The campaign logos used by Dr Waheed (1989) and Anni (1999) to run for parliament
Maverick endorses the presidential candidate of Maldivian Democratic Party – Gaumee Ithihad alliance Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) and his running mate Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Maniku for the presidential election of Maldives.
The pair has demonstrated a commitment to democracy and pluralism and has braved the intimidation and fear tactics of the Gayoom regime for close to two decades. The campaign manifesto put forward by MDP – Ithihad and their pledges to salvage Maldivian people from economic depravation and poverty are appealing to the Maldivian people, as evident from the support the alliance is gaining in various islands and atolls.
Both Anni and Dr Waheed were elected politicians on previous occasions; Waheed was elected as Male’ MP in 1989 and Anni was elected to Male’ seat in parliament ten years later in 1999.
Elections have been milestones in the history of political reform in the Maldives. The parliamentary election of 1989 was marked with a huge mobilization of people to elect Dr Waheed and paved way for the beginning of a reform movement. In 1990 the movement reached its peak with Sangu and Hukuru magazines and intense debates in the parliament. The movement was crushed after reformist MPs were intimidated, critical magazines were shut down, and journalists including Anni were imprisoned.
The parliamentary election of 1999 marked the beginning of another cycle of reform when citizens passionately volunteered to elect Anni for Male’ seat. The following months saw the first attempts to register MDP, the publication of underground newsletter Sandhaanu, and the growth of dissent online. The reform movement was once again crushed after Anni was framed on petty theft charges and Sandhaanu editors were arrested.
The first issue of Maverick was published in this void when the country was looking for another spark to ignite the flame of democracy. That spark came rather surprisingly as an inmate at Maafushi prison was tortured and killed in September 2003 leading to huge riots in the prison and Male’. It was coincidentally another election year.
The work for reform has continued for the last five years and through the sheer determination of democracy activists the movement could not be killed by the regime unlike the previous occasions. However, democracy activists paid a heavy price for this as they were regularly beaten, arrested and tortured. Their sacrifices have given us an amended constitution and paved way for the first multi-party presidential election of the country to be held on 8 October.
In Maverick 5.35 we wrote about the parliamentary elections of 1989, 1994 and 1999 in an article titled “Why the thumbs-up, the cactus and the conch shell couldn’t survive.” It will be an interesting read for anybody wishing to recapture the mood of those elections. The article also recalls the tactics of intimidation deployed by the regime to crush dissent.
The situation has changed remarkably and is now in sharp contrast to the times of those elections. By voting Anni – Waheed, you can change the dynamics of Maldivian politics and bring the people closer to freedom. By making a sound choice on election day, we can have a well-deserved climax for years of hard work, and bring a jubilant end to the last reform cycle that began five years ago.
The article below was published in Maverick 5.35, on 21 January 2005, shortly before the parliamentary election.
Why the thumbs-up, the cactus and the conch shell couldn’t survive
Maverick 5.35, 21 January 2005
“The removal of Mohamed Nasheed is not the first time President Gayyoom has acted against popular Malé Majlis members. In the 1990s, Dr.Mohamed Waheed who now works in the US for UNICEF, and Ahmed Mujuthaba, a prominent Maldivian businessman in the tourist sector, found themselves in orchestrated difficulties when they began to rival Gayyoom in popularity.” Maldivesculture.com
In 1989 Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Maniku, a PhD holder, ran for a seat of Male’, the capital of the Maldives, in the parliamentary election. After completing his education in Majeediyya School of Male’, Dr Waheed went to the American University of Beirut and then to University of Stanford in USA where he completed an International Development Education Programme and obtained an MA. He served the education sector before going abroad again to obtain his PhD in the field of education. Upon returning home Dr Waheed was not awarded a minister’s position as many people expected. Public expectations were high because he was the first PhD from Maldives to return home but it also meant he could be a political challenge to the regime; President Gayyoom had gained popularity as a scholar with renowned qualifications from Al Azhar University of Cairo. When Dr Waheed contested as a parliamentary candidate, it proved the regime’s fears were well-founded.
