Nasheed announces former university chancellor Musthafa Luthfy as running mate

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has announced Dr Musthafa Luthfy as his running mate in the September 2013 elections.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor confirmed the announcement, made at a meeting of the party’s national executive committee this morning.

One of the conditions Dr Luthfy had agreed to, Ghafoor said, was that if Nasheed was elected President and later “killed or incapacitated”, Luthfy would declare an election.

“Nasheed discussed the choice with the national council, but it believed the choice should be left to Nasheed,” Ghafoor said. “The general opinion was that the person should be faithful, a party member, totally in support of the party’s manifesto, and not necessarily an expression of who the next president would be.”

He noted that Nasheed during a previous committee meeting had narrowed the choice to what he described as a “religious person, a military person, and a development person. In our context, these are very relevant [themes].”

Development person

Dr Luthfy served as Education Minister during Nasheed’s administration, initially appointed to the post under a coalition agreement with then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), alongside Economic Development Minister Mohamed Rasheed.

One of the founding members of incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s GIP, Dr Luthfy joined the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) following its acrimonious split with GIP in 2010.

The MDP severed the coalition agreement after GIP leader and then-Vice President Mohamed Waheed’s publicly criticised the government on an opposition-aligned media outlet.

Rasheed was ejected from the government following the split, while Luthfy remained in the post of Education Minister until the mass dismissal of Nasheed’s cabinet by parliament in late 2010. He was subsequently appointed as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University, resigning from the post in protest against Dr Waheed’s controversial ascension to the presidency in February 2012.

Education reformist

As Education Minister, Dr Luthfy was among the first to flag the country’s low O-level pass rate as the source of many social challenges facing young people, such as high levels of unemployment and lack of both tertiary and vocational education opportunities.

“When students finish Grade 10, and when they do not have many other avenues to go to for education, they remain in society and have two years before they become adults at 18 years. So they have two years of not being able to get a job, and this is also a crucial period in their physical development,” Dr Luthfy told Minivan News, in an extensive 2010 interview.

“During this time they are not in a school and due to this I think there will be negative impact on their behaviour and also on society. We are trying to keep students in the system until they are 18. We can do that by diversifying our curriculum – some can do A-Level, some can go for other programmes such as foundation and certificate level courses, and through that proceed to higher education,” he said.

Luthfy and his successor, Shifa Mohamed, presided over “mega reform” of an education sector which had last been revised in 1984, overseeing an increase in the O-level pass rate from 27 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2010, and 37 percent in 2011. In 2012, the pass rate leapt to 46 percent.

Some proposed reform attracted controversy, and was quickly exploited for political leverage by the government’s opponents.

One of these was the proposal to make Islam and Dhivehi optional subjects at A-level, which became a wedge issue with the MDP’s remaining coalition partner, the religious conservative and nationalistic Adhaalath Party (AP).

A-Level students typically study between four to five subjects. Some university prerequisites demand as many as three or four subjects, particularly for university-level science courses. Luthfy had suggested that making the subjects optional would give A-level students greater ability to pursue careers of their choosing, and become “world citizens”.

Speaking to Minivan News in 2010, he justified the Education Ministry steering committee’s recommendation as opening many more doors for students to seek tertiary education, stating that it would “give students many different subject options, so they are not forced to take some subjects – rather they have the freedom to choose whatever they want.”

Religious groups and the Adhaalath Party seized the issue as an assault on national identity and evidence of the government’s supposed irreligiousness, a point of view disputed by Dr Luthfy.

“I think there is a certain group of people who actually think that it is their responsibility and their duty to safeguard Maldivian culture and Maldivian religion, and that others are not treating this fairly,” he told Minivan News at the time.

“But in fact we, as the educationalists, we are also taking care of our culture and religion and trying to train our students to become world citizens, rather than narrowing their perspective. That may be one of the reasons why they have suspicions that we are not trying to do justice to the religion or language [of the Maldives], and that is obviously untrue. Whether the subjects will be optional or not, we will revise them, and the curriculum, and we will train our teachers to teach these subjects in a better manner.”

Adhaalath-aligned MP Ibrahim Muttalib – who had previously sought the total elimination of alcohol from the tourism dependent economy – levelled a no-confidence motion against Luthfy over the issue in June 2010.

The day before the vote was due to be held Nasheed’s entire cabinet resigned in protest over what they termed the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

Nasheed subsequently re-appointed the ministers, however the constitutional requirement for newly appointed ministers to receive parliamentary approval ultimately led to the mass dismissal of all but five members of Nasheed’s cabinet later that same year. Luthfy was among the seven ministers dismissed, but was soon after appointed the first Chancellor of the newly-opened Maldives National University.


Plunge in youth pursuit of higher education “worrying” say education officials

Recent statistics from the Education Ministry show that only six percent of Maldivian youth aged between 17 to 25 are pursuing higher education.

