National Movement accuses government of obstructing anniversary of GMR eviction

The National Movement has accused the government of obstructing its plans to celebrate the anniversary of the termination of the airport development contract with Indian company GMR.

The movement claims that, despite having obtained written permission from the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure to use the Artificial Beach area last weekend, authorisation was later revoked.

Previous National Movement rallies have been held at the same location.

Since taking power last month, the current administration has launched a charm offensive in an attempt to repair strained bilateral relations with its northern neighbour. President Abdulla Yameen is scheduled to visit New Delhi later this month,with Indian media reporting the likely reopening of a much needed standby credit facility.

The self-titled National Movement consists of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and the Civil Coalition umbrella group which claims to represent several civil society organisations.

The movement was born out of the December 23 coalition – an alliance of several political parties including the now-ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party, along with the Civil Coalition. The PPM later left the National Movement in December 2012, after members criticised current President – then PPM’s parliamentary group leader – Abdulla Yameen.

The group has reportedly shared a statement with local media in which it is said to have criticised the current government for inhibiting the movement’s efforts to mark the one year anniversary of “having successfully brought the Maldivians’ airport back into Maldivian hands”.

In the statement, the movement alleges that the government had given multiple warnings not to not celebrate the anniversary.

“We are deeply saddened that the current government has obstructed the joyous event of celebrating the first anniversary of freeing the Maldivian people’s airport, finally to the extent we are simply unable to hold any celebrations at all on the occasion.”

“We further believe that the actions of the government have created reason for us to believe that there is a hidden agenda behind it all,” the statement read, as quoted in local media.

The National Movement however stated that they would still be holding a celebratory event, giving Thursday as a tentative date – the group has not yet announced a venue.

Government response

Deputy Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Abdulla Muhthalib stated that the ministry had not received any requests from an entity called the ‘National Movement’.

“We did, however, get a letter from a political party seeking permission to use the Artificial Beach grounds for an event last weekend. The letter did not specify what the event will be. We did grant this permission,” he said.

“However, based on the fact that we have received complaints that people besides those we grant permission to have been using the allocated area, we decided to retract the permission and halt providing the location to anyone until after we compose guidelines on how such areas can be used. We have neither received nor rejected any requests by National Movement,” Muhthalib explained.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News today that “it is not in this government’s policies to obstruct any citizens from demonstrating within the boundaries of law. I have spoken to media several times about these allegations against us by National Movement and I believe we have been answerable enough by now. It is pointless to talk about the matter too much anyway.”

Muaz has previously told local media that there is “no use to talk about having taken back the airport from GMR an year ago” and that the government will not support a gathering to mark the same.

Despite the PPM formerly being a member of the National Movement, Muaz alleged that the organisation “is not even a registered group, as far as I know.”

He described the matter as “an issue that arose between a Maldivian government-owned company and an Indian company”, adding that the matter has since been resolved.

GMR has taken the premature termination of its contract to a Singaporean court of arbitration where it is claiming US$1.4billion in compensation.

“I see no reason why this matter needs to be brought up and discussed again. The two governments [Maldivian and Indian goverments] are conducting several discussions in the interests of the Maldivian people. The government sees no reason why the GMR matter needs to be taken up again at a time when we are making progress with India, and we don’t support such efforts. This is, however, not to say that we will obstruct freedom of expression,” Muaz is quoted as saying.

Members of the National Movement, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla and National Unity Party Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza had their phones switched off at the time of press.


Q&A: Elections Commission Chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek

The Maldives’ Elections Commission (EC) is preparing for the presidential election’s second round run-off amidst the Jumhooree coalition’s refusal to accept its first round defeat, triggering a barrage of judicial, political, media and civil society actions against the commission.

The Jumhooree Party (JP) – in conjunction with the Attorney General (AG) and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) – has led a Supreme Court case to annul the election, whilst the party’s High Court case against the commission was conducted in tandem. In response to the JP’s vote fraud claims the police barricaded the EC secretariat and searched its garbage, while multiple protests and threats have targeted  the commission and its members and local media has broadcast unsubstantiated information about the commission and electoral process.

The EC has emphatically dismissed allegations of vote rigging as “baseless and unfounded”, highlighting its transparency and extensive preparations – conducted with international support – to ensure a free and fair polling process. International election observers have unanimously commended the first round of polling, calling for losing parties to accept defeat and allow the second round to proceed as scheduled.

With the September 28 run-off less than a week away, Minivan News discusses some of the challenges faced by the commission with Fuwad Thowfeek, Chairperson of the country’s first independent Elections Commission (EC).

Supreme Court case

Leah R Malone: Considering the politicised nature of the Supreme Court – as highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul – is there a risk the Supreme Court’s order to hand over the EC’s only original copy of the voter list could lead to it being tampered with? Specifically, given the lack of material evidence or witnesses presented against the EC thus far, is there a potential opportunity for names to be added to the original voter list to substantiate the JP’s claims?

Fuwad Thowfeek: Thursday (September 19) the Supreme Court ordered the Elections Commission provide the original voter list, so we’ve been making color copies. EC members sat down and discussed [the situation], the constitution and presidential election laws, as well as met with our legal team. Since it’s a Supreme Court case they can order anything be given, so it’s best to follow that order [and provide the list].

However our legal team advised us to take very accurate color copies of each page before sending the originals. We are keeping the duplicates and in case any changes are made [to the originals] we will very easily be able to recognise them. It is the best solution we have at the moment.

As of about 3:45pm or 4:00pm Friday (September 20) we sent 120 lists to the Supreme Court. 200 will be sent Saturday and the day after the remaining lists. We are sending the original documents as the copies are being made.

LRM: If the Supreme Court rules to annul the presidential election’s first round, what will the Elections Commission do?

FT: That’s a big question because according to the constitution and even elections law there is nothing said [about whether the Supreme Court can take that action]. We have to ask the Supreme Court to give a timetable or something [for the presidential election]. Other than that there’s nothing we can do.

