Maldives entrepreneurs braving “culture war” to pursue guesthouse growth, AFP reports

The full story can be read here on Minivan News’ spin-off travel website Dhonisaurus.

“Most visitors arrive at the country’s airport island, take a speed boat or seaplane to their expensive coral-fringed private resort and spend the next week relaxing in blissful ignorance of the country around them,” writes Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist Adam Plowright.

“It has been this way for decades, the result of a deliberate policy of keeping wealthy vacationers — mostly Westerners and often newlyweds — on uninhabited islands separate from the local Muslim population.”

The potential nonetheless for expanding mid-market tourism in the Maldives through the “niche” guesthouse segment emerged as an early election issue in May after senior opposition and government figures clashed over how best the country’s inhabited islands might profit from visitors.

Plowright himself observed that despite the Maldives’ reputation as one of the world’s most exclusive holiday destinations, the opening of guesthouses across the country over the last five years has appeared to upset some religious conservatives in the country.

Under the country’s laws, traditional holiday staples such as the sale and consumption of alcohol and pork products, and women publicly sunbathing in bikinis are outlawed unless on designated ‘uninhabited’ islands set aside exclusively for resort developments.

Plowright added that with the local Maldivian potentially facing public flogging should they be convicted on charges of ‘fornication’, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party had maintained that tourism be kept separate from the country’s inhabited islands.

“If the hippy-type of travellers come, along will come drugs and narcotics which even now our society is suffering from. Things like nudity are not acceptable in a place where people are living. The people complain that they are praying in the mosque and just outside there are tourists in bikinis,” Adhaalath Party Vice President Mauroof Hussain told the AFP.

“While fundamentalist interpretations of Islam imported from the Persian Gulf and Pakistan are progressively taking root in the Maldives, Hussain’s views lie far outside the mainstream and are ridiculed by many,” the AFP claimed.

The Adhaalath Party remains a key supporter  in the upcoming election of Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate and businessman MP Gasim Ibrahim, who operates a number of exclusive island resorts through his Villa Hotels company.

The presidential candidate’s resorts have thrived on supplying married and unmarried guests alike with holiday staples associated with the Maldives; including sun bathing, alcoholic beverages and diving expeditions.

Yet despite the prevalance of exclusive island resorts to tourism growth in the Maldives, efforts over the last half decade to expand guesthouses has led to a “torrent” of entrepreneurs like 25-year-old Ibrahim Mohamed opening tourist properties in an attempt to bring more US dollars directly into the local economy, according to Plowright.

Read more.


Tourism workers’ association commits to “prolonged” strikes if Maldives vote delayed

The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) has threatened “prolonged” strike action at resorts across the Maldives should the second round of the presidential election not be held as scheduled on September 28.

In a statement released today, TEAM – an industry body representing some 5000 workers across the country’s luxury resorts – said the Supreme Court order issued Monday (September 23) delaying the run-off vote “destroys the principles of democracy we have embraced and voids articles of the constitution.”

“Given that a majority of our members desire the second round of elections to be held on September 28, we call on the Supreme Court and relevant state institutions to uphold the constitution, to aid the election and not to hamper it,” TEAM stated.

“With due respect, we would like to inform the relevant authorities that if this does not happen, that if [the election] is delayed, it will adversely affect our members, and we will not hesitate to hold a prolonged strike to strengthen democracy and uphold human rights.”

TEAM’s statement came a day after the resort industry body, the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries (MATI), issued a statement warning of “irreparable consequences” to the Maldivian economy unless the run-off election is expedited.

“It is absolutely important to expedite the election and settle the issue or else there would be irreparable consequences to the Maldives, and especially to tourism which is the backbone of the economy. Therefore, it is important for everyone to see the importance of this in the interest of the country at large,” said MATI Chairman M U Manik, one of pioneers of the country’s 40 year-old tourism industry.

MATI’s statement was issued following Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed’s call for tourism workers – predominantly MDP – to strike should the run-off election scheduled for September 28 was delayed.

Nasheed emerged as the front runner in the first round of polls – held September 7 – with 45.45 percent (95,224 votes), followed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen who received 25.35 percent (53,099 votes).

JP candidate and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim narrowly missed out on the run-off with 24.07 percent (50,422), and contested the results at the Supreme Court alleging electoral fraud despite unanimous positive assessments of polls by local and international election observers.

The ongoing Supreme Court case has now heard the closing arguments from representatives of the JP and Elections Commission, with a verdict scheduled for the next hearing.

