MMPRC to host UK journalists in October

The Maldives Media and Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) will host a familiarisation tour for UK journalists between October 10 and 15.

“The main objective of this FAM trip coordinated by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation in collaboration with McCluskey International (official PR representative Maldives in UK) is to allow journalists from a vast range of media to experience the Maldives tourism product and in line generate positive publicity to the destination,” read an MMPRC press release.

The corporation also announced earlier this month that it was launching a global advertising campaign with the BBC, running throughout September and October, which would target regional markets in Europe, Asia Pacific, South Asia, Middle East, America and North Africa.

Next month, UK journalists from four five magazines will be hosted in Four Seasons KudaHuraa, Anantarah Kihavah, and Traders Hotel in Malé.

Visitors from the UK to the Maldives currently account for 7.4 percent of market share, making it the third largest source market behind China and Germany.

During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng earlier this week, President Abdulla Yameen said that he hoped to increase Chinese tourists – who already make up 30 percent of all arrivals – three fold over the next four years.


UK visa forms to be accepted in Malé from August

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that it has made arrangements for visa applications from students seeking to studies in the UK to be accepted from Malé from August.

In an announcement released on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry stated that the arrangement had been made with the work of the ministry in liaison with the UK High Commission and VFS Global.

The ministry called on students to prepare the necessary documents in advance and stated that they will later announce the arrangements for visa appointments and how the service will be given.


9.7% increase in tourists arrivals for first quarter of 2014

At the end of first quarter of 2014 tourist arrivals to the Maldives saw an increase of 9.7% compared with the same period of 2013, reaching a total of 321,561, reported the Ministry of Tourism on Tuesday.

Europe was the leading market generator taking account of 51.3% of all arrivals to the Maldives with a sum total of 321,561 tourists during the first quarter of the 2014, the report stated.

Asia and the Pacific recorded an impressive growth rate of 24.4% at the end of first quarter of 2014 bringing in additional 26,606 tourists to reach a total of 135,839. This region accounted for 42.2% of arrivals to the Maldives at the end of first quarter of 2014.

According to the Ministry, the Chinese market was increased by 24% with an additional 16,960 tourists compared with the same period of 2013.


Week in review: March 9 – 14

This week’s headlines were largely dedicated to the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the senior leadership of the Elections Commission (EC) on charges of contempt of court and disobedience to order.

The decision – which also included a six month sentence for EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek – brought international condemnation as well as universal praise for the work of the commission.

The EU observer mission, currently in the country for the scheduled March 22 poll, quickly pointed out the considerable “time pressure” on a timely and credible election.

Domestically, both the Maldivian Democratic Party’s Mohamed Nasheed and the People’s Majlis declared the decision unconstitutional.

The Majlis Secretariat relayed this message in writing to Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and senior government figures, while a Majlis committee stated that it still considered the dismissed members to be elections commissioners.

Alternatively, government supporters quickly backed the decision, with President Yameen saying that the government would abide by the ruling. Yameen also criticised the opposition’s discussion – conducted without a resolution – of boycotting the polls.

The President’s Office rounded on the court’s international naysayers while the chief justice said that the international statements included “falsified claims, and undermine the respect and authority of the Maldivian judiciary”.

Fears that the EC would not be able to conduct the election without its quorum were soon assuaged, however, as Ismail Habeeb – nominated to the commission after the resignation of the fifth EC member last October – was approved by the Majlis.

The PPM has called for the final two places on the commission to be filled before the elections, though Speaker Shahid has prorogued parliament until after the vote.

Other news…

Elsewhere this week, police seized 24kg of what was suspected to be heroin in their biggest haul to date, while repeated confiscation of unusual pets during drugs raids – as well as a python on the streets of Malé – prompted customs to tighten security in order to prevent the import of illegal animals.

The export of legal animals – in the form of Halal certified fish – is a policy the Islamic Ministry this week claimed was generating great enthusiasm.

Leaders at the Chamber of Commerce rounded on the EU’s trade policies with regards to Maldivian fish, suggesting a fisherman’s protest could be on its way.

One protest did arrive this week, at the international airport, as staff demonstrated against bad bonuses and worse food.

The Human Rights Commission was summoned to the Juvenile Court after repeated attempts to discuss a report the court claimed misled the public about the handling of the infamous 15 year old flogging trial.

