Maldivian-Canadian spat explained by Global News

Canada’s Global News has revealed the story behind the recent war of words between Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and the Government of Maldives.

The news outlet reports that Baird’s “inappropriate remarks” – later complained about by Waheed in a letter to Canada’s Prime Minister – came as a result of the Maldives’ Acting Foreign Minister accusing Baird of bias during the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting on September 27.

Citing sources familiar with the incident, Global News’s Laura Stone reported that Dr Mariyam Shakeela had brandished an ipad showing photographs of Baird posing with anti-government Maldivian protesters prior to entering the meeting.

Baird was reported to have responded to the accusation by acknowledging that he was indeed biased.

“Biased in favour in of democracy and a free and fair second round of elections.  Biased against the delay and anti-democratic actions of President Waheed who only garnered five per cent in the first round of elections,” Global News’s sources recalled Baird remarking.

The spat subsequently escalated as Waheed wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arguing that these comments had “put unnecessary pressure on an otherwise excellent relationship” between the Maldives and Canada

Baird’s office responded to Waheed’s complaint by pointing out “the irony of the Acting Foreign Minister of the Maldives representing that country at CMAG, when her President received five percent of the vote in the first round of the election. Perhaps that is where President Waheed took offence.”

“It might have also been when Minister Baird pointed out to CMAG members that the second round of elections were ‘suspended’ under mysterious circumstances and called on Maldivian officials to proceed with the second round of elections without delay,” said Baird’s Spokesperson Rick Roth, in a statement.


Maldives on course to meet million tourist target as political uncertainty dominates global headlines

“The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has said the Maldives will successfully welcome over one million tourists to the country this year, according to Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

The claims were made as the country’s ongoing political uncertainty comes under intense scrutiny by global media after the country’s judiciary – previously reported as being heavily politicised in a UN-sanctioned investigation – suspended polling scheduled for September 28,” reports Minivan News’ spin-off travel site, Dhonisaurus.

“Tourism Minister Adheeb, speaking after the country officially launched the international celebrations for World Tourism Day on September 27 from Kurumba Island Resort, said that current statistics – backed by the UNWTO – indicated that tourist arrivals would exceed one million visitors during 2013.

The Maldives narrowly missed out on its stated aim of bringing one million visitors to the country last year, citing the impacts of global media covering the controversial change of government, an event which followed a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

The UNWTO launch event was attended by Adheeb, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who spoke of the potential dangers the Maldives faced as a result of climate change – not least in terms of issues of water supply.

However, the celebrations, attended by senior UNWTO figures, were overshadowed by international media reports of “political chaos” in the country, and talk of potential disruption to the lucrative resort industry as a result of a 5,000 strong workers’ union pledging prolonged strike action.

The action was pledged in response to a Supreme Court decision on September 23 to indefinitely suspend the ongoing presidential election over allegations of voter irregularity, a decision that sparked global concern from international actors that had praised the voting process earlier this month.

Despite the strike pledge, tourism industry operators speaking to Dhonisaurus – including properties directly linked to presidential candidates placed second and third during voting on September 7 – said it had nonetheless been business as usual for the country’s resorts this week.

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President Waheed inaugurates Hanimaadhoo Island road project

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has today laid the first paving stone in the road development project for Hanimaadhoo island of South Thiladhummathi atoll.

During the opening ceremony, Waheed noted that the project – the first of its kind in the island, would be finished in four or five months and would make commuting easier for locals. He also spoke of the ongoing work into a sewerage system on the island.

Yesterday, the President’s Office reported the Waheed had visited Kulhudhuffushi Island to officially open the newly completed 1.7km Ameenee Magu.

Local media reported that the President’s Office had cited the “current situation in the country over the presidential elections” as the reason for the cancellation of his engagements at the UN General Assembly in New York.


Week in review: September 13-21

Following a full week of hearings into the Jumhooree Party’s election complaints, the High Court granted the party’s request to view the offending register – under supervision- though the party is still seeking greater access in order to prove its claims regarding fraudulent voters. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court accepted to hear the JP’s case seeking to annul the first round altogether.

After hearing the claims of former Attorney General – and vice-presidential candidate – Dr Hassan Saeed, which included deceased, repeated, and fake voters, the court ordered that the Elections Commission (EC) hand over the voter registry for inspection. Repeated calls to respect the outcome of the election from across the international community failed to impress Dr Saeed.

Maintaining that all allegations are without merit, the EC continued to prepare for the upcoming second round – scheduled for September 28 – officially announcing the first round results despite the JP’s attempts to delay.

The barrage of criticism, particularly from Gasim’s own Villa Television (VTV), led the EC to warn the Majlis that national security could be damaged by “unfounded claims of corruption”.

The national broadcasting commission began looking into VTV’s reporting of unsubstantiated content this week, whilst the police finished looking into the content of the EC’s rubbish, finding no incriminating documents.

