Crunch Time, Campaign Violence, Swell Surges

Friday, August 11

The president hailed the direct connection of the Maldives to an international submarine cable system for the first time at a landing event for the India Asia Express (IAX) Submarine Cable System in Hulhumalé.

The cable system will reduce data costs for internet service providers by 50%, Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail said at the event.

India’s leading mobile operator Reliance Jio was enlisted in February last year to connect the Maldives to the IAX undersea cable. The system, which originates in Mumbai and connects to Singapore, “will provide more than 200Tb/s of capacity at speeds of 100Gb/s” when it comes into service in mid-2024. According to the government, it enables “direct integrations without having to rely on 3rd party hubs” and would help “reduce vulnerabilities at the internet gateway”.

Friday, August 11

Thursday, August 10

In an emotive appeal, former president Abdulla Yameen pleaded with High Court judges for his transfer to house arrest.

The 64-year-old opposition leader asked for compassion in light of his age and health problems. Water exercises prescribed by doctors have not been possible in Maafushi prison, he told judges. Yameen said his medical condition was bad enough for hospitalisation, which he has opted against in order to “spare my family further anxiety and pain.”

Yameen’s lawyers petitioned the High Court for a stay order on the enforcement of a US$5 million fine that was imposed with his 11-year sentence on bribery and money laundering charges. A separate appeal of the conviction remains stalled after judges took leave last month.

Thursday, August 10

Three people were arrested as opposition protesters clashed with riot police ahead of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s campaign visit to Gaaf Alif Villingili. The arrests came after rocks were thrown at police officers as they pushed charging protesters back behind barricades set up at the island’s harbour to block them from supporters gathered to greet the president.

Echoing the Progressive Party of Maldives’ condemnation of “disproportionate force” used against the Villingili protesters, The Democrats accused the president of “abusing his control over the police to harass and intimidate his political opposition” with Specialist Operations officers in riot gear deployed ahead of campaign trips. The new party condemned the alleged abuse of state resources, removal of opposition banners, and beatings in dispersing and locking down protesters. It noted the arrests of Kudahuvadhoo island council members, Ahmed Mauroof and Ismail Farish, for protesting during the president’s visit, the first of whom was arrested from inside his home while speaking with a megaphone.

The president’s spokeswoman blamed the main opposition PPM for the campaign unrest on islands, including the attempt to “forcefully enter the cordoned area” in Villingili and an arson attack on a Maldivian Democratic Party meeting hall in Madaveli.

Photo: Ifraz Ali for Mihaaru

The Fenaka Corporation owes over MVR300 million (US$19.4 million) to 19 private contractors, a lawyer representing the local businesses revealed at a press briefing. The state-owned utility has unpaid bills from over 100 companies, some of which have been pending for one to three years, Mohamed Shahuneem said, noting that cases involving MVR200 million have been filed at the civil court.

A contractor who built the Gemanafushi powerhouse complained of having to downsize his labour force due to Fenaka’s non-payment. Several other companies were awaiting payment for supplies and services.

In April, an opposition lawmaker submitted a motion without notice over MVR2.8 billion (US$181.5 million) owed by Fenaka to various companies. Fenaka’s arrears reportedly include MVR1.8 billion owed to the State Trading Organisation for fuel purchases dating back to 2019. The utility company’s debt now exceeds the value of its assets, according to STO’s former CEO Hussain Amr.

Wednesday, August 9

The Elections Commission assigned ballot numbers to the eight candidates contesting in the 9 September presidential election. At a ceremony held at the election headquarters in Malé, candidates or their agents drew lots in the order in which candidacy papers were submitted to the EC.

  1. Umar Naseer (independent) with running mate Ahmed Saleem.
  2. Hassan Zameel (independent) with running mate Mariyam Aleem
  3. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (Maldivian Democratic Party) with running mate MP Mohamed Aslam
  4. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu (People’s National Congress) with running mate MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef
  5. Qasim Ibrahim (Jumhooree Party) with running mate Dr. Ibrahim Ameen
  6. Ahmed Faris Maumoon (independent) with running mate Dr Abdul Sattar Yoosuf
  7. Ilyas Labeeb (The Democrats) with running mate Hussain Amr
  8. Mohamed Nazim (Maldives National Party) with Dr Ahmed Adeel Naseer

Aside from President Solih, whose application was submitted by campaign agent MP Mohamed Nashiz, the other candidates submitted their forms in person. All the candidacy papers were submitted this week close to Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline and most candidates announced their running mates over the previous weekend.

President Solih chose his Maldivian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group leader and veteran Addu lawmaker over Vice President Faisal Naseem.

Wednesday, August 9

The police warned of scammers using fake social media profiles to pose as forex trading experts, “tricking victims into investing money.”

The authorities also warned of scammers offering flats and tricking victims to create e-SIMs.

Vice President Faisal Naseem opened the country’s first first prosthetic and orthotics laboratory at Hulhumalé Hospital, which offers “advanced medical care to individuals who have lost limbs due to accidents, diseases, or congenital conditions” with prosthetic implants and custom-made orthotic devices.

Launching his manifesto, Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim forgave all student loans issued by the Villa Foundation or in his personal capacity. The Villa Group owner said he has sponsored about 8,000 students through grants, scholarships and loans worth nearly MVR1 billion (US$64.8 million). Of those required to annually repay a portion of the loan, “not a single student needs to pay a cent, regardless of whether I become president or not,” the JP presidential candidate assured, pledging to write off all student debt and offer tuition-free masters degrees if elected. He also pledged a 75% pay rise for judges.

In an interview with Dhauru, Qasim defended his plan as finance minister in 2008 to raise US$28 billion with long-term resort leases of 100 islands.

