MDP Ticket, ‘India Out,’ Road Controversy

Friday, February 17

At a well-attended rally in Malé’s carnival area, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was symbolically handed the Maldivian Democratic Party’s ticket for September’s election.

In his speech, the president appealed for unity within the party in spite of differences of opinion. Other leadership figures also turned their fire on the opposition instead of the rival faction.

President Solih defeated Speaker Mohamed Nasheed with 61% of the vote in a contentious primary on 28 January. But the former president alleged fraud and refused to endorse the estranged childhood friend. Nasheed’s faction has since been recruiting members to register new branches within the MDP with a target of signing up 50,000 members by July, after which an extraordinary congress could be convened “to annul the rigged election”.

Earlier in the week, former MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, a Nasheed loyalist, filed a lawsuit to annul the primary. He sought a court order to declare the election invalid on the grounds that it had been held after the removal of 39,000 members.

Friday, February 17

A Japanese woman arrested on suspicion of residing in the Maldives illegally holds a resident visa after marrying a Maldivian, the immigration department revealed.

The woman was taken into police custody on Thursday after videos were posted on social media with accounts of her begging for money on the streets of Malé. According to people who encountered her, she asked for money to buy food and medicine.

Thursday, February 16

At a function held to present National Awards for Public Service, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced plans to develop community centres for the elderly across the country. The centres would “serve as places for pensioners and the elderly to meet and socialise and offer various services ranging from social support and entertainment to wellness and help increase their participation and contributions in societal matters.”

In Malé, the government plans to develop a centre at the old Naadhee plot.

The 86 recipients of this year’s awards included Sabira Waheed and Ismail Rasheed, who served for nearly 50 years.

Thursday, February 16

Infrastructure Minister Mohamed Aslam claimed to have “solved problems” that caused delays in Addu City’s road construction. The minister temporarily relocated to the southernmost atoll on Saturday to oversee work and address public concerns.

The construction of 107 kilometres of roads began in March last year. The project was awarded to India’s Afcons Infrastructure.

On Saturday, some employees of Afcons went on strike in Addu City. Their grievances include alleged non-payment of wages, having to survive on one meal per day, deprivation of insurance, unavailability of medicine after doctor’s consultations, refusal to grant leave, and accommodation in a tin warehouse.

A five-year ‘National Cancer Control Plan’ was launched with technical support from the WHO, laying out steps to combat the rising burden of cancer in the Maldives. Key objectives include scaling up prevention, ensuring early detection, providing affordable treatment, expanding coverage of palliative and supportive care, and establishing a national cancer registry.

While noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death in Maldives, cancer is estimated to account for 40% of premature deaths due to NCD.

“Due to an increase in the aging population, the prevalence of cancer in Maldives is likely to increase in the coming decade as the risk of developing cancer rises with age. This risk can be further exacerbated by unhealthy behaviours and habits. A third of all cancers could be prevented through control of risk factors such as tobacco smoking, chewing of areca nut with or without tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. A further third of cancers could be cured through early detection and prompt and adequate treatment of the disease,” the report observed.

Mohamed Asir Ismail, a 31-year-old man who was reported missing from Malé on 5 February, has been found safe, the police told the media, without disclosing further details. 

He was last seen on the night of 4 February. According to Asir’s family, he left home to go to work at a family-owned shop in Hulhumalé. The police later identified Asir on security camera entering the Velana International Airport’s terminal later that night. But there was no record of him boarding a plane. It is unclear where Asir had been for the nearly two weeks that he was missing.

The judicial watchdog suspended Judge Hassan Saeed for two weeks with pay. When he was chief judge of the family court, Saeed was found to have violated ethical standards by advising the registrar to officiate an out-of-court marriage in contravention of regulations.

After investigating a complaint, the Judicial Service Commission also suspended Fuvahmulah Magistrate Ahmed Akram for seven days. The magistrate had unlawfully amended a judgment summary after the trial ended, the watchdog concluded.

The JSC – a 10-member oversight body for the judiciary – is tasked with investigating complaints against judges and taking disciplinary action.

Wednesday, February 15

Working round-the-clock, the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company completed laying asphalt on the first three segments of the Ameenee Magu thoroughfare in Malé.

MTCC was subcontracted by the Road Development Corporation after work fell behind schedule with a section at the eastern end closed to traffic. The latter state-owned company was unable to lay asphalt because space has not been arranged for its tar machines, according to the state minister for infrastructure. RDC would take over for the remaining 10 segments, he added.

The controversial MVR84 million (US$5.4 million) project – which involves laying 1.7 kilometres of tar and developing storm-drainage systems – was awarded to RDC in July to be completed in 10 months. Work began on 30 August.

