Capital Fires, Campaign Barbs, Protest Rights

Friday, January 13

The government is ready to divest its shares in the Villingili Resort & Spa in Addu Atoll, which operated under the Shangri-La brand before it was shut down due to the pandemic in April 2020, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih told supporters during a campaign visit to the southernmost atoll.

The resort was put up for sale in June last year. In February, Tourism Minister Dr Abdulla Mausoom told parliament that the government was in the process of selling its 32% stake in the resort. Due to the joint venture agreement with the leaseholder, the government owes US$68 million as loan financing to cover losses, he said at the time.

It would cost the government US$70 million to give up its shares in order to facilitate reopening, the president said, criticising previous administrations for the losses incurred over the years. The tourism law was amended last year to enable the leaseholder, Addu Investment Pvt Ltd, to buy the government’s stake.

Friday, January 13

Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen is due to arrive in the Maldives on a three-day official visit on Sunday (15 January).

“During this visit, Maldives and Cambodia will hold official talks led by the two leaders, and a number of agreements on strengthening bilateral cooperation will be signed. The Chambers of Commerce of both countries will also attend a business forum hosted by the Ministry of Economic Development on the sidelines of the visit, to intensify business-to-business interactions and to enhance trade and commerce between the two countries,” according to the president’s office.

Coastguard sailors caught a 14-foot crocodile in Bolidhuffaru, an uninhabited island in Kaafu Atoll that is under development as a resort. It was released 24 nautical miles off the island.

Saltwater crocodiles are not native to the Maldives and sightings are very rare.

Thursday, January 12

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed drew the largest crowd of the campaign for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary so far at a rally in Malé’s surf point.

The slogan of his opponent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government is “coming soon” but “we never see the film”, Nasheed mocked, referring to stalled projects such as the airport terminal and Ameenee Magu redevelopment. The president’s faction expected an easy victory but the support witnessed in Malé and other islands has shown that the “real MDP” has emerged, the former president declared, expressing confidence of winning the internal election on 28 January.

Earlier in the week, Nasheed campaigned in Noonu, Raa and Baa atolls. At his weekly press briefing on Sunday, Nasheed revealed that he would pick a “young” running mate from Addu City if he wins the MDP ticket to contest in this year’s presidential election.

Thursday, January 12

Speaking at a gala ceremony held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Bank of Maldives, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih urged BML to work together with the central bank to address concerns over new limits imposed on money transfers to Maldivian students overseas.

With effect on 1 January, the bank stopped accepting local currency to send dollars to students enrolled in courses below A’ Levels. The change came after the central bank tightened procedures for Telegraphic Transfers in a bid to reduce dollars issued to banks.

The president also appealed for more robust security and easier processes for local businesses.

At the function held in Crossroads resort, President Solih presented plaques of appreciation to two founding members and awards to three long-serving employees.

Wednesday, January 11

A fire at the Evening Café in Malé – a popular Indian food outlet on Orchid Magu – destroyed its kitchen and second-floor accommodation block. The military’s fire and rescue service brought the flames under control about an hour and 10 minutes after it was reported at 6:12 p.m. No one was injured.

The National Disaster Management Authority arranged temporary shelter for seven people from a neighbouring residence that was affected by smoke. About 25 staff from the café were provided accommodation by the owners.

A stir-frying pan on the stove caught fire during preparations for the café’s busy dinner service, it was later reported. The kitchen staff managed to put out the fire before firefighters arrived. But it spread upstairs through the exhaust hood atop the stove, according to an employee.

Wednesday, January 11

In his campaign for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih hit back at Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, dismissing the latter’s suggestion that he would seek constitutional amendments to stay in power for a third term. Without naming his challenger, the president said it was Nasheed who wanted constitutional amendments to change to a parliamentary system out of his obsession to return to power. At the meeting with his Hulhumalé campaign team, Solih also responded to Nasheed’s widely reported claim that he was responsible for ensuring victory in 2018. Solih said he had won the presidential election “through God’s grace” with the support of many people. But Nasheed’s supporters accused the president of misrepresentation. “I know it was I who told you to bring President Solih to power. And it’ll be me who’ll try to remove him from power,” was what Nasheed told supporters in Baa Hithaadhoo earlier in the day.

The president also conducted door-to-door campaigning in Malé and Hulhumalé earlier in the day. Addressing campaign teams in Malé on Tuesday night, he vowed to provide housing as pledged to residents of the congested capital. Construction is ongoing for 7,000 flats and land reclamation in the Giraavaru lagoon would be completed by mid-2023 for awarding 2,000 plots of land, he assured.

During the previous weekend, the president campaigned in the northern atolls of Noonu, Baa and his native Lhaviyani. At the main rally in Velidhoo, he sought to allay fears that the MDP would split after the divisive primary, urging supporters to avoid negative campaigning.