Tuesday, August 8

A provisional list of successful applicants for flats in a housing scheme for long-term Malé residents was published. Of 20,697 applicants, 15,046 people were deemed eligible. Accounting for joint applications, about 13,000 people would be eligible for the two- and three-bedroom apartments, State Minister Akram Kamalludin explained.

Despite only 4,000 flats currently under construction in Hulhumalé with a further 4,000 units contracted last week, the government pledged to provide housing to all eligible applicants.

As the reason for disqualification in the majority of rejected applications was failure to establish at least 15 years of residency in the capital, ineligible applicants were allowed to resubmit official documents within 15 days. The final list will be published after inspection visits and other verification processes, the housing ministry said.

Tuesday, August 8

Meeting the press after infighting spilled out into the open, the opposition leadership united behind the fraught candidacy of Malé Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu.

Before the press event around 9:30 p.m., a day after the “backup” candidacy was submitted, the leadership remained split over Yameen’s instruction to boycott the election.

The Progressive Congress Coalition’s joint senate “failed a simple test” when Yameen asked whether he was unfairly barred from contesting, MP Ahmed Thoriq said at a rally on Monday night as Yameen loyalist lawmakers refused to endorse Muizzu.

On Sunday, the senate voted against the boycott as a clear majority favoured fielding Muizzu. The vote was taken after heated debate over a purported note from Yameen. The meeting was adjourned as arguments broke out and the police were called to restore order. The proposed boycott was rejected with 67 senators against and 45 senators in favour.

Uncertainty persisted as Yameen asked the senate to reconsider. Shortly after Muizzu submitted his candidacy ahead of the 2 p.m. deadline on the following day, Yameen’s lawyer announced that he has relented and accepted the senate’s decision.

In the show of unity, acting leader Abdul Raheem said the leadership has worked out differences and declared a fresh start to the campaign. Pressed by reporters, MPs downplayed their previous criticism and assured full-throated support for Muizzu and his running mate MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef.

In his remarks, Muizzu pledged to free Yameen, stressed his loyalty to the jailed leader and vowed to continue his legacy. Muizzu said he has pleaded with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to transfer Yameen to house arrest.

At the first campaign rally in Malé on Thursday night, lawmakers praised Muizzu as the best candidate and underlined his role as a key minister in Yameen’s cabinet.

Hugo Yon was sworn in as the first resident United States ambassador to the Maldives.

Maldives Development Alliance vice president Dr Aishath Rafiyya apologised after she came under fire over remarks about stepping on genitals in a campaign speech. The phrase was not used in the obscene sense, she insisted.

Resort magnate Ahmed Siyam’s MDA is backing the incumbent for re-election.

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed drew heads with emphatic calls for former president Abdulla Yameen’s release. At a campaign rally in Fuvahmulah with Democrats presidential candidate Ilyas Labeeb, Nasheed called the opposition leader’s imprisonment “unjust” as he was the only one prosecuted out of more than 270 people implicated in the corruption scandal that occurred during Yameen’s administration.

In a message to opposition Progressive Party of Maldives members, Nasheed vowed to protest and lobby internationally for the freedom of his former political adversary. After declaring his desire for a coalition with the party, Nasheed urged the PPM to ensure that “Democrats won’t have to vote for MDP” in an anticipated second round. The presidential election will be decided in a run-off between the frontrunners if no candidate secures above 50% of the vote.

Democrats candidate Ilyas and running mate Hussain Amr conducted door-to-door campaigning across the country during the week as the party continued to release signature policies.

Maldivian Democratic Party MP Hassan Zareer retracted a statement that identified alleged gangster Ismail Abdulla, known as Gabbarey, as his assailant.

The MP for Mathiveri was assaulted with a hammer at the Habibi Café in Malé shortly after dawn on 1 May. He required treatment for head injuries at the ADK hospital. 

Gabbarey was arrested on charges of attempted murder in late May when he turned himself in after the police announced a search. He was released after a month in custody.

Gabbarey, who has a criminal record for assault and other offences, is the president of the MDP’s Machchangoalhi South branch. 

Monday, August 7

The Maldivian Democratic Party launched its manifesto for President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s second term, releasing social, health and educational policies as the first section, including a child care benefit, support for remote or flexible working, drone transfer of lab samples, student debt relief tied to public service and opening a campus of a world-renowned hospitality school.

Manifesto pledges to address the housing crisis include setting up a special bank to issue loans with interest rates below 6%.

Monday, August 7

Sunday, August 6

The Supreme Court rejected former president Abdulla Yameen’s bid to secure his candidacy for September’s election. The apex court backed the Elections Commission’s stance that Yameen was ineligible to contest due to his 11-year prison sentence on bribery and money laundering.

As the constitution 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,” the provision cannot be interpreted to require a final judgment after the appeal process is exhausted, the full bench ruled unanimously. The court could not alter the framer’s intention to bar persons “accused and convicted of a serious offence” from holding public office, Justice Husnu Suood said in the judgment.

Sunday, August 6

Saturday, August 5

A video of motorcyclists on the Hulhumalé highway swept up by swell waves went viral as unusually high surges caused tidal flooding near the surf point on Male’s eastern waterfront. Several drivers sustained injuries and the Sinamalé bridge was temporarily closed. The ring road was flooded as waves crashed over the seawall, washing up sand and rocks.

According to the Met office, swell waves between six to eight feet hit the capital and other islands during peak tide “combined with local disturbances; wind, ocean current and increase in wave period.”

In a tweet that he later deleted, the Environment Protection Agency’s head blamed “irresponsible development” such as land reclamation without adaptation measures. “More frequent incidences expected at such areas where reclamation reached reef-crest,” he warned.

Saturday, August 5