Primary Dispute, ‘Hope Conference,’ Council Fine

Nasheed and Solih meet at reception for India's Republic Day on Tuesday.

Friday, February 3

Former home minister Umar Naseer launched his campaign for September’s presidential election. Speaking at the function in Malé’s Sultan Park, Naseer appealed for support from members of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives. Running on a religious and nationalist platform under the slogan ‘Towards a New Direction,’ the former PPM deputy leader is the only independent candidate to have formally announced so far.

Some of his key pledges included enforcing the death penalty for drug trafficking, arming police with pistols, downsizing government institutions by 30%, reducing the number of MPs from 87 to 50, creating an atolls ministry and appointing governors to each atoll, introducing mandatory military service of at least one year for school leavers, privatising the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company, exempting small businesses from taxes, and establishing a transhipment port in the north and a free trade port in the south.

Friday, February 3

The opposition Progressive Congress Coalition staged a protest march in Malé calling for the release of jailed former president Abdulla Yameen. The march was part of a three-day conference that began on Thursday night with more than 1,000 participants from across the country. Hundreds of supporters, clad in the party’s magenta pink and waving its flag, joined the walk through the capital’s main thoroughfares.

A man reportedly barged into the march on a motorcycle, hitting some participants. But no one was injured and the police towed his cycle for 15 days.

The ‘Hope Conference’ will include working session on key issues and “serve as the stepping stone” to launch Yameen’s election campaign. 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.

On the first night of the conference at a packed hall in Dharubaaruge, leadership figures reiterated loyalty to Yameen and insisted that he remains the opposition candidate.

Thursday, February 2

An Instagram post by a member of the Employment Tribunal about being forced to return to work two months after giving birth went viral and drew media attention.

“Running back and forth between work and home to make it for his one hour intervals of feeds on certain days, just made no sense and would have been extremely challenging. So the only choice I was left with was bringing my son along with me to work on those days,” she wrote, adding that her requests for an extension of maternity leave had been denied.

After she went to work with her infant on Wednesday, the office issued a memo stating that children could not be brought to work, Sham’aa Ibrahim told Dhauru. But some staff members are allowed to work from home or bring their children, she said.

Shortly after assuming office, the current administration fulfilled a campaign pledge to grant six months of paid maternity leave for female civil servants. Several state-owned enterprises and independent institutions followed suit even if they were not mandated to do so by the employment law. But the seven-member Employment Tribunal – five of whom are women – remains an exception with its two-month leave.

Thursday, February 2

The State Electricity Company has petitioned the High Court to repeal new regulations enacted by the Malé City Council that hiked fees for digging permits by 154%, Managing Director Ahmed Shareef told the press.

But Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu insisted that public works such as laying electricity cables or water pipes would be exempt from the fee, which would only be charged from construction companies.

STELCO has been at loggerheads with the opposition-majority city council. The state-owned utility recently disconnected electricity to some buildings under the council over unpaid bills. But the council says it is owed millions as unpaid rent for leased properties. STELCO claims to have paid all dues.

On Friday, STELCO accused the council of refusing to arrange land to install new transformers in three substations and warned of power cuts in Malé.

After a review by the housing ministry, the Housing Development Corporation published the final list of 1,361 applicants eligible to purchase the Vinares flats built in Hulhumalé. The main criterion was being either a native resident of Malé or a resident who has lived in the capital for 15 years. Husbands and wives who submitted separate applications would only be able to buy one apartment.

After a means-testing process, successful applicants can pay booking fees and select preferred apartments, which they are expected to be able to move into by April. 

Some 1,344 flats were built in ten 13-storey towers under the US$163 million project. The price of the three-bedroom Vinares apartments reportedly range from MVR2.5 million (US$162,100) to MVR2.7 million. 

The Maldives National Party will not form a coalition for September’s election, presidential candidate Mohamed Nazim declared at a rally, in a message aimed at “our rivals”. The former defence minister and MP for Dhagethi expressed confidence of winning as an alternative to the two major parties. Alleging misuse of state resources and undue government influence over the recently-concluded ruling party primary, Nazim vowed to propose changes to electoral laws to ensure a free and fair election.