Industry significance

The tourism industry is indirectly responsible for upwards of 70 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, and a substantial majority of Maldivian resort workers support the MDP.

Results from resort ballot boxes in the first round revealed overwhelming support for the MDP’s candidate, even at many properties owned by Nasheed’s political opponents such as Vice President Waheed Deen’s Bandos Island Resort (51 percent MDP).

The trend was particularly notable at prominent international chains in the luxury tourism sector, famous for providing relaxing and idyllic escapes for honeymooners, including Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa (58 percent MDP), Dusit Thaani Maldives (73 percent MDP), Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort (62 percent MDP), and One and Only Reethi Rah (75 percent MDP).

Tourism Minister and PPM Deputy Leader Ahmed Adheeb meanwhile told local media this week he would not allow politicians to sacrifice the tourism industry and its workers, and appealed to staff not to strike.

“They plan and involve the tourism industry every time there is political turmoil, every time things do not happen as they want. They called for a tourism boycott in international media. There were effects from that. We are seeing the same thing now. We cannot allow any politician to involve the tourism industry in politics. We cannot allow politicians to sacrifice the tourism industry and its workers every time things are politically turbulent,” he told newspaper Haveeru.


Supreme Court continues collecting statements from Jumhooree Party witnesses

The Supreme Court today (September 23) continued taking statements from witnesses produced by the Jumhoree Party (JP), in the party’s ongoing bid to annul the first round of presidential elections over allegations of discrepancies and irregularities in the voting process.

The Supreme Court commenced direct examination and cross examination of witnesses during last Sunday’s hearings, during which three witnesses produced by the JP gave their testimonies to the court.

During the hearing Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz announced that the JP had requested to produce 20 witnesses to give evidence in court to support their case.

Due to a request made by the JP’s lawyers on Sunday, the statements of all witnesses were taken with special arrangements made to ensure their anonymity. The witnesses gave their statements in a separate room and their voices were distorted to protect their identities.

The first witness produced by the JP told the court that his friend working as an election official had informed him that his younger sister – who lived in Malaysia and never went to vote –  had her name on the list in Male’ and which showed that she had voted.

During re-examination, EC Lawyer Husnu Al Suood asked the witness whether he knew which ballot box in which the alleged discrepancy occurred, but he refused to answer and told the judge that he would give the details “in writing” to the court.

When Hisaan Hussain, the lawyer from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which has intervened in the case, questioned the witness as to whether he was affiliated with any political party, the witness, despite initial reluctance, said that he supported the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

The second witness, a female, told the court that she was not able to vote in the elections because EC officials had told her that her National Identity Card (NIC) number did not match with the one that was on the commission’s database. The witness reiterated that despite turning up with an official document from the Department of National Registration, EC officials refused to allow her to vote.

The third witness, a police officer who was on security duty during the time of polling, told the court that he had witnessed elections officials packing up all the paperwork on the ballot counting table – including the original ballot papers – and putting them into a cardboard box, after the officials announced the provisional results of that box.

The police officer said that once the officials had packed the box, they took it away in two taxis. He said that although he had expected them to head to Dharubaaruge, the officials instead went to the secretariat of the commission located in Maafannu.

When the EC lawyer asked the witness what his duty of the day had been, the police officer told the court that he was ordered to follow the EC officials who had left in the taxi, but did not reveal who had given him this order.

When the MDP lawyer questioned the officer as to what distance had he been from the ballot box, the officer said that he was just approximately 15 feet away from the ballot box, 85 feet closer than the 100 foot distance police officers are regulated to maintain from the box.

A fourth witness, a female, told the court that when she contacted the EC to re-register for the run-off election, the EC officials had told her that she had already been registered to vote in Male even though she claimed that she had neither re-registered of voted during the first round of elections. She also contested that the EC official had told her that she had voted in Male.

Another witness told the court that when he had gone to vote, the list which the EC officials working at the ballot box were using showed his name being highlighted as if he had already voted in the election.

However, the witness claimed that following protests and complaints, the officials later allowed him to vote after manually writing down his name and details on the printed list.

During today’s hearing the court was not able to collect statements from two witnesses whose statements had to be collected through telephone.

Each of the two witnesses had appeared in their respective island’s Magistrate Courts to give their witness through telephone. However due to poor reception the court was not able to obtain their statements.

The Chief Justice said that testimonies of the two witnesses would be taken in the next hearing.

