Ex-President’s Conviction, Electability Debate, Garbage Fight

Friday, December 30

A fire broke out at the harbour of Addu City’s Hulhudhoo island. Several tar containers in the area were damaged. The fire was put out an hour and a half after it was reported at 8:03 p.m, according to the military’s fire and rescue service.

The Hulhuldhoo councillor alleged an act of arson.

Friday, December 30

At the behest of the environment ministry, the Waste Management Corporation conducted a clean-up operation in Malé after garbage piled up on the streets, prompting complaints and health concerns.

The opposition-majority Malé City Council took over cleaning parks and public spaces on Tuesday after a service agreement with WAMCO was allowed to expire.

Household waste left outside started piling up as both the council and WAMCO insisted it was the other’s responsibility.

WAMCO, which collects garbage from inside registered buildings, urged “all our customers not to leave their waste outside of their homes.”

After talks failed to resolve the dispute, the city council decided not to renew the agreement in September, citing high fees and complaints about dirty roads. At the time, WAMCO cried foul and warned that the cost would be three times higher if the council were to undertake cleaning operations on its own.

The opposition Progressive Congress Coalition staged a protest march in Malé against the jailing of former president Abdulla Yameen. Hundreds of supporters demanded the opposition leader’s immediate release and vowed to block the 2023 presidential election if Yameen is not on the ballot.

Opposition supporters also protested on several other islands across the country. The march in the capital took place with prior permission from the police and concluded peacefully after circling the island. In contrast, riot police cracked down on disruptive nightly protests in Malé after the former president was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Sunday. More than a dozen protesters were detained each night but all were released shortly thereafter.

Street protests were effectively banned during Yameen’s administration. Controversial legal changes restricted gatherings to areas designated by the home ministry, which picked the carnival area in Malé’s eastern waterfront. Despite repealing other draconian laws, the ruling party’s supermajority in parliament has kept the protest restrictions in place.

Amid speculation over a backup candidate, the opposition coalition’s joint senate passed a resolution on Wednesday night affirming Yameen as the presidential candidate.

Thursday, December 29

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s campaign team called for a postponement of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential primary, alleging the expulsion of 39,000 members from the party’s registry, 80% of whom were supporters of the former president. The election should be delayed until the members could be reinstated, MP Hassan Latheef told the press.

A list of 57,714 eligible voters was published earlier in the day with a deadline of 4 p.m on Sunday (1 January) to submit complaints. The election is due to take place nationwide on 28 January.

On Monday, Nasheed’s loyalists walked out of an MDP national council meeting after the president’s faction refused to include two representatives from each candidate in a five-member election committee tasked with organising the polls. Earlier this month, the party defended the new “cleaned up” registry and pledged to reinstate members who had been fraudulently registered with other parties.

Thursday, December 29

The Environment Protection Agency urged resorts, guesthouses and tour operators to phase out feeding stingrays, a popular activity among tourists. Feeding the protected species has been linked to “various negative impacts to stingray health, behaviour and ecology, such as the development of shoaling behaviour, altered feeding habits and skin abrasions from handling that compromise their immune system,” according to the EPA.

Wednesday, December 28

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih met the press for the first time in six months and fielded questions on manifesto pledges and the upcoming contest for the ruling party’s presidential ticket.

Key takeaways:

  • The president is confident of winning the Maldivian Democratic Party primary “by a large margin”.
  • Informal talks with coalition partners have indicated their willingness to maintain the MDP-led coalition for the 2023 election.
  • The core of the dispute with childhood friend Speaker Mohamed Nasheed was his thwarted ambition to become prime minister, “the fact that I am the president, and nothing else”.
  • Cases have been filed to recover state funds from 11 individuals and companies implicated in the  theft of US$90 million during the previous administration. The Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating 53 cases related to the corruption scandal.

The president highlighted as key achievements during his four-year administration:

  • Harbours constructed on 47 islands, work ongoing on 37 islands.
  • 76 projects ongoing for the construction of powerhouses and utility offices.
  • Road construction ongoing on 31 islands.
  • Land reclamation completed on seven islands and ongoing on eight islands.
  • Projects ongoing to provide housing for 16,000 families, including 8,700 flats in Malé and 4,430 flats and row houses on other islands.
  • First phase of nationwide high-speed ferry network completed and minibus service introduced in Malé, Addu and Fuvahmulah.
  • 16,000 students enrolled in tuition-free first degree courses.
  • Minimum wage established and take-home pay increased for education sector.