A tweet by Mariyam Shiuna, Malé City Council’s spokeswoman, that called for changing the government “even through bloodshed” was under investigation by the police. She later deleted the tweet and apologised.

Photo from @kevincosna

Mohamed Faisal, an opposition councillor representing the Feydhoo constituency of Addu City, joined the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.

The defection secured a voting majority of the 13-member Addu City Council for the MDP, whose seven members were previously unable to approve decisions as Mayor Ali Nizar could only cast tie-breaking votes.

Wednesday, February 1

The tourism ministry removed Boahura from a list of islands and lagoons offered for resort development.

The omission came after the proposed leasing of Boahura, an uninhabited island in the lagoon of Meemu Muli, prompted concern from the surfing community over the potential loss of “one of the most precious” surf breaks in the country.

Wednesday, February 1

National carrier Maldivian announced the temporary suspension of flights from Hanimaadhoo to Trivandrum with effect on 1 March. All flights scheduled to operate between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. have been cancelled due to the expansion of the Hanimaadhoo airport, the airline explained.

Tuesday, January 31

The environment ministry signed a contract to establish 6.35 megawatts of solar power on 26 islands in Raa and Baa atolls together with a 7.66 megawatt hour battery energy storage system. Financed by US$18.2 million from the European Investment Bank, the project was awarded to the China-based Sinosoar-Yingli consortium.

The solar panels will save 2.9 million litres of diesel per year or MVR49 million (US$3.1 million) on petroleum imports and reduce carbon emissions by 7,900 tonnes, the environment ministry estimated.

The environment minister hailed the deal as “another milestone” on the path to achieving net zero emissions by 2030.

Tuesday, January 31

The Environment Protection Agency imposed an MVR30.8 million (US$1.9 million) fine on the Addu City Council for cutting down trees from the Hithadhoo island’s shoreline, digging out a pond in the Rujehere area, and mining sand from the beach.

The council illegally cleared a 17,818 square metre area and dug out 1,712 code metres of sand to form a heart-shaped pond, the EPA found after investigating a complaint.

It was the largest fine imposed on a state institution in recent history.

The High Court will overturn former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering conviction and set the opposition leader free in March, his lawyer Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed predicted at a press briefing.

The appeal process would be considerably shorter than the lower court trial with two or three hearings, the former vice president noted, expressing confidence in the merits of the appeal.

The opposition coalition is adamant that Yameen remains its presidential candidate despite his 11-year imprisonment. The deadline for filing candidacy papers to contest in September’s presidential election is 3 August.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih met with Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, owner of the ‘Sun Siyam’ resorts and MP for Dhaalu Meedhoo, the president’s office confirmed to the media, without disclosing further details.

The meeting prompted speculation about the president seeking the resort magnate’s endorsement for his re-election bid. Last year, Siyam, leader of the Maldives Development Alliance, announced his intention to contest in the 2023 presidential election.

The MDA was previously allied with former president Abdulla Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives but chose not to renew its coalition agreement ahead of the 2018 election.

Other parties in the Maldivian Democratic Party-led coalition – the Jumhooree Party, Maldives Reform Movement and Adhaalath Party – have yet to make a decision on fielding candidates or backing the incumbent.

Sports Minister Ahmed Mahloof alleged arson after turf rolls were destroyed in a fire in Haa Dhaal Nolhivaram around 3.30 a.m.

The turf was sent to develop a football pitch on the island. Work on laying the turf was due to begin in three days, according to the minister, who condemned the “deliberate obstruction of the island’s development” as a “regrettable and cowardly act.”

Monday, January 30

Breaking his silence after losing the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential primary on Saturday, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed met with campaign teams in Malé and blamed the removal of 39,000 members from the MDP registry for his defeat.

In a message sent to the MDP’s WhatsApp group earlier in the day, Nasheed conceded that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih might have won by a small margin “even if election fraud is set aside,” according to media reports.

