DRP “moderate” alternative to divisive views of PPM, MDP: MP Mausoom

The government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has claimed it can offer the only “moderate” alternative to the country’s two largest political parties ahead of this year’s elections.

DRP Parliamentary Group Leader MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that between the increasingly “polarised views” of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), his party represented an alternative viewpoint for voters and politicians alike.

The comments were made amidst ongoing speculation over whether presidential candidates representing the country’s government-aligned parties will opt to stand alone in September’s elections, or seek to form a “broad” coalition ahead of polling.

Following the conclusion of the DRP’s fourth national congress on April 25, Dr Mausoom claimed that after the 30 year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed, there was a growing hunger among voters for “something else” in national politics.

He claimed that this growing desire for political alternatives in the Maldives had led to increased interest in supporting the DRP from across the country’s political spectrum.

Yet despite MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed opting to join the DRP from the MDP back in March, the party witnessed a high-profile defection of its own last month with the resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid.  Shahid resigned from the DRP on April 15, shortly before announcing he would be joining the MDP.

Mausoom this week maintained that a growing number of MPs, voters and rival parties members had already expressed interest in joining the party in the build up to the election.

“We are getting pledges from many people that they will join us and we believe they are analysing the current situation,” he said. “Some [rival party] MPs have expressed support for the direction in which we are moving.”

Mausoom said he believed that a growing number of MPs were showing interest in the party – particularly from the PPM, which was formed by former President Gayoom.

Having formed the DRP back in 2005, former President Gayoom left the party with a number of his supporters back in 2011 to found the PPM. The split followed an acrimonious war of words between Gayoom and the DRP’s current leader, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

However, on the back of divisions in the PPM following primary elections held back in March, Dr Mausoom said he believed there was disillusionment among the party’s members.  the primary saw MP Abdulla Yameen – Gayoom’s half brother – appointed as its presidential candidate in a two-way contest with Umar Naseer.

Mausoom alleged that MPs and former DRP supporters who joined the PPM on the back of “accusations” started by former President Gayoom, were now rethinking their allegiances.

“They have seen this was just a game by Gayoom to maintain power within his family,” he said. “We will see more people who moved to the PPM [from the DRP]  aware of this.”

Moving forward

Upon the conclusion of the DRP’s latest congress last month, Mausoom added that the party had filled several key posts within its council, as well as other senior roles such as appointing new deputy leaders including female MP Rozaina Adam.

Alongside implementing a new party structure, Mausoom said the other key purpose of what had been a “very productive” national congress was to draft a manifesto document outlining the party’s strategy for the upcoming presidential elections.

He added that discussions had already been held on a early draft of the party’s manifesto that had been well received by DRP members so far.

However, Mausoom said that no further details on the direction for the party would be shared at the present time.

“The plan now is to streamline the manifesto to the needs of islands communities. Once it is finalised, we will be sharing it with the media,” he said.

Having been drafted with input from members across the country, Dr Mausoom said that the manifesto would incorporate the interests of voters from islands in the outer atolls as well as those of municipal voters ahead of the election.

“We are now geared to move forward,” he said.

Coalition agreements

Among the DRP’s coalition partners currently serving within the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, both the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) have agreed to formally stand in a coalition with the country’s current leader though his Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP).

The DQP and GIP are small political parties currently facing potential dissolution for lacking the minimum requirement of 10,000 members as stipulated in the recently passed Political Parties Act.

However, uncertainty remains whether other parties in the current coalition government would look to officially join with the president ahead of elections to stand against the MDP

Speaking to Minivan News this week, the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) said it would not be looking to form a coalition with any party in the first round of voting.

JP Leader business tycoon and MP Gasim Ibrahim was last month reported in local media as telling supporters at a rally in Male’ that while he would consider forming a coalition with other political parties, but was not wiling to stand as the running mate of another candidate.

However, JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz claimed yesterday (May 1) that the party had decided to stand alone in the first round, adding that Gasim would take advice from the party council beyond that.

On the back of this commitment, Ramiz added that the party was this week working on finalising its own manifesto for the elections and would therefore be able give further details on its campaign strategy over the next week.

The PPM – the country’s second largest party in terms of parliamentary representation – has previously said it would not rule out forming a coalition with President Dr Mohamed Waheed or any other fellow government-aligned parties ahead of the presidential elections.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News last month that the party had already engaged in talks over the possibility of forming a power sharing agreement with other parties in the government of President Waheed, although no final decision had yet been taken.

