JP claims many more MPs set to join party after presidential election

The Jumhoree Party (JP) has said “many more MPs” are expected to pledge support to its leader, MP Gasim Ibrahim, following the conclusion of the upcoming presidential election – claiming an unspecified number have already pledged to work with the party.

The claims were made as the JP, held its first major event in the capital in order to publicise an election alliance formed with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

Minivan News witnessed several thousand people in attendance at yesterday’s event, which saw several speakers including Gasim take to a specially constructed stage to address supporters and confirm that MP Ahmed Rasheed has switched to the party from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The rally was held in the same location, where the MDP staged a meeting on Monday (August 12) to bring several thousand supporters together both as a show of strength and to commemorate the 12th anniversary of Black Friday in 2004.

Both parties events this week appeared to have been similarly attended, with MDP sources estimating that around 6000 seats had been set out for supporters during its rally.

“Major event”

With the election scheduled for September 7 – three weeks from today – JP Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal said that yesterday’s rally was planned as a “major event” to show the support base behind the Jumhoree coalition.

Speaking during the event, Gasim dismissed criticisms of his wealth by rival candidates in the election, adding that none of his competitors could be described as poor men.

He also pledged with his hand on the Quran that he would not take the smallest amount of funds from the public “against the constitution”.

Other speakers during the event slammed former President Mohamed Nasheed, accusing his administration of irreligious policies.

According to customs records for 2011, Gasim’s Villa Hotels chain – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages, among other commodities restricted to islands classified as ‘uninhabited’ in the Maldives.

Speaking today, Ajmal claimed the party unofficially estimated some 10,000 to 15,000 attended the event, with some 20,000 supporters said to have been invited – although he believed not all had been able to travel from across the country.

He added that the JP had not itself provided boats to bring supporters to Male’ for the rally, opting instead to provide fuel for transportation and some unspecified “facilities” for supporters when they reached the capital.

MP switch

With MP Ahmed Rasheed having now joined the JP, Ajmal claimed that many more parliamentarians were “trying to work” with the party, though declined to give further details to media at time of press.

“These names have not yet been finalised. Because of the political situation at present, we will wait until after the election, though there are many MPs working with us,” he said today.

In the build up to next month’s scheduled voting, Ajmal said the JP had several further campaign plans that would be divulged at a later date.

He added that the JP remained confident it would achieve a comfortable second round election victory should no candidate obtain 51 per cent of the first round of voting.

However, Ajmal said that based on the strength of the country’s internal polling and research, there was growing optimism that Gasim could claim the presidency during the first round on the strength of what it perceived was growing grass roots support across the country.

“Our vice presidential candidate Dr Hassan Saeed said last night that it was reasonable to believe that if we work hard and continue with our great momentum, we might achieve 51 percent [in the first round],” he said.

PPM anticipates two candidate contest

Despite the JP’s confidence ahead of the election, the government-aligned PPM earlier this month maintained that former President Mohamed Nasheed of the MDP and its candidate, Abdulla Yameen, were the only two candidates capable of winning the election.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan at the time dismissed any notion that the JP posed a threat to its own presidential campaign, accusing Gasim of using his financial power to buy support during his campaigning that would not translate to actual votes on polling day.

The MDP meanwhile has this week reiterated its belief that a first round victory was possible, with the PPM receiving the second largest number of votes, while expecting President Dr Mohamed Waheed and Gasim to finish in third and fourth place.

“The PPM I believe will come second because it is led by the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He will obviously have loyal supporters,” MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said this week.

“But it may be a different story when it comes to recruiting their young support base. Apart from Gayoom, both Gasim and even Waheed are using money to get votes.”

Ghafoor described the current election politics as a battle between the past and the future, claiming the MDP’s three opponents were proxies of former President Gayoom’s 30 year reign and had nothing new to offer to the people.

Sources within President Waheed’s ‘forward with the nation’ coalition have over the last week also expressed confidence of being able to obtain a first round election win despite expressing concern over a “money game” it alleged was being played by certain candidates.


JSC again summoned to Parliament’s Oversight Committee

Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee is to summon all members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to attend the committee on Wednesday (March 20).

Members of the JSC are being summoned to face questions regarding the manner in which judges were appointed to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

Earlier this month, the JSC had informed Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid that the commission would not be held answerable to the oversight committee.

Despite the JSC Chair and Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed declaring that the commission refused to discuss matters regarding the Hulhumale’ Court, individual members of the JSC later attended the committee meetings.

Oversight committee member and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said that the committee had received a total of 18 documents and recorded minutes from the JSC regarding the formation of the Hulhumale’ Court bench.

