Week in review: November 30 – December 7

The past week has seen the administration of President Adbulla Yameen make tentative steps towards resolution of the country’s dire economic situation.

The Government of China offered the Maldives US$8.2million in grant aid for development projects. Reports also emerged in Indian media of its government being on the verge of unfreezing a credit standby facility – initiated before the recent deterioration in bilateral ties.

The New Indian Express suggested that the official announcement would be made during Yameen’s visit to India, also announced in the past seven days.

Further aid flows for climate change adaptation projects were also forthcoming, with the European Union pledging an additional €4million to the €34million given since 2009.

Solid progress on the 2014 budget continued to elude the government this week, however, with the submission of details to parliament delayed for the fourth time as the finance minister awaited further specifics about the administration’s plans.

Specific designs for the long-awaited construction of a bridge linking Malé and Hulhumalé were requested by the government, although foreign investor confidence is unlikely to have been improved by the Maldives’ failure to appear on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, confidence in the country’s tourism industry remained undiminished at the World Travel Awards in Qatar, where the Maldives collected the prize for ‘World’s Leading Island Destination’.

Politics, police, and protecting Islam

Despite prior promises of leniency from the government, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was briefly imprisoned this week after the Supreme Court revoked a number of parliamentary privileges.

Hamid – who has cited parliamentary privileges to defend himself against contempt of court charges – spent just hours in Maafushi jail before the High Court overturned the Criminal Court’s six-month sentence.

Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy led the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in suggesting that the Supreme Court was compromising the independence of parliament.

Elsewhere in the Majlis, MPs from all sides of the political divide took to the floor of the house to support a constitutional amendment further safeguarding Islam’s position as the country’s sole religion.

The police this week recommended that the Prosecutor General’s office pursue charges against Raajje TV’s CEO and its head of news for a report criticising the Supreme Court. Police also detained an individual in relation to the arson attack that destroyed MDP-aligned Raajje TV in October.

Less progress was reported in the case of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s sex-tape allegations, with police admitting they have been unable to identify the individual widely reputed to be Hameed. The police did, however, promise that more information from abroad may yet shed light upon the issue. Local media had suggested that police investigations had been thwarted by the Criminal Court’s failure to provide the required warrants.

Retired Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz was honoured this week by his former colleagues prior to his move into the political arena.  Home Minister Umar Naseer used the celebrations to order police to remove any material that might incite hatred against the force.

The fostering of dissent within its own ranks was the reason given for further dismissals within the military three senior officers were dismissed, whilst 34-year veteran Lieutenant Colonel Zubair Ahmed told Raajje TV that he had been forced to retire from the MNDF.

The Defence Ministry this week threatened action against any media outlets who criticised its disciplinary procedure, subsequently receiving censure itself from the Media Council.

Finally, preparations for the January 18 local council elections continued in the past seven days, with government-aligned parties – excluding the Adhaalath Party – deciding to divide seats up amongst themselves to maximise their prospects. The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party hopes to arrest its declining fortunes going into future polls by rebranding its party color, logo and slogan.


Week in review: October 26 – November 1

The biggest headlines in the Maldives this week came out of the People’s Majlis, beginning with the MNDF going into the parliament to block the entrance of two opposition MPs who had been stripped of their seats by the Supreme Court.

After some scuffles, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim was handed over to police, who subsequently extended his detention to 15 days.

Azim had arrived to take part in the emergency session which eventually passed a motion supporting the transition of presidential power to the speaker of the house should no president-elect be determined by November 11.

After calling on the MNDF to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision to remove Azim and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP Mohamed Nashiz, Speaker Abdulla Shahid took the decision to appoint a serjeant at arms to oversee future security at the Majlis.

The constitutionally protected status of the Majlis premises was used to full advantage by MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor this week who sought sanctuary from arrest by police who wished to present him in court in relation to drug and alcohol offences.

After threats to try Hamid in absentia, the Criminal Court sentenced him to six months in prison for failure to attend hearings.

The Majlis also found time this week to receive the MVR16.4 billion (US$1 billion) budget for 2014, as well as accepting a bill that would criminalise calling for, endorsing, or taking part in a tourism boycott.

One person not present in the Majlis this week was now-former Attorney General Azima Shukoor, who was removed in a unanimous vote of no-confidence. This day’s proceedings were not without additional incident, however, as mysterious pills – rumoured to be laxatives – were found in a Majlis’ coffee machine.

The week’s events will not have reassured the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, who wrote to Speaker Shahid requesting an urgent visit to the country to assess the situation.