After the collection of evidences by witnesses, the JP Lawyer Dr Hassan Saeed requested the Supreme Court give it the party the opportunity to present two new documents of evidence, which included a new list of fraudulent voters and a copy of the leaked police intelligence report currently being circulated around social media.

In response to the request, the judges said that the leaked document could only be accepted after discussing the matter with the other judges. However Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham – who was representing the state, which had also intervened into the case – requested the court for permission to present the original intelligence report to the court, citing that the one that had been leaked on social media had been a part of the original report.

In concluding the hearing today, Chief Justice Faiz said that during the next hearing that the court would try to obtain the statements of the two witnesses, whose statements the court was not able to collect today.

Faiz did not state the date when the next hearing would be scheduled.


AG’s election intervention constitutional, yet morally questionable: senior legal source

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor’s intervention in a Supreme Court case against the Elections Commission (EC) is constitutional, despite questions over the “moral grounds” for her involvement, a senior legal expert with experience working in government has said.

AG Azima last week intervened in a Supreme Court case filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) seeking the annulment of the September 7 presidential election.

While the AG herself is not reported to be seeking an annulment of the first round of voting, she has asked the country’s apex court to order the prosecutor general and the police to investigate alleged electoral fraud after noting “serious issues”.

With no constitutional clause requiring the the AG’s involvement in the case, the intervention was made at the personal discretion of Azima, according to the confidential legal source.

The first round of voting has been met with unanimous confidence from local NGOs and international election observers over the credibility of the polls, amidst calls for the the second round of voting to proceed as scheduled.

The run-off vote is presently scheduled to be contested on September 28, between former President Mohamed Nasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and second placed candidate Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

“Public interest”

The source – who has served in a senior legal capacity under the last two governments – maintained that the AG was entitled to enter a case she personally deemed to be in the “public interest”.

However, with Azima representing the government, whose incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed secured five per cent of the vote in the first round of polls, the legal source said some of his peers were questioning the AG’s mandate to seemingly take sides in the JP’s case.

“Having spoken with other lawyers, how would the AG, who represents a candidate with only five percent of the public vote, decide what is in the public interest [in regards to the election case]? The AG can decide what is in the public interest, but I do not believe she has sufficient moral grounds to do so [with this case],” the source argued.

The same source added that the AG’s role in the ongoing Supreme Court case was complicated by the Maldives’ present lack of general rules or legislation regulating issues such as conflict of interest and similar ethical issues within the court system.

“Problem with the AG is that she is currently the authority on ethics of other lawyers and when to reprimand them,” the legal figure added. “We also lack a legal and judicial culture to really appreciate the idea of professional ethics.”

“No comment”

Rather than appearing to back the grievances of the JP, the senior legal figure said the correct procedure for the AG would have been to provide ‘”no comment” to the court when asked about the capability of the EC.

The source pointed to previous conduct of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) in a case, where the institution had been asked to defend the Maldives Police Service against allegations of arresting people outside of correct procedure.

With the High Court requesting the PGO to answer for police in the case, state prosecutors – concerned the MPS may be at fault – opted to provide a ‘no comment’ on the matter.

The legal source claimed that such a move – based on best practices from across the international community – allowed the courts to infer that police had acted outside of regulations without the PGO taking a side on the matter.

The legal figure also said that, although the AG was permitted to take a side in the case, she should not vocally back a specific party.

AG denies taking sides

Speaking during a Supreme Court hearing on September 18, Attorney General Azima told the court that the state was not taking sides in the legal dispute.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) decided on Friday (September 20) are currently pursuing a no-confidence motion against Azima, as well as for a change the composition of the Supreme Court bench.

The MDP had  previously accused the Azima of advocating against “the interests of a state institution or the state and in favour of the Jumhooree Party’s self-interest.”

The AG, however, repeated her claims that the her office had come across discrepancies in the voter registry published by the EC prior to the election.

“There were names of underage people in the list. There were names repeated in the list. Unless these issues are resolved before holding the second round of the elections, rights of many voters will be undermined,” Shukoor told the court.

AG Azima and Deputy AG Ahmed Usham were not responding to requests for information at time of press.


Supreme Court orders Elections Commission to hand over original voter list for “purpose of judges”

The Supreme Court has ordered the Elections Commission (EC) to hand over the original voter lists of all ballot boxes placed during the recent first round of Presidential Elections held on September 7.

