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.