US Embassy backs US$2.5 million election assistance program for the Maldives

The US Embassy in Colombo has announced a US$2.5 million election assistance program in the Maldives, to be implemented over the next 18 months.

According to a statement from the embassy, the program will “promote an open, democratic election by increasing civic participation… promote the integrity of the electoral process in the Maldives in advance of the September 2013 elections, and the subsequent local council and parliamentary elections.”

Speaking of the launch, US Ambassador Michele J Sison said the program would seek to ensure “that all Maldivians participate in credible, transparent and inclusive elections.”

According the statement, the program will be implemented by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) with Maldivian partners Transparency Maldives and the Raajje Foundation.

“The program aims to support the election process through resolution of disputes and voter education. This assistance will provide national and regional forums for dialogue with policy makers and civic leaders as well as dispute resolution and mediation training for community leaders,” the US Embassy stated.

“For Maldivian citizens, the program will launch a public awareness campaign to promote political reconciliation and a free and fair election. In addition, civic and voter education programs will provide training and grants for community based organisations to increase citizen participation and improve voter education across the atolls,” the statement added.

The US election assistance comes on the back of an extensive pre-election assessment published by Transparency Maldives ahead of the September 7 elections, highlighting vote-buying, political polarisation, and credibility as key challenges.

The elections were set to unfold “against a context of uncertainty, crises of political legitimacy and unprecedented levels of political polarisation”, Transparency stated.

Political polarisation in the Maldives has grown in the wake of the failed all-party talks and events of February 7, leading to bitter mistrust between political factions and the pervading sense among parties that the loss of the upcoming elections “could amount to losing everything”.

“Political polarisation is characterised by mutual mistrust and radical negative categorisation of people, politicians, political parties and, sometimes, entire institutions,” Transparency noted.

“It’s characterised by the lack of self-reflective criticism, by the failures to hold one’s own self and party to account, and the inability to listen to and compromise for the callings of the other side. It’s also characterised by an apparent struggle for political power as a bitter zero-sum game.”

Particular challenges around polarisation include a “lack of cooperation and dialogue among major political parties, opening up space for intolerance and violence”, “a possibility of contestation of elections results, especially if the victory is through a narrow margin”, and the risk that even if the election results are respected, “a significant segment of the polity might reject the incoming president as the representative for all the people in the true democratic spirit required in defeat.”

Transparency called for restraint among parties, appealed for policy debates, and extensive and long term observation on behalf of the international community.

The country’s two largest parties have meanwhile turned their focus to campaigning, with the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) annoucing Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel as running mate of presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen – half-brother of former autocratic leader of 30 years, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), headed by former President Mohamed Nasheed, has claimed it has  been pledged 125,000 votes during its door-to-door campaigning, a figure which if correct would translate to 61 percent of the vote assuming a 2008-levels of voter turnout (~85 percent).

Key factors affecting the September election will include widespread and heavily polarised sentiment surrounding the February 2012 transfer of power, and the preferences of 31,000 new young voters – a 15 percent increase on the number of eligible voters compared with the 2008 presidential election.


Dhivehi and science subjects spearhead boost in O-level results, says Education Ministry

O-level results for 2010 continued a general trend of improvement, with particular gains in science subjects says Deputy Minister Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer.

Of the approximately 6700 students who sat the international standardised high school exams last year, 35 percent passed five subjects, up on 32 percent in 2009 and 27 percent in 2008.

“Out of 216 schools, 100 performed better last year at O’levels,” Dr Nazeer said. “Also, the number of schools achieving over 60 percent in five subjects rose from 9 to 15.”

In addition 197 students received perfect marks of 100, Dr Nazeer said, and were awarded A* – a new grade introduced this year. 330 students were in line to receive top achievers awards, he said.

“Another significant result was a drop in U-grades [ungraded], which is one of the biggest issues facing schools,” Dr Nazeer said. “It’s been dropping since 2009, from 22 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2009 and 16 percent in 2010.”

Most major subjects showed a positive trend in results except for arts, geography and history, Dr Nazeer said, “subjects which are only taken by few students.”

Dr Nazeer noted “a huge increase” in science results, including chemistry, physics and maths, across the country.”

Dhivehi results improved 14 percent this year, “but unfortunately Islam didn’t do as well as expected, with a 1.5 percent decline, continuing a seven year trend.”

He suggested a further emphasis on Islam and Dhivehi at O-level. Regarding the Ministry steering committee’s controversial suggestion that both these subjects be made optional at A-level, Dr Nazeer said “we have got the technical advice to finalise the curriculum framework, but the political decision has not been made yet. We are sending Cabinet a paper towards the end of next month.”

While education was not a government manifesto pledge, Dr Nazeer noted, “I don’t think it will be difficult to achieve the goal of 60 percent pass in five subjects by 2013.”

Further focus in 2011 would be the development of “holistic education”, he said, explaining that this represented the promotion of physical education and extracurricular clubs, as well as leadership activities and ensuring students had the “opportunity to use technology in the classroom.”

The Ministry was also submitting a paper to Cabinet outlining a proposal to encourage students failing five subjects to remain in the schooling system for a further two years, with the opportunity to gain certificates and foundation diplomas.

The Education Ministry has also revealed an Rf 38 million (US$3 million) design for a replacement for Arabiyya school, after the school was closed following the collapse of a wall last year.

Funds for the new seven-storey building, to be built opposite Ameeniyya School, will be included in next years budget, Director at the Education Ministry Mohamed Yousuf told newspaper Haveeru.

The proposed structure includes 28 classrooms, computer lab, library, prayer room and a hall for 400-500 students, Haveeru noted, adding that the building would be completed by the end of the year and students transferred in time for the next academic year.

Bids for the project will be opened on February 17 after a pre-bid meeting on February 7, the Finance Ministry has stated.