At a campaign rally in Dharavandhoo on Monday, Solih reiterated his “electability argument” as the only president to have maintained a ruling coalition. The MDP cannot secure 50% without the backing of smaller parties, he warned, referring to coalition victories in all three multi-party elections since 2008. Nasheed narrowly lost re-election in 2013 because the MDP could not find a coalition partner who could deliver the 2% of votes needed to win the second round run-off, the president observed.

At a press conference on Sunday, Nasheed, who favours the parliamentary system, argued that it is unfair to allocate a disproportionately high number of cabinet seats and political appointments to small coalition parties that are unable to win parliamentary seats. The MDP won a three-quarters majority of parliament by standing alone in 2019, he stressed.

Speaking at a rally in Addu City on Friday (13 January), President Solih criticised the public-private partnerships pursued during Nasheed’s administration to establish a ferry network. “Anyone with a sail boat got an uninhabited island” under the scheme, Solih said, referring to agreements that were cancelled by successive governments. Several companies went on to seek compensation with cases that have yet to be resolved in court. Solih’s administration tasked the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company with establishing a nationwide speedboat ferry network.

In Baa Eydhafushi on Monday, Solih also opposed Nasheed’s proposal to cap the number of taxis that can operate in Malé and to “buy back” surplus vehicles and either re-train redundant drivers or hire them as bus drivers. The policy amounted to government intervention in the private sector, which was against Nasheed’s centre-right ideology, Solih contended, pledging to introduce a long-term payment scheme to buy new taxis.

Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim, MP for Dhagethi and presidential candidate of the Maldives National Party, assured cooperation with the police investigation after liquor bottles were found in a van of his family-owned RCC company.

Tuesday, January 10

A group of international and domestic human rights organisations strongly condemned the “continued obstruction of peaceful protests, and the unjustified arrest of peaceful protestors and media personnel” during nightly demonstrations against the jailing of former president Abdulla Yameen. The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, called on the government to remove restrictions in the freedom of assembly law that require police permission to stage street protests in Malé.

More than 100 protesters have been arrested from the nightly protests since the opposition leader’s conviction in late December. All were released in less than 24 hours but two protesters were remanded in custody for 15 days, according to the opposition spokeswoman. Detainees on Saturday night included Mohamed Samah, CEO of the opposition-aligned Channel 13 TV station. The criminal court imposed a night time curfew on Samah, who was prohibited from leaving home between 6 p.m and 6 a.m for 30 days. Two others were ordered to stay home at night for 60 days.

The police meanwhile came under fire over the arrest of an elderly female protester on Sunday night.

Tuesday, January 10

The infrastructure ministry challenged a right to information request for details about the controversial Ameenee Magu road project in Malé. Ahmed Afrah, an environmental advocate, filed the request in August, but the ministry refused to disclose detailed designs and a copy of the agreement signed with the Road Development Corporation. After considering the reasons cited for keeping the information confidential, the Information Commissioner’s office ordered the ministry in November to comply with the request. But the ministry appealed the order at the High Court.

Amid corruption allegations by the city council, the 10-month, MVR84 million (US$5.4 million) project – which involves developing storm-drainage systems as well as wheelchair access and braille blocks for the disabled – was awarded to the state-owned company in July. Work began on 30 August. RDC has since faced criticism over the uprooting of trees and the slow pace of the work with a section at the eastern end of the thoroughfare closed off to traffic.

The private ADK hospital set up a hyperbaric treatment unit or decompression chamber for divers, becoming the first hospital to offer the service in the country.

Monday, January 9

A massive fire broke out at the Neelanfihaara (second-hand or auction shop) in Malé, spreading to the labour quarters of the city’s council’s foreign employees. The fire was reported at 5:43 a.m. The military’s fire and rescue service together with the airport’s firefighters managed to bring it under control by 8:30 a.m. The 165 Bangladeshis and one Indian who resided in the labour quarters escaped unharmed. according to the army. Temporary accommodation was arranged for them at the unused Covid quarantine facility in Hulhumalé.

Smoke continued to billow out more than 12 hours later as soldiers worked with excavators to clear the site. Scrap metal, wood and fibre were sold at the market. The nearby Imaadudin School, Izzuddin School, Billabong School, and Villa College were closed for the day.

A “major investigation” has been launched into recent fire incidents in Malé and elsewhere, the police chief announced, as a fire forensic expert arrived to assist with the investigation.

Monday, January 9

Sunday, January 8

The police seized 11.26 kgs of cannabis (hashish oil) and arrested four suspects after a search operation at four locations in Malé and one location in Hulhumalé.

Sunday, January 8