Campaign logos were introduced in elections in the Maldives for the first time and Dr Waheed adopted the logo of a fist with the thumbs-up. The logo was painted on walls of Male’, t-shirts bearing the logo were distributed, and letters signed by Dr Waheed were sent to every household. Leading the campaign of Dr Waheed was a group of young people who advocated democracy and reform. Soon it became clear that the people of Male’ supported Dr Waheed.
Dr Waheed’s main contender in the election, Ilyas Ibrahim, then Trade Minister and Deputy Minister of Defense, is a brother of the First Lady Nasreena Ibrahim. Ilyas was the second-most-powerful-man in the country at the time. Using his powers he tried to undermine the campaign of Dr Waheed, mobilizing even the police to paint over Dr Waheed’s campaign logos on walls and confiscating campaign materials. Ilyas and his brother Abbas Ibrahim mobilized a group of middle-aged thugs called ‘Binbi Force’ and gave them police protection while they harassed the supporters of Dr Waheed.
Despite all this effort, Dr Waheed won a seat in the election. Along with him were a number of young MPs who advocated reform. They debated in the parliament and questioned government’s policies.
Following the wind of change that was sweeping across the Eastern Europe, President Gayyoom gave a speech in which he encouraged the Maldivian people ‘to come out of the shell’. However, freedom of speech could not thrive; the government could not tolerate the criticism it faced from two magazines Sangu and Hukuru in 1990, and subsequently shut down the magazines. A number of writers and journalists were arrested. By August 1990 the experiment with democracy had been abandoned.
The MPs who were campaigning for reform were harassed, some of them were charged with various offences, and some of them resigned from their posts. Binbi Force was active in harassing the liberal MPs. Dr Waheed also resigned, left the country and got a UN post.
Some of Dr Waheed’s supporters paid a heavy price for their alliance with him.
“Eight of his campaign organizers were arrested on charges of distributing Anti-Government leaflets, and sentenced by the Police Court from 4 to 7 years,” Libertarian Party of the Maldives’ 2001 publication Gayyoom’s Democracy said.
“It is now clear exactly how they were framed, from the person who was used as a tool. Of the people who were initially arrested, one person, Mr.Hamid Fahmy was released without a sentence. On release he was presented with the construction of a room and toilet for him by Mr.Illyas Ibrahim. Mr.Hamid Fahmy said that he was taken to the State Trading Organisation office (Another office of Illyas Ibrahim) and requested by Mr.Illyas to contact Mr.Majeed and dump some leaflets on the road.
Hence he had met Mr.Majeed and discussed this, wrote the leaflets in his own writing and dumped on the streets. He had been wired when he had talked to Majeed. The tape was given to the person who arranged to drama. This proves that the eight people were framed by Mr.Illyas. This is how Mr.Hamid Fahmy narrated the incident to a friend when Mr.Illyas Ibrahim went on his first “exile” to United Kingdom supposed to be without the knowledge of the President,” LPMV’s article explained.
The ‘exile’ that LPMV is refering to is the time Ilyas Ibrahim left the country when he was associated with a major case of corruption in the Fisheries Projects Implementation Department (FPID) of the State Trading Organization. FPID was in charge of exporting canned tuna from the Maldives and it was found out that some of the managers there were embezzling money from the operation.
Millions of dollars were embezzled in this corruption case, and when it became apparent that Ilyas was part of it, he was quietly sent abroad till the crisis was over. Ilyas left Maldives on 9 May 1990 and returned on 6 August 1990. Charges were pressed against Abdul Sathar Ali of Kudaveyomatheege house in Maafannu ward of Male’, who was a Deputy Director of FPID, and Ahmed Ameel Jaleel of Fahivaage house in Galolhu ward of Male’, who was a Manager of the FPID. Ahmed Ameel Jaleel was a nephew of President Gayyoom. The case was investigated by a parliamentary commitee while the free press of 1990 highlighted it. However, the case was delayed and later the charges against the implicated two men were not proved and Court Number 7 ruled in September 1992 that they were not guilty.