Nihan said that rival political parties needed to reassess their views on power sharing after thousands of people attended a gathering held by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on April 19 to announce the signing of Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Meanwhile, MDP candidate former President Nasheed has meanwhile claimed his party had already ruled out joining a coalition during the elections, criticising the effectiveness of power sharing in Maldives politics.

Nasheed was brought to power during the second round of the country’s first multi-party democratic elections in 2008 through a coalition of numerous parties united against former President Gayoom. These coalition parties, many of whom now serve in the government of President Waheed, all later left Nasheed’s administration.


Speaker Shahid confirms switch to opposition MDP

Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid has today joined the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – days after resigning from the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Following ongoing media speculation over the last week that the speaker was considering defecting to the MDP, Shahid today confirmed via his Twitter account that he had changed his political allegiance over concerns about the direction of the country’s democratic transition.

Shahid did not elaborate further when asked by Minivan News today if he believed his decision to switch parties would potentially lead to government-aligned MPs reconsidering their support for his speaker role.

“Strong and resolute”

Shahid’s former party, the DRP, today said that it did not wish to comment on the personal decision of someone who was no longer a member of the party.

DRP Deputy Leader Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that despite the defection of the speaker, the party would “remain solid, strong and resolute”.

Mausoom added that the government-aligned party did not presently have any intention to pursue a no-confidence motion against the speaker as a result of him switching parties.

“In the past, most of the no-confidence motions have been conducted by either the MDP or the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM),” he claimed.

Mausoom alleged that previous no-confidence motions submitted from the two parties had been undertaken as a means of seeking vengeance against the speaker or other political figures – something he claimed the DRP would not do.

“We have not initiated a no-confidence motion. We believe that no confidence should only be taken on an issue of national importance,” he said.

However, he claimed that in cases where any politician – whether a speaker or cabinet minister – was deemed to be compromising national issues, then the party “would not hesitate” to take action.

Abdulla Yameen, Parliamentary Group Leader of the government-aligned PPM – the country’s second largest political party after the MDP and minority party of parliament – did not respond to calls from Minivan News about the speaker’s switch today.

Earlier this week, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said he had worked with Shahid for many years and personally found him to be very capable in his position as speaker.

However, he added that he was not sure how his fellow party members or other government-aligned MPs might view a decision to switch to the opposition.

“Ideological shift”

Shahid’s switch comes almost exactly one year to the day that the opposition MDP submitted an unsuccessful no confidence motion against the speaker, accusing him of making decisions relating to significant parliamentary issues without discussing them with various political parties.

However, MDP MP and spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today said that the speaker’s switch was strongly supported by the party’s “grass roots”.

Ghafoor claimed that Shahid’s arrival to the party reflected an “idealogical shift” in the country’s political arena that would bring many more supporters to the MDP who may have previously been sceptical about doing so.

“What [Shahid] is saying, I believe, is that the country needs stability,” he added.

Ghafoor claimed that he had not been made aware of any party moving to challenge Shahid’s position as speaker as a result of his decision to switch parties so far.

He said that the MDP would itself be holding a rally tomorrow night (April 19) dubbed ‘New Strength’. Shahid is believed to be among the speakers at the rally.


DRP positioned as “moderate” alternative to PPM and MDP: Dr Mausoom

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has said it will provide a “moderate” alternative to the more “extreme” political policies of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), ahead of presidential elections set for 2013.

Speaking to Minivan News today, DRP Parliamentary Group Leader and MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that the party was pushing ahead with a new national strategy over the next 12 months to employ more “moderate policies” in areas like economic development and privatisation.

The comments were made following a DRP rally held on Thursday at the artificial beach area of Male’. During the gathering, speakers including party Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali claimed the party had both the following and the polices to defeat the MDP and former President Nasheed at the next elections.

While being ultimately committed to playing a role in coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan until an election race begins, Dr Mausoom also stressed that with “no clear agreement” on the exact policies of the present government during its formation, “differences of opinion” were to be expected among different parties.

According to Parliamentary Group Leader Mausoom, the impact of these differences was potentially already being seen in the rivalry between different parties.

Local media coverage of the rally alleged that around 60 people in the audience at Thursday’s gathering were expatriate workers who were instructed by several Maldivians to stand and applaud during talks from key DRP figures. However, Dr Mausoom responded that any expatriate workers present had likely been supplied by political rivals to tarnish the party’s reputation.

