Party running mates debate on TVM ahead of September 7 elections

State broadcaster Televison Maldives (TVM) has aired a debate involving the running mates of all four candidates contesting the upcoming September 7 elections.

Jumhoree Coalition’s vice presidential (VP) candidate Dr Hassan Saeed from Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party coalition VP candidate Ahmed Thasmeen Ali from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) VP candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) VP candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi were asked questions regarding national unity, establishing a peaceful and safe environment, good governance and social protection.

According to TVM, the questions in the debate were formulated based on research done by the Maldives National University on the needs and priorities of Maldivian citizens.

National Unity

The show began with a question on what the candidates felt were the biggest challenges to the spirit of nationalism, and what their plans are to strengthen national unity.

All four candidates emphasised that Islam is the basis of unity, and that it was just as important to establish equitability among all citizens. Saeed and Jameel also spoke of treating citizens equally, without any discrimination based on political affiliation.

Saeed further pledged to introduce nationalism and civic education as subjects in all schools. He also noted the difference in economic status between north, south and central Maldives, stating their coalition would work to decrease this.

Thasmeen accused the previous MDP government of having contributed to decreasing national unity by “negligence when it comes to strengthening Islamic principles among citizens”, adding that his coalition will focus on training young children in the ways of Islam.

Jameel stated that the PPM would introduce Islamic studies in primary and secondary level education. Lutfi responded that in addition to Islamic studies already existing in the curriculum, “the entire education system is in line with Islamic principles as this is an Islamic nation”.

In response to a question as to what candidates would do to bring an end to political unrest, all candidates except Thasmeen focused on equal application of law to all citizens.

Saeed and Jameel alleged that the reasons behind existing political turmoil was former president and MDP presidential candidate Nasheed’s “habit of acting outside law”, as well as the importance of empowering and respecting decisions of independent commissions and courts.

Saeed stated that the JP coalition will ensure the Maldives is included among the 10 countries with the least corruption.

Thasmeen stated that the most important step that can be taken is to prioritise national interest over personal political interests.

Lutfi – whose party maintains that the February 7, 2012 transfer of power was illegitimate and the product a coup d’etat – answered that political unrest cannot be eradicated “until and unless a government elected by the people is established in the country”.

Establishing a peaceful and safe environment

The segment started off asking what plans had been made to handle the rising problem of the sale of illicit drugs and drug abuse, especially among youth.

While all four candidates mentioned the establishment of more rehabilitation centres, each had their own ideas as to how the issue should be handled.

Thasmeen suggested more awareness programs as a preventive measure. On the other hand, Saeed and Jameel urged stricter penalisation for drug related offences.

“Our government will give the strictest possible punishment as per the law to those involved in the drug trade. We will not hesitate even if we have to hang them to death,” Saeed stated.

Along with stricter penalties, Jameel added that it was important to expedite court processes, and implement sentences. While he mentioned privatisation of rehabilitation facilities, he placed emphasis on PPM’s plans to further strengthen the police force and provide them with greater jurisdiction in investigating drug cases.

“It is often a huge obstacle for police that they have to work alongside customs and other authorities. Our government will ensure the police have increased powers,” he stated.

Lutfi approached the matter from another angle, suggesting stronger preventive measures can work more effectively than stricter sentences in reducing drug crime.

He stated that the MDP would provide higher education and job opportunities, thereby facilitating paths for youth to create better lives for themselves, and steer them away from drugs.

“As I see it, youth do not take up drug abuse simply through faults of their own, but largely due to failures in a state’s system,” Lutfi said.

All candidates spoke of introducing educational, entertainment and job opportunities for youth.

Saeed added that his coalition would provide accommodation for all young couples who get married. Thasmeen said that youth who are between jobs will be given an “unemployment benefit”, although he did not reveal how much such an allowance would be.

Good governance

Asked about the foreign policies included in each of the parties’ respective manifestos, all candidates spoke about the importance of ensuring that no outside influences compromised the country’s constitutional requirement to be 100 percent Muslim.

Saeed, Jameel and Thasmeen stated the importance of not letting foreign influences compromise Maldives sovereignty, religion and independence.

“We must not go begging to foreign powers every time we need something,” Saeed asserted.

Jameel meanwhile alleged that Nasheed had “negatively affected our tourism industry by speaking openly about the country being at risk of sinking due to climate change while he was still in power”, adding that a leader should always keep the country’s best interests in mind.

The candidates also spoke on the issue of politicisation of the security forces. Saeed suggested that the best way to deal with the problem was to create stricter regulations regarding the protection of state secrets, and by politicians refraining from using security forces as a political tool.

Lutfi however suggested that the best way to ensure the forces upheld their pledges to protect state secrets was by maintaining equality among officers, and by providing adequate training and education.