Citing the minutes from the meeting, Hamid said that a magistrate from Hulhumale’ court had originally proposed a bench of judges to the JSC on September 2, 2012.

Two days later on September 4, Hamid claimed that the JSC had met “in a panic” and had sent a letter to the magistrate telling him to “hold everything, we will tell you what to do”.

“The JSC went into this meeting and propose their own bench because they want their own people. Between 12.30 and 4.30pm on September 4 the JSC had decided on a new bench. The magistrates suggested bench was never even discussed,” Hamid told Minivan News.

The oversight committee member alleged that in “just four hours” the JSC had proposed a new bench, written to the Supreme Court and the Judicial Administrator and had received a response, “They got through six acts of documentation in just four hours”, he added.

In regard to the JSC minutes, Hamid stated that on September 10, 2012, a judge from “different judicial administration” sent a letter to the JSC under the heading ‘Is the Hulhumale’ Court Legitimate?’

“Once again the JSC went into panic mode and hold another meeting. According to the minutes, they start posing questions like ‘does he have the right to use the letterhead to write such things?’ while another member states the JSC needs to take disciplinary action against the man,” Hamid claimed.

Various members of the JSC have criticised the formation of Hulhumale’ court during the committee meetings held earlier this month.

Vice Chair of the JSC, Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi told the oversight committee that he did not believe the JSC could establish a court through a vote.

Ealier this month, when asked directly whether he believed the court to be a legitimate entity, Didi answered: “I am not saying it is a legitimate court. Then again, nor am I saying it is illegitimate. All I can say is I don’t believe it will be liquidated.”

“I can’t really recall the law too well but the JSC certainly cannot form a court,” he added.

Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, who is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), told the committee he believed the judicial watchdog had acted unconstitutionally in assigning magistrates to a particular case.

“In deciding upon the bench, the JSC did follow its rules of procedures. As in, it was voted upon in an official meeting and six of the seven members in attendance voted on the matter. The seventh member being the Chair, does not vote in matters,” Shahid explained to the committee.

“However, whether it is within the commission’s mandate to appoint a panel of judges in this manner is an issue which raised doubt in the minds of more than one of my fellow members.”

Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee is summon the JSC to be present at Wednesday’s meeting scheduled for 2.30pm.


GMR disputes government’s claims to international media that it had agreed to vacate airport

Indian infrastructure giant GMR has said it “categorically refutes” claims made by the government to international media today that it had agreed to vacate Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The government yesterday dismissed an injunction on GMR’s seven day eviction notice granted by the High Court of Singapore, and vowed that the airport would be run by the state-owned Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) by December 7.

A Finance Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that GMR had agreed to vacate following “informal communication.”

“It’s unofficial. They are even selling off their items at a cheaper price. They have given 40-60 percent discounts. They are selling off whatever they can sell off from here including iron bars, concrete, and cement. So I think there won’t be any confrontation or any such nature. All the department heads and senior staff will start working for the Maldives Airports Company Limited MACL from December 7,” the official claimed. “Even though they maintain in public they are not going to vacate, they are going to vacate.”

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad meanwhile told reporters that “Whatever the financial implications on their investments, we have already filed a case in Singapore court for arbitration. We will pay the compensation, what we have to pay.”

However CEO of GMR Male International Airport Limited (GMIAL), Andrew Harrison, said that while GMR had met with a delegation from the government at 11:45am this morning, “we did not agree nor state our willingness to hand over Male’ airport.”

Harrison told Minivan News that he had been advised by a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Colonel at 11:03am that Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim wished to meet him personally.

“The meeting was attended by the Acting Transport Minister, the Chairman of the Maldives Civil Aviation Authority, our lawyer in the Maldives and three members of the MNDF,” Harrison said, in an emailed account of the meeting.

“The meeting was cordial and the Acting Transport Minister outlined the following: that MACL would be operating the airport from Saturday morning in line with the Government of Maldives communication to GMR-MAHB; that the Minister would like a smooth transition as the airport operations should not be affected or suffer in any way; that passengers should not be inconvenienced and therefore all activities including Duty Free would be allowed to continue as is.”

According to Harrison, Nazim informed GMR that “According to their legal advisors the injunction issued by Singapore High Court does not prevent them from taking over the airport and the injunction cannot be applied to a sovereign state.”

Nazim had furthermore proposed offering “100 percent employment in MACL to all staff currently working for GMIAL and an announcement to that effect made tomorrow by the MACL Board .The offer includes both local and foreign staff at their existing terms and conditions including salary,” Harrison stated.