“This sort of thing is done to tarnish the reputation and respect held by the public for the DRP. The public often judge popularity by the number of people at the rally and we noticed some of the media had taken photos of the rally before people had begun arriving,” he said. “It is very irresponsible , but we expect this to happen as rivalry increases between different parties.”

“New drive”

Mausoom said that Thursday’s rally represented the beginning of a “new drive” by the party to hold events across the capital and in the outer atolls to mobilise and involve its members in promoting its policies and attracting new followers.

“We are getting lots of support from members in the islands and things look very promising for the party right now. We are anticipating huge numbers to join us [up to 2013],” he added. “We are attracting many MDP members who have been let down by the party’s failure to uphold democracy and shifting towards us.”

Mausoom contended that the DRP also expected to attract members of other political parties in the country that he said had been “more extreme” in their policies and actions.

“We are a clear alternative to major parties like the PPM and MDP. The MDP for example mismanaged democracy [during the administration of former President Nasheed]. They disrespected the rule of law and independent institutions. The DRP will give due respect to the law.”

Mausoom claimed that this respect for law was reflected in the more “moderate stance” the party hoped to take on issues ahead of the next general election.

“We don’t want privatisation of essential public services. In areas like education and healthcare we are completely against total privatisation,” he said. “At the moment we are committed to more generic policies. But we will be announcing more clear objectives later.”

In trying to play up the party’s more “moderate” political aims, Mausoom raised two key issues were it had already shown a difference of opinion to other government-aligned parties, such as the PPM.

“One issue has been the motion to renounce the Maldives’ commonwealth membership. The DRP has said it would not support this. This is the same for debates on national health funds. We believe that basic healthcare should be provided by the state.”

According to Mausoom, the DRP also holds a vital and unique role in the Majlis for enabling policy that was being passed in parliament, either by voting in line with the government-aligned PPM or the opposition MDP.   The MDP and the PPM are presently are two largest parties in terms of parliamentary representatives.

“Any amendments to laws or policy in the country need to be passed through the Majlis. In order to get the numbers to do this, there should be either a PPM and DRP agreement, or a DRP and MDP agreement,” he said, “However, there may be issues that we do not agree and we would not therefore back these changes. There may be issues that the MDP and PPM agree on passing, but I do not see that happening.”

The party claimed it represented a “middle ground” within Maldivian politics between the MDP and the PPM, established by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The claim was rubbished by MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor however, who claimed that the DRP as a political party had been stifled both internally and externally.

The DRP was originally founded by Gayoom before a war of words with his annointed successor and present party leader Thasmeen saw a breakaway faction of party members establish the PPM.

Ghafoor alleged that following the formation of the PPM, which now holds the second largest number of MPs in the Majlis behind the MDP, the DRP was effectively being replaced as a political entity by Gayoom’s new party.

“I believe that the DRP have failed to identify themselves and what they stand for,” he said.  “Over the weekend, Mr Thasmeen spoke of having outlined policies that can defeat the MDP at elections. But he has failed to articulate any of those policies. I would welcome commitments to establish a grass roots political network on islands like the MDP has done, but the DRP have not managed this. The party is disappearing and the PPM is replacing it.”

Ghafoor claimed that whilst the MDP had identified itself as “a democratic champion” under former President Nasheed, the rest of the country’s political parties had been “left behind” and failed to provide actual alternative polices to the public.

PPM power

Despite the MDP’s claims, PPM Vice President Umar Naseer told Minivan News last month that he believed the MDP realised it faced electoral defeat in the current political environment.

Naseer, who had previously served as deputy leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) before being dismissed, claimed that recent by-election victories for the party over the last two months,  showed clear public support for the wider coalition government.

“If [general] elections were held right now, the MDP would be defeated badly,” he said. “The MDP understands this.”

Ahead of any future presidential elections, Naseer claimed the PPM was focused on bolstering its presence in the Majlis after assuming the minority parliamentary leadership role in April.

Naseer claimed the party would continue pursuing a coalition that might eventually allow it to replace the MDP as majority leader in the majlis.

“Our main focus now will be the elections in 2013,” he said.

Naseer added that when elections were held, the PPM would be working to strengthen the position of its own possible presidential candidate.

“My feeling right now is that [President Waheed] will not stand during the presidential elections,” he claimed.


Details lacking in government expenditure statement: DRP

The first of weekly government expenditure and income statements made public by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury this week lacks detail and does not serve to promote transparency, contends the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, also a member of the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, told Minivan News today that the party “welcomed” the government following through on its pledge to publicise government expenditure on a weekly basis.

