1. Russian Superyachts Arrive As Fuel Prices Rise
Global repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were felt in the Maldives as oil prices rose and the government scrambled to evacuate Maldivian students.
Five superyachts were cruising or anchored in the Maldives last week as France seized a luxury yacht linked to a Russian oligarch on U.S. and EU sanctions lists. The Maldives has no extradition treaty with the U.S. According to shipping data, the superyachts that were in Maldivian waters included the 88-metre Nirvana owned by Russia’s richest man, Vladimir Potanin, and the Clio owned by aluminium giant Rusal’s founder Oleg Deripaska. The billionaire-owners were reported to be either on the sanctions list or face calls to be added.
The Maldives voted with 140 countries to condemn Russia at the UN General Assembly, which was presided over by Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid as the UNGA president for the current term.
Economic Cost: Citing rising global prices, the State Trading Organisation hiked fuel prices for the third time this year. The price of petrol increased from MVR12.98 per litre to MVR14.60 (US$0.9) per litre and the price of diesel increased from MVR13.04 to MVR14.80 per litre. The prices stood at MVR11.16 per litre and MVR11.84 per litre, respectively, at the start of the year.
Why It Matters: The Maldives spends about US$400 million or 10 percent of GDP annually on oil imports.
Tourism: Russia was the second-largest source market last year with 222,424 tourists, which was 2.7 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Russia has so far been the top market this year with 44,055 holidaymakers as of 2 March, representing a 15 percent market share.
Ukraine is the seventh-largest market with 7,948 tourists. On Sunday (27 February), the Maldives immigration offered a special visa for Ukrainian tourists who wish to stay for an extended period.
Evacuation: After 15 students crossed the border into Hungary last week, the nine remaining Maldivians in Ukraine – including eight in under siege Kharkiv and one in Dnipro – made their way out with the help of Hungarian authorities. The medical students thanked Maldivian embassies for making arrangements for transport and accommodation. More than 25 students were stranded after flights were cancelled.
2. Ruling Party Rift Widens In Race For Leadership
The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s infighting escalated ahead of internal elections due to take place on 16 April, spilling over into the public as recriminations flew and lawmakers clashed in parliament.
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy and Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail are running for MDP chairman. Since the contenders launched their campaigns in late February, an increasingly bitter war of words on social media has engulfed the party in internecine strife.
Context: The contest is widely seen as a showdown between rival factions loyal to former president Mohamed Nasheed – who is speaker of parliament and president of the MDP – and incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Why It Matters: The victorious faction will take administrative control for a five-year term. The new leadership will preside over a national congress scheduled for 4 August, during which pivotal decisions are expected to be made on Nasheed’s proposed constitutional amendments and public referendum on the system of government. The former president has long advocated a shift to the parliamentary system.
What’s New: Nasheed has accused Solih of sacking a political appointee for endorsing Imthiyaz. But the president’s office told the media that Amir Ahmed, a senior administrator at the Dhuvaafaru health centre, was dismissed after a petition was submitted against him over alleged dereliction of duty.
Heated exchanges took place in parliament on Tuesday (1 March) after MP Mohamed Waheed – spokesman for Imthiyaz’s campaign – submitted a motion without notice against alleged undue influence by the government. During the acrimonious debate, MPs from Solih’s faction – who reportedly outnumber MPs loyal to Nasheed in the 65-member parliamentary group – accused colleagues of playing the opposition’s role and undermining the president’s powers. They defended the sacking of the Dhuvaafaru man.
Hitting back, Imthiyaz alleged that intimidation of his supporters and their removal from government jobs were tied to “paving the way for corruption”. Echoing the three-term MP for Maafannu North, Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla accused bosses of state-owned companies of offering jobs to secure votes for Fayyaz.
The Imthiyaz campaign has also objected to Fayyaz’s suggestion to reschedule the polls as 16 April falls within the fasting month of Ramadan.
State Of Play: Fayyaz leads endorsements from senior figures with newly-elected majority leader MP Mohamed Aslam the latest to throw his weight behind the minister. Both sides campaigned in the MDP-stronghold of Addu City over the weekend.
Supporters of Imthiyaz say they represent the “real MDP” of grassroots activists and founding members since the early days of the pro-democracy movement. They vow to save the party from “chameleon” beneficiaries of alleged graft. In a well-attended rally at Shaviyani Milandhoo, Fayyaz countered that the MDP should have a big enough tent to welcome new members, who should have the opportunity to rise through the ranks. His supporters allege an outsized influence of Nasheed’s loyalists and family members within the MDP and a “cult-like” devotion to the iconic leader.
History: In 2020, Nasheed accused Fayyaz of corruption but failed to gather enough support within the MDP to oust him from the cabinet. President Solih publicly backed his influential economic development minister.
Since the first rumblings in the wake of MDP’s landslide victory in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the rift between the “childhood friends” has played out with Nasheed expressing displeasure over government policies on the MDP’s internal messaging groups – which is promptly quoted in the media – followed by apparent reconciliation with Solih. The president has acknowledged differences of opinion but maintains that the relationship remains intact.
Last year, the former president sharply criticised Solih’s response to religious extremism after the government withdrew support for hate speech legislation. Nasheed narrowly survived an assassination attempt in May. In January this year, he ruled out challenging Solih for the MDP’s presidential ticket and the pair campaigned together for the Komandoo by-election.