We won’t be able to fulfill the time requirement set forth in the constitution [if the run-off isn’t held on schedule]. 120 days before the end of the current president’s term a presidential election must be held. If there is no election then the [democratic] constitution, presidential and general election law will not be satisfied.

The strangest, funniest thing is that they are still not able to identify a single person who has voted fraudulently. For example, they have not been able to show anyone who is younger than 18 has voted, but they have been claiming many underage people fraudulently voted. If there are many [that voted fraudulently] they should be able to verify and show at least one person. They are also claiming that dead people voted, and when they submitted the list of seven names to the High Court, the court gave us the list to check. So we reviewed the voter registry and voter list, found phone numbers on record for four people and when we spoke with them, the individuals verified they were indeed alive and had voted. We are sure we will be able to find the remaining three people.

The other thing is if a dead person voted, someone should be able to show that this is the person who voted under the deceased’s name. Also, the JP is claiming 50,000 fraudulent votes have been added. The strangest thing is none of these ballots have been identified. No ballot boxes were found to have more votes cast than voters registered. Only one ballot box – located on a resort island – was found to have exactly 100 percent voter turnout. The average voter turnout was 88.44 percent nationwide.

LRM: Has Attorney General Azima Shukoor been in contact with the Elections Commission?

FT: That was another surprise to us actually. She has not been in contact with us and then suddenly appeared in the Supreme Court case. The funniest thing is the AG is supposed to support government institutions, but in this case the AG is speaking against the EC. She is supporting JP without evidence or witnesses, just saying there were errors in the voters list, but is not able to cite what those specific errors are because she has not seen [or requested to see] the list.

When I heard the AG was going to participate in the Supreme Court case, I thought it would be on behalf of the EC and she would tell the court [the vote rigging allegations are] simply not possible and the court cannot give any room to cancel the first round and re-hold it. [However,] when the AG came out and spoke against the EC – just like any political party supporter of JP – we released a press statement stating that the commission regrets this action by the AG. Both the AG and the JP have not provided any evidence or witnesses to support their allegations.

The government has spent over MVR 30 million (US $1,949,310) on the first round, there is no budget remaining [to hold both rounds again]. If it’s difficult for the government to provide the additional budget for the second round, there will be so many difficulties if the [results are annulled and] voting rounds are held again.

[Prior to the Supreme Court case] we hadn’t had much contact with the office of the AG or the AG. Last year after the change of government, in March or April, the EC met with the AG and spoke about changes that were required in the election laws, but nothing has materialised so far. She told us at the time that there were so many laws requiring revision.

Before the end of the last Supreme Court session, the Chief Justice ordered the EC to submit the original copy of the voters’ list. They are probably going to check the list to see whether people below the age of 18 voted. If they want to check for that, it’s fine. We are 100 percent sure they will not find anyone below 18 who voted.

Accessing the voter list

LRM: Following the High Court order for the EC to allow JP access to the voter list – under the guidelines determined by the commission – what were the exact protocol guidelines the EC enacted during the JP representative’s visit? What other political party representatives were present?

FT: Tuesday (September 17) the High Court ordered the EC to show the voter list to political parties. We have only one original [copy of the voters list] and had to make arrangements to follow the High Court’s order to show JP [the list], so we made the arrangements for Thursday (September 19).

This was because the EC needed time to prepare, seek advice from our legal team, and to hold a discussion meeting with our members. At the same time, arrangements for other candidates to see the voter list were also made. We invited all four political parties to send representatives to see the original voter list.

The viewing started at 10:00am. A team from JP came and GIP, but no PPM – even in court they said they did not want to see the voter list. An MDP representative came, but he said he did not want to see it.

We asked the other two – representatives from JP and GIP – what they wanted to see. Then again they wanted more people [from their parties] to come and for the EC to make copies [of the list for them]. But we couldn’t make that arrangement because we have to be very careful with our only copy [of the list], so our own official would show it to one representative at a time. There were arguments from the political party representatives [about these guidelines].

[However,] the lawyer, Dr Hassan Saeed [JP presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s running mate and head of JP’s legal team] said that now he does not need to look at the voter list anymore because he would prefer for the EC to hand it over to the Supreme Court.

(JP’s Legal Advisor Mohamed Haleem told Minivan News last week that the party would seek an additional High Court order for unrestricted access to the voter list).

LRM: With the ‘leaked’ police intelligence report – which the AG is citing in the Supreme Court – alleging there were “some opportunities for fraud” and “illegal voting”, the AG arguing for the Supreme Court to order the police to investigate the EC, and the police barricading and searching the EC’s garbage, do you think the police are politicised and acting against the EC?

FT: I don’t think anything will happen. I heard the AG demanded the PG issue an order to the police to investigate some of these allegations, but so far the commission has not been contacted by the police or the PG. But we don’t know anything about this. The AG should have met and spoke with the EC before making such a decision and then advising another institution [to take action].

LRM: What has been the outcome of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC)’s investigation into Villa TV (VTV) broadcasting programmes to incite hatred and create an uprising against the EC? Have any substantive actions been taken by MBC against VTV?

FT: We don’t know about the [outcome of the] MBC investigation. They said they will be taking actions against those broadcasting untruthful content. We know that VTV has stopped broadcasting the ‘Olhuvaalee Vote Ge Namugai’ (‘fraud in the name of the vote’) programme. But for a very long time they have been showing ‘Fasmanzaru’ (‘five horizons’), where various JP political party members or supporters just talk against the EC or against the election’s first round. Although what they have to say has no substance.

Saturday or Sunday we have to send a complaint letter to MBC. Again I have called MBC’s President Mohamed Shahyb and by phone have spoken to him about ‘Fasmanzaru’ [and the unsubstantiated claims its spreading].

