MDP Divide, Taxi Strike

Photo Credit: @mrsays_

1. MDP Internal Elections Postponed As Factional Strife Intensifies

Shouting matches erupted between rival factions as the Maldivian Democratic Party’s national council met to decide on postponing internal elections for vacant leadership posts.

MP Imthiyaz Fahmy and Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail are running for MDP chairman. 

The meeting took place amid an increasingly bitter war of words between supporters on social media. Last week, the Imthiyaz camp accused the government of sacking their supporters and offering jobs to secure votes for Fayyaz, who vehemently denied allegations of undue influence.

Outcome: Fayyaz’s proposal to reschedule the polls for 14 May as the previous date falls during the fasting month of Ramadan was passed with an overwhelming margin of 100 votes in favour to 15 votes against.

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. 

The national council’s vote was seen as a rebuke to Nasheed and confirmation of President Solih’s control over the party’s governing body as well as its 65-member parliamentary group.

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.

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.

2. Taxi Drivers Stage Strike For Higher Fare

Taxi drivers in the capital went on strike as the government refused to authorise higher fares in response to a fuel price hike.

The strike began on Thursday (10 March) after the transport ministry failed to review fixed rates as requested before offices closed at the end of the week. Taxi centres proposed higher rates to come into force this week.

Taxi centres shuttered and mobile apps were taken down.

Taxi drivers gathered in Hulhumalé to protest on Thursday night, with some using megaphones to call for the resignation of Transport Minister Aishath Nahula. According to media reports, police blocked taxis from crossing the bridge to drive in a procession in Malé. The thwarted taxis returned to Hulhumalé and continued the protest, disrupting traffic and stopping the flow to the highway that leads to the bridge. But the taxi drivers blamed the police for blocking the highway.

On Friday night, some taxis resumed services with the higher fares in defiance of 2019 regulations that fixed rates with MVR75 (US$5) for rides between Malé and Hulhumalé and MVR60 to the airport. The fare for rides within Malé and Hulhumalé remained unchanged at MVR25.

The new rates charged by taxi drivers are MVR30 for rides within Malé, MVR80 from Malé or Hulhumalé to the airport, MVR100 from Malé to Hulhumalé, and MVR120 from Malé to Hulhumalé phase two.

Proximate Cause: Citing rising global oil prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the State Trading Organisation hiked fuel prices last week 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. 

Context: The lack of public transportation – aside from buses between Malé and Hulhumalé – forces the public to rely on private taxis.

In concessions granted to taxi drivers in 2019, the transport ministry exempted them from using a mobile application and allowed an extra charge of MVR5 between midnight and 6 am. Plans to introduce taxi meters were backed by drivers but were never implemented.

Facts And Figures: About 1,200 taxis operate in the Greater Malé region – one of the world’s most densely populated capital cities and home to nearly 40 percent of the country’s population. Malé has an estimated 70,000 vehicles, almost one vehicle for every two people. Some 11,319 new vehicles were registered in 2018, an 11.6 percent rise from 2017, according to the latest figures available from the National Bureau of Statistics, which puts the total number of vehicles at 108,532, including 89,897 motorcycles, 6,325 cars and 2,931 pick-up trucks.