Mahlouf plots presidential “referendum” as stats show living cost rise

Official statistics supplied by the Department of National Planning have indicated a 4.42 percent increase in the rate of inflation last month compared to March 2011, as one opposition MP plans a referendum on President Mohamed Nasheed’s leadership over the dissatisfaction with living costs.

The new figures indicate increased prices for food and drink products last month, particularly for fish, on the basis of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) when compared to 2011 and April 2010.

The release of the statistics comes as MP Ahmed Mahlouf from the Z-DRP party, a spin-off of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), claimed to be ready to forward a resolution to parliament this week calling for a referendum to test public support for the current president and his handling of the economy.

Figures such as the CPI are therefore an important issue following seven consecutive nights of protests in the streets of Male’, with demonstrators announcing they were now willing to negotiate with the government.

Protest organisers have claimed the demonstrations were a non-partisan “youth movement” in response to rising living costs on the back of government attempts to effectively devalue the rufyiya.

Aside from criticising the political opposition for politicising the demonstrations in the media for their own political gain, the country’s financial authorities last week claimed that to be providing some economic support to try and stabilise prices it said that while increasing, varied significantly between different stores.

According to the latest planning department stats, the cost of food and beverages when including fish was up by 20.35 percent during April 2011 compared to the same period the previous year. These costs were also up by 10.65 percent on the same terms compared to March 2011.

When excluding the price of fish, the average cost of food and drinks last month was up by 13.07 percent compared to over the same period of time last year. On the same terms, the statistics found that food and beverage costs last month rose by 4.44 percent compared to March 2011.

When comparing the overall change in CPI between April 2011 and April 2010, increases in costs were recorded across the board with the exception of recreation and culture, which was down by 3.11 percent.

As of late month, healthcare was up by 6.25 percent, transportation was up by 8.96 percent, education was up by 16.89 percent and fish was up by 58.32 percent when compared over the same period the previous year.

Between March to April this year, the statistics showed that the costs of healthcare were up by 1.21 percent, transport was up by 6.56 percent and fish prices were up 42.07 percent. The full statistics can be found here.

Halt to protests

In light of protests last week over rising costs, DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf told Minivan News today that the party would be postponing any further demonstrations relating until next Friday after requests from police.

In the meantime, he claimed that young people who had initially organised the protests were negotiation with members of the government, a meeting that had been organised through the police to try and find some possible compromises on costs.

“The meetings were scheduled to take place with the government at 12:00pm today though I have not been informed yet of their progress. I imagine that they [the protest organisers] would be demanding some changes to government policy,” he said. “The police have asked us to stop the protests and as some of their members supported the march, we have wanted to keep good relations with them.”

Mahlouf added that he believed there had been a reluctance among organisers to stop the protests as the government were failing to address concerns about costs and “not believing” the financial realities Maldivians were facing.

However, amidst intense media scrutiny, the opposition MP said he believed the protesters had succeeded in their aims to attempt to change government policy on the economy.

However, ahead of the next scheduled protest on Friday, Mahlouf claimed he plans to forward a parliamentary motion for a referendum on whether President Nasheed had sufficient support from the public to enact his planned reforms.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem last week criticised opposition parties like the DRP for “misleading” international media about the nature of the protests and failing to sit down and present their own alternatives for financial reforms in the country.