Indian Infrastructure, Misplaced Drugs, Election Date

Friday, January 20

The penultimate week of campaigning for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential primary ended with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker Mohamed Nasheed travelling across the country.

The election is scheduled to take place on Saturday, 28 January.

Roundup of campaign rhetoric and new developments that made headlines during the week:

  • Moosa Siraj, MP for Laamu Fonadhoo, switched allegiances and endorsed President Solih, citing the incumbent’s electability and the wishes of his constituents.
  • Arriving to campaign in Laamu Atoll on Thursday night, Solih expressed confidence of comfortably winning the primary, referring to support witnessed “on every island” visited so far.
  • The president reiterated his main argument that he is the only MDP candidate who can draw the support of unaffiliated or independent voters and members of smaller parties, which would be necessary to secure 50% of the vote.
  • The choice for MDP members was to “return to the streets” or to proceed with a stable government, the president declared in Shaviyani Kanditheemu, a second key argument that he has repeated with reference to the mass arrests, curtailment of rights and silencing of dissent during the previous administration, an implicit warning that Nasheed would lose to an opposition candidate and imperil democracy.
  • Hussain Amr, managing director of the State Trading Organisation, joined Speaker Nasheed on a campaign trip to his native Huvadhu Atoll, becoming the first head of a state-owned enterprise to back the former president.
  • In Gaaf Alif Dhevvadhoo, Nasheed told supporters that he decided to contest because Solih’s “coalition government formula” was detrimental to the public, referring to a sales tax hike that came into force this month. Contrary to Solih’s repeated assertions, the MDP can win the presidential election without coalition partners, Nasheed insisted. The price of maintaining a coalition is relinquishing public assets such as uninhabited islands to party leaders in exchange for their political weight, he contended.
  • Speaking in Kaafu Kaashidhoo earlier in the week, Nasheed blamed the failure to make enough progress on improving the standard of living or income on implementing a coalition manifesto instead of the MDP’s policies. He also criticised the accumulation of debt and the role of state-owned companies in the economy.
  • Campaigning in the northern atolls, President Solih hit back at Nasheed’s criticism over the ostensibly slow pace of government projects. The administration’s priority has been to establish sewerage and water systems on all inhabited islands, and most projects will be more than 90% complete before the end of the five-year term in November, he assured. The president argued that he has only had two years to govern as the rest was lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic. More development projects have been carried out in those two years than the past 10 years, he claimed.
  • Speaker Nasheed’s assertion at his weekly press conference that former president Abdulla Yameen was a more capable leader than President Solih was widely covered, raising eyebrows and fuelling speculation about a possible alliance. Nasheed praised the opposition leader as an “intellectual” and “academic” person “with a vision”. The only difference of opinion with Yameen was his “vulgar and xenophobic” anti-India stance, he added.
  • The media later reported on a viral video of Nasheed telling supporters in Kendhikolhudhoo that he would not endorse either the opposition or President Solih if he fails to win the MDP ticket, offering a “100%” guarantee that he would not “stand with the PPM [Progressive Party of Maldives]”.
  • At his campaign’s first major rally in Malé on Friday night – which drew hundreds of people – Solih seized on Nasheed’s remarks about Yameen. “There are things that can’t be done or shouldn’t be done. President Yameen isn’t okay to me. There’s no work to be done with president Yameen,” he said, echoing criticism from other MDP leaders. In her speech, Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi said she feared Nasheed would form a coalition with Yameen.

Friday, January 20

The president inspected progress on housing units under construction in Hulhumalé by the government’s Fahi Dhiriulhun Corporation, which contracted two Indian companies to build 4,000 flats. The president visited two three-bedroom (900 square feet) model apartments or “experience units” built for public viewing.

Construction of 13 towers with 1,600 flats is expected to be completed by August, according to the corporation. The full project includes 32 towers with 16 or 17 storeys to be completed in August 2024.

Solving the densely-packed capital’s housing crisis was a key pledge of the 2018 campaign.

Thursday, January 19

The police searched the home and office of former MP Alhan Fahmy over an alleged Ponzi scheme and confiscated his phone, according to media reports.

Alhan’s King’s Forex Trading is accused of illegally setting up an investment scheme and collecting funds from hundreds of people with the promise of high returns, many of whom lost their investment.

In March last year, the central bank warned of Ponzi schemes where earlier investors are paid with money from new investors.

Thursday, January 19

245 cases were reported to the gender ministry in December, including 19 cases of child sexual abuse and 26 cases of domestic violence.

Wednesday, January 18

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar inaugurated the US$136 million Hanimaadhoo International Airport expansion project, the largest infrastructure development outside of the Greater Malé region.

Financed by a line of credit from the Indian EXIM Bank and contracted to the India-based JMC Projects, the project  involves the construction of a new 2.46km runway and a terminal with the capacity to serve 1.3 million passengers annually. It is expected to be “completed and in operation by 2024.”

President Solih hailed the airport expansion as a “transformational” project that would “increase tourism facilities, including guesthouses and city hotels, drive job creation in the northern atolls, and transform the region into an economic hub.”

An agreement to develop a cold storage complex in Felivaru with Indian assistance was also signed during the ceremony.

On Friday, the tourism ministry announced plans to invite bids to develop three new resorts in the northernmost region, which “needs 8000 tourist beds in coming years for smooth functioning” of the Hanimaadhoo airport.