LRM: How will the EC provide more timely information to media during the second round run-off to avoid the confusion created by inaccurate local media reports of polling station figures during the first round?

FT: We have not yet decided. I think we need more frequent refreshing of figures and will try to have more frequent reports from the EC on the 28th. If everything does not go well it may be difficult… we may not be able to go to the Dharubaaruge [convention centre in Male’]. We will try to have better updates through the internet, but will be focusing on communicating directly with the media.

Threats and protests

LRM: The ‘National Movement’ has announced they will raise their voices in protest if the Supreme Court doesn’t rule against the EC. They are calling for the EC to be reformed – with yourself, the Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz, and commission member Ali Mohamed Manik resigning. Have previous JP protests and planned National Movement protests caused any problems for the EC? Why are they targeting the three of you?

FT: Even JP supporters – except the 20 or 30 people shouting on the streets – have accepted the first round results and are not causing any problems.

Thursday night around 10:30pm 20 or 30 protesters came near the EC Secretariat, shouted for 30 minutes and left. They were demanding my resignation and saying ‘thief of votes’ and that type of thing, they wanted the [first round] results cancelled and a fresh election to be held. Sometimes they ask for myself and the Vice Chair to resign, sometimes different EC members, and sometimes the entire commission.

These are a few unsatisfied people paid by somebody – who has the money – but they know they’re not shouting for any solid thing. They get on a loudspeaker [and protest] after somebody asks or pays them – they are doing it for that reason alone, not based on anything reasonable. If it was a public thing then I’d be more concerned. But this is just a few people and most are not educated. They don’t know what’s going on [with the election] or how the voting process works.

There are five members of the EC and all decisions are made by the five members. [However,] the Vice Chair Fayaz, member Manik, and I are the three members interacting the most with the public, on TV etc  – that’s why they are going against us.

LRM: What kind of threats have been made against EC members and/or staff?

FT: Some of us are getting threats from unknown people. I have received SMS messages saying ‘be careful when you come out on the street, you’ll be stabbed in the stomach’. We [commission members] have security provided by the police and we move around with them.

My wife has been scared. Two times people went near our home shouting [and protesting], but the police protected our home and stopped the people from coming too near.

LRM: Do you think the MPS can provide adequate security for EC members?

FT: Yes, the MPS is fully capable. I’m sure nobody can harm me. They have to look at a distance but can’t touch me. Of that I’m fully confident, I’m not scared. I’m confidant know what I’m doing is right and I have the support of the people and the whole international community – observers and monitors. They’ve seen the electoral process [during the first round], which they have commended, praised, and complemented. I’m very happy and am moving ahead with my duties. My work cannot be stopped by a few people. I have full confidence in myself and am moving ahead.

LRM: The JP, some of their supporters, and the National Movement have claimed the EC, its members and staff are biased toward MDP – will you clarify for the public whether there is any truth in this accusation?

FT: There’s no truth to that, it’s some kind of story that some of the opponents wanted to spread. This commission, all its members and staff, do not belong to any political party or align with any political party.

We have staff who are married to people from different political parties – PPM, MDP, DRP, etc – and police officers. Staff members’ spouses may belong to a political party, but that is their own interest and has nothing to do with the duties of our staff. I have full confidence in our staff, they are very faithful to their duties and this commission and would not do anything unjust. I’m confident in my staff and that none are aligned with the MDP.

If they [a particular politician or political party] don’t get the result they want from a particular institution, they tend to claim that institution is opposition-aligned. The MDP got the best result [Nasheed secured 45.45 percent of the vote], so this time the EC is accused of being MDP aligned. If Yameen won then the EC would be accused of being PPM aligned.

In another instance, right after the change of government [in February 2012] some said the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) was PPM aligned, because most of the decisions made were more likely to the advantage of PPM. That’s just the kind of talk that happens.

Run-off preparations

LRM: What kind of support are local and international partners providing the EC for the second round? Is anything additional needed prior to the run-off scheduled for the 28th?

FT: We are getting a lot of support from international and local partners. The Commonwealth has expressed their satisfaction with the EC’s professionalism and their continued support for the commission. They will be sending another observer team for the run-off. The EU sent different observer teams – from various countries – on the 7th and will most likely send more for the 28th. Observers from Japan, Thailand, India, UK, US, and a Pakistani Elections Commissioner were present during the first round and expressed their interest in observing the second round. They will most likely send more teams for the run-off. I think they will come before the 28th to see the place, visit other islands, and see how ready we are for the second round.

Transparency Maldives sent the observers nationwide and their report praised the electoral process. The HRCM also observed the first round and praised us on our work and confirmed everything during the election went well. The Maldivian Democracy Network also expressed their support and commended the work the EC has done.

LRM: How have EC members, staff, and their families been impacted by the controversy the commission has faced since the first round? How has this impacted run-off election preparations?

FT: Right now there is very heavy work we have left to do before the 28th. We are so busy we are working 24 hours a day and the EC staff works in shifts, half are sent home to sleep when the other half report in.

For example, in addition to the 470 ballot boxes necessary for the first round, the second round will require an additional box be placed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and two more on tourist resorts that have applied to keep ballot boxes this round.

Everyone of us has to spend so much time in the office. We go early in the morning and stay until late at night, even on weekends, while our families are alone at home. Our families suffer, but they fully support us so we can fulfill our national duty.

It’s a very difficult job but I’m lucky to have the confidence of the people and [political party] leaders – even Gasim’s close people, President Waheed and President Nasheed know me well, and the honorable Yameen and Gayoom know and trust me. Even those who speak against me only speak for political gain or just to control their supporters.

I know what I’m doing is right and everything will be fine for elections to take place the 28th. We are fully ready for the second round. If we are able to hold on until the 28th then we will know the next president of the country.

LRM: Given the barrage of judicial, political, media and civil society actions against the EC, is the electoral environment still conducive to holding a free and fair presidential election on September 28?