Further protests against the EC have been promised by religious civil society groups. The conservative Jamiyathuh Salaf group singled out the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for criticism in a nationally televised sermon that resulted in broadcasting commission being called before the Majlis once more.

The police appeared to have been drawn into the dispute as an alleged police intelligence document emerged on social media, alleging “some opportunity for fraud” and “illegal voting”. The report was quickly disowned by the police and condemned by the MDP, who also called the Majlis to reconvene tomorrow (September 22) in order to stop “undue influence of political parties in the judiciary”.

Elsewhere in the country, the police in Addu City searched a number of homes as part of their election security operation, whilst fears over black magic persisted in Guraidhoo – the local council refusing use of the school for polling.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ittihad Party (GIP) followed its former coalition partner – the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in choosing a candidate to back in the endangered run-off. Waheed’s party chose to support the Progressive Party of Maldives’ candidate in round two, whilst the DRP leaders were paraded before MDP supporters following last week’s decision to lend support to former President Mohamed Nasheed in the race – a decision that resulted in the sacking of DRP minister Ali Shareef.

Nasheed visited the house of JP leader Gasim on Thursday though the JP insisted no decisions on future alliances would be made before the courts have finished their work. When addressing a youth forum earlier in the week, Nasheed had expressed confidence that Maldivian democracy could withstand a handful of coups and rigged elections.

Disabled Maldivians demonstrated this week against the impending closure of the country’s only school catering to those with special needs, whilst the pervasiveness of politics was revealed as deaf interpreter Shaheez Abdulla gave an account of his recent stabbing.

The ongoing case of former Civil Service Commission Chair saw his access to the commission as well as his salary revoked after Mohamed Fahmy Hassan had continued to come into his former workplace.

Finally, details were revealed of the government’s cancellation payments to forensic accountants Grant Thornton as well as the circumstances of Swedish nationa Filip Eugen Petre’s flight from the country following his acquittal of charges relating to the deaths of a British couple in 2011.


DRP condemns sacking of State Minister for Health Ali Shareef

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has condemned the sacking of State Minister for Health Ali Shareef yesterday (September 15), after the DRP council member voted in favour of endorsing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate – former President Mohamed Nasheed – in the second round run-off of the presidential election.

The DRP said in a press release yesterday that the reason stated by the President’s Office for dismissing Shareef was his vote in the party’s council meeting last week and his participation in the MDP’s campaign.

“The party does not believe that the DRP’s participation in Dr [Mohamed] Waheed’s government is a reason for not being able to engage in activities to gain support for the [candidate] the party supports,” the press release stated.

“The party notes that officials of Dr Waheed’s government belonging to different parties were not fired from their jobs while they were [campaigning] behind different presidential candidates.”

Former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, however, was also sacked from the cabinet by President Waheed two days after he was unveiled as the running mate of the Progressive Party of Maldives presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen in May.

Ali Shareef is currently campaigning for former President Nasheed in Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal atolls with Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid.

The DRP would not be intimidated by “constraints and threats,” the statement added, advising the current administration to “not step out of bounds during the short period left in government.”

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad was not responding at the time of press.

Meanwhile, at a press conference yesterday, DRP MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed – who defected to the government-aligned party from the MDP in March this year – slammed the decision to dismiss the state minister as “irresponsible” as Shareef was exercising his constitutional right to free expression and participation in political activities.

The MP for Haa Dhaal Nolhivaram noted that Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed, also a DRP council member, was relieved of his duties as acting Foreign Minister on the day that the DRP council voted to endorse former President Nasheed.

“This is not something we can accept,” he said. “We will always have political differences of opinion. But we should be able to conduct affairs of the nation even with these differences of opinion.”

Sacked via SMS

The former state minister for health participated in the MDP rally on Friday night, which was attended by senior DRP members. MP Nasheed revealed that Shareef received a phone call from the President’s Office following his attendance at the rally and was “warned that he would be sacked if he participates in political activities.”

“But Ali Shareef is resolutely going forward. He was sacked via an SMS today [Sunday],” he said.

The DRP’s former coalition partner, Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP), has reportedly decided to back PPM candidate Yameen in the second round run-off on September 28.

President Waheed, backed by the GIP-DRP coalition, finished last in the September 7 presidential election with 5.13 percent of the popular vote or 10,750 votes – a figure significantly lower than the DRP’s 21,411 registered members.

In the wake of the election defeat, the DRP council on Thursday (September 12) voted 12-3 – with seven abstentions – to back the MDP candidate in the second round run-off. In a brief statement to the press following the council meeting, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said the party came to the conclusion that re-electing former President Nasheed was in the best interest of the nation and ensuring peace and stability as he would not pursue “political vengeance.”

The MP for Baa Atoll Kendhoo also participated in a campaign event in Vili-Male’ on Saturday night with MDP vice presidential candidate Musthafa Lutfi.

Addressing Vili-Male’ residents, Thasmeen reportedly said that bringing back the rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom by electing his half-brother Yameen would weaken the nascent democratic system ushered in by the 2008 constitution.