Implementation of Islamic Sharia

Saeed assured that the JP coalition would not hesitate to implement Sharia law, be it even severe punishments including amputation and the death penalty. He accused former governments of hesitating to do so, as some among their leadership had cases against them which warranted these hadd penalties.

The other three candidates acknowledged that there were problems within the law enforcement forces and the judiciary which inhibited the implementation of harsher Sharia penalties.

Thasmeen stated that the GIP-DRP coalition would open up a national debate to address the issues, while Lutfi stated that such penalties could only be implemented after the judiciary had reformed and gained the trust of the people.

Admitting that there were weaknesses in the law enforcement bodies and the judiciary, Jameel stated that “there are changes we need to bring to the penal code and the criminal justice system. It is also a huge problem that people are currently granted the right to remain silent and that the [Prosecutor General] is not compelled by law to prosecute criminal cases in a predetermined short period of time.”

Jameel asserted that as it is specifically stated in the Quran, there was “no way anyone can refuse to implement death penalty”.

Criticism of competitors

While the program was carried out more as a question and answer session, some candidates leveled criticisms at others in the time allocated for closing statements.

Saeed stated that his candidate, Gasim Ibrahim had served both during Gayoom’s time and Nasheed’s time, and that he had been tasked with major responsibilities, displaying the trust that previous leaders had in his capabilities. He further accused PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen, MDP Candidate Mohamed Nasheed and GIP-DRP coalition running mate Thasmeen Ali of being involved in cases of corruption.

Saeed stated that only MDP and JP had created manifestos after consulting with citizens, adding that “Gasim traveled to all inhabited islands through rain and shine”.

Thasmeen retorted that while Gasim had been busy visiting citizens, Saeed had been writing the GIP coalition manifesto prior to his defection. Thasmeen also said that prior to contesting in the upcoming elections, both Saeed and Jameel had “sung nothing but praise for President Waheed”, which was evidence of the president’s capabilities.

Jameel meanwhile stated that it was irrelevant to listen to three men who had individually served as Attorney General, Minister of Atolls Administration and Minister of Tourism during Gayoom’s 30 year administration. He asserted that the PPM was the right choice as all three candidates had previously worked in Gayoom’s administration. Jameel himself served as Gayoom’s Justice Minister.

Lutfi, who asserted the importance of establishing “a people’s government”, concluded the debate with a summary of the policies launched by the MDP, stating that “on September 7, the Maldivian people will be making an extremely important decision.”

The full debate (in Dhivehi) can be viewed here.


Nasheed announces former university chancellor Musthafa Luthfy as running mate

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has announced Dr Musthafa Luthfy as his running mate in the September 2013 elections.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor confirmed the announcement, made at a meeting of the party’s national executive committee this morning.

One of the conditions Dr Luthfy had agreed to, Ghafoor said, was that if Nasheed was elected President and later “killed or incapacitated”, Luthfy would declare an election.

“Nasheed discussed the choice with the national council, but it believed the choice should be left to Nasheed,” Ghafoor said. “The general opinion was that the person should be faithful, a party member, totally in support of the party’s manifesto, and not necessarily an expression of who the next president would be.”

He noted that Nasheed during a previous committee meeting had narrowed the choice to what he described as a “religious person, a military person, and a development person. In our context, these are very relevant [themes].”

Development person

Dr Luthfy served as Education Minister during Nasheed’s administration, initially appointed to the post under a coalition agreement with then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), alongside Economic Development Minister Mohamed Rasheed.

One of the founding members of incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s GIP, Dr Luthfy joined the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) following its acrimonious split with GIP in 2010.

The MDP severed the coalition agreement after GIP leader and then-Vice President Mohamed Waheed’s publicly criticised the government on an opposition-aligned media outlet.

Rasheed was ejected from the government following the split, while Luthfy remained in the post of Education Minister until the mass dismissal of Nasheed’s cabinet by parliament in late 2010. He was subsequently appointed as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University, resigning from the post in protest against Dr Waheed’s controversial ascension to the presidency in February 2012.

Education reformist

As Education Minister, Dr Luthfy was among the first to flag the country’s low O-level pass rate as the source of many social challenges facing young people, such as high levels of unemployment and lack of both tertiary and vocational education opportunities.

“When students finish Grade 10, and when they do not have many other avenues to go to for education, they remain in society and have two years before they become adults at 18 years. So they have two years of not being able to get a job, and this is also a crucial period in their physical development,” Dr Luthfy told Minivan News, in an extensive 2010 interview.

“During this time they are not in a school and due to this I think there will be negative impact on their behaviour and also on society. We are trying to keep students in the system until they are 18. We can do that by diversifying our curriculum – some can do A-Level, some can go for other programmes such as foundation and certificate level courses, and through that proceed to higher education,” he said.