Wednesday, February 15

An agreement was signed between the Malé Water and Sewerage Company, Japan’s Hitachi Zosen Corporation, and Renewable Energy Maldives to set up a solar-powered seawater desalination system. If the demonstration project proves a success, the environment minister expressed hope that it could be replicated on other islands “to help achieve our net zero target by 2030.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party’s national council authorised President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to formally enter coalition talks with political party leaders.

A resolution to the effect was adopted with 81 votes in favour and four abstentions. Members of the rival faction loyal to former president Mohamed Nasheed – who had challenged Solih for the MDP ticket but contentiously lost the primary in January – did not attend the meeting.

The unprecedented success in maintaining a diverse ruling coalition was a key plank of President Solih’s primary campaign. The backing of smaller parties would be necessary to win 50% of the vote, he argued, citing coalition victories in all three multi-party elections since 2008.

But the MDP’s coalition partners – Jumhooree Party, Maldives Reform Movement and Adhaalath Party – have yet to make a decision on fielding candidates or backing Solih’s re-election bid.

The Jumhooree Party favours a third run by leader Qasim Ibrahim, unnamed council members told newspaper Mihaaru. A decision is due to be made at the JP congress scheduled for 24 February. Hailed as the “kingmaker”, the business tycoon’s endorsement was pivotal in previous presidential elections. Meetings with JP’s senior leadership are taking place at the Sun Island resort, where Qasim resides.

At a JP press conference on Tuesday, Qasim’s advisor Ilham Ahmed criticised Vice President Faisal Naseem – who had been nominated to be Solih’s running mate by the JP – for publicly endorsing the president prior to an official decision by his party. It would be best for Naseem and Adam Azim – CEO of the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company, who has also publicly backed the incumbent – to quit the JP, Ilham suggested.

The higher education ministry announced 720 new student loans to pursue diplomas, bachelors and masters degrees at Maldivian or foreign institutions. Based on high demand during previous rounds, opportunities for overseas pilot training and medical degrees were increased to 60 and 55 slots respectively. “Top-up loans” were also offered to recipients of previous loan schemes who had been forced to discontinue their studies but wish to resume and to students in the Maldives-based free first degree programme who need additional financial assistance.

The application deadline is 15 March.

The International Aid Campaign in collaboration with local clerics and religious NGOs launched a fundraising campaign to help victims of the devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.

On Friday, fund boxes were placed at mosques across the country. The campaign was dubbed ‘Eh Ummatheh Miee’ (We are One Muslim Community),

Earlier this month, the Maldives Red Crescent collected MVR2.9 million (US$188,000) in donations. The fundraising drive took place from 7 to 14 February after the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched Emergency Appeals for US$216 million.

In an effort to isolate inmates with extremist ideologies from the general prison population, a new high-security wing is under construction at the Maafushi jail, Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla informed parliament. The specialised facility is expected to be completed by mid-2023, he added.

In August last year, Transparency Maldives in collaboration with the home ministry released a study on ‘Prison Radicalisation in the Maldives’ to identify and assess the problem.

The president officially opened a new government office complex built in Hulhumalé. Named after the late Umar Zahir, the six-storey building “features 25,000 square feet of office space on each of its four levels, meeting rooms, seminar rooms, a terrace, and a parking lot for 21 automobiles and 360 motorcycles.”

In late January, the gender ministry was relocated from Malé to the new building. The 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. The fourth floor of the building is reserved for the new United States embassy, the country’s first resident mission in the Maldives. 

Tuesday, February 14

Journalists were invited to work sites for a detailed briefing on the progress of the 6.7km Thilamalé bridge under construction by India’s Afcons Infrastructure.

Funded by loans and grant aid from India, the US$500 million ‘Greater Malé Connectivity Project’ involves building three overwater bridges across deep channels between the capital and its satellite islands of Vilimalé, Thilafushi, and Gulhifalhu. Together with viaducts and on-grade roads, the bridges would also facilitate the relocation of the Malé port to Gulhifalhu and the development of an industrial hub on Thilafushi, two artificial islands created through reclamation of lagoons.

Piling work for pillars is ongoing between Malé and Vilimalé, project manager Mohamed Jinan told reporters. Two of eight pillars on land at the Malé end is now complete, after which the V-shaped pile capping or “superstructure” would be installed on top, he explained. The prefabricated superstructure is under construction at the Afcons work site in Gulhifalhu. Accommodation for the project’s 1,500 workers and most of the machinery are based at the Gulhifalhu site.

Floating platforms are being used for piling in deeper regions of the sea and land reclamation is due to begin at the Vilimalé end, he noted. A total of 50 pillars would be needed between the four islands.

Work is on schedule to complete the bridge up to Gulhifalhu by December, the project manager assured.