A Supreme Court battle between the EC and Jumhooree Party (JP) ensued this week after the latter announced its decision to dismiss the outcome of the presidential poll after narrowly missing out a place in the run-off election with 24.07 percent of the vote. The party accused the EC of electoral discrepancies and irregularities that altered the results of the poll to the JP’s disadvantage.

During the third day of continuous proceedings of the case held today (September 19), the Supreme Court ordered the EC to hand over the voter lists – which had been used by the election officials at polling stations to check off the names of voters who had cast their ballot – claiming the list was required “for the purpose of the presiding judges”.

Today’s proceedings began with the seven-member judges panel giving the JP the opportunity to question the members of the EC.

Elections Commission Members Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed, Ali Mohamed Manik and commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek were present at the hearing along with the commission’s legal team, led by veteran lawyer and former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood.

The JP’s legal team led by running mate of JP’s Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim, Dr Hassan Saeed, posed questions to EC Chair Thowfeek regarding the party’s allegations that included: possibilities of double voting, registration of people on Male Municipality Register – a special registry of people residing in the capital without owning homes – without permit, underage voters and allegations of expatriates voting in the poll.

Saeed – who is himself a former Attorney General – also posed questions regarding the security features included in the ballot paper, the failure of the EC’s Ballot Progress Reporting system (BPRS) – a web based application that tallied the number of voters who had cast their vote or were in the queue to vote – and whether Indian IT specialists who had been working in the commission had a role in developing BPRS and whether it was possible that soft copies of ballot papers were leaked.

Responding to Saeed’s questions, EC Chair Thowfeek said the commission had only registered people in Male Municipality’s Register to the current addresses they were living with the intent to allow them easy access to polling. Thowfeek maintained that it was not permanent and was only for purpose of presidential polls.

Thowfeek also said that it was near-impossible for anyone to cast a vote twice since the commission had a strong mechanism to check for double voting that included use of indelible ink, checks for fake National ID cards and verification of electoral lists in cases of repeated entries.

He also said that allegations of votes cast under the names of underage and deceased people during the polls – levied by both the JP and the Attorney General Azima Shukoor – were unfounded because the EC had verified the voter list with the database of Department of National Registration (DNR).

Thowfeek also said that in a bid to further verify the issue of deceased people the commission had cross-checked the voter list against registries of people who passed away collected from local councils as well as the burial house located in Male’ Cemetery.

He also said the commission had not come across cases of expatriates voting in the election, but did tell the court that former head of DNR Ahmed Firaaq had told him that the DNR under its current management had “accidentally” issued a Maldivian national ID card to a Bangladeshi expatriate, who was later caught while attempting to obtain a Maldivian passport.

Explaining the reason behind BPRS system not working as expected, Thowfeek said that failed internet connections on some islands were the major reason for its under-performance. He also confirmed to the court that the BPRS was not built by the Indian IT experts nor did they have any role in the preparations of the presidential polls.

In response to the doubts cast by Saeed on security features of the ballot papers, Thowfeek responded stating that the commission had added three security features to the ballot paper that included: a watermark seal at the back of the ballot paper, a security code that shows different codes if viewed from each side and another security code that can only be seen through a special light.

He added that the commission had tested the ballot paper prior to the commencement of polling while maintaining that the security of the ballot papers had been intact from day one.

“I am extremely confident that no one, no one can come out and show an original ballot paper. It is impossible for anyone to come up with an original ballot paper to prove that it went out of our hands,” Thowfeek told the court.

After Thowfeek’s answers, Saeed told the court that despite today being the third hearing of the case, the EC had refused to give them the original voter list.

Saeed noted that it was the EC and the DNR that had the pivotal information that the party sought to verify the claims, and unless both agencies begin cooperating with them, their claims would remain unclarified, undermining the rights of 50,000 people who had voted for the JP’s candidate.

“When I first began practicing law in 1997, I often come across people who claim they had been tortured while in custody. They would say, look my arm was broken and it had not still recovered. But whenever they went to court, the judge would demand evidence. But all they had to say is it was the police and had nothing prove their claim. Today, the JP is in such a circumstance,” Saeed told the court.

Saeed claimed that last Wednesday night he had seen a video of an expatriate lady confessing that she had voted in the presidential polls and the video showed what he claimed was an indelible ink mark on her finger.

“Honourable Chief Justice, we are talking about an expatriate gaining our citizenship. We are talking about a case where an expatriate practiced a constitutional right given to a Maldivian citizen. Tomorrow, that expatriate will get medical expenses covered under Aasandha. That expatriate can own Maldivian land [just like a Maldivian citizen],” Saeed said.