Luthfy and his successor, Shifa Mohamed, presided over “mega reform” of an education sector which had last been revised in 1984, overseeing an increase in the O-level pass rate from 27 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2010, and 37 percent in 2011. In 2012, the pass rate leapt to 46 percent.

Some proposed reform attracted controversy, and was quickly exploited for political leverage by the government’s opponents.

One of these was the proposal to make Islam and Dhivehi optional subjects at A-level, which became a wedge issue with the MDP’s remaining coalition partner, the religious conservative and nationalistic Adhaalath Party (AP).

A-Level students typically study between four to five subjects. Some university prerequisites demand as many as three or four subjects, particularly for university-level science courses. Luthfy had suggested that making the subjects optional would give A-level students greater ability to pursue careers of their choosing, and become “world citizens”.

Speaking to Minivan News in 2010, he justified the Education Ministry steering committee’s recommendation as opening many more doors for students to seek tertiary education, stating that it would “give students many different subject options, so they are not forced to take some subjects – rather they have the freedom to choose whatever they want.”

Religious groups and the Adhaalath Party seized the issue as an assault on national identity and evidence of the government’s supposed irreligiousness, a point of view disputed by Dr Luthfy.

“I think there is a certain group of people who actually think that it is their responsibility and their duty to safeguard Maldivian culture and Maldivian religion, and that others are not treating this fairly,” he told Minivan News at the time.

“But in fact we, as the educationalists, we are also taking care of our culture and religion and trying to train our students to become world citizens, rather than narrowing their perspective. That may be one of the reasons why they have suspicions that we are not trying to do justice to the religion or language [of the Maldives], and that is obviously untrue. Whether the subjects will be optional or not, we will revise them, and the curriculum, and we will train our teachers to teach these subjects in a better manner.”

Adhaalath-aligned MP Ibrahim Muttalib – who had previously sought the total elimination of alcohol from the tourism dependent economy – levelled a no-confidence motion against Luthfy over the issue in June 2010.

The day before the vote was due to be held Nasheed’s entire cabinet resigned in protest over what they termed the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

Nasheed subsequently re-appointed the ministers, however the constitutional requirement for newly appointed ministers to receive parliamentary approval ultimately led to the mass dismissal of all but five members of Nasheed’s cabinet later that same year. Luthfy was among the seven ministers dismissed, but was soon after appointed the first Chancellor of the newly-opened Maldives National University.


Dr Jameel sacked from cabinet “for becoming PPM running mate”

Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has been sacked from the cabinet by President Dr Mohamed Waheed, two days after he was unveiled as the running mate of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen.

“I am being informed by HEP Dr Waheed that I have been dismissed from my post as Home Minister for joining PPM & becoming running mate,” Jameel tweeted today.

Jameel added that he remained “determined to serve the nation” and expressed gratitude to President Waheed and the cabinet “for the opportunity I received to work together.”

“I extend my well wishes to HEP Dr Waheed and his team’s attempt to win the upcoming election which PPM will also attempt to win and succeed,” he wrote.

Dr Jameel is currently campaigning with PPM presidential candidate Yameen in Addu City.

In August 2007, then-Justice Minister Jameel along with then-Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed resigned from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s cabinet citing obstruction of political reforms and launched the latter’s presidential campaign.

After Dr Saeed came third in the first round of the October 2008 presidential election, the former ‘New Maldives’ ministers “unconditionally” backed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed in the second round run-off against Gayoom.

The pair were appointed special advisor to the president and minister of civil aviation and communication, respectively, in the MDP-led government that took office in November 2008.

Jameel was however sacked as civil aviation minister on May 31, 2009 following public criticism of the government ahead of the parliamentary elections earlier that month, which was also contested by Jameel’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

“Some people say he was a bit abrasive,” President Mohamed Nasheed’s press secretary told Minivan News at the time.

Fraying coalition

Prior to Jameel’s dismissal, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told the press that having a rival candidate’s running mate as the home minister would create a conflict of interest.

In addition to the PPM, the other main parties in the ruling coalition have fielded presidential candidates, including MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim from the Jumhooree Party (JP).

Dr Hassan Saeed’s DQP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party have meanwhile entered a formal coalition with Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP).

Speaking at Thursday night’s PPM ceremony to unveil Dr Jameel as running mate, former President Gayoom reportedly said that a sitting president should not be allowed to seek re-election if a serving cabinet minister could not become another candidate’s running mate.

On the same night, DRP Leader Thasmeen said at a rally on the island of Thulusdhoo in Male’ atoll that the party was concerned with Dr Jameel’s administration of the home ministry.

The former minority leader of parliament said that the DRP could have worked with the opposition MDP to pass a no-confidence motion against the home minister but the party instead “prioritised national interest.”