But in lieu of endorsing the incumbent, the former president proposed a plan to bring back the ousted members and register new branches within the MDP under his campaign slogan ‘Fikuregge Dhirun‘ (Revival of an Ideology). The branches should be formed on all inhabited islands with a target of signing up 50,000 members by July, he said, after which a decision would be made on “the best way for the MDP to win the presidential election.” President Solih would not be able to win the election, he contended.

Nasheed’s faction promptly launched a membership recruitment drive. On social media, supporters suggested that an extraordinary congress could be convened “to annul the rigged election” as presidents of the new branches would become delegates.

Contrary to speculation, Nasheed declared that he has no intention of leaving the MDP or forming a new party. Speculation also focused on extracting a pledge from Solih to call a referendum on switching to a parliamentary system in exchange for Nasheed’s endorsement. The latter has long advocated that the presidential system is unsuited to the Maldives.

At a press briefing on Thursday, MDP elections committee chair Ibrahim Waheed said that the party’s statutes allow the formation of branches but prohibit working against the presidential candidate. Committee members downplayed the possibility that Nasheed, a founding member, could be reprimanded or expelled from the party.

Monday, January 30

The judge presiding over former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering trial over the lease of Raa Fuggiri island decided not to recuse himself from the case. The defence filed a motion for recusal based on Judge Ali Nadheem’s representation of Yameen’s vice president Ahmed Adeeb – a key prosecution witness – when he was a lawyer before his appointment to the criminal court bench. The judge ruled there was no conflict of interest as he had not worked as Adheeb’s lawyer during an investigation stage or trial related to the Fuggiri case, according to media reports on Monday’s hearing.

In late December, Yameen was convicted in a separate trial involving the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah. The opposition leader was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Both cases stemmed from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen during his administration. In the Fuggiri case, Yameen is accused of accepting a US$1.1 million bribe to lease the island for resort development. The Sun Construction and Sun Investment companies of resort magnate Ahmed Siyam as well as businessman Ahmed Riza were charged as co-defendants.

At the previous hearing, the prosecution sought the court’s permission to submit revelations from the Pandora Papers as new evidence. The documents leaked in late 2021 exposed Russian and Indian businessmen behind secret resort deals, including a former deputy chief of staff to Vladimir Putin, and a company linked to Avinash Bhosale, one of India’s biggest property developers, which was alleged to have paid a US$1.17 million bribe to then-president Yameen.

The civil court declined to issue a stay order sought by the Noonu Atoll Council to halt the leasing of two islands for resort development.

The council asked for an injunction pending a judgment on its lawsuit against the president’s office. The council contends that the government’s decision to lease the uninhabited islands of Kedhivaru and Dhonaerikadoodhoo contravened the decentralisation law, which requires prior consultation with the atoll council.

But the state argued that a stay order could cause losses as it would infringe on the rights of third parties, and that the council had not made adequate efforts to resolve the dispute through dialogue.

The tourism ministry signed an agreement to lease Kedhivaru on 22 December. The future lease of Dhonaerikadoodhoo as a cross-subsidy was part of an agreement signed with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development in December 2017 to develop and operate the Noonu Maafaru airport.

Sunday, January 29

A tourist was killed after he was run over by a dinghy while snorkelling off Thulusdhoo. The Spanish man, who was staying at a guesthouse on the island with his wife, was snorkelling in the open sea between Thulusdhoo and the nearby Kuda Villingili resort.

The man’s hand was severed and his neck and stomach were cut open, according to reports.

The 45-year-old local man who was operating the dinghy was arrested and placed under house arrest, police told the media.

Sunday, January 29

Protesters on Noonu Kudafari island clashed with the police over a property dispute. Riot police were reportedly dispatched to the island to arrest the council president and others who were alleged to have trespassed on private property. But protesters confronted the police, who left without making any arrests.