FT: I think on the 28th of September the second round will go ahead as we have planned and have been working toward. There has been very little or no change [in the electoral environment] that would require we make any changes to our own program. Compared to last week, this week things have very much improved. I’m very confident things will calm down.

I’ve spoken to different people [representing political parties] and the most interesting thing is even those against us in the Supreme Court, they know there was nothing wrong with the election. Gasim’s employees, senior political party members, are trying to just give him a perspective that they did so much to cover up their failure to get Gasim the required number of votes [to proceed to the run-off]. They know the cases submitted in the High Court and Supreme Court are not going to give them any recount. Nothing will come out in their favour. They just want to go as far as they can go.

A lot of energy has been wasted by everyone – their people, our people, the Supreme Court.

I’m very hopeful the country will be ready for the run-off. We cannot keep this second round [from happening on schedule]. Particularly for the benefit of the country, to maintain the peace and harmony of our home [nation], we have to hold the second round.

If we fail, we will likely face more and more problems as the time passes. It will be in the interest of the government, all political parties, and all thoughtful citizens of the country to hold the run-off. Anybody trying to obstruct the election is unpatriotic.


National Movement plans protests against Elections Commission

The youth wing of the self-titled ‘National Movement’ – comprised of several NGOs and the religious conservative Adhalaath Party (AP) – has called for protests against the Elections Commission (EC), alleging that the first round of the presidential election was rigged.

The group “harshly criticised” the EC, citing the “many irregularities” the Jumhooree Party (JP) has belaboured regarding the presidential election’s first round, according to local media accounts of Tuesday’s (September 17) press conference.

They also accused Parliament and independent institutions, such as the EC, of not providing enough support to address these alleged “irregularities”.

National Movement youth wing leader Sobah Rasheed accused authorities of rigging the presidential election’s first round, held on September 7, and declared the group’s intention to hold protests demanding reform of the EC and independent institutions in the Maldives.

“The Elections Commission must not hold the second round of the elections before the issues surrounding the first round of polls are properly addressed,” said Rasheed.

The ‘National Movement’ will “not go home until they receive answers” and will protest until “the outcome desired by the people is reached”, he vowed.

The ‘National Movement’ declared they are working to hold the people responsible for the polling “irregularities” accountable.

“The Maldives has long had a culture of [people] not having the courage to voice out the truths about vote rigging,” the group declared.

JP Event Coordinator and National Movement youth wing member Ahmed Ghaalib also spoke during the ‘National Movement’ youth wing press conference, and stressed that taking the initiative to protest was not directed by a political party – but all political parties are welcome to participate.

“The National Movement’s youth wing will be leading the entire movement’s protests,” Ghaalib told Minivan News yesterday.

He explained that the group had planned to start protesting Tuesday night, but decided to delay after the High Court issued its ruling.

“We are waiting on the Supreme Court ruling – until the court says [the EC is] right or wrong. We will fully respect and obey court rulings,” said Ghaalib.

“We are not going to disturb, just raise our voices and share some information with the international media,” he added.

Ghaalib explained the main point of the protests is to highlight the EC’s “many flaws to help them improve”.

“We are working to build trust between the people and the [Elections] commission, not destroy them,” he said.

Ghaalib clarified that the entire EC is not the issue, but rather three individual commission members, the Chair Fuwad Thowfeek, Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz, and Member Ali Mohamed Manik, who he personally believes have Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) affiliations.

He believes protests alone will not build trust between the EC and Maldivian citizens, however National Movement members “raising their voices” will.

“Regarding the GMR issue, we worked very hard to do those things,” said Ghaalib. “This time everybody has decided to come out and raise their voices, we are ready to reform the Elections Commission.”

“The JP is not affiliated with the ‘National Movement’, however Ghaalib himself can go to whatever he likes in a personal capacity,” JP Spokesperson Moosa Rameez told Minivan News yesterday (September 18).

The ‘National Movement’ was born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties – now part of the coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed – and an alliance of NGOs that rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” in late 2011. The rally was held to oppose the allegedly liberal policies and “secularisation agenda” of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, the “civil alliance” led a campaign dubbed “Maldivians’ Airport to Maldivians” calling on the government to terminate the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to manage and modernise Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Elections Commission

The EC has raised concerns that there may not be a suitable environment for the presidential election’s second round should Villa TV (VTV) – owned by JP leader Gasim Ibrahim – continue to deliberately spread false information and incite people to rise up against the commission.

The media has continued to disseminate unsubstantiated information about the commission, and threats have been directed at the EC’s chair, his family, and the vice chair, as well as EC official Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed in the week-and-a-half since the presidential election’s first round.

The EC has emphatically dismissed allegations of vote rigging as “baseless and unfounded”, highlighting its transparency, its ongoing complaints investigations, and the praise from a broad spectrum of election observers who noted peaceful voting and the preparedness of the EC.

“With [election] officials from different sources [working] in front of [election] observers, there was no way the type of fraud [JP is alleging] could be made,” EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek recently told Minivan News.

“In front of all those people – as well as election monitors and observers – there is no way anyone can do any sort of mischief,” he continued.

“Polling station officials were not all from the EC. We hired various officers from public sector organisations, as well as young people looking for work,” he noted.

“Every ballot box had a combination of all types of individuals, selected at random, and a balance was kept between females and males, young and old,” he explained. “Many met for the first time during training or [polling station] duty. All the people belonging to [and responsible for] each ballot box were not trained together [as a group].”

Thowfeek also addressed the voter registry concerns raised by the JP – and previously raised by the PPM prior to elections.

“The voter’s list was published two weeks before voting and the lists were [also] sent to all ballot box locations in addition to EC officials, presidential candidate representatives, observers from each political party,” said Thowfeek. “Anyone who has this [list] will know that they will not be able to show a single person who voted under a false name.”