Mandatory excess

MPs were not the only ones feeling persecuted this week, as Supreme Court took aim at MDP aligned broadcaster Raajje TV for allegedly defaming its reputation.  The station – decimated in an arson attack earlier this month – also reported fresh threats against its premises.

The Maldives Media Council and Reporters Without Borders joined station management in arguing that the police were acting outside of their mandate, encroaching upon an investigation that rightly fell within the purview of the broadcasting commission.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz warned media outlets that action would be taken against anyone found to be reporting “invalid information, if it relates to courts or judges”.

After levelling similar accusations against the police in relation the delayed election, the Human Rights Commission this week told Minivan News that it felt the police were now attempting to intimidate its staff.

It was the Supreme Court itself, however, that came in for the most stinging criticism this week as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay launched an offensive on the apex bench, accusing it of “interfering excessively in the Presidential elections”.

After being accused of “subverting the democratic process”, the Chief Justice quickly hit back, labelling Pillay’s comment “irresponsible” and “poorly researched”.

Reputation at stake

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also expressed its concern this week that repeated delays to the presidential election could hurt the Maldives’ economy as well as its international reputation – something not helped by an attack on the Indian High Commissioner’s official vehicle.

FCO minister Hugo Swire urged stakeholders to allow the Elections Commission “the space needed” to prepare for the elections – a request not heeded by either the government nor the presidential candidates who pleaded with the EC to move polls forward in order to avoid the impending constitutional void.

The Elections Commissioner responded that an expedited poll was not possible, regardless of any amount of government assistance – not even the police’s new-found ability to verify fingerprints at 25 times its previous speed.

Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek also revealed that the EC had found at least four of the 18 people deemed dead by the Supreme Court annulment to be alive and “quite fed up”.

MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed told the press of diplomatic murmurings regarding likely economic sanctions should no new president be found by November 11.

He went on to suggest the way out of the impasse might be for either one of the three candidates to pull out of the  poll, or for the Supreme Court to un-annul the first round – making the November 9 poll a two horse race.

Finally, the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index found the Maldives a mediocre place to be a woman, with the country scoring highly in terms of education and health but falling behind in economic and political parity.


Week in review: September 22-26

With fears mounting that the ongoing Supreme Court case would derail the second round of the presidential election, the week began with Majlis being called to an extraordinary session by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Government aligned MPs created chaos during the ill-tempered sitting, which passed a resolution calling for state institutions to ensure the poll proceeds – with a show of hands.

Later the same evening (September 23), the Supreme Court issued an injunction ordering all state institutions to indefinitely delay the run-off until it had completed its case. Hearings this week saw a procession of anecdotal witnesses describing their voting issues –  with the Jumhooree Party party concluding its case by arguing that its evidence could be extrapolated to indicate systemic failings. The JP also cited the Attorney General’s contribution in the case – labelled as legal but morally questionable by one legal expert – as lending weight to its argument.

The Elections Commission’s legal team disputed the credibility of the JP’s evidence, which included anonymised witnesses citing speculation and rumour, but also argued that even if factual the evidence submitted was not enough to impact the results of the first round.

The MDP’s National Council responded to the injunction by calling for continuous demonstrations and quickly re-establishing the party’s presence in the Raalhungandu area of Male’ for the purpose of peaceful protest. Speaking from the party’s new base, former President Mohamed Nasheed blamed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ahmed Faiz for allowing the disgraced Ali Hameed to remain on the bench as well as appealing to the military for assistance with the poll.

Hameed’s involvement in a sex-tape scandal earlier this year provided the initial the theme for MDP protests outside courthouses across the country, with large pairs of white underpants used to decry the general state of the judiciary. Numerous people on the island of Rasdhoo were arrested after hanging a pair outside the Magistrate Court.

Transparency Maldives chose to take aim at the Majlis and the Judicial Services Commission for the collapse of the court’s integrity. Former JSC member Aishath Velezinee spoke with Minivan News this week, explaining the background to the current judicial crisis.

The international community responded with universal concern, prompting President Dr Mohamed Waheed to lash out at such “irresponsible statements”. The EC promptly announced that its first allegiance in such circumstances was to the constitution, and that it would proceed with its preparations as planned. Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek took time from these preparations to speak with Minivan News.

The first session following the injunction order saw the ejection of three of the Election Commission’s legal team, who were accused of contempt after public statements criticising the injunction. Rather than announcing its verdict on Thursday, the Supreme Court instead heard the case newly filed by the PPM, calling for a one month delay to the second round to enable time for campaigning.