Maldivian Development Alliance leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam was presented to the Criminal Court this after failing to attend previous hearings regarding his alleged attempts to smuggle alcohol into the country in 2012.

Already in custody, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Abdulla Jabir learned this week that he would remain during his appeal case for his recent conviction.

Finally, local NGO Advocating for the Rights of Children (ARC) launched an anti-bullying campaign in Malé as well as a new network to support the rights of disabled children.

Meanwhile, the Maafushi jail inmate – left in a coma with critical head injuries after being attacked by cellmates last month – was flown to Sri Lanka for further treatment.


EC dismissals: Commonwealth, UK, EU, and India join international chorus of concern

The Commonwealth, UK, EU, and India have joined a growing international chorus expressing concern with the Supreme Court’s removal of the Elections Commission (EC) chair and deputy chair over charges of contempt of court.

“Such action by the court less than two weeks before the [parliamentary] election could be viewed as potentially affecting the electoral process adversely,” read a statement released yesterday by the Commonwealth secretariat.

The UK described the move as an “unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”, while India urged respect for the constitution. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton called the ruling a “serious setback in the democratic transition of the country.”

A statement from the President’s Office meanwhile called upon international partners to respect the Maldives’ constitution, echoing a statement released by the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz on Tuesday (March 11).

The Supreme Court ruling on Sunday left the EC without the three members required for a legal quorum to hold meetings and finalise decisions ahead of the polls scheduled for March 22.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma noted the parliament’s approval of a new member to the EC yesterday, which ensures that the quorum is restored.

“We hope that a credible and inclusive parliamentary election can be held in accordance with the constitution, and that Maldivians will be able to cast their votes with confidence and with the will of the people being respected,”  the secretary-general said.

The secretary-general stressed that separation of powers was “a fundamental political value” of the Commonwealth.

“For a democracy to function effectively, it is critical that institutions operate within their own constitutional mandate and do not encroach either on the ability of other independent institutions to execute their own remits or on the constitutional authority of other branches of government,” he stated.

“Actions that undermine the independence of an elections commission have a negative effect on democracy as a whole.”

The secretary-general noted that the Commonwealth Observer Group to the Maldives for last year’s presidential polls had recommended that “there should be better recognition of the mandate and statutory and constitutional independence of the Elections Commission.”

The Commonwealth statement also noted that the Supreme Court “assumed new powers enabling it to initiate cases”.

The Supreme Court summoned EC members on February 27 and began a surprise trial on charges of contempt of court under new ‘sumoto’ regulations that allow the apex court to initiate proceedings and act as both prosecution and judge.

Yesterday’s flurry of statements followed condemnation of the Supreme Court decision by the United States, Canada and the United Nations earlier this week.

In response, the President’s Office has contended that “negative external reaction to judicial decisions” undermined the constitution and hindered efforts for consolidation of democracy.

“Unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Hugo Swire expressed “deep disappointment” with the Supreme Court’s dismissal and sentencing of the EC chair.

“The charges laid and the procedures adopted represent an unprecedented expansion of judicial powers,” the Foreign Office statement read.

The Supreme Court’s contentious ruling “appears to undermine the hard won independence of the Election Commission. This is extremely worrying so close to parliamentary elections,” the statement read.

Noting the appointment of a new member to the EC, the minister urged the government to ensure that the “the Election Commission’s independence is swiftly restored and to ensure that inclusive, free and fair Parliamentary elections are held within constitutional deadlines and in line with international standards.”

“This is essential for the consolidation of democracy in the Maldives and for the country to uphold its international reputation after the difficult events of the last two years.”

The EU’s statement commended the work of the EC, noted the key role of an independent elections body in a democracy, and drew attention to its team of monitors currently in the Maldives for this month’s poll.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs meanwhile issued a press release welcoming the “commitment expressed by the government of Maldives to holding the parliamentary elections as scheduled”.

“India has consistently supported the strengthening of democratic processes and institutions in the Maldives. In this context, the Government of India has noted with concern the removal of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Elections Commission of Maldives from their positions and deferred prison sentence of the Chairperson,” the press release stated.

As “a close friend and neighbour of the Maldives”, the Indian government urged state institutions and political parties to respect the constitution and rule of law.