Even though LPMV reported that eight supporters of Dr Waheed were convicted by the Police Court for putting leaflets on streets of Male’, according to the information we have so far received, only seven people (not eight) out of the arrested people had ‘admitted’ to the offence. Their trial began at the Police Court on 21 April 1990. The seven people are Abdul Majeed Shameem of Alimaswadhee house in Machangolhi ward of Male’, Adam Ali (Adam Fulhu) of Lilac house in Maafannu ward of Male’, Ali Mohamed Fulhu (Velanbuli Ali Fulhu) of Velanbulige house in Machangolhi ward of Male’, Ibrahim Waheed of Silver Scene house in Machangolhi ward of Male’, Zakariyya Jameel of Naares house in Machangolhi ward of Male’, Ibrahim Rasheed of Thalvaaruge house in Galolhu ward of Male’ and Ahmed Khaleel of Keemiyaage house in Machangolhi ward of Male’.
LPMV said that not long after the sentencing of the men the government was forced to abolish the notorious Police Court due to pressure from the new parliament.
The police also wanted to question Mohamed Zaki of Ahmadhee Abad house in Maafannu ward of Male’ concerning dumping of the leaflets. However, by then he had left the country and he did not heed to the notice to return to the Maldives. The government cancelled Zaki’s passport while he was abroad. Zaki remained in Malaysia for years doing business till his relations with the regime improved. Even though he visited Maldives a couple of times later, Malaysia remained his base of business. Zaki was arrested in January 2002, during a visit to Maldives, for his involvement in the underground email newsletter Sandhaanu. He received a life imprisonment sentence along with two other men, Ahmed Ibrahim Didi and Ibrahim Lutfy. A young woman named Fathimath Nisreen was also sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for her involvement in Sandhaanu, which was very critical of the regime. Lutfy escaped from Maldives police custody in 2003 while he was in Sri Lanka for a medical treatment. He has been granted asylum and currently lives in Europe and publishes Sandhaanu.
Dr Waheed remains a ‘taboo’ figure in the Maldivian politics. In 2001 an interview he gave to a local magazine Adduvas could not be published because the magazine’s backer, Minister of Information Ibrahim Maniku (Samarey) blocked the effort. A subsequent attempt to publish it in Monday Times, an English-language weekly, proved futile when Zahir Hussein, the father of the magazine’s founder Leena Zahir Hussein, did not give his belessing. Zahir Hussein was Minister of Youth and Sports till September 2004 and he is a close friend of President Gayyoom. They were buddies and roommates while studying in Al Azhar University of Cairo. Monday Times was being printed at Loamafaanu Print, a press owned by Zahir Hussein. When Monday Times became too critical of the regime, Gayoom told Zahir Hussein not to print the newspaper anymore. There was no other printing house willing to print it and Monday Times could not be published. After a few months it was closed down by the Ministry of Information.
Following their disappointment regarding how the regime had treated Dr Waheed, the people of Male’ tried to elect a petty door-to-door salesman by the nickname of Ugulhey to the seat vacated by Dr Waheed. However, another drama unfolded in the by-election of July 1992 when Ugulhey was arrested for allegedly bribing a judge and was banished for six months. Sandhaanu claims the charges were false. Sandhaanu says there was no judge to whom Ugulhey gave a bribe.
In 1994 elections two candidates that the people of Male’ favored and supported won the two seats. Even though Minister of Information Ibrahim Maniku (Samarey) contested, he was defeated and came fourth with 1,594 votes. Male’ is the centre of power and the success of candidates who were backed by popular support was very significant. People began believing the notion that as Male’s population was more politically conscious it was not possible for the regime to manipulate election in Male’ as it does extensively in the atolls.
Abdullah Kamaludheen, who came first in the election with 4,845 votes, was first elected to the parliament in the by-election held after Dr Waheed’s resignation. He was a minister then, but by the time of 1994 election he had been sacked from cabinet for his alliance with Ilyas Ibrahim’s unsuccessful attempt to come to power in 1993. Kamaludheen promised many reforms during his campaign. None of the promises were kept and later Kamaludheen would betray the people and accept a post in Cabinet, in strict contrast to the ideal of separation of powers he advocated in his campaign.