He explained that the EC obtained the voter registration lists from island council offices as well as the Male’ municipality office. This data was compiled and the lists cross-checked with the Department of National Registration to verify its accuracy.

Thowfeek also emphasised that many individuals are not aware or are misunderstanding the Male’ Dhaftharu – a special registry for people who are Male’ residents, but are from other islands – registration process.

“In the past people were placed on the Dhaftharu with the municipal council [listed as their residence], but this time they put the places where they live,” said Thowfeek.

“They are Maldivian citizens [from the islands] residing in Male’ but they don’t have a permanent residence – they have the right to vote,” he declared.

Last week, the EC also announced that eight deceased individuals the JP had claimed to be on the electoral register had been found to be living.

The commission has determined that the eight people did cast ballots and has met five of them, EC Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz told local media. The commission has received information that the other three individuals are also alive, though the EC has not yet been able to meet them.

Department of National Registration

Meanwhile, the Department of National Registration (DNR) has dismissed the possibility of individuals voting with forged national identity cards.

DNR Director General Fareeda Yoosuf has insisted there was no chance forged ID’s could be used to vote.

Each individual identity card is unique and does not change even when renewed and, even in cases where lost IDs are replaced, the same identity number is used, Yoosuf noted.

No complaints of forged identity cards have been received by the DNR so far, she noted.


ACC defends report on airport privatisation deal as Sheikh Imran insinuates bribery from GMR

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has issued a press statement defending its investigative report of the airport privatisation deal signed by the previous government, harshly condemning “false and misleading” remarks by politicians of government-aligned parties.

On June 17, the ACC released a 61-page investigative report concluding that there was no corruption in the awarding of a concession agreement to a consortium of Indian infrastructure giant GMR and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) to develop and manage the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The report was met with strong criticism and bribery allegations from parties in the government coalition.

Insisting that the government’s stand would not change as a result of the ACC findings, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that “if there is a reasonable cause of doubt, this report can be contested by some parties.’

“Many people say here that the ACC Board is not an unbiased organisation. They say it is politically motivated,” he was quoted as saying.

Religious conservative Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran meanwhile described the report as “a slap in the people’s face” while President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Inthihaad Party (GIP) Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza accused ACC members of corruption.

In an appearance on pro-government private broadcaster DhiTV last night (June 23), Imran insinuated that ACC members accepted bribes from GMR offered through former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay.

The ACC report was “a highly unprofessional, semi-technical and procedural review” that did not amount to either a proper investigation or an audit, Imran said, calling for “a full-fledged investigation.”

In November 2012, the current administration abruptly terminated the US$500 million contract with the GMR-led consortium, declared the concession agreement ‘void ab initio’ (invalid from the outset), and gave GMR seven days’ notice to leave the country.

The decision followed weeks of protest by a self-titled “National Movement” spearheaded by Sheikh Imran and senior government officials – born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of NGOs that rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” in late 2011 – calling on the government to “reclaim” and nationalise the airport.

Last Friday, GMR filed a claim for US$1.4 billion in compensation from the Maldives at ongoing arbitration proceedings in Singapore over “wrongful termination” of the contract.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Azima Shukoor, who headed the cabinet committee that advised termination of the contract, contended on DhiTV last week that the ACC report was “incomplete” as the commission had overlooked several key factors.

“Did they omit the factors deliberately or unknowingly or simply just overlooked them? But a lot of factors have been overlooked and omitted from the report. The state will suffer great losses because of it. Especially when the country is tied up in a judicial case,” she was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

ACC response

ACCIn its press release on Thursday (June 19), the ACC stated that its investigation was “not based on what politicians say at podiums and in the media.”

“Instead, the case was investigated based on relevant information collected for the investigation, documents and statements taken after questioning those involved in the case,” the ACC said, denying the allegations of undue influence on its members or staff.

The ACC statement added that the commission in concluding investigations adhered to article 25 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2008, and did not reach its conclusions “after considering the wishes of a particular politician.”

The commission noted that it had not responded to any political rhetoric targeting the ACC in the past, adding that all corruption investigations followed criminal justice procedures, the ACC Act and regulations under the law.

The statement explained that article 25(a)(2) of the Act required the commission to submit cases for prosecution if sufficient evidence to secure a conviction was gathered.

In the absence of evidence to prove corrupt dealings, article 25(a)(1) of the Act stipulates that the commission must declare that the case does not involve corruption.

The report made public last week contained information collected for the investigation, observations and the reasoning for reaching the conclusion “without any omissions or additions,” the ACC added.

“This is the first time that an investigative report of a case investigated by the commission has been made public like this,” the statement continued. “It was released that way to provide details of the case to the public as transparently as possible.”

The ACC further noted that in December 2012 the commission submitted a case to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) requesting criminal prosecution over the previous government’s decision to deduct a court-blocked Airport Development Charge (ADC) from concession fees owed to the state.

The ACC asked the PGO to seek reimbursement of MVR 353.8 million (US$22.9 million) from former MACL Chair Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem and former Finance Minister Mohamed Shihab over the alleged misuse of authority the commission contended had led to significant financial losses for the state.

Bribery allegations

Responding to remarks in local media last week by an unnamed ACC member alleging that Imran attempted to influence the outcome of the investigation, the Adhaalath Party President admitted on DhiTV last night that he met commission members while the “National Movement” protests were ongoing.

Imran said he met ACC members after learning of efforts by GMR to bribe politicians through the former Indian High Commissioner Mulay.

Mulay also requested meetings with Imran himself on numerous occasions “through some of our ministers and even by directly calling our office,” he claimed.

Upon hearing of meetings between Mulay and ACC members, Imran said the leaders of the “National Movement” met commission members to “advise against accepting bribes.”

“[ACC members] said, ‘how can we go near that? we have sworn an oath,'” Imran said.

He claimed the ACC members told him that “the roots go deep” in the GMR deal and that former President Nasheed “completed the deal in Singapore.”