The statement also expressed hope that the EC’s independence will be ensured and that “the forthcoming parliamentary elections are held in a free, fair and credible manner, fulfilling the democratic aspirations of the people of Maldives.”


EC dismissals: Government calls on international partners to respect Maldivian constitution

The government has called on international partners to respect the Maldivian constitution and democratic processes following condemnation of the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of the Elections Commission (EC) chair and deputy chair.

The appeal was made in a statement released by the President’s Office last night welcoming parliament’s approval of a new EC member, which “enables the EC to function with the legally required quorum and hold the general elections scheduled for 22 March 2014.”

“Negative external reaction to judicial decisions of the Maldives challenges the domestic institutions and national processes, thereby undermining the constitution of the Maldives and hindering the ongoing process of democracy consolidation,” the statement read.

It added that strengthening of state institutions was “an ongoing process,” and noted that “high-profile” cases remained stalled at court.

“The government is always ready to work with interested external actors through a process of dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect in working towards consolidating democracy in the Maldives.”

Since the adoption of the 2008 constitution that established a presidential system with separation of powers, the Maldives has “experienced a vibrant democratic process that has enabled the nascent system to flourish,” the President’s Office said.

The statement comes as the UK, India, and the Commonwealth joined the US, Canada, and the UN in expressing concern with the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the elections commissioners.

The President’s Office statement also echoed calls by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon earlier this month urging international partners not to “undermine our judicial system.”

The President’s Office also suggested that its submission to parliament of candidates to fill the vacancies in the commission demonstrated “the government’s unshakable commitment to the independence of the EC”.

“The government of Maldives is fully committed to ensuring the constitutionally guaranteed independence, professionalism, and integrity of the Elections Commission,” the statement read.

The President’s Office argued that parliament’s decision to approve Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem to the EC was “consistent with the Supreme Court verdict” dismissing the EC chair and deputy chair.

“In compliance with the verdict, the government proposed to the Majlis for consideration and to vote on the names of candidates to fill the remaining two vacant positions at the Elections Commission,” it added.

Despite parliament’s approval of Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem yesterday to replace former EC member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed – who resigned in October citing poor health – the opposition-majority independent institutions committee has declared that EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz remained EC members

The move followed a letter sent to President Abdulla Yameen, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil by Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid contending that the dismissals were unconstitutional.

The letter – based on legal advice provided by parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza – stated that the pair were removed in violation of procedures specified in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act for the appointment and dismissal of EC members.

Article 177 of the constitution states that an EC member could be removed from office if a parliamentary committee established “misconduct, incapacity or incompetence” and  “upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting.”


British High Commissioner calls on President Yameen

The British High Commissioner John Rankin has paid a courtesy call on President Abdulla Yameen on Monday morning, where discussions were held on how to strengthen relations between the two countries.

President Yameen emphasised his administration’s focus on economic development and briefed the High Commissioner on prospective investment projects in the Maldives.

He also stated there is a crucial need to “impress upon the EU the pertinence of extending GSP Plus facilities to the Maldives for a further period, to ensure the country’s fishery exports could remain competitive in European markets”, according to statement on the President’s Office website.

It further revealed that the High Commissioner had inquired about possible areas in which Britain could assist the Maldives’ development efforts in the future, while highlighting the recent collaborative efforts between the countries.

Discussions were also held at the meeting about the current political atmosphere in the Maldives and the importance of maintaining a peaceful community.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon, Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director Farzana Zahir were also present at the meeting.


IPU and UK foreign office add to growing criticism of regime

Criticism of the current regime continues, with both the UK Foreign Foreign Minister and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) expressing concern.

“It is clear that some political actors are not working in the interests of the Maldivian people,” said UK Foreign Minister William Hague.

Meanwhile, head of the recently concluded IPU delegation to the Maldives urged all sides to end the political impasse.

“There can be no place for a winner-takes-all mentality in the Maldives. The political polarization in the country has left the Maldives hamstrung, on the verge of bankruptcy and facing serious social problems,” said Paul East.

“The Maldives cannot afford to continue as it has been if there is a genuine desire and commitment to building a peaceful and democratic society,” he continued.