“Our position, which I communicated to them, remains crystal clear. The Singapore High Court has issued an injunction which clearly prevents MACL or the Government of Maldives or any of its agents from taking any action that interferes with GMIAL operating the airport. The injunction clearly prevents them from taking the action outlined in their notice issued to us stating that the airport would be taken over at the end of the seven day period. We remain resolute in our position and there is no question of an offer being made and certainly no question of any alleged offer being accepted as we will simply not agree to our rights nor the injunction being undermined in any way.”

GMR’s lawyer had advised that the injunction was to be was to be honoured “as their representatives and the Attorney General [Azima Shukoor] were party to those proceedings and were present during the proceedings in the Singapore High Court.”

“Further to this we have issued a communication to their lawyers to confirm that their client (MACL/GoM) will not ignore the injunction and outlining the consequences as well as the disturbing media reports that they will ignore the injunction and take over the airport as planned,” Harrison stated.

Nazim had explained that “as he was not a legal person” he would arrange for a legal team to meet GMR’s representatives tomorrow, and pledged to “maintain dialogue”, Harrison said.

“We will always maintain dialogue but our legal position is very clear and we will not compromise on our legal position which is clearly supported by the injunction.”

Moreover, “any version of the meeting being described any differently to my response is categorically untrue and we maintain that we have been granted the right to continue operating the airport in line with the injunction. There is and has never been any change in our position.”

Harrison added that Nazim had also said that “no force used to take over the airport” and that “media reports that the MNDF would take over the airport are untrue.”

Claims that the company was discounting were true – “in the duty free shop”.

“We have a 40 percent sale in duty free because we are trying to minimise our stock holding,” said Harrison. “It is delighting passengers. But I can categorically state we have no intention of going anywhere.”

Indian industry groups back GMR

The 400,000-member Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) has meanwhile issued a statement today in support of GMR, warning that “the attitude of Male’ Government, despite the rulings of Singapore High Court, will shake the confidence of the investors and will jeopardise the spirit behind the cooperation of the SAARC nations.”

The industry group appealed to the government to respecting the Singapore judgement, and said it “conveys its displeasure against any unilateral termination of economic agreements, that will be determent to the growth of the nations and might even sow seeds of suspicion amongst the potential investors in all times to come.”

A second industry group, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), also issued a statement in support of GMR.

“It is extremely important for all the concerned parties to respect the sanctity of the concession agreement and abide by the provisions provided therein to resolve any dispute within the stipulated legal framework”, said the CII’s Director General, Chandrajit Banerjee.


Cabinet to hold May 12 meeting in Addu

Cabinet yesterday decided to hold a community cabinet meeting in Addu City on May 12.

The concept of community cabinet meetings was introduced on November 30, 2010, with the stated aim of bringing government working closer to the people. The first cabinet meeting to be held outside Male’ was in Kulhudhufushi.

The President’s Office said the meeting in Addu would enable people to interact directly with the Cabinet, and receive public inputs into decision and policy-making, and understand public concerns on issues.
The President’s Office further noted that the ministers would travel to islands and hold meetings open for entire island communities in which the meetings are held.

The Community Cabinet meeting to be held in Addu City will be open for the people from Addu City as well as Fuahmulah, the Office added.

Community Cabinets are forms of community forums held in few other democracies to strengthen government-public relations.


President Nasheed meets with Indian Chief of Army Staff

President Nasheed has met with Indian Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, this morning at the President’s Office.

The meeting focused mainly on security issues and the close ties India and the Maldives have had in the past. President Nasheed said relations between the two countries have been ‘at a very high level’ for the past four decades, and he wants to continue and enhance cooperation between the neighbouring countries.

President Nasheed also wished to thank the Indian government and army for their continued support and investment in assisting the Maldives, and pointed out that the country is currently facing issues of terrorism and piracy.

General Kapoor assured him his country would continue to assist the Maldives, and said he was very happy to meet the President.

This meeting follows the recent agreement between India and the Maldives to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) against terrorism, as well as the visit of Indian MP Rahul Gandhi, who met with President Nasheed last Monday to speak of security and trade issues.


New ambassador of Myanmar meets with President Nasheed

The new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Union of Myanmar to the Maldives, U Ohn Thwin, met with President Nasheed yesterday.

Thwin, former ambassador to Sri Lanka, was appointed to the Republic of the Maldives in late 2009.

President Nasheed and Ambassador Thwin discussed strengthening trade, as well as other areas of cooperation, between the two countries.

President Nasheed also mentioned his hope that Aung San Suu Kyi—a Burmese political activist who has been imprisoned for over a decade for her attempts to bring down the military regime in her country—would be released soon.