Wednesday, December 28

Former president Mohamed Nasheed launched his campaign for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary with a fired-up crowd at the Sultan Park in Malé. In his speech, Nasheed criticised the government’s inability to complete new housing projects or develop regional hubs. He blamed the goods and services tax hike due to come into force next week – which would worsen inflation – on the failure to restructure debt as envisioned in the MDP manifesto, and pledged to lower taxes if elected.

Nasheed accused the incumbent of tolerating corruption, abandoning the MDP’s ideology and sidelining both himself and the party’s grassroots. If President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih becomes the candidate, the MDP would only win 20% of the vote in the 2023 presidential election, he warned. Unlike 2018 when all opposition leaders were in jail or exile, coalition parties will field candidates this time, he predicted.

But President Solih’s “electability” and success in maintaining a diverse coalition were key reasons put forth by ministers and lawmakers who publicly endorsed the incumbent over the past few weeks. Hitting back at a rally on Thursday night, Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi insisted that there was no legitimate reason for Nasheed as the MDP’s president and speaker of parliament to work in opposition to the government. “If it was anyone other than President Solih, he would have lost patience with all that criticism and talk and would have put president Nasheed back in jail again, there’s no doubt,” she said.

Earlier on Thursday, Nasheed flew to the northernmost atoll for door-to-door campaigning on several islands. Ministers and lawmakers in the president’s faction also travelled across the country to canvass support ahead of the primary election on 28 January.

Rail Vikas Nigam was awarded a US$186 million project to develop a naval dockyard in the Uthuru Thilafalhu lagoon in two years, Indian media reported, citing an “order for this strategic project ” placed by India’s external affairs ministry.

The defence ministry denies the opposition’s allegation that the project is part of Indian plans to build a military presence in the Maldives.

Photos and videos of bioluminescent plankton – including a video of a man bathing in the glowing microorganisms – went viral as beaches on northern and central islands lit up in neon blue at night. Large crowds gathered to witness the rare natural phenomenon.

Tuesday, December 27

Judge Ahmed Shakeel’s family has been facing harassment and threats since the criminal court’s chief judge sentenced former president Abdulla Yameen to jail. Photos of family members are being shared on social media with allegations of bribery and government jobs, Shakeel’s uncle, Deputy Home Minister Abubakuru Abdul Kareem, told the press.

Tuesday, December 27

Monday, December 26

The president and first lady attended an official function on Kolhufushi to mark National Unity Day, which is observed annually on the anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Monday, December 26

Sunday, December 25

Former president Abdulla Yameen was convicted of bribery and money laundering and sentenced to 11 years in prison with a US$5 million fine. The 63-year-old opposition leader was found guilty of accepting a US$1 million bribe from former lawmaker Yoosuf Naeem for the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah. The island was leased for resort development at a discounted acquisition fee of US$2 million.

Taking note of the constitutional prohibition for a sitting president to engage in business dealings, Judge Ahmed Shakeel dismissed Yameen’s defence of having bought US dollars from Naeem in a legitimate currency exchange transaction. “The court does not see it as a coincidence that an account under Abdulla Yameen’s name was suddenly reactivated and money was deposited from an account under Yoosuf Naeem’s name,” the judge said, referring to the deposit of a US$1 million cheque less than a week after the resort lease agreement was signed in September 2015. Naeem, former MP for Vaavu Felidhoo, was found guilty of bribery and sentenced to three years, two months and 12 days in prison.

The money could not be considered a campaign contribution as there was no record in the then-ruling party’s finances, the judge concluded, citing the legal requirement for donor funds to be handled by the candidate’s agent.

The hearing was delayed for more than two hours as opposition supporters protested outside the courthouse. The Progressive Congress Coalition alleged Indian interference to bar the opposition leader from contesting in the 2023 election, accusing the government of “body-checking the trial judge at gun-point” to deliver a prepared verdict.

Yameen’s legal team expressed confidence of winning an appeal. A previous money laundering conviction was overturned in November 2021 after the former president was shifted from jail to house arrest due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sunday, December 25

Abbas Adil Riza, an opposition politician and former state minister and customs chief, was arrested over a widely condemned tweet that encouraged an arson attack against the Indian High Commission. “The 8th February arson attacks in Addu were carried out on India’s order. We haven’t retaliated to that yet. I propose we start with the Indian High Commission,” reads the tweet with the #IndiaOut hashtag.

The arrest came after the foreign minister warned that “threats that are aimed at undermining the security of the diplomatic corps and disrupting public safety will not be tolerated.”

The criminal court remanded Riza to five days in custody.

“Any incitement of violence or encouragement of acts of terrorism will be taken seriously and investigated with due process,” the police commissioner assured a day before the arrest. “The spread of hate on social media is seemingly growing in Maldives. We are working with all stakeholders to effectively tackle the problem.”