“When I called the police commissioner, he said he can only investigate after Elections Commission gives a heads up. I said I am hanging up the phone. I called the Prosecutor General. He said he couldn’t do much. Honourable Justice, this is the situation we are talking about,” Saeed added.

EC’s lawyer Suood responded to Saeed’s statement claiming that Saeed had finally confessed that their claims did not carry any weight.

Suood however reiterated that the EC were prepared to hand over the original voter list should the Supreme Court order to do so but raised concerns over the undermining of the privacy of the people in the list.

Suood repeated his argument that should the list be given to JP, it would undermine the privacy of the voters including their national ID Card numbers, their date of birth, whether they had voted or not and if they did vote, which ballot box had they voted.

While the hearing was about to conclude, several Supreme Court Judges including Judge Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, JSC Chair and Judge Adam Mohamed, Judge and former Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Judge Ali Hameed and Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz posed questions to Thowfeek, inquiring regarding the JP’s allegations and concerns.

Concluding the hearings, Chief Justice Faiz said that another hearing of the case would be scheduled, but did not specify a date.


Elections Commission warns Adhaalath Party over political abuse of Islam

The Election Commission (EC) has sent a formal letter of warning to the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, stating that the commission would take action should the party continue violating the Political Parties Act – the parent legislation upon which all political parties are founded.

Speaking to local media, Adhaalath Party Spokesperson Ali Zahir confirmed to local media that the party had received the letter.

Zahir said that the EC, in the letter signed by the Vice Chair of Elections Commission Ahmed Fayaz and addressed to the President of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla, the commission condemned remarks made by the members of the party during a rally held at the Jumhoree Party’s campaign headquarters at Maafannu Kunooz.

The Adhaalath Party, along with the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and the Jumhoree Party (JP) formed an umbrella coalition to back JP Leader and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim in the presidential election. However, following the defeat in the election, both the DQP and the Adhaalath have joined the JP’s contention that the election had been rigged in favor of both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

According to Zahir, the EC claimed that Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran’s speech during the rally could lead to chaos and ‘fitnah’ among the society.

The commission in the letter noted that the High Court could order the dissolution of a political party should the party attempt to incite hate and violence among the people, said Zahir.

Sheikh Imran during the speech claimed that the Jumhoree coalition would not accept the results of the scheduled run-off election, regardless of who won it. The Adhaalath party claimed that the dissenting remarks were made against the EC after it announced it would take action against the party for labelling opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters ‘Laadheenee’ (Anti-Islamic).

The rally eventually turned into a protest as the JP supporters gathered outside the residence of the EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek calling for his resignation. The protesters maintained that last Saturday’s election had been rigged in favor of PPM and MDP.

The EC during a press conference on Tuesday announced that legal action would be taken against those political parties who sought to deploy Islam as a political weapon.

“The EC will do everything it can to take legal action against those who use Islam as a political weapon by labeling others as impious,” said the Vice Chair of EC Ahmed Fayaz. “This is a duty of the commission.”

Fayaz noted that Islam cannot be “hijacked” or “held hostage” by one particular group or political party.

“Because the Political Parties Act states that no one can use Islam as a political weapon”, the courts would be asked to dissolve any political party that is guilty of violating the law, said Fayaz.

Legal action would also be taken against people who “insult” or “disrespect” Islam, he added.

Speaking to Minivan News on Tuesday about the threats of violence, Chair of EC Fuwad Thowfeek responded saying that “it is very sad – especially [coming from] big political parties and some with them, like Sheikh Imran [Abdulla], President of the Adhaalath Party, who spoke in an uncivilised manner. It’s a pity political parties are behaving in that manner.”

“Human beings are given the mental ability to think. That is how you know to distinguish right and wrong. I think what is happening here is someone has gone insane. When you lose your brain these things happen,” EC Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz was quoted as saying by local media outlet CNM.

“I have not done anything wrong. If I had done something wrong I would resign immediately,” Fayaz continued. “I wouldn’t wait until any state institution comes up and says that I breached the law. I’m not worried about security. You only die once,” he added.

The Adhaalath Party meanwhile questioned the motive of EC claiming that it was the only party who had received the letter from the commission while several other political parties had also criticized the commission.

“We also believe that action must be taken against political parties that violate the Political Parties Act. But it should be done in the right order. They should first take action against those who had breached the law first before coming to us,” said Ali Zahir.

Minivan News tried contacting both Chair of EC Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz, but were not responding to calls at time of press.


