In a tirade on the People’s Majlis floor yesterday, government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance leader Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam labeled opposition MPs “traitors” and “terrorists” for allegedly calling for a tourism boycott.
Speaking during the budget debate, the resort tycoon accused MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party of continuously campaigning for a tourism boycott since 2004.
“This MDP are the people who called for the boycott of Maldivian tourism, to boycott other Maldivian businesses and for businessman not to come to Maldives,” a visibly furious Shiyam said.
He also asked the parliament to cut state funding for the MDP in next year’s budget.
Shiyam is the owner of the Sun Travels and Tours company, which operates several high-end resorts in the Maldives under the brand Sun Siyam.
He did not comment on any specific component of the budget, but praised it as “exemplary.”
According to MDP MPs, Shiyam continued to scream at them after his 15 minutes of debate time. He then complained that there have been daily cancellations of tourist bookings at his resort because of the alleged boycott call.
Shiyam’s Sun resorts chain has been listed on the Ethical Maldives website, which calls for targeted boycott of resorts owned by individuals who have close associations with the government. Other resorts flagged by the website include properties by Champa Brothers.
President Abdulla Yameen’s declaration of a nationwide state of emergency earlier this month had led to bookings cancellations.
The Maldives has been engulfed in a prolonged political crisis since the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians earlier this year.
The MDP, however, insists it has not called for boycotting tourism, but supported targeted sanctions against state officials responsible for alleged human rights violations.
In the wake of a UN rights panel declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment illegal, the opposition leaders’ high-profile international lawyers launched a campaign to lobby world leaders for travel bans and asset freezes against Maldivian state officials.
The PPM now wants to criminalize calls for boycotts and sanctions – a move resort owners have backed.
European tour operators and industry experts have also expressed concern that persisting bad press, following years of political turmoil, is eroding the Maldives’ attractiveness as a holiday destination.
Earlier this week, ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Mohamed Musthafa accused Shiyam of threatening to confiscate properties and prosecute MPs who did not vote to impeach former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
However, MDA MP Ali Mauroof and PPM Vice President MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla has denied that Shiyam made any threats against MPs, suggesting that has comments may have been taken out of context and misinterpreted.
Shiyam, a close associate of the president, had previously faced trial for alcohol possession. He was, however, acquitted by the criminal court in December 2014.