ACC members informed Imran that bribes from GMR was deposited to bank accounts in countries near Singapore, he claimed, while the commission members provided assurances that “everything would be made clear” once the investigative report was made public.

Imran said he would reveal further details of the “National Movement’s” meeting with ACC members if the commission responded to the allegations.

“In any case, we were working to liberate the airport on behalf of religion and the nation,” he said, adding that the government eventually decided to terminate the agreement without waiting for the ACC report.

As a result of pressure from the protests, he continued, the government was convinced it was not in the national interest to persist with the contract.

Imran also insinuated that the ACC would receive a portion of the US$1.4 billion compensation figure claimed by GMR.

State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed, who was part of the protests against GMR, meanwhile argued that the ACC releasing its report a few days before an arbitration hearing could not be “a coincidence.”

“Do we really have to comply with a court order from a Singaporean court?” he asked.

He contended that the Maldivian government would not have to compensate GMR despite a decision in favour of the consortium at the ongoing arbitration proceedings.

“Also, we can appeal such a judgment in Maldivian courts, can’t we? That’s not prohibited by Maldivian law. There’s no obstacle to that. So this is not something that the public should be concerned about at all,” he said.


Spray-painting “irreligious” on people’s homes risks sparking hate crimes: former police intelligence chief

Former Police Intelligence Chief Mohamed Hameed has expressed concern that a recent outbreak of graffiti, in which dozens of homes and public buildings have been spray-painted ‘laadheenee’ (‘irreligious’), could trigger hate crimes in the capital.

Hameed said the “highly provocative act”  required precautionary action from the police.

“The ‘laadheenee’ graffiti on many walls in Male’ is a serious issue, possibly leading to hate crimes. This has come up at a time when politicians are often speaking of religion, and [former President] Gayoom has himself just recently said that there are two ideologies in the country: religious and anti-religious,” Hameed stated, referring to a recent speech by the autocratic leader of 30 years.

“The graffiti came up shortly after that, and is mostly in yellow paint. It can be said it is targeting a specific group of people. This can lead to retaliatory acts from the target groups,” Hameed contended.

“With the looming elections, this might be an act deliberately orchestrated by a particular group of people to attempt to create chaos and delay elections, saying the country does not have a conducive environment in which a free and fair election can be carried out,” he said.

“It seems like the graffiti was put up late at night. Now, since there are no shops or cafe’s open 24/7, there are only a minimal amount of people out late. The police are out patrolling the streets at all hours so it should not be too much of a task for them to find out who is responsible for this. I think they probably already have an idea. I believe it’s very important the police investigate this matter and take precautionary measures,” Hameed stated.

The graffiti has since been altered to form a variety of other phrases ranging from “MullahDheen” (‘Mullah religion’) to “BinLaadheenTha?” (‘Is it Bin Laden?’).

“Political activism doesn’t strip me of religion”

Minivan News spoke to people living in some of the houses who woke up to see the label “Laadheenee” scrawled over their walls.

“We are not a high profile family, and usually just stay to ourselves, so I was very surprised to see this derogatory word on our wall. Perhaps it is because one of my sisters is very active in the anti-coup protests,” said the eldest son of one such house.

“None of us, even my sister, is intimidated by this. Why can’t people with opposing political views be like us? That’s what my Dad said too. We don’t run around vandalising the property of those sheikhs who preach hate, or their followers.”

A small street in Maafannu ward had the graffiti on a quarter of the houses along it.

“This street definitely has a lot of people living on it who support the MDP, but that doesn’t make us anti-religious in any sense,” said one resident, a 53 year-old housewife. “Political activism doesn’t strip me of my religion. This just displays their lack of maturity and political ineptitude.”

Another resident, a 24 year-old man, called the act ‘childish’, adding, “Seeing the graffiti, it was mostly anger I felt. This is obviously politically motivated. What right do they have to go around damaging the property of people they do not know at all?”

A 38 year-old man who lives alone in a house in Henveiru said he felt the graffiti was the start of something “larger and more menacing.”

“It’s like they have marked down the houses of people they mean to attack. The saddest thing is, although the word refers to religion, I doubt their intentions are anything but political. I hope the police look into this and ensure that none of us come to physical harm.”

“‘Laadheeneee’ is an old song, no one’s interested”: MDP MP

MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy described the painting of the graffiti as “a desperate political move” and “an old song that  people simply are no longer interested in listening to.”

“All this talk of religion and being anti-religious is a politically-motivated ploy used by a handful of politicians who have nothing else to come to the public with. They have no pledges, no manifesto, no policies: and because they have nothing to speak of, they resort to labelling those who do with derogatory terms,” Fahmy said.

“This particular instance is a crime according to both international law and the local law; I refer to the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the Religious Unity Act respectively. Because of the state our law enforcement system is in at the moment, we see no action being taken against crimes like this,” Fahmy said.

“It is this failure to act that led to the February 7 coup d’etat. The sad thing is that both the law enforcement forces and the judiciary are not working to deal with serious matters like this,” he continued.

“Religion does not belong to any man. It is between God and oneself. There is no justification for abusing religion in the competitiveness of politics,” he said.

Police Media Official Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at time of press.

Religion and politics

During an address given in Denmark, former President and MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed stated that the Maldivian people had largely rejected Islamic extremism, and, in a veiled reference to the Adhaalath Party – the only local political party which claims to be based on a religious ideology – noted that “the Islamists were never a credible electoral threat.”

“The Islamic extremists also didn’t like the Maldives’ new democracy because they were unpopular. They failed to win the presidential elections in 2008, they failed to win local government elections – in 2011 they won less than four percent of the vote. But now, after the coup, extremists have been rewarded with three cabinet positions in government, and in many ways set the tone of the government communications. They are busy trying to indoctrinate people with a misguided version of Islam,” Nasheed said.

