Yameen’s Candidacy, Muizzu Backup, Terrorism Financiers

Friday, August 4

The full bench of the Supreme Court heard a legal challenge against the Elections Commission’s rejection of jailed former president Abdulla Yameen’s candidacy.

The electoral body decided that Yameen does not meet the criteria in the constitution, which states that “if a presidential candidate has been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of more than 12 months, three years must have elapsed since his release or pardon.”

But Yameen’s lawyers asked the court to interpret the conviction in the provision as a final judgment after the appeal process is exhausted. Inability to contest would be irrevocable if the conviction is later overturned, they argued. Conversely, if the conviction is upheld after Yameen is elected, his vice president would assume office, lawyer Hamza Latheef said when pressed by Justice Azmirelda Zahir about the candidate serving an 11-year sentence. The Supreme Court could remedy the historical practice of disqualifying opposition candidates and let the public decide, the lawyer suggested.

But the EC’s lawyers and state attorneys argued that Maldivian law does not require finality of judgment for felony disenfranchisement.

After a delayed start around 4:00 p.m. due to a power cut in the area, the Supreme Court conducted the hearing until 11:25 p.m. with breaks for prayer times, hearing arguments and posing questions to lawyers representing Yameen and the EC as well as the Attorney General’s office and the Progressive Party of Maldives. A judgment will be delivered at the earliest after deliberations, Chief Justice Muhthasim Adnan said.

Addressing the court, Yameen decried the “trumped up” bribery and money laundering charges that led to his conviction, and slammed his stalled appeal at the High Court after judges took leave with hearings nearly concluded.

In a surprise move after Malé Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizz was chosen as a backup candidate from the opposition coalition’s People’s National Congress, both Yameen and the PPM – which was granted a third party intervention – petitioned the court to allow the main opposition party to field an alternative candidate if the former president is deemed ineligible. But the EC objected to stretching Monday’s deadline, noting legally mandated periods for electoral processes and campaigning.

PPM MP Ahmed Shiyam told reporters outside the court that Muizzu as the PNC candidate was a “Plan C,” which was echoed by former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – Yameen’s running mate and chief legal counsel – who called it a “worst case scenario.” According to Shiyam, Muizzu was aware of the plan and took a “calculated” decision to become the third option.

Friday, August 4

Thursday, August 3

Malé Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu was chosen as a backup candidate if former president Abdulla Yameen remains barred from contesting September’s presidential election.

Muizzu was selected as the candidate of the People’s National Congress, a sister party in coalition with the main opposition Progressive Party of Maldives.

After the Elections Commission rejected Yameen’s candidacy on the PPM ticket over his 11-year prison sentence, the former president instructed the PPM-PNC’s joint leadership to choose a backup candidate to be fielded by the PNC. Yameen declined repeated requests by the leadership to choose a candidate himself.

In televised proceedings, the 48-member PNC senate voted to choose between Muizzu and Madduvari MP Adam Shareef Umar. Muizzu won narrowly with 25 votes to Shareef’s 23 votes.

After the secret ballot, Muizzu told reporters that if elected his main priority would be Yameen’s release. His candidacy will be withdrawn if the Supreme Court allows Yameen to contest, Muizzu assured, stressing loyalty to the jailed leader.

Faresmaathoda MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef was announced as running mate on Saturday.

Muizzu, who started his political career with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party before switching to the Maldives Development Alliance and ending up in the PPM, served as housing minister during Yameen’s administration.

After signing for the PNC earlier in the day in order to be eligible, Muizzu contested for the party’s ticket despite previously denying any interest. The mayor’s candidacy comes after months of reported infighting in the PPM-PNC between rival factions loyal to Muizzu and other leadership figures.

The PNC was formed in January 2019 in anticipation of an unfavourable ruling in a dispute over the leadership of the PPM between Yameen and his half-brother, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Thursday, August 3

Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim appointed former tourism minister Ali Waheed as his campaign agent for September’s presidential election.

Later in the day, former MPs Ahmed Nazim and Mohamed Shihab joined the JP.

The moves came amid speculation that Qasim might drop out of the presidential race as he has yet to submit candidacy papers. On Tuesday, Qasim asked the JP council to reconsider endorsing President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and remaining in his Maldivian Democratic Party-led coalition. But council members unanimously rejected the proposal.

Wednesday, August 2

More than 7,000 cases of diarrhoea and vomiting were reported in July amid a norovirus outbreak in Malé, up from 3,328 cases in the previous month.