“But half the truth is often more deceptive than lies,” he said. “First of all, there were no details in the statement. It was just categorised expenditure without any detail of the expenditure.”

While the Health Ministry has spent Rf744 million (US$48 million) this year, said Mausoom, “we don’t know what the money was spent for or where it went.”

“The whole health sector was corporatised,” he said. “But basic health services have not improved. There is a lack of equipment or facilities that need to be renewed and there’s always talk of how more doctors are needed.”

DRP Deputy Leader Ahmed ‘Andey’ Mohamed meanwhile explained that if a household servant was given Rf100 for shopping and asked to provide details of expenditure “for him to say I spent Rf50 at shop A, Rf30 at shop B and Rf20 at shop C does not mean he provided any details of what he bought.”

Citizens should be made aware of details of expenditure and the services provided with public funds, he added.

One of the “main areas of concern”, said Dr Mausoom, was Rf1.9 billion (US$123 million) spent out of the Finance Ministry’s contingency budget.

“That is almost Rf2 billion. Where did that money go?” he asked, adding that reduced amounts from civil servants salaries that the government was ordered to pay back by the courts had not been released.

The DRP MP for Kelaa also questioned whether the Rf489 million (US$31.7 million) released to state-owned enterprises so far this year could be categorised as “investment.”

A number of “dodgy companies” were dealing with domestic corporations, such as regional utilities and health corporations, he continued, and planning for “unfeasible business projects” with surveys and Memorandums of Understanding.

“A lot of cost would be incurred for that and it can’t really be considered investments,” he argued, revealing that there were 62 government-owned corporations.

Moreover, as a footnote of the expenditure and income summary stated that the figures were taken from reports that “have not been reconciled or audited,” Dr Mausoom suggested that “the numbers are likely to be understated” and subject to change.

“So there are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “But it is good that this has been made public because we are able to raise these issues. If the government wants to dispel all doubts, they should provide full details down to the last laari, which won’t be that hard to do.”

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz was not responding at the time of press.

Deficit spending

Meanwhile among the highest spending line ministries and institutions were the Education Ministry with Rf1.2 billion (US$77.8 million), the Home Ministry with Rf751 million (US$48 million), Housing Ministry with Rf652 million (US$42 million) and local councils with Rf359 million (US$23 million).

According to the statement put out by the Finance Ministry, government expenditure (Rf7.5 billion) outstripped revenue (Rf6.3 billion) by 20 percent between January 1 and September 8, 2011.

As a consequence, the fiscal deficit reached Rf1.3 billion (US$84 million) at the end of last week.

In addition to Rf3.2 billion (US$207.5 million) spent on salaries and allowances for state employees – the single largest source of expenditure – Rf2.4 billion (US$155.6 million) was needed to cover recurrent expenditure or administrative costs.

Capital expenditure was meanwhile Rf1.2 billion (US$77.8 million) while spending on debt service reached Rf563 million (US$36.5 million).

DRP Deputy Leader Ahmed Mohamed observed that capital expenditure – capital outlays for local component of development projects, fixed assets maintenance and investments for state-owned enterprises – was “only 17 percent of the budget” while recurrent expenditure was over 75 percent.

In December 2010, parliament approved a Rf12.37 billion (US$802 million) annual state budget with a projected revenue of Rf8.8 billion (US$570.7 million) and recurrent expenditure of Rf9.8 billion (US$635.6 million) – 49 percent of which was to be spent on salaries and allowances.

The forecast for recurrent expenditure was 79 percent of government spending.

In March this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that “significant policy slippages” have undermined the country’s ability to address its unsustainable budget deficit.

“On the expenditure side, there have been no net fiscal savings from public employment restructuring, public sector wages will be restored to their September 2009 levels earlier than expected, and the new Decentralisation and Disability Bills will lead to considerable spending increases,” the IMF noted in a statement.

The IMF said that while it recognised “the difficult political situation facing the authorities”, “decisive and comprehensive adjustment measures” were required to stabilise the economy, allow sustainable growth and reduce poverty. In particular, it raised concern about the “lack of significant progress in public employment restructuring.

Dr Mausoom meanwhile insisted that as government revenue was expected to exceed previous forecasts because of new tax revenue and reach almost Rf10 billion (US$648.5 million), “the deficit should be reduced by a corresponding amount to the boost in income.”