Jumhoree Party contest election results amidst rumours of anomalous votes

A group of around 15 Jumhoree Party (JP) supporters demonstrated outside the Dharubaruge convention centre this morning ahead of a delayed Elections Commission (EC) briefing to unveil the country’s provisional election results.

The crowd called for the resignation of EC President Fuwad Thowfeek amidst uncertainty over hours of delays to the results being unveiled and allegations on social media of a discrepancy in vote numbers.

When the press conference did take place – some six hours after originally scheduled – Thowfeek dismissed these claims but said the EC’s complaints department would investigate any reported irregularities.

“Fuwad Thowfeek, resign,” the dozen-strong crowd chanted outside . “Just because you wife is MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party], it doesn’t mean you can steal 10,000 votes.”

The initial results filtering through local media had shown that JP leader Gasim Ibrahim narrowly lost out on a place in the second round of voting, with the MDP and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidates gaining more votes.

The EC’s final results have since revealed the PPM’s Abdulla Yameen beating Gasim to the run-off by 2,677 votes. MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed took the largest share of the vote with 95,224 votes. Incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed tallied 10,750 votes – just over five percent of the popular vote.

However, the results had been noted for their confusing presentation, with sluggish EC figures supplemented by differing poll results, depending on the outlet chosen. One local newspaper even had a set of voting figures that equated to 102 percent.

“Fuwad Thowfeek resign”

The highly agitated group, led by Youth Wing leader Moosa Anwar, surrounded the door to the building before falling back upon learning that the EC officials were not yet on the premises. With encouragement from a handful of newly arrived police, the group were soon ushered toward the road, where they sat and continued to chant.

One member of the group told Minivan News that they were calling to have the vote recast, before producing his phone. The tweet displayed on the screen detailed a set of results for Kunahandhoo, in Laamu Atoll – showing 438 eligible voters, but 690 votes cast.

Minivan News was also shown the examples of Paradise resort, and Hinnavaru – both reported with similar anomalous numbers.

Another JP supporter explained that they had learned of the potential problem via the media, and had filed an official complaint.

“Please help us – we want to vote,” one protester said who had heard turnout figure as high as 93 percent. “If they say they will look into it, we will go away.”

The crowd were soon joined by JP MP’s Shifag Mufeed and Ilham Ahmed, as well as party spokesperson Moosa Ramiz, who said he was unable to speak with the media until the party had clarified its position.

Tempers flared at around 4:30 am, with the group suddenly charging the police in an attempt to get into the convention centre. MP Shifag made the most progress before the police forced them all back on to Ameenee Magu.

Shortly after this, the press were invited to go back into the building, and the small crowd began to recede. Commissioner Thowfeek soon arrived to give the long-awaited provisional results.

He gave the final turnout figure as 88 percent (of 239,593 people were eligible to vote), adding that he had not yet had a chance to examine the complaints, although he did state that no person of “sound mind” would believe that 10,000 additional votes could have been cast in the presence of monitors and observers.

Transparency Maldives – who ran the most comprehensive observation operation on the day – had earlier announced that no incidents reported on election day would have a “material impact on the outcome of the election”.


Campaigns conclude as Maldives prepares for watershed polls

The Maldives’ second-ever multi-party democratic presidential election will take place tomorrow (September 7).  With the campaigning deadline set at 6:00pm today, party supporters in the tens of thousands were out in full force to make every last second count.

Events were held throughout the country for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s final campaign push to re-elect former President Mohamed Nasheed- although none surpassed the scale and energy of the final march through the nation’s capital island Male’.

The carnival atmosphere was charged with nervous energy as MDP supporters bedecked in yellow, sporting a variety of Nasheed-themed t-shirts gathered near the tsunami monument before beginning their final campaign parade.

Despite rumours running rampant that hired thugs, police, and military would clash with MDP supporters, creating unrest as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and thwart the scheduled election, the MDP’s march was peaceful.

Jovial supporters in their thousands danced, cheered, and even ran their way along Male’s thoroughfares. Participants of the march surpassed MDP’s eighth anniversary parade, with people packed the entire length and width of Majeedhee Magu, Male’s nearly two kilometre-long thoroughfare.

Voices from the parade

The streets were also lined with supporters and spectators, while people could be seen hanging from their balconies, almost all with smart phones and cameras to capture the spectacle.

“I’m very excited to vote tomorrow – Nasheed is going to win” said 18 year-old first-time voter Ishan.