Wednesday, January 18

After bilateral talks with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar in Noonu Manadhoo, Memoranda of Understanding were exchanged for grant aid of MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) for the “High Impact Community Development Project”, the  development of a sports complex in Gaaf Dhaal Gadhdhoo, and on capacity building to facilitate exchanges and cooperative initiatives between the Maldives National University and Cochin University of Science and Technology. Two sea ambulances were also handed over to the Maldives military. 

The regulatory body Maldives Media Council and NGO Maldives Journalist Association condemned the harassment, intimidation and defamation of Mihaaru journalists on social media.

The newspaper lodged complaints with the police over some of the incidents.

The civil court ordered the Public Service Media corporation to pay MVR9.3 million (US$603,100) to cable TV service provider Medianet.

Medianet sued PSM to recover MVR5 million owed for services rendered in addition to MVR4.2 million incurred as interest for non-payment. The court ordered the state broadcaster to complete the payment within a month.

In September, a High Court judge heavily criticised PSM’s procurement policies in a case where a company sought MVR2.3 million owed for building a police post. The state-funded company cannot seek services “like a man finds someone to pick coconuts from a palm tree in his house,” the judge wrote, noting that four other claims against PSM were pending at the appellate court.

A man from Laamu Kalaidhoo was found guilty of raping a girl and taking nude photos of the victim in January 2018. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison under the 2009 special provisions law on child sexual abuse, which introduced harsher punishments for offenders.

The police chief congratulated the senior sergeant whose “excellent investigative work” led to the conviction.

Tuesday, January 17

Hours after the opposition-majority Malé City Council announced plans to introduce an electric buggy service in Vilimalé in early February, the government-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company announced the start of an electric bus service on Friday (20 January).

Fuel-powered vehicles are banned in Vilimalé, a small island near Malé that is an administrative ward of the capital.

Citing public complaints over unreliability, the city council in August cancelled its agreement with a private company that operated buggy taxis in Vilimalé. Ten buggies purchased by the council is due to arrive later this month.

Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu condemned the MTCC’s bus service announcement as an “uncivilised act by the government that is alien to the decentralisation system.” Complaints were filed with the police and Local Government Authority after MTCC – which also operates ferries between Malé and the suburb island – transported six 11-seater buses to Vilimalé on Wednesday night without the council’s approval.

Tuesday, January 17

The opposition will not accept this year’s presidential election as free and fair if former president Abdulla Yameen’s name is not on the ballot, spokeswoman Heena Waleed told the press.

The opposition leader is ineligible to contest due to his conviction and 11-year imprisonment on bribery and money laundering charges. But the opposition is holding out hope that the verdict would be overturned on appeal, refusing to entertain any notions about fielding an alternative candidate, and continuing nightly protests calling for Yameen’s release.

The Progressive Congress Coalition is planning to hold a conference in Malé from 2 to 4 February with 1,500 participants from across the country. It will be part of Yameen’s re-election campaign, Heena Waleed said.

The coalition’s senior leadership met with Yameen in Maafushi prison on Wednesday and reported that he was in high spirits. A delegation also travelled to Sri Lanka to meet with ambassadors from the European Union and the High Commissioner of Australia. The diplomats were briefed on the “fabricated charges and unlawful incarceration” of the opposition leader.

Customs flatly denied media reports about 46kg of drugs that went missing after it was seized at the Velana International Airport.

Customs officials discovered 30kg of drugs in the luggage of a Pakistani man who arrived earlier this month, according to Mihaaru. But the suspect was handed over to the police without the luggage. In the second case, 16kg was found in the luggage of a man who arrived on Monday but both the suspect and the drugs went missing.

The police later told the media that a search was underway for the missing 30kg luggage. It has not been identified through security camera footage and there were no surveillance cameras in key spots at the airport, according to the police. The suspect, who claimed to be unaware of who had taken his luggage, was released due to lack of evidence to keep him detained.

But customs assured the public that confiscated drugs have never gone missing under its watch.

Monday, January 16

Six agreements between the Maldives and Cambodia were exchanged during the maiden official visit of Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen.

Agreements were signed for mutual visa exemption and economic cooperation along with Memoranda of Understanding on bilateral consultations and cooperation on health, tourism and commerce.

A joint communique was issued after official talks at the president’s office.

The prime minister shared photos of his resort experience during the trip.

Monday, January 16

The Islamic ministry started publishing English translations of the Friday prayer sermon.

The National Centre for the Arts announced the reopening of the National Art Gallery in Malé on 15 February, inviting applications for leasing the space for events and art exhibitions.

The announcement came a day after the Maldives Artist Community expressed concern about the gallery’s extended closure for repair and renovation.

Sunday, January 15

The presidential election is scheduled to take place on 9 September, the Elections Commission announced. If none of the candidates secure above 50% of the vote, a run-off between the first and second placed candidates will be held on 30 September.

The number of eligible voters will be about 280,000, including 21,000 new voters who turned 18 years of age after the last election in 2018.

The voters’ list will be made public on 2 May and finalised after complaints on 2 June. The deadline for filing candidacy papers is 3 August.

Sunday, January 15

The Environment Protection Agency fined the Shaviyani Feevah island council MVR83,525 (US$5,400) for illegally mining 20 bags worth of sandstone and 25 bags of sand from the beach to develop a children’s playground.

In the previous week, the EPA sought expressions of interest for a large-scale coral restoration project to repair a reef that was damaged by the grounding of a bulk carrier vessel in August 2021.