“There is idea of wanting to return to Hejaz as it was in the 7th century. This is Wahhabism in principle. And it is difficult and worrying,” he had said at the time.

The religion based political party condemned Nasheed’s comments, alleging that “Nasheed misled them about the party he fears and envies most: the Adhaalath Party.”

The next night, the National Movement – comprising of Adhaalath Party and a number of NGOs – organised a several hundred strong march around Male’ calling on authorities to penalise Nasheed, with some calling for him to be hanged. They alleged that Nasheed had mocked Islam, the Sunnah of the Prophet and verses of the Quran.

Meanwhile, the MDP has released a statement condemning the use of “irresponsible and misleading” political rhetoric against Nasheed over his remarks on Islamic radicalism.

The party said “misleading” statements were made in the media by political parties and “those wearing the hats of sheikhs to use religion as a weapon.”


‘National Movement’ to protest on behalf of murder victims

The self-titled “Maldives National Movement”, comprised of several NGOs and the religious conservative Adhalaath Party, is organising a special protest for May 3, 2013, on behalf of “the rights of murder victims.”

Speaking to local media at Nalahiya Hotel in Male’ today, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla said the main purpose of the gathering was to call for justice for murder victims and encourage the authorities to ensure that “such inhumane acts” were not repeated in the future.

The ‘National Movement’ said its member would deliver five demands, which be revealed on the day of the protest.

Imran also suggested that the number of murders were being ignored, criticising media for seemingly forgetting cases after covering them for ten days or even a month.

He also referred to the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, noting that neither the ongoing trial nor the investigation of his murder had been concluded.

State Home Minister Abdulla Mohamed, spokesperson of the ‘National Movement’, said that 13 Maldivians were reported murdered last year.  He added that compensation for these deaths was also not being received by relatives of the victims.

Mohamed said the protest would be held to show that families and friends of murder victims were being deprived of their rights.

He therefore called on everyone against murder to participate in the event.

Statistics provided on the Maldives Police Service website do not include individual figures on murder rates.

However, the official figures did show a decline in cases of assault over the last three years. Reported assaults fell to 1,416 incidents during 2012, down from 2,001 cases in 2009.

Sheikh Imran and State Finance Minister Abbas Adil Riza, members of the National Movement’s Steering Committee, were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


The ‘National Movement’ has held a series of poorly-attended gatherings in recent weeks targeted at parliament.

The group previously accused MPs of violating the constitution late last year and said they would consider a plan to “break up” parliament if its members’ constitutional concerns were not addressed.

The movement was born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties – now part of the coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed –  and an alliance of NGOs that rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” in late 2011.

The rally was held to oppose the allegedly liberal policies and “securalisation agenda” of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, the “civil alliance” led a campaign dubbed “Maldivians’ Airport to Maldivians” calling on the government to terminate the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to manage and modernise Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).


‘National Movement’ exercising freedom of assembly with artifical beach gatherings

The self-titled ‘National Movement’, comprising several NGOs and the religious conservative Adhalaath Party, has said it is exercising constitutional rights by holding gatherings at the artificial beach area in Male’, despite claims it has not been granted permission to do so.

State Finance Minister Abbas Adil Riza, a member of the National Movement’s Steering Committee, said the group’s followers had the right to freedom of assembly to express dissatisfaction with parliament.  He also today (April 11) claimed the movement’s supporters may “storm” the People’s Majlis to protect the national constitution.

The National Movement has held a series of gatherings in recent weeks that its supporters have said are targeted solely at parliamentarians and their conduct in the country. The group previously accused MPs of violating the constitution late last year and said they would consider a plan to “break up” parliament if its members’ constitutional concerns were not addressed.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz today turned to social media site Twitter to claim in Dhevehi that the ‘National Movement’ had not obtained permission to hold its gatherings in the artificial beach area beyond April 8 this year.

Dr Muiz was not responding to calls at time of press.

Meanwhile, Male’ City Council (MCC), which claims to be responsible for providing the artificial beach area to political parties, said it had filed separate cases with the Maldives Police Service and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) over continued use of the land by a group proclaiming themselves as the ‘National Movement’.

Permission obtained, “Most probably”

Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News today that one of the NGOs making up the National Movement had “most probably” obtained permission to use the land.

“We are of the opinion that the constitution allows every citizen the right of peaceful assembly,” he said.

Abbas claimed that the artificial beach area was a part of the capital where the public were free to gather, adding that he did not believe use of the space would be an issue if no other parties or groups had reserved the area at the same time.

According to Abbas, if the artificial beach area could not be made available for the ‘National Movement’, then MCC Councillors were required to provide land in the capital where they could continue to host gatherings.

He alleged that the MCC had tried to block National Movement supporters from holding their meetings at the artificial beach.

“Singular objective”

Regarding the ongoing series of gatherings, Abbas said the ‘National Movement’ was focused on the “singular objective” of not allowing parliament to damage the functioning of the Maldives constitution.

“We have given them the same warning that we gave to [former President Mohamed] Nasheed,” he said. “We will try to storm the Majlis if we have to protect the constitution.”

In December 2011, former opposition parties – now members of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s unity government – and a number of NGOs included in the ‘National Movement’ gathered in Male’ with thousands of people to “defend Islam”.  Organisers said the rally was a response to what they alleged were the irreligious practices of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government.

Nasheed’s government was controversially removed from office two months later following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Many of the parties in attendance at the “defend Islam” rally have taken cabinet posts in the new government.


Responding to Abbas’ claims today, MCC Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem claimed that the municipal council presently held the responsibility to provide permits for the use of the artificial beach area for events and gatherings.

He said that with work now being undertaken to ensure the area is ready for use around the time of presidential elections scheduled for September this year, the MCC had requested the land not be used at present by any political organisation or group.

Kareem went on to accuse the ‘National Movement’ of not being a registered organisation, but just a name used by Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdullah for his own political ends.