It seemed like every MDP supporter Minivan News spoke to was confident of Nasheed winning the first round, and holding up the number four, symbolic of Nasheed’s placement on the voter ballot.

“Tomorrow will surely be a victory,” said 23 year-old Edam. “Ehburun (one round) for sure,” added 24 year-old Ahu.

“For 30 years we suffered under Maumoon, but ‘Raees’ (President) Nasheed did so many things for us – he brought development, social security, and freedom,” she continued.

“Anni only had three years [in office] because of the coup – he deserves at least two more,” added her 30 year-old female friend.

Lorries interspersed between the MDP supporters carried live bands performing political rock songs, while others blasted techno music that remixed dance beats with phrases from former Nasheed’s speeches.

The lyrics are well known with even small children singing along, dancing on the sidewalks, and marching with their parents in the parade.

As with previous MDP protest marches and campaign walks, a variety of demographics were represented – participants and spectators alike – including children, youth, the elderly, disabled, women and men, organised into groups, some carrying giant MDP flags, while others waved yellow ribbons, fans or pom poms.

Even opposition party supporters were seen peeking out from campaign ‘haruge’ (headquarters), while some traffic and special operations police gathered on the balcony and at the entrance of their station to watch the passing parade.

The march ended on a high note after circling around the capital to end back at the Tsunami Monument with Nasheed addressing thousands of his enthusiastic supporters.

Tomorrow’s vote will provide MDP’s supporters a chance for catharsis, coming almost 20 months after the former president controversially resigned from power on February 7, 2012.

“Voting tomorrow is important because we want change. We want peace and all this turmoil to end,” said a 32-year old woman. “Once Nasheed is elected everything will get back to normal.”

Jumhoree Party campaigning

The Jumhoree Party (JP) concluded its own election campaign with a march commencing at the artificial beach area of Male’ shortly before 5:00pm this evening.

Hundreds of supporters draped in red – the party’s colour – rode atop some three dozen trucks as the rally set off around the capital to support JP candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim.

Hundreds of JP supporters prepare to embark on final rally before polling

In one truck, populated almost exclusively by cheering young women – some wearing headscarves, others not – the group exclaimed their reason for participating.

“Of all four candidates Gasim is the best,” explained one young sitting in the back of the truck to loud cheers from her fellow passengers. “He’s the best,” they reiterated in unison.

Further down the JP’s campaign convoy, in a somewhat more somber truck carrying a group of middle aged men, Minivan News asked why they chose to support the JP’s candidate, an MP and resort and media tycoon.

Looking at first perplexed by such a question, one middle-aged gentleman responded matter of factually: “There is no one else.”

Show of strength

JP Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal today told Minivan News today that the party’s march was designed as a show of strength by supporters before all campaigning is legally mandated to finish at 6:00pm.

With campaigning finished, he said the party was presently sending some 480 observers to islands across the country alongside the international observers from organisations such as the Commonwealth.

A convoy of trucks set to carry JP supporters

“Situations of violence”

Ajmal said that although JP was confident of peaceful polls tomorrow, he claimed the party was concerned there might be “situations” of possible violence should the opposition MDP lose.

“We do not want problems, our leader the honourable Gasim Ibrahim has supported equal opportunities for [former President] Nasheed to participate in this election,” he said. “We believe that violence could be triggered across the country though.”

Ajmal claimed that with MDP representatives and supporters currently facing alleged corruption cases totaling MVR4.7 billion (US$307 million) filed by the auditor general, the stakes would be high for tomorrow’s election.

The MDP has continued to maintain that state prosecutors have singled out opposition party members since the last year’s change in government, this week accusing Prosecutor General (PG) Ahmed Muizz of sacrificing his impartiality in return for job security.

The current government came to power on February 7, 2012, after former President Nasheed controversially resigned from office following a mutiny by sections of the police and military in a series of events the MDP has alleged was a “coup d’etat.”

Considering the nature of the power transfer, Ajmal said that the JP, which the governing coalition after the power transfer , would have “no problems” in the MDP potentially returning to power, despite the party “hating [Nasheed’s] attitude of responding to the people”.

“We know not enough people will support Nasheed this time. His party supporters alone are not significant enough to win,” added Ajmal.

Opting not to hold a rally ahead of tomorrow’s polling, incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed instead visited a ‘jagaha’ (meeting hall) established by his ‘forward with the nation’ coalition to campaign by phone from 5:15pm after conducting a number of tours of the country in recent months.