Wednesday, August 2

Campaigning in the northernmost atoll, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih pledged to set up a fund to issue soft loans for guesthouse development.

During the week, the president cut ribbons for completed infrastructure projects in Hanimaadhoo, Utheemu, Muraidhoo, Baarah, Goidhoo, Kanditheemu, Feevah, Feydhoo, Narudhoo, Milandhoo, Funadhoo and Fuvahmulah.

The government’s Fahi Dhiriulhun Corporation contracted India’s Kalpataru Projects International Limited (KPIL) to build 4,000 flats in Hulhumalé.

Some 2,000 housing units is to be built in 37 months under the first phase of the US$165 million project, including “1400 three-bedroom units of 900 square feet and 600 two-bedroom units of 650 square feet.”

Faris Maumoon collected enough signatures to contest in September’s presidential election as an independent candidate.

The leader of the Maldives Reform Movement leader and son of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom decided to run as an independent amid uncertainty over the party’s future. In late May, the Elections Commission decided to dissolve the MRM after it fell below the minimum 3,000-member threshold. But the party cried foul, alleging the fraudulent de-registration of members, and challenged the EC’s decision at the civil court.

Tuesday, August 1

A man was arrested on suspicion of threatening Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla on Twitter with a photo of her son. According to The Democrats MP and presumptive vice presidential candidate, the man stalked her outside her home and her mother’s home. The suspect was taken into custody with an arrest warrant, the police told the media.

On the same day, Malé Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu reported death threats sent to his wife’s phone to the police. The Progressive Party of Maldives condemned the “cowardly and uncivilised” act.

Tuesday, August 1

The Fuvahmulah City Council deferred the introduction of a fee for recreational scuba diving. The council postponed enactment of new rules that were due to come into force in August after protests from dive school operators.

According to the regulations gazetted in June, a 15-day permit was to be issued at a rate of US$200 per person from foreign vessels; US$55 per person for tourists from safari vessels, resorts, dive schools and guesthouses not registered in Fuvahmulah; and US$40 per person for tourists from Fuvahmulah-based dive schools, boats and guesthouses. The proposed fee for locals and work permit holders was US$20 per person. 

The council also prohibited feeding and touching sharks at the island’s famous tiger shark diving spot. The number of divers was to be limited to 35 people at a time. A requirement for Fuvahmulah dive centres to employ 50% local staff was to be introduced.

Monday, July 31

The United States designated 20 Maldivians as “key leaders and financial facilitators” of the terrorist groups Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control decided to sanction 29 companies associated with the alleged IS and al-Qaeda operatives.

Several of the individuals – including leaders of “terrorist-affiliated criminal gangs” and recruiters of Maldivians to fight in Syria – are suspected of involvement in the murders of journalist Ahmed Rilwan and blogger Yameen Rasheed as well as the attempted assassination of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

The Bank of Maldives accounts of one of the sanctioned individuals were frozen later in the week.

The national bank needs the services of American correspondent banks in order to conduct overseas transactions such as remittances and telegraphic or swift transfers. As part of the sanctions, the U.S. could prohibit a “correspondent account or a payable-through account of a foreign financial institution that knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction on behalf of a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”

Maldivian fighters in Syria

Monday, July 31

Of 228 cases reported to the gender ministry in June, 25 cases involved child sexual abuse.

The Maldives Correctional Service denied preventing jailed former president Abdulla Yameen from attending his mother’s funeral. Contrary to the opposition’s claims, Yameen did not request permission to fly to Sri Lanka after his mother, Fathmath Hassan, 86, passed away in the morning.

Sunday, July 30

Four people were arrested as opposition protesters clashed with riot police in Fuvahmulah. Three people were accused of throwing stones at police officers and one person was accused of threatening an officer.

Seven police officers sustained minor injuries, according to the police. Two pickups that played loud music and caused a public nuisance were also towed.

Opposition supporters protested as President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih arrived on a campaign visit. The disturbance reportedly occurred after the police arrested an opposition supporter from a café as the Maldivian Democratic Party’s campaign rally was taking place nearby.

Sunday, July 30

The Maldives and Japan signed agreements for visa exemptions and continuation of scholarship opportunities during Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa’s two-day official visit to the country, which came as part of a push for “greater engagement in the Indian Ocean.” 

Bilateral discussions took place at the foreign ministry earlier in the day.