The dispute arose between a Kudafari man and Noonu Kendhikolhudhoo MP Ahmed Easa’s Abez Investment over a two-room beach house built on a plot of land leased by the previous council. According to the company, a group of about 30 people that included two members of the new island council forcibly entered the premises, ejected the caretakers and took over the building in early January. Abez filed a complaint with the police over alleged trespassing and property damage. But the local businessman, Mohamed Fahmy, alleged that the land had been fraudulently leased to MP Easa’s company. According to Fahmy, he personally financed the construction of the beach house. Fahmy and the Kudafari council disputes the legality of the agreement that leased the plot of land to Abez Investment, accusing the ruling party lawmaker of “land grabbing”. The land belongs to the people of Kudafari, the protesters chanted.

The gender ministry relocated from Malé to a new government office complex in Hulhumalé.

The six-storey building was developed at a cost of MVR185 million (US$11.9 million) to resolve space constraints and reduce expenditure on rent. The gender ministry was among several government offices based in rented private buildings in the capital.

The transport and civil aviation ministry as well as the higher education ministry are also due to be relocated to the Hulhumalé complex, which has a floor space of 25,000 square feet. The fourth floor of the building was reserved for the new United States embassy, the country’s first resident mission in the Maldives. The office building also has a ground floor parking area, meeting rooms, a seminar hall and a terrace.

Saturday, January 28

After a hard-fought and divisive campaign, polls opened nationwide for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential primary. The ruling party’s members voted to choose between estranged childhood friends President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker Mohamed Nasheed as the MDP’s candidate to contest in September’s presidential election.

Voting was disrupted on some southern islands as Nasheed’s campaign alleged attempts to rig the election. In Gadhdhoo, ballot papers were shredded after a voter was alleged to have used a body camera. Two men from Rathafandhoo – representatives of Nasheed’s campaign – and one man from Thinadhoo were arrested for smashing ballot boxes amid brawls between the rival factions. Heated arguments also broke out at some polling stations in Malé where people who were not on voters’ lists were alleged to have cast ballots. Two men were arrested for throwing away ballots during vote counting at a Lhaviyani Atoll box in Malé. All five were later released.

Provisional results – which remained unchanged when official results were published on Thursday – showed a resounding victory for President Solih, who secured the MDP ticket with 61% (24,566 votes) as Nasheed trailed with 39% (15,641 votes). The turnout was 71% of the party’s 57,255 members.

The candidates ran close – within a few percentage points – in the capital and other population hubs but the incumbent swept smaller islands by large margins. From his native Hinnavaru, Solih won 98% or 553 votes to Nasheed’s 12 votes.

Ministers, lawmakers, and political appointees congratulated the president as local media projected a comfortable win. Celebrating with jubilant supporters in Malé, Solih appealed for unity and declared the “rivalry” was over.

But Nasheed’s supporters alleged widespread fraud, sharing result sheets where total votes exceeded the number of eligible voters. Nasheed did not concede or make any public appearances on Saturday night. The former president’s campaign said in a brief statement that it was “examining the results” and attributed Solih’s apparent landslide to “a few boxes where an extraordinary amount of votes have been cast.”

More than 50 complaints were formally lodged but none were deemed to be serious enough to affect the outcome. The MDP’s election committee told the press on Sunday that the number of voters stated in the disputed sheets was an “estimated” figure. While about 7,000 members were native residents of Malé, the party was unsure whether the other 50,000 members resided in the capital or their home islands, committee chair Ibrahim Waheed explained. The party therefore used a “special formula” based on previous internal elections and re-registration data from the 2021 local council elections to estimate the number of non-native residents of Malé who would vote at polling stations in the capital that were designated for their islands or atolls. In one ballot box where the estimated figure was 117 but 200 people voted, the actual eligible list was 847, Waheed said. “We don’t know how many of those 847 people would vote in Malé,” he added, assuring that there was “no double voting”.

Waheed also accused other parties of trying to create disturbances and incite violence at polling stations, referring to an incident on Feevah where two members of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives pretended to be candidate representatives.

Photo from @dyingregime
Photo from @Simwarr

Saturday, January 28