Tuesday, February 14

Customs foiled a smuggling attempt by a Latvian man who swallowed several capsules containing drugs. The 50-year-old man arrived from France on a morning flight. He was stopped and searched based on intelligence information.

The police later recovered 127 packets with 1.3kg of drugs.

The president appointed Mohamed Hisan Ali Fahmy as his communications secretary. He previously served as an undersecretary at the president’s office.

The Health Protection Agency announced the rollout of the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine for children between five to 11 years of age.

Aminath Rishfa, an actress who was arrested in a drug raid in November, accused police of leaking intimate photos and videos from her phone after she gave her password to comply with a court order. The police denied the allegations and assured that safeguards were in place at the forensic laboratory to protect evidence.

Monday, February 13

An opposition activist involved in the ‘India Out’ protests was deported from India. Abdul Samad, president of the Hulhumalé branch of the Progressive Party of Maldives, flew to India three days ago with his family to seek medical treatment. Indian immigration officials took him from the Manipal hospital in Bangalore on Saturday and held him incommunicado at an airport office for 18 hours, Samad told Channel 13 upon his return.

On Sunday, the PPM called on the government to find out Samad’s whereabouts and inform his family as they had been unable to contact him. In a brief statement to the media, the Maldives foreign ministry confirmed Samad’s detention by Indian immigration, adding that efforts were underway to clarify the incident with Indian authorities. But the foreign ministry did not provide any further information to the media.

Monday, February 13

MP Abdulla Jabir was authorised to form a party named the Green Party of Maldives. Jabir, MP for Kaashidhoo and resort businessman, was formerly the leader of the inactive Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, which the Elections Commission has decided to dissolve after its membership fell below the minimum 3,000-member threshold. He resigned as DRP leader to form the Green Party.

MPs condemned new rules that allow immigration to deport foreigners caught smuggling drugs.

Earlier this month, a Brazilian woman was sent back after 2.6kg of cocaine was found in her luggage.

MPs from Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s faction of the Maldivian Democratic Party defied a three-line whip to accept a motion without notice to debate the rules. It was submitted by MDP MP Hassan Latheef, who contended that the regulations enacted in January conflicted with provisions in the drug law. Majority Leader Mohamed Aslam had instructed ruling party lawmaker to reject the motion on the grounds that Latheef did not follow the MDP’s parliamentary group procedures on such motions, which sets aside normal business and opens the floor for a debate. Opposition MPs joined MDP MPs in Nasheed’s faction to accept the motion.

The provisions that allow deportation were clearly unconstitutional, asserted Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim, echoing criticism from several other lawmakers.

The Local Government Authority announced the results of the ‘Local Council’s Performance Index for 2021, recognising atoll and island municipal councils with awards for exceptional performance. The top atoll councils were Shaviyani, Dhaalu and Laamu, and the top island councils were Alif Dhaal Bodufolhudhoo, Baa Fehendhoo and Haa Dhaal Thuraakunu.

Councils that topped sub-indexes for effectiveness, partnership, accountability, security and compliance with the decentralisation law were also conferred awards.

Sunday, February 12

Traffic police issued parking violations for motorcycles lined up outside the Velaanage government office building, drawing the public’s ire and reviving debate about the lack of parking space in the overcrowded capital. Each time a sticker is pasted on a motorcycle, the owner is fined MVR250 (US$16). The police did not previously enforce parking rules outside Velaanage.

In the face of criticism, the police defended efforts to “ensure a safe environment” for pedestrians and drivers and to resolve traffic flow difficulties.

While there are parking lots in the area, most zones are completely full during office hours.

Sunday, February 12

Saturday, February 11

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih officially opened the Kudagiri picnic island, an artificial island created through reclamation of a lagoon near Malé. Developing a picnic island for residents of the densely-packed capital – which lacks a natural beach – was a campaign pledge.

The ferry and entrance are free for Maldivians on weekends and public holidays. Bookings have to be made through the website or mobile app. On non-holidays, ferry tickets will be sold for MVR25 (US$1.6) and an entrance fee of MVR50 will be charged on arrival. The island can be reached in 15 minutes by speedboat from Malé or Hulhumalé.

Changing rooms, showers, toilets and barbecue pits are free to use but beach huts and private rooms must be booked and paid for in advance. Kudagiri also has a shop, a mosque, a clinic, a café and restaurant, 40 security cameras and sports facilities.

Two islands traditionally used by Malé residents for picnics, Kuda Bandos and Feydhoo Finolhu, were controversially leased for resort development during previous administrations.

Saturday, February 11

A young man seen selling drugs in a viral video has been arrested, police told the media. The 25-year-old was remanded to 15 days in custody.

The video taken from above showed the man seated on a motorcycle accept MVR100 (US$6.8) notes and hand over rubber packets.