An urgent visit of the IPU followed a series of opposition MPs being prosecuted through the courts. The Supreme Court has removed two MPs from the Majlis, whilst a third MP is seeking refuge from arrest in parliamentary premises – and was later sentenced in absentia to six months for failure to attend court hearings.

Following its mission to the country, an IPU press release has called for “calm and a serious national commitment to healing the political divide in a heavily polarized Maldives.”

Whilst welcoming the successful completion of the presidential election first round on November 9, the IPU has expressed concern regarding the Supreme Court’s “undermining of the parliamentary mandate”.

“This includes over-turning a parliamentary resolution on an interim head of state when President Waheed’s term expired on 10th November,” read the statement.

“Instead, the incumbent was kept in the post, contrary to the Constitution and in contradiction of President Waheed’s repeated and public statements that he would not continue as president beyond his exact term in office.”

The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) earlier this week called for travel bans to be imposed upon those it deemed as responsible for a “judicial coup d’état” – including President Waheed in its list.

The IPU also expressed concerns that the interference in presidential elections could have further detrimental impacts on both future local and parliamentary elections.

Dismayed and disappointed

The UK Foreign Minister described himself as being “deeply dismayed” and “disappointed” at the decision to delay the presidential run-off and the subsequent decision of President Waheed to remain in office.

“Since the initial vote, now over two months ago, the democratic process has continually been subject to unreasonable demands and delays. Such delays only serve to increase the strain on democracy, as well as Maldives’ international reputation and already fragile economy.”

Hague went onto say that he would expect the interim arrangements to remain in place only until the completion of the second round of elections – re-scheduled for this coming Saturday (October 16).

He also noted that he would not expect the government to commit to any policy initiatives in the meantime.

“The Maldivian people must have the right to vote for their representative, whether or not the result of that vote is agreeable to losing candidates.”

“We urge all candidates to uphold the interests of the people and the country which they strive to represent and to act responsibly in helping to create conditions which are conducive to elections.”

Hague concluded by calling for the Elections Commissions guidelines to be followed, and urging calm in the run up to the elections.

After violent protests immediately following President Waheed’s decision to stay in office, Male’ has not seen further unrest this week.

The Foreign Minister has received a written question from UK MP Karen Lumley regarding his opinion on Waheed’s attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo this week.

Lumley is currently chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Maldives.


UK, EU praise “transparent and competitive” election, as High Court accepts JP case

The UK and EU have both issued statements praising the conduct of Saturday’s presidential election, describing them as “transparent and competitive”.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton “congratulates the people of the Maldives on the first round of voting in their presidential elections, which international observers have recognised as inclusive and competitive,” read a statement issued by the EU’s representation in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“The very high level of voter participation demonstrates the commitment of Maldivians to the democratic process. Campaigning was peaceful and the elections were well run,” the statement added.

The UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Alistair Burt, also praised the conduct of the election.

“Election observers, both domestic and international, have broadly agreed that the election was transparent and competitive. The UK’s election observers were also pleased to see that proceedings ran smoothly, and that the atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation,” Burt stated.

“The exceptionally high turnout – estimated to be around 88 percent – demonstrates a significant public enthusiasm and support for democracy in Maldives. I hope political parties will honour this democratic engagement by working together in order to further consolidate democratic institutions in Maldives,” he stated.

“I hope that the second round of elections on 28 September, and the transition to post-electoral politics, will also be free, fair and credible,” Burt concluded.

The US and India have also previously issued statements on the polls, particularly noting the peaceful voting throughout the day and preparedness of the Elections Commission.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives – which ran the most comprehensive observation operation on the day – also announced prior to the release of the provisional results that none of the incidents reported on election day would have a “material impact on the outcome of the election”.

At the same time, the High Court has accepted a case submitted by the Jumhoree Party (JP) contesting the election results and seeking the release of voters’ lists and ballot box sheets by the Elections Commission.

The party’s candidate, Gasim Ibrahim, came third in Saturday’s vote with 24 per cent, narrowly missing a place in the run-off on September 28. He has refused to accept the election result.

“I will be taking the oath [of office] on 11 November,” Gasim declared at a recent rally held at Maafannu Kunooz.

“I am saying I believe I was in first place. Different result reports on different media shows there were many, immense issues,” he told a subsequent press conference.

The High Court yesterday rejected the party’s first submission of the case.