In his first speech at an MDP podium on Friday night, Thasmeen said he had decided to back Nasheed “because I want to see peace in this country after these elections, [and] because I want to see the democratic system strengthened and sustained.”

“I believe that it would be an irresponsible and cowardly act to back away from doing what must be done to ensure that democracy is upheld in this country due to some words I might have said in the past. And therefore, tonight I assure all of you that DRP will do everything we possibly can to help Nasheed win these elections,” he declared.


President Waheed to back PPM in second round, stepping down as GIP head

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP) will support the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) during a run-off vote to decide this year’s presidential election – presently scheduled to be held on September 28.

Minivan News understands that, although Dr Waheed will also be stepping down as head of the party, he will urge supporters to back PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rival, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The announcement of the GIP backing the PPM, comes days after the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) announced its support for Nasheed and the MDP during the second round of voting.  The DRP had backed Waheed in the first round vote, with party Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali standing as the incumbent’s running mate.

President Waheed took 5.13 percent of the total votes cast on September 7, finishing in last place.

The poll is presently being contested within the courts over allegations of vote rigging by third-place candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim and the Jumhoree Party (JP), who secured 24.07 percent of ballots cast.

According to provisional Elections Commission (EC) results, PPM candidate Yameen narrowly secured his place in the second round with 25.35 percent of the votes cast.

Former President Nasheed led the poll with 45.45 percent of the popular vote – falling short of the 51 percent needed to secure the presidency during the first round.

A senior source within President Waheed’s campaign, speaking on condition of anonymity, today said that the incumbent would be personally lending his support to Yameen’s campaign along with the GIP, despite opting to step down as head of the party.

The same source claimed that should any aspects of the ballot be challenged by the party, including calls for a recount, it would be best to have President Waheed distance himself from such actions.

Minivan News was awaiting an official statement from the GIP at times of press.

“Worryingly serious” allegations

However, President Waheed was today quoted in local media as being concerned over “worryingly serious” allegations over the first round vote that he called to be addressed within the legal framework of the Maldives.

Despite expressing concerns over allegations raised by the JP , the president was also quoted in Sun Online as praising the election for being conducted “smoothly” and peacefully” earlier this month.

Waheed reportedly stated that he had decided to back Abdulla Yameen – half brother of the country’s autocratic former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – based on what he believed was the best interest for the Maldives.

“I do not believe it is not right [sic] to weaken the country’s constitutional framework, trample the law, set fire to property, instigate unrest,” read the statement reportedly attributed to the president.

Meanwhile, PPM vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed earlier this week declared that former President Mohamed Nasheed “will not be allowed to assume power”, even should he emerge as the clear winner in the run-off.

Clarifying his remarks to Minivan News at the time, Dr Jameel stated that his comments during the rally reflected the “criminal charge filed against Nasheed” concerning his role in the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, who stands accused of corruption and halting investigations into his conduct through the courts.

“As there is an impending [criminal] charge on him, he would be facing the outcome of the trial that would stop him from holding [the office of the president]. That is what I meant [at the rally],” Dr Jameel explained.

The JP meanwhile today confirmed that the party’s council and its coalition partners had not yet taken a decision on whether it would support a candidate in the second round of voting.

JP Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal said that the party remained focused solely on trying to prove via the courts that the first round vote had been “rigged”, adding that – although the party would consider supporting one of the two candidates in the final round – no such talks discussions had been held at present.


President Waheed meets US Ambassador Sison

President Dr Mohamed Waheed met with Ambassador of the United States accredited to the Maldives Michele J. Sison in Male’ yesterday (September 11).

According to the President’s Office, Ambassador Sison discussed the election held on September 7, as well as the upcoming run-off vote scheduled for September 28, which has been required after no single candidate was able to receive 51 percent of the ballots cast.

President Waheed added that he remained committed to ensuring stability and calm in the country as the election process continued.

Meanwhile, Sison stated that with independent observers having provided positive feedback on the first round election, she requested the same level of stability for the second round of voting.

The US ambassador also met yesterday with former President Mohamed Nasheed, who will contest the run-off poll as the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate against MP Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

During the meeting, Nasheed and the US ambassador discussed the outcome of last Saturday’s presidential election and the scheduled run-off contest scheduled for September 28.

Nasheed also expressed concern over current Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, who was found guilty of posting a politicised tweet on social media by the Police Integrity Commission.


President Waheed meets with delegation of UN election observers

President Dr Mohamed Waheed met with a delegation of election observers representing the United Nations Department of Political Affairs in Male’ yesterday (September 9).

According to the President’s Office, the delegation discussed the election held Saturday (September 7), as well as the second round of voting now scheduled for September 28 after no single candidate was able to secure 51 percent of ballots cast.

Along with commending the government for conducting what it called a free, fair and transparent elections, the UN delegation called for a peaceful run-off vote and “smooth transition” to a new administration once polling was concluded.