He went on to allege that as a result of Sheikh Imran’s involvement with the movement, Housing Minister Muiz, who is also Secretary General of the Adhaalath Party, had previously provided permits for a limited period of time to use the artificial beach area for the gatherings.

Kareem also rejected accusations that the MCC had any involvement in attempts to try and block or sabotage the National Movement’s gatherings or work.

“Usfasgandu” dispute

The MCC has itself been locked in legal wrangling with the Housing Ministry over the last 13 months concerning its ability to lease an area of land known as “Usfasgandu” to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for use as a protest staging ground and other activities.

Usfasgandu was handed back to the MDP by the Male’ City Council last month.

The area was cordoned off by police in January after the High Court issued a warrant requesting the area be kept under police custody until it reached a verdict on the case.

Male’ City Council leased the Usfasgandu area to the ousted ruling party in March 2012, prompting repeated attempts by the government to reclaim the area on the grounds it was being used for criminal activity, including the practice of black magic.

The MDP had moved to the area after a previous protest camp at the tsunami monument was dismantled and completely repainted by police and military on March 19, 2012.


Adhaalath Party President vows to dissolve parliament, force MPs to resign

Additional reporting by Neil Meritt

The Adhaalath Party has threatened to dissolve parliament for “not functioning constitutionally”, by pressuring members to resign “just as former President Nasheed was” in February 2012.

President of the Adhaalath Party (AP), Sheikh Imran Abdullah, claimed parliamentarians were not conducting themselves according to the constitution or serving the Maldivian people.

Imran was speaking during a ‘National Movement’ event held at the Artificial Beach in Male’ on March 19, reported local media.

“If the parliament continues to fail to function according to the wishes of the people, Members of Parliament will be pressured to resign in in a similar manner as former President Mohamed Nasheed,” Imran declared.

“God willing, we will dissolve the parliament if it is not conducted according to the constitution. If they don’t want that, they should follow the constitution. We want the parliament to be an honourable place,” he added.

Imran claimed the recently ratified Parliamentary Privileges Act and Political Party Bill are not constitutionally valid laws.

“The Supreme Court has the authority to declare void laws that are enacted in violation of the constitution. So the recently-made Privileges Act and Political Party Act for which protests have been held after they were returned without ratification, are void.

“No action can be taken based on the void articles in these laws. We are not concerned about being accused of violating MPs’ privileges,” he said.

President Mohamed Waheed ratified the two controversial bills – the Parliament’s Privileges Bill and Political Parties Bill – despite previous claims that the two bills had several lapses and “unconstitutional” elements.

Following the President’s initial vetoing of the two bills, parliament overruled the presidential veto by a house majority and forced the bill into law, giving the president no option but to ratify the bills – one of which would see the dissolution of his own political party.

“Not a pressing issue”: Deputy Speaker Nazim

During parliament’s session Wednesday (March 19) MPs presented the issue to the Majlis floor considering Sheik Imran’s comments, a parliamentary official told Minivan News.

“Deputy Speaker of Parliament, MP Ahmed Nazim, who was chairing the sessions, said the matter was not a pressing issue despite concerns the comments were contrary to immunity provided for Majlis members.

“Pointing to parliament’s rules of procedure, Nazim requested any concerns on the matter be forwarded to the parliamentary committee overseeing MP privileges and immunity,” the official added.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) both reflected the parliamentary sentiments that Imran’s remarks were of no concern.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor dismissed Imran’s remarks while speaking to Minivan News today.

“Sheik Imran has no understanding of public opinion. Parliament is very popular and the public looks to their elected representatives to solve problems,” claimed Ghafoor.

“As usual, he has got it wrong as he found out people do not like the coup he helped pull off by radicalsing groups of police and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

“I think parliament is the only democratic institution left. The judiciary has been proven to be corrupt and my party has declared their intention to replace the supreme court bench,” Ghafoor added.

DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef agreed, telling Minivan News that Imran’s comments were merely rhetoric.

“Imran is not serious, it’s all rhetoric with no meaning or substance. No such thing [as in the dissolution of parliament] is going to happen. All political leaders have rhetoric, it’s not something to worry about,” said Shareef.

“In fact our political climate is so polarised political leaders seek to please their constituencies. If things our political leaders said were true, we would have landed on the moon by now.

“This is not the way it should be. It does a lot of damage over the long term. It’s very sad, but has become a commonplace reality of life,” Shareef stated.

Unlike Ghafoor, Shareef maintained that the supreme court is a legitimate institution.

“The supreme court is one of the properly functioning institutions. It is not colored by the polarised political climate here,” claimed Shareef.

The “national movement” was born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of non-governmental organisations that rallied to “defend Islam” in late 2011 from the allegedly liberal policies and “secularisation agenda” of former President Nasheed.

The Adhaalath Party and Progressive Party of Maldives were not responding to calls at time of press.


Individuals participating in personal capacity: National Movement

Senior leaders of political parties are participating in rallies and activities organised by the self-titled “National Movement” in their personal capacity and have not been representing their parties, the movement’s steering committee has said.

At a press conference yesterday (December 25) following the decision of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) to leave the movement, State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed stressed that there has been no document signed or transaction conducted for the campaign on behalf of political parties.

When the campaign dubbed “Maldivians’ Airport to Maldivians” was launched to “reclaim the airport” from the GMR-led consortium, said Abdulla, political parties were not involved in “any official capacity.”

He added that the movement was funded by individual well-wishers and not political parties.

Abdulla insisted that the movement would not be weakened by the PPM’s decision to withdraw support.

The steering committee of the national movement has decided to organise a vote nationwide on January 25 to “find out what the public thinks of the People’s Majlis.”

At yesterday’s sitting of parliament, PPM MPs strongly criticised the “national movement,” which had recently announced that its next campaign following the termination of the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure company GMR would be focused on “reforming” parliament.