Whilst the Ministry of Economic Development’s economic diversity report last week noted the country’s over-reliance on tourism had left if vulnerable to both financial and natural disasters, the report did not take note of political disasters. The MDP clearly did – calling on the country’s tourism workers to strike should the presidential run-off not go ahead.

The 5000 member strong Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) threatened “prolonged” srtike action, whilst the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries (MATI) issued a statement warning of “irreparable consequences” to the Maldivian economy unless the election is expedited.

The clash of institutions appeared to have come to a head on Thursday evening when EC head Thowfeek announced the polls would proceed as scheduled on Saturday. The decision prompted a midnight ruling from the Supreme Court, reasserting its legal supremacy and calling on the police and military to enforce its will and halt poll preparations. Other members of the EC have given contradictory statements, whilst both the police and the Finance Ministry stated they would not assist the EC.

In other news

Aside from election activity this week, Bangladesh – provider of most of the Maldives expatriate labour – announced it would halt worker migration whilst it checked on eligibility.

Elsewhere in the courts, the Juvenile Court sentenced a teenage couple to prison and house arrest after they exchanged a kiss in the waiting room. The High Court, meanwhile called for a re-trial in the case of Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim’s alleged fraud of the Atolls Ministry.

Outside of Male’, the case of a dead infant in Villimale’ sparked a police investigation, whilst on Guraidhoo, islanders are have begun nightly fanditha patrols to prevent further malevolent activity causing local unrest.

The fallout from the Salaf  ‘Al Andhalus’ sermon continued, with the Maldives Broadcasting Commission finding that the TVM broadcast did not violate its guidelines. The group itself has requested that other groups in society not use its name for political ends.


Week in review: August 24-30

August 24-30, 2013

The week began with stormy seas across the Maldives – two boats were sunk around Male’ and a typhoon reported in Shaviyani Atoll. Maldivian bodyboarders competing in Australia found conditions far easier, however, impressing judges and winning prizes in the Jeff Wilcox Memorial. The PPM also enjoyed smooth sailing, winning the Nolhivaram island council by-election and predicting an easy ride to the presidency, barring “major incidents” on polling day.

The PPM were soon headed back into the choppy waters of the presidential election campaign. After repeated criticism of the Elections Commission (EC), one party member took it upon himself to file a case in the Supreme Court requesting an audit of the EC’s IT software, and a greater role for the military in the upcoming poll. EC commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek had previously given Minivan News a comprehensive analysis of how polling would occur on election day.

Insisting that the senior party official had filed the case in a personal capacity, the official business of the PPM campaign continued in the atolls, with candidate Abdulla Yameen asking the people of Kudahuvadhoo the value of development without peace. The head of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) this week described state spending as “beyond appropriate”, despite having cancelled all state financed development earlier this year. Yameen’s comments were likely prompted by the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) unveiling of a detailed manifesto involving 137 development projects, with more than half focused on giving city status to Fuvahmulah – the country’s only one-island atoll.

The MDP were not without their own pre-election concerns, however, alleging that ongoing prosecutions against senior party members were tantamount to campaign obstruction. The party was equally suspicious of the ability of a Commonwealth’s security expert to control the police force. The Commonwealth also announced the names of its 17 member observer group this week.

It was the turn of the running mates to debate policy on Television Maldives as the state broadcaster’s election coverage builds towards the upcoming leader debate. Despite criticism of TVM’s recent interview style, the Jumhoree Party confirmed that leader Gasim Ibrahim would still be taking part. The journalist behind Gasim’s prior inquisition this week received death threats. Meanwhile, the JP was forced to defend itself from opposition claims that its leader was using his vast personal wealth to buy votes.

Tensions continued to rise in the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) this week, doing little to allay Transparency Maldives’ fears that the integrity of the country’s courts was being eroded. These fears will not have been allayed by the upholding of a former Civil Court judge’s sentence for having sex in public.

In Singapore, the GMR group won an early victory in the tribunal investigating the early termination of the INIA airport development deal. The practical impact of another terminated foreign investment venture – the Nexbis border control system – remained unclear. The future of four Palestinian refugees in the Maldives was resolved – the group passed through the airport and immigration for the final time after being granted asylum in Sweden.

Finally, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed was blocked from carrying out his role as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights by Iranian officials. Dr Shaheed’s former position was left vacant this week after the death of Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla. President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan described the loss as a national tragedy.