Jameel’s dismissal also follows friction between the PPM – the largest party in the governing coalition – and President Dr Waheed.

MP Abdulla Yameen told newspaper Haveeru last week that some PPM members were joining Dr Waheed’s party.

Yameen expressed disappointment with Mohamed Naseer, brother of slain PPM MP Afrasheem Ali, actively working with Dr Waheed’s GIP after the PPM campaigned to elect Afrasheem’s younger brother Ibrahim Ameen to parliament.

Yameen also referred to rumours of the possible defection of PPM MP Ahmed Shareef to GIP over dissatisfaction with a stalled airport project in his constituency.


PPM dismisses legal wrangling ahead of tonight’s running mate unveiling

The government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) said it remains undeterred by legal disputes over the outcome of the party’s recent primary as it prepares to unveil the running mate of presidential candidate MP Abdulla Yameen.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said that a “perfect running mate” would be announced tonight at the special event, which will be held from 9:00pm at the Dharubaaruge conference centre in Male’.

“We have selected a political candidate who has the best interests of the country,” Nihan told Minivan News ahead of the ceremony, adding that the PPM was one of the few parties in the country currently in a position to be able to announce a presidential running mate.

Legal wrangling

Divisions have appeared between certain PPM supporters following March’s primary after MP Yameen was accused by Umar Naseer, his only rival in the contest of having controlled all of the party’s organs.  Yameen was alleged to have had full control of the PPM council and election committee, as well as being accused of having “rigged” the vote in his favour by ballot stuffing and falsifying the count.

Naseer, who has since been removed from the party after refusing to retract or apologise over the allegations, has sought to invalidate the outcome of the primary as well as the decision to revoke his membership.

He personally resubmitted the case to invalidate the PPM primary this week, alleging that thousands of voters were not officially registered with the party at the time they cast votes on their preferred candidate.

Naseer has declined to speak or provide information to Minivan News.

“Egotistical stories”

Despite the ongoing legal action, PPM MP Nihan dismissed Naseer’s allegations as “egotistical stories”, accusing the party’s former interim deputy leader of having lost whatever influence in the party he once had – even among his traditional supporters.

“Those aligned with him during the primary are working very closely with the current party leadership now,” he said.

Nihan added his belief that the PPM’s campaign work in the build up to September’s presidential elections was not being adversely impacted by the ongoing legal battles with Naseer, who himself had previously worked to outline the party’s strategy.

“I do not think there will be issues [from Naseer’s legal action]. The election work has already been done. Before he started telling his egotistical stories [Naseer] had called on Yameen to implement these plans,” he said.

Before former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom established the PPM back in 2011, Naseer previously served as a deputy leader in the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) before being dismissed in December 2010.

Naseer’s dismissal at the time led to an escalation of infighting in the DRP – the first political party formed by Gayoom back in 2005 – leading to an eventual split between the former president’s followers and those of current party Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

Nihan said he remained critical of Naseer’s commitment to individual parties following his dismissal from the DRP and later the PPM.

“After the primary, we began to hear these egostistical stories [from Naseer]. This was why the decision was taken by committee to remove him from the party,” he said. “[Naseer] is playing the the same old game he has always play, I do not believe there is a sports club or party in the country that he could belong to for more than a few months,” he claimed.

Manifesto plans

With the announcement of PPM presidential candidate Yameen’s running mate scheduled for tonight, Nihan added that the party continued to move forward with its elections plans, adding that the publication of its manifesto was expected “shortly”.

He added that the PPM was targeting a broad number of policies including trying to stabilise the national economy and provide opportunities “for the youth”, as well as previously announced focuses on developing a domestic oil industry would also be key stands for the party during elections.

Nihan also praised the party’s work in compiling demographic data based around polling during the previous presidential and parliamentary elections of 2008 and 2009 respectively.

“We have a great study on demographics that will help us identify trends and concerns of voters,” he added.

Nihan claimed that a notable concern already from such data was the anticipation by 2020 of the country having an increasingly ageing population that would put a greater burden on the state to ensure their care.

He also identified concerns over outdated data as another significant concern that MP Yameen and the PPM would hope to address to ensure that voters were being correctly.

Campaign trail

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – the country’s largest party in terms of MPs – has in recent months unveiled a number of detailed policies as part of its own election campaign.

These plans include the development of a mariculture industry in the country it has claimed could generate US$1.05 billion (MVR 16.19 billion) for local organisations, as well as a pledge to support and expand mid-market tourism through the country’s guesthouse sector.

The DRP, which is also in the process of drafting its manifesto ahead of September’s elections, claimed earlier this month that it offered the only “moderate” alternative to the “divisive” policies of the MDP and PPM.

DRP Parliamentary Group Leader MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom previously said that between the increasingly “polarised views” of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), his party represented an alternative viewpoint for voters and politicians alike.