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) concluded its campaign with an event on the nearby island of Vilimale, attended by running mate Dr Mohamed Jameel and over 600 people, according to PPM MP Ahmed Nihan.

The event was also intended to officially inaugurate a PPM office on the island.

Polling opens tomorrow at 7:30am and closes at 4:00pm. 239,593 people are registered to vote in the 2013 presidential election, according to the final register. This is a 15 percent increase (31,000 people) on 2008’s 209,294 eligible voters.

Of these, 65,745 voters have registered to vote at a location other than their home island. Voting will occur at 459 ballot boxes stationed on local islands, resorts, and overseas Maldivian High Commissions.

Registration can be easily checked using the EC’s 1414 SMS system: text 1414 in the format ‘VIS [National ID #]’


Comment: A Jumhoree Maldives?

This article was first published on Republished with permission.

I went with a friend to the Jumhoree Maalan on Majeedhee Magu last night to get a copy of the Jumhoree Party manifesto.

The Maalan is a vast space of two floors, on a piece of land well over 2000 square feet. Part of it, towards the back, is cordoned off with a big red banner saying ‘Voting Booth’. Two men sat at a table to the side – they looked the closest thing to receptionists we could find. We asked them for a manifesto.

For some reason, the request surprised them. They called over a harried looking man, ‘Ahammadhey’. He agreed to give us a copy and walked over to a room at the back with a big bunch of keys. JP manifesto is kept under lock and key, like a tightly guarded trade secret. He brought us each a little leaflet, a six page summary of the People’s Manifesto: Development Certain.

The frontpage is an illustration of JP’s vision for Maldives. There’s a small island to the far right, connected to an ‘Islamic city’ rising from the sea. The entire shoreline is dominated by a mosque which itself dominates a university standing adjacent, to the left. There’s one or two trees, a crane busily constructing more buildings in a concrete jungle.

A father and son are at the forefront of the picture, walking into the mosque together. They are the nucleus, the centre of the universe as imagined by JP. A woman is somewhere in the distant background, attending to a little household chore, as women do. The only other person is a figure of non-distinctive gender, standing on a bridge. S/he looks about to jump off it. A Maldivian flag is the tallest of all things, rising above everything except the minaret. Not one but two suns shine down on this JP idyll.

There’s quite a few things—eighty three to be exact— that JP promises will happen to make this vision a reality. It begins with the promise to build an Islamic university, followed by the promise to include Nationalism as a separate subject in the national curriculum. Four regional institutes for ‘Arab Islamic learning’ will be established across the country. Next to religion is crime and punishment. Better forensics, more surveillance, better trained police with its own ‘world class’ Police Academy and an all powerful Anti-Drug Agency that will ‘completely stop’ Male’s thriving drug trade.

We asked Ahammadhey if he could talk us through some of the pledges. ‘I am a masakkathu meeha [handyman],’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s in it.’Ahammmadhay went to fetch us a man more familiar with what JP wants to do for us people. The resident expert turned out to be Umar Bey [Mohamed Hameed], who used to teach in Majeediyya School and is a familiar figure to thousands, like us, of Male’ voters.

‘Can you tell us a little bit more about the pledges here?’

‘It’s pretty straightforward, is it not?’

‘Can we have a copy of the full manifesto?’

‘I don’t have it. To be honest, I haven’t seen it yet.’

‘It does exist? You have one?’

‘Yes, there’s a big manifesto, it’s printed and everything.’

‘So where is it?’

‘I don’t have access to it.’

‘Who does?’

Umar Bey summoned another person who confirmed there is a manifesto the party can give us, but ‘not right now.’ He asked us to come back another time.

We continued our conversation with Umar Bey.

‘There’s a manifesto published on Scribd by Hassan Saeed, promoted on his FB page. What’s that about?’

‘Haha. That’s not a JP manifesto. That’s Hassan Saeed’s.’

‘Oh? Hassan Saeed has a different manifesto?’

‘He must do. I haven’t seen it.’

We had. A few days ago it appeared on running mate Hassan Saeed’s Face Book page.

The summary we got last night is a summary of Hassan Saeed’s manifesto on Scribd: build an Islamic state where religion, together with nationalism — taught as a subject in the national curriculum — will inform all socio-political and juridical decisions and conduct of society and individuals. It also speaks of ‘maintaining’ this traditional Islamic state, as if this is not an imagined place yet to be created but the way we have always lived.

I wonder how many people intending to vote for Gasim Ibrahim know the Maldives they are voting for.

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]