The statistic comes from two reports on higher education, which are currently being compiled with assistance from the World Bank and the United States. The first report is investigating the status of higher education in the Maldives, as well as plans for its improvement. The second report is examining financial assistance.

Maldives National University Chancellor Dr Mustafa Luthfy said that six percent is “a worrisome number.”

“If they are qualified enough to go into a higher institution, they should,” he said. It was not difficult to find a public college in the Maldives, Luthfy noted, although he acknowledged that private institutions were costly.

The challenging transition between grades 7 and 8 is one explanation for the dropout rate, said Luthfy. He added that if students were unable to keep up with secondary school material, then they would not be able to get into higher institutions.

“We have to be very very careful about criticizing enrollment,” Luthfy said. “If we are going to offer more degree-level courses, we need students who achieve higher A and O levels in high school.”

A recent Juvenile Justice Report suggests a correlation between academic success and relationships with a parent or guardian. Juvenile Justice records say that of the offenders reported between April 1 and June 30 this year, 95 percent dropped out in 8th or 9th grade, and few lived with parents or guardians.

When asked if this contributed to low enrollments in higher education, Luthfy replied that “schools and parents are working very hard to improve the quality of education, and improve graduation rates.

“The Maldives has a small population, we want everyone to be an educated person,” he said.

O-level results for 2010 improved on previous years, with particular gains in science subjects, however the pass rate for the 6700 who sat the international standardised high school exams was 35 percent – up from 32 percent in 2009, and 27 percent in 2008.

Most major subjects showed a positive trend in results except for arts, geography and history, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer stold Minivan News at the time, “subjects which are only taken by a few students.”


Maldives first national university inaugrated

President Mohamed Nasheed this morning inaugurated the Maldives National University and appointed former education minster Dr Mustafa Luthfy as the university’s first chancellor, presenting him with the institution’s seal.

Acting Vice Chancellor Hassan Hameed will remain in the post until the university appoints a new Vice Chancellor.

During his speech at the inauguration ceremony, President Nasheed said it was necessary to appoint “a steady person to hold the rudder of the university.”

“He has to be a person who understands the changes occurring in the nation and society,” Nasheed said.

The President noted that both the right to education and freedom of expression were part of democracy and that the university would uphold these ideals.

”This university will play an important role in transferring democracy to our children, and our children’s children,” Nasheed said.

Dr Mustafa Luthfy said he hoped the national university would one day become “the Oxford” of the Maldives, and thanked the commitment of those who helped achieve the significant national milestone.

The new university represents the evolution of the existing Maldives College of Higher Education (MCHE).

Speaking later to Minivan News, Dr Luthfy explained that MCHE had managed to meet the conditions required to establish a fully fledged university; not least in the requirement of ensuring a certain percentage of staff hold PhDs and Masters degrees.

“That was not easy to achieve,” he said. “In the past the government has provided a loan facility to train staff.”

MCHE was already running degree programs and was particularly strong in teacher education, he explained – Luthfy himself started his career as a teacher and was the head of the early teacher training institute. By achieving university status, Luthfy believes that the Maldives will now be able to better establish relationships with regional and international universities and cooperate with regard to the exchange of knowledge and experience.

“The Vice President noted key areas where the Maldives had a comparative advantage,” Luthfy said, suggesting the Maldives could develop subjects such as marine and environmental science, Islamic studies, tourism and hospitality, as well as democracy and development.

University status also opened up the Maldives to competition, he noted.

“Nationally we have to improve the quality of education to compete with the education provided at other national institutions,” he explained. “The Maldives is now an open society, and there is a lot of interest among international universities to come here and promote their courses. We will have to compete with them.”

A major challenge, he said, was ensuring a steady intake of undergraduates from the schooling system.

“Maldivians love education, and certainly spend a lot on it. The problem is that the quality of the school education is not high – it’s only recently that we achieved a 35 percent pass rate at O’level,” he said.


NGOs and parents protest against education sector outside president’s residence

A coalition of NGOs have begun a series of protests outside the President’s residence to express disapproval of the education sector of the Maldives.

A spokesperson for the NGO coalition, Ibrahim Moahmed, told Minivan News that the protesters waited peacefully outside the presidential residence over the weekend to express their disapproval of the education minister and his policy.

“There were parents, NGOs and other concerned people of the nation regarding numerous issues concerning the education sector,” said Ibrahim. “A person came from inside and told us we would get an appointment with the President tomorrow, and we all dispersed.”

Ibrahim said the NGO coalition consisted “of 127 NGOs.”

“50-60 people joined the protest,” he said.

The Education Ministry’s move towards co-education across all schools in the Maldives – currently only four are single sex – has drawn considerable consternation from many religious conservatives. Education Minister Dr Mustafa Luthfy is again in the spotlight after protests were held outside his house earlier this year following a proposal from the Ministry’s steering committee suggesting that Islam and Dhivehi be made optional at A-level.

