The 50,000-member strong Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said anti-government protests will “intensify” as the country awaits further action from the Commonwealth, while the government has challenged the motives behind ongoing demonstrations.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad claimed the now opposition MDP, led by former President Mohamed Nasheed, is not interested in democratic processes to ensure early elections, preferring instead to opt for protests the government has labelled “terrorism”.
The Maldives was set a four week deadline by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) on April 16 to address the impartiality of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s independent inquiry commission into the controversial transfer of power, or face “stronger measures”.
President Waheed has already pledged to hold “early” elections by July 2013 – the earliest date permitted, under the constitution, Imad told Minivan News.
Any demands for elections earlier than that date – as requested by international bodies such the Commonwealth and EU– should be achieved through parliament. The MDP presently holds 31 elected members in the 77 seat Majlis chamber, following the recent defection of MDP MP Shifag Mufeed to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).
“I don’t see a reason why [former President Mohamed Nasheed] is demonstrating other than to promote his lunatic point of view. He is encouraging hooliganism and acts of terrorism like burning down buildings,” alleged Imad. “We have given them a date for early elections and that is July 2013. That is the earliest we can do.”
The comments were made after a few thousand MDP supporters conducted demonstrations over the weekend near the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building in Male’. The gathering saw MDP members and supporters holding meetings and criticising the alleged role of mutinous elements in the Maldives’ security forces in bringing President Waheed’s government to power.
Meanwhile, several hundred MDP protesters waving yellow flags mobbed President Waheed’s car during a visit to the island of Kulhudhuffushi over the weekend.
The MDP has alleged that February’s transfer of power, in which Waheed took office after Mohamed Nasheed “resigned” following a mutiny by sections of the police and military, was a “coup d’etat”. The party has since refused to accept the present executive’s legitimacy. This led to the MDP twice boycotting the President’s inaugural speech to parliament, as well as a vote last week to approve Waheed’s cabinet and vice president appointees.
Imad questioned why Nasheed and his supporters were not choosing to take “the gentleman’s option” by pursuing early elections and a constitutional amendment in parliament: “The job could be done right now if [Nasheed] thinks realistically,” he claimed.
“Nasheed himself loves to take the streets and make a nuisance of himself. He believes he defeated Gayoom on his own but he didn’t. Nasheed was hiding in his house while others were out protesting,” Imad said.
He said that rather than protesting, he believed the MDP would have greater success in seeking a vote through the People’s Majlis, where it remains the majority representative.
The MDP presently stands against a government-aligned coalition of rival parties including the PPM and the then-opposition majority party from which in split in 2011, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).
Imad also alleged that Nasheed was a “dictatorial” presence in the MDP and did not care for democratic processes, after the passing last week of two no-confidence motions against the party’s president and vice-president by the MDP’s national council.
Nearly 95 percent of those in attendance voted in support of the no-confidence motions against former MDP President Dr Ibrahim Didi and former Vice-President Alhan Fahmy.
Dr Didi has since submitted an official complaint to the Elections Commission (EC) regarding his ouster by the party, alleging that the decision was not in-line with the party’s registered constitution.
Imad said the party’s of the no-confidence motions reflected badly on Nasheed’s own democratic credentials.
“[Nasheed] is now throwing away elected people in his own party. Clearly an election is not important to him,” Imad said. “ Dr Didi and Mr Alhan are elected members of the party.”
Addressing the MDP gathering outside the MMA building over the weekend, party spokesperson Hamid Adbul Ghafoor told Minivan News that protests were likely to increase in number in the coming weeks.
With two weeks until CMAG’s deadline for the government to review the composition and mandate of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) expires, Ghafoor said that protests were expected to “intensify”.
He added that despite the presence of riot police during Friday’s demonstration, demonstrators were able to peacefully hold meetings.
“We have set a precedent where we can speak to security forces peacefully about our grievances. I believe the administration now understand that we are not trying to attempt a coup against them,” he said. “This is even though we believe that a section of the police force in this country took money and turned mercenary to overthrow Nasheed’s government [on February 7],” he alleged.
Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that a “few incidents” occurred during the demonstration leading to the arrest of six people.
According to local media reports, riot police blocked roads surrounding the MMA gathering. Water cannons and other crowd deterrents were deployed on site, were unused during the demonstration.
Minivan News observed around 4000 people taking part in the demonstration outside the MMA building at the peak of the protest.
Two weeks previously, the party claimed that 10,000 people gathered in Male’ to protest. Another protest last week reportedly consisted of around 6000 people.
MDP Women’s Wing spokesperson Aishath Aniya told Minivan News at the time that interest still remained “strong” among party supporters for protests.
The momentum of the protests had not diminished and the numbers of people taking to the streets were consistent, she claimed.
“I don’t see the numbers of protesters decreasing, though [turnout] does depend on the time and place of demonstrations,” she said. “We would obviously get fewer protesters during school hours.”
Aniya claimed that from her experience, during instances where former President Mohamed Nasheed was in attendance, Large numbers of people were attracted to demonstrations when former President Mohamed Nasheed was in attendance, she observed.
There was, she said, “tremendous pressure” among MDP members to mobilise and demonstrate at events attended by the new president around the country.