Ahmed Mujuthaba came second in the election with 4,666 votes. A former minister who had held numerous senior posts in the government, Mujuthaba had resigned after he received pension. Mujuthaba began his career in the government as an English Secretary in Telecommunications Department on 12 March 1970. He received the position of Minister of Transport and Shipping on 11 November 1982. Mujuthaba was in three government posts – Minister of Trade and Industries, Director of Maldives National Ship Management Ltd, and in-charge of State Trading Organization – when he handed over his resignation for personal reasons. President Gayoom accepted his resignation on 14 March 1991.
Mujuthaba also promised many reforms during his campaign. One of his slogans was ‘Mujuthaba ah Ithubaaru, Thiyabeyfulhunnah Ithuru Baaru’ which roughly translates as Trust Mujuthaba and you (people) will receive more powers. As a campaign symbol Mujuthaba used a cactus.
However, even the cactus could not survive in the harsh political climate of the Maldives. Sandhaanu says Mujuthaba was also harassed by the regime as it had intimidated Dr Waheed. Only one year into his parliamentary career, he resigned from the seat he had won after contesting with twenty-two candidates.
In an interview to Monday Times (15th issue – 12 March 2001) Mujuthaba gave some explanation.
“At that time the rules of the parliament required one to give a reason for resigning. So the reason I gave was: “my conscience did not permit me to be in the parliament at that time, because I was not effective.” I sent several bills but not one got passed”.
“So I was either not effective, or I was out of tune with the rest of the elected members,” he told Monday Times. “If I try to achieve something and if I do not achieve a headway then my position is that I should not waste time on that. When I was there I worked very hard, but when I could not produce results..”
“As I told you, I’m really not a politician. I’m a technocrat. Technocrats don’t mind quitting when they can’t make headway; but the politicians somehow cling on in the hope that someday something is going to happen”, Mujuthaba explained.
After Mujuthaba resigned, a by-election was held. The people of Male’ showed little enthusiasm in this by-election. Few people turned out for voting. Minister of Construction and Public Works Umar Zahir was elected. Mohamed Haleem, who was seen as the people’s candidate, did not put up a strong campaign. The people were too fed up to participate in the process. Nevertheless, Haleem also got votes almost equal to Umar Zahir.
In 1999 the people of Male’ witnessed an exciting election again. Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), a journalist who had been imprisoned on several occasions for criticizing the regime, was running for a seat. Nasheed’s election symbol was a conch shell named Sangu in Maldivian language. Having a Sangu as the campaign logo was significant and nostalgic. Nasheed was one of the young journalists whose outspoken criticism in a magazine called Sangu led to immense popularity of the magazine in 1990. People queued at bookstores to get a copy. Finally the government shut down the magazine.
A number of people, mostly young people, joined Nasheed’s campaign. The campaign logo was painted on walls while banners bearing the logo were hung from public buildings. The regime tried to undermine the campaign but soon it realized that Nasheed had gained too much popularity. On the election day a large number of people went to vote as if motivated by a slogan Nasheed’s supporters were using, ‘Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your rights’. Even though not everybody could identify with the message relayed by Bob Marley in his famous song, the slogan itself was self-explanatory. After a long time of disillusion with politics people had come out of their isolation and there was a sense of participation.
When there was a delay in announcing the results for Male’, hundreds of people gathered near Dharubaaruge where the counting was going on. When the results were announced the campaign centre of Nasheed was flooded with supporters who cheered. Nasheed came second while Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Ilyas Ibrahim came first. Although there were reasons to suspect that a fraud had occurred to reduce the number of votes Nasheed had actually received, the fact that he won one of the two seats led to celebrations. Even Ilyas Ibrahim came to congratulate Nasheed.
Nasheed’s era in parliament was historical. He secured a room from the parliament building to meet with the people of his constituency and announced this in the newspapers. A number of bills advocating reform was proposed by Nasheed. The bills received only mild interest from the members most of whom were government puppets. In 1989 in addition to Dr Waheed a number of young MPs who favored reform were elected and they held free discussions in the parliament. However, the parliament that was elected in 1999 lacked such people. Nasheed was leading almost a solitary campaign. For some bills that Nasheed proposed, only Thaa Atoll Member Hassan Afeef, a liberal MP from 1990 period who managed to survive in the parliament, supported.