Currently only 2000 of the 10,000 students who sit O-levels each year pass enough subjects to continue to A-level studies. This troubling statistic, identified by Luthfy as one of the country’s key social problems, results in approximately 8000 disaffected 15-16 year-olds released onto the streets annually, with little hope of finding a job until they turn 18.

More recently a debate has been sparked over the merits and demerits of co-education.

Referencing “a World Health Organisation (WHO) report”, Ibrahim claimed that a rising number of sexual relationship “is more concerning for the Maldives than the issue of illegal narcotics.”

He noted that the NGO coalition had sought to file the issue of co-education with parliament’s national security committee today.

The NGO coalition says they have highlighted 22 issues concerning the education sector.

On 4 October, the Adhaalath Party said the government’s new co-education policy was “a failed Western concept inconsistent with the teachings of Islam.”

On the next day, religious NGO Jamiyyathulsalaf called for the resignation of Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy, and claimed that Arabiyya was the only Maldivian school with an adequate education policy.

In the same strain, the minority opposition party People’s Alliance (PA), led by the former president’s brother MP Abdulla Yameen, strongly condemned the idea of introducing co-education.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Letter in defence of Luthfy

Dear beloved citizens of Maldives,

I have been seeing these accusations against the Minister of Education Dr Mustafa Luthfy and just could not stand still.

When a person is accused of such delicate issues like going against the religion or making little children move away from our religion it becomes a serious matter.

I was in the education sector in the previous government for more than 15 years before this government came into power. Speaking as a person who loves the education sector, I can say that the present Education Minister has brought more changes for its betterment than any others I have seen.

I am not in any political party and I do not support any party. I just do not believe that a person who works for the betterment of our children will stray from the path of our religious views.

Dr. Mustafa has brought so many positive changes to the education sector, and this can be seen in the schools. He loves the students. That is apparent in everything he does. It is sad to see people who do not have any interest in seeing the insides of the schools speak so openly in a negative manner.

If these people had any interest in creating a better religious youth, why not get all the youth who are hanging around each and every road corner and teach them something? Why not get them actively involved in social activities? Why not invite themselves into the schools and observe the classes? Why not do something practical without just defaming the character of a good man? If co-education was bad then why was it practiced in Maldives all these years? This is not something new which is being introduced. It has been practiced for years and years. Please remember that.

I call these people who so vehemently speak against co-education to stop and think before saying something. Please do not teach our children to dislike others. Do not create hatred in the minds of our children. Let them grow up to be multi-talented, hard working, honest and highly educated children.

Please think twice before you take these steps. Please do not use our children to make a name for yourselves.

I take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Education for his hard work and dedication. We are with you Dr Mustafa. Go forward with your head held high. You have done nothing of which to be ashamed.

With kind regards,


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Education Minister and Deputy Trade Minister joins MDP

Minister of  Education Dr Mustafa Luthfy and Deputy Trade Minister Ahmed Inaz yesterday left the Gaumy Ihthihaadh Party (GIP) to join the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Last week the MDP National Council announced it was tearing up its coalition agreement with GIP, and requested President Mohamed Nasheed remove all GIP ministers from public office. Economic Minister Mohamed Rasheed was sacked several weeks ago amid ongoing tension between the two parties.

Dr Luthfy, who was deputy leader of GIP, said  he joined MDP not because he had been influenced or under threat of losing his job, but because he felt that it was “the best way to continue serving the people.”

”I discussed it with GIP Leader Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik before taking the decision,” Dr Luthfy said. ”He said it was sad, but said to do as I wished.”

Dr Luthfy said he did not condone criticising the government while he was a member of it.

”I do not know whether GIP might join the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP),” Dr Luthfy said, ”but I noticed that during a recent GIP rally held at Giyasudeen School, a lot of DRP members attended.”

He said that there was no split between the government and GIP, and that the tensions were rather between the two parties.

”The President told me I could stay in the position as an a individual,” he said, ”but I preferred to join MDP of my own wish.”

He said that MDP had invited him to join the party on several different occasions.

Vice President of the Maldives Dr Waheed Hassan Manik, who is also a key figure in GIP, said the decision by Luthfy and Inaz was their own and he had nothing to say.

He said their decision would not affect GIP and that he was not sad about it.

”[Luthfy and Inaz] discussed it with me,” he said. ”I told them to do as they wished.”

MDP Spokesperson Ahmed Haleem said both the Education Minister and Deputy Trade Minister had been serving the party unofficially long ago, in different ways.

”Now have they returned to where they belong,” Haleem said. ”It will be a progress for them.”

He claimed that GIP was now “close to joining DRP”.

”In my political experience I can say that it is very likely to happen,” he suggested.