Political ‘speed dating’ draws young voters

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has held a one minute ‘speed dating’ event for 200 young Maldivians aged 18-25 at Seahouse Cafe.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) booked out Seahouse from 9:30 pm to 10:30 pm on Friday night and prepared 200 ‘date’ tokens. The tokens ran out early in the evening however, while questions ran until 11:30 pm.

“The purpose was for first-time voters to meet directly with President Nasheed and to give them a chance to ask any questions that they wanted,” said MDP Youth Wing Leader Shauna Aminath. She added that the many new faces may indicate a boost in voter turnout this Saturday.

Shauna noted  that post-event comments over Twitter, Facebook and other media indicated a demand for a second session.

“I have always wanted to meet President Nasheed  personally and even a minute with him is quite a lot out of his busy schedule,” 24 year-old attendee Isha told Minivan News. “I was very impressed by the event and the fact of getting to speak directly with him was a chance I wouldn’t miss.”

“I wanted to take a selfie with [President Nasheed] because he is one of my greatest idols, and I wanted to show my support. I think he is the best candidate,” said Hassan Sharm, 24.

Nasheed was both a listener and a speaker during the event, fielding questions on higher education, particularly A-level intakes and scholarships, the economy, exclusivity of surf breaks and the MDP manifesto. He also asked about issues important to his young supporters.

“The minute was more about him hearing us,” Isha recalled. “He asked what we did for work. Then we brought up some of the problems we face – slow internet and expensive broadband, and unfortunately he couldn’t comment on it since one minute was over and he had to move to the other table. But I hope he heard us.”

Isha added that Nasheed’s “positive attitude” and attentive ear established him as “one of the most friendly persons I have met in my life.”

Sharm questioned Nasheed on a central issue in post-election projections. Citing the heavy involvement of public security forces and senior political figures in February 2012 transfer of power, “I asked, ‘If you are elected, what is your plan to bring these people to justice?”

Sharm said Nasheed in his reply emphasised that revenge was not part of the equation, and that the focus should be on rendering justice to the injured civilians.

Sharm told the former President that housing was a major concern for young people, as well as a lack of space for community programs.

President Nasheed is known for his unique campaign tactics and strong interest in his youth base; he took the mic at a techno music concert the previous evening. Meanwhile, candidates from the competing Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party (GIP) coalition, and Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) have thus far exercised comparatively formal and traditional campaign methods.

Asked whether they would welcome a similar Q&A with the other candidates, Isha and Sharm indicated that the dialogue was mostly about showing support.

“I do not support any of them, would be very hypocritical of me to go,” Isha reasoned.

Sharm declared simply, “No, no, never. Not a chance.”

Aminath pointed out that a critical factor in bringing young people to the table is establishing a sense of ease between the candidate and voter. “Engagement has to be inspired by leaders. [Voters] are inspired by President Nasheed,” she said.

Asked about the competing candidates, attendees Isha and Sharm indicated both concerns and confusion over the other parties policies.

Isha was curious to know whether the others were “intimidated by Nasheed”, while Sharm said he would ask PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen about allegations of PPM’s involvement with Male’s gangs, President Mohamed Waheed about his involvement in the February 7, 2012 controversial transfer of power, and the JP’s Gasim Ibrahim about his plans for national improvement, citing general confusion over what Gasim’s communications on policy and platform to date.

“I would love to know what his plan is,” Sharm explained.


Former President returns to Addu for final leg of campaign trip

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has rejoined his party’s ‘Journey of Pledges’ in the southern atolls following his release from custody on Wednesday.

Prior to his original departure last week on the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) campaign trip, Nasheed was placed under a travel ban restricting his movements to the capital.

The Department of Judicial Administration have confirmed that Nasheed had requested permission before leaving the Male’ area to rejoin his party. The Foreign Ministry observed in a statement that Nasheed was no longer under a travel ban.

He has since flown south and rejoined his party which is currently in Fuvamulah in Gnaviyani Atoll, continuing its door to door programs and policy workshops in order to gather information ahead of the next election – scheduled for July 2013 at the earliest.

Nasheed had been returned to Male’ on Monday after the Hulhumale’ Magistrates Court ordered the police to produce him at the first hearing in the Judge Abdullah Mohamed detention case on Tuesday.

Nasheed’s lawyers asked the three member panel of judges to give them a time period of 30 days to study the evidence and prepare a defence.

The judges however gave a period of 25 days. They announced that the next hearing would be held on November 4, 2012.

He will fly back to Male’ after the completion of the campaign at the Equatorial Convention Center in Hithadhoo on Saturday October 13 while the rest of the five boat flotilla returns separately.

Information gathering

President of the MDP’s Youth Wing, Shauna Aminath, said that the trip had been extremely useful in gathering specific information on the situation in the atolls.

A similar trip is planned for the northern atolls before the end of the year.

Shauna said that the party had been made aware of the deficiencies in public service provision in a number of areas.

“At almost every island, people have said that since February 7 they have been having problems receiving benefits for single mothers and for those with special needs,” she said.

Shauna also noted a failure to provide consistent public transport as promoted under the Nasheed administration.

“Almost every island said the ferry system had been stopped by non-MDP councils,” said Shauna. “People have grown to appreciate the need for public transport – we found a way around the problems but the people who have the passion and commitment are not there.”

Shauna said that some ferry services were refusing to take small numbers of passengers while others even asked passengers to provide fuel for the service.

She also alleged that the party had gathered information regarding the sacking of MDP supporting government workers since February in what she described as a “witch-hunt”.

The seeming reversal of decentralisation policies observed in the trip – such as those concerning local health workers – was reminiscent of the “old style”  under the 30 year Presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said Shauna.

In April the government announced its intention to annul provincial health and utility corporations in an attempt to streamline and improve service delivery.

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has said that it intends to revise the current system of local governance which it has described as prohibitively expensive for the country – which is said to cost US$12 million a year in salaries.