Despite the fate that the bills he proposed met, Nasheed was pressing ahead for change. Always witty and daring, Nasheed even used to ask tricky questions to ministers and sometimes to the Speaker Abdulla Hameed. The Speaker, a brother of President Gayyoom, began to get irritated with Nasheed.
The bills proposed by Nasheed aroused the public interest and several people visited the Chamber to hear the sessions of the parliament.
Nasheed’s victory strengthened his group of supporters. They started a new campaign to form a political party in the country. Nasheed played a crucial role in the preparations. Businessmen such as Qasim Ibrahim of the Villa group of companies and Hassan Zahir from Reefside company joined this group although they had supported the notorious and infamous Ilyas Ibrahim during the election campaign of 1999.
Approximately 40 people, including some senior civil servants, signed an application to form a political party. There were talks with Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing and Environment, the ministry which approved the formation of clubs and NGOs and such bodies. There was no law forbidding the formation of political parties even though a party had been formed only once in 1950s. Of course several things, including the electoral process, would have to be changed to accommodate political parties.
President Gayyoom sent the matter to the parliament where the proposal to form a party was effectively killed. The President was very cunning in his move; he could say it was not the government but the elected representatives of the people who rejected the idea.
“People decided it was not the right time yet to have political parties,” Gayyoom said in an article published by Washington Times.
“Maybe it is possible later to have parties, but I do not know. The majority does not want that, but certain people do think that a Western style of democracy may be good. I am not personally against political parties: if Parliament would have decided to have them I would have said yes.” Gayyoom told Washington Times.
Nevertheless, Gayyoom voiced his personal opinion of political parties. “The multi-party system may lead to the division of the country,” he explained to Washington Times.
In a country as autocratic as Maldives and led by a President who dominates everything, it is not hard to imagine on whose orders the parliament would have acted.
While Nasheed and his supporters were making the regime nervous other developments in the Maldives made the political scene very hot indeed. People started receiving an underground email newsletter named Sandhaanu, written in simple and witty language. The police had a hard time tracking down Sandhaanu’s creators. Nasheed was a prime suspect.
7 October 2001 was an unfortunate day for Nasheed. He attended an auction held at Velaanaage, the former residence of Ibrahim Nasir, the second president of the Maldives. It was now state-owned and items in the house were being auctioned off before demolishing the house to build a new office complex there. Nasheed took some items such as a ticket to a cinema, some drawings by the President Nasir’s son while he was a boy. Nasheed was not the only person who took such petty things. Those items were not even for auction and they would have ended in the rubbish bag. Nasheed took the items in front of a number of people including ministers.
Later Nasheed was arrested for stealing government property. Evidence proves he was framed. Even though the regime was under pressure because of Nasheed’s efforts in parliament, it is more likely that he was arrested on suspicion for being involved in Sandhaanu. His computer was taken to the police station. There was no reason why his computer had to be taken if he was being arrested for removing some physical objects from Velaanaage.
Some people also say Nasheed was arrested a few days before he was about to propose a bill regarding questioning of cabinet members in parliament. Surely the regime was on the look out for a way to remove Nasheed from parliament. He was too ‘arrogant’ and daring and would not have succumbed to harassment. He could not be disposed of as Dr Waheed and Mujuthaba.
Nasheed was not provided with legal representation. He was convicted and sentenced to 2 and half years of banishment on 8 November 2001. Nasheed was sent to exile on 5 December 2001 but brought back to Male’ in February 2002 and kept under house arrest. An appeal was made to High Court but on 14 March 2002 the High Court upheld the Criminal Court’s ruling. He was sent to exile again but in June 2002 brought back to Male’ and kept under house arrest. Nasheed was released on 29 August 2002, perhaps because of international pressure. By then he was stripped of his seat in parliament, a new by-election held in April 2002 and Nasheed’s days as an MP was over.
Few people turned out to vote in the by-election held in April 2002 which the former MP Abdulla Kamaludheen won.
Once again an iron curtain was drawn over parliamentary democracy in the Maldives.
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