust deficit” was a symptom of a young democracy.

“The Maldives’ biggest issue is that it has only had three free elections, and those were very recent. The latest Parliamentary and Presidential elections did very well under the circumstances, but the local elections have definitely declined in terms of transparency.”

Rasheed said that during these elections, political parties and NGOs sent volunteers to observe the electoral process, promoting transparency. Although new legal framework was implemented a mere one-and-a-half months prior to the Presidential election, and three months prior to the Parliamentary elections, “they did quite well,” said Rasheed.

Local elections, which had 18 months to prepare, performed well administratively “but they did not do so well in terms of transparency,” said Rasheed.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla also believes that free, transparent elections must be routinised before electronic modifications are made to the electoral process.

“I’m not sure if we are willing to move away from the physical voting system. It’s only been three years since we began trusting independent voting procedures,” she said.

Abdulla believes that Maldivians are quick to absorb new technology, but doubts that the advantages of EVMs are relevant to the Maldives.

Previously, island geography meant that counting and recording votes could take several days. “Now, officials count the ballots in front of the people on the same day, and we have our results immediately,” said Abdullah.

The Elections Commission has a different impression of the situation.

According to Thaufeeq, the average five to six hours that manual voting procedures involve is too long, and the costs of employing workers to manage the polls is too high. He said that while the transparency of open counting is important, there are significant advantages to electronic voting.

“Responses from MPs and the general public has indicated that people are more ready today than they were three years back. People are more familiar with technology right now, an EVM is similar to an ATM, which everyone can use,” said Thaufeeq. “But above all, we want the approval of Parliament and the public, to be sure that everyone is aware and comfortable with the system.”

Public examinability of voting procedures has been identified as an essential factor of free elections by government and independent groups worldwide.

In 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen commission a statewide “Top to Bottom review” of electronic voting systems. According the report, every mechanism contained at least one security flaw that would allow a single non-expert to compromise an entire election.

In 2009, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany found that when using voting machines the “verification of the result must be possible by the citizen reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject.”

Although the Maldives’ plans for implementing EVMs are far from concrete, the sentiments behind the suggestion are strong.

“Historically, the Maldives has had close elections with little information, which has generated suspicion of fraud,” Rasheed said. “If people can’t see what is happening, it will feed the country’s rising trust deficit.”