The Progressive Party of the Maldives has been accused of coercing employees of state-owned enterprises to sign up during Saturday’s membership drive, which reportedly saw an unprecedented 11,000 people register with the ruling party.
Two employees of the 100 percent state-owned Maldives Ports Limited and State Trading Organisation told the Maldives Independent their managers had threatened to sack them if they did not sign up.
Others, however, said they had signed up voluntarily.
A health worker in Alif Dhaal Atoll said she joined the PPM in the hopes that her husband would get a job at the island powerhouse.
Meanwhile, a woman who was promised a flat in Malé under a housing scheme launched by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, said ruling party lawmakers have urged the flat winners to sign up to the party to secure their flats.
The allegations of coercion have prompted the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party to request the anti-graft watchdog to launch a probe, while the Maumoon Abdul Gayoom faction of the PPM have condemned the alleged compulsion as unconstitutional.
The PPM has denied any wrongdoing, with majority leader Ahmed Nihan saying heads of state-owned enterprises are not prohibited by law from canvassing for support.
Many government employees the Maldives Independent reached out to were afraid to speak, and the few that agreed to be interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A 30-year-old employee at the state wholesaler, State Trading Organisation, said all STO employees were asked by senior officials to sign up to PPM. “Our manager said that our signatures are needed for the sake of his job and ours. He said he could only keep his job if his staff signed the forms and said that it was how we could keep our jobs too.”
He said the some staff were asking for money in exchange for their signatures, and added that some 1500 staff at STO have signed up.
Expressing concern, he said: “This is unacceptable. I did it for my job, because they might sack me. I need to pay rent and feed my children. There is no benefit for us in signing. It’s all about them.”
The membership drive was organised by the First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim from the Thaajuddeen School in Malé. Pictures show that desks were set up for state-owned enterprises, including the Housing Development Corporation, the state utility Fenaka and the Waste Management Corporation Ltd.
The heads of state-owned companies took to the streets of Malé along with ministers and lawmakers in pink and white t-shirts emblazoned with the words “President Yameen 2018” to sign up members. Days before, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, the PPM deputy leader, declared that the party aimed to increase its membership from 36,000 to 150,000 by the presidential elections in 2018.
At the end of the day, Fenaka, which runs powerhouses on more than 150 of the 188 inhabited islands, declared that it had filled out 2,300 forms. Sun Online quoted Environment Minister Ibrahim Thoriq as saying: “More than 60percent of forms here are from the MDP. God Willing, we will come out again, and god willing we will bring the rest of MDP members to PPM”. Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed hailed the successful membership drive as a victory over the MDP. “These 11,000 forms show that there is no opportunity for them anymore. No opportunity at all,” he was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster.
A worker at the ports company MPL told the Maldives Independent: “Well, we have no choice but to sign right? It’s the ministers who come to us with the forms. When the head of the office comes to the workers, what will happen?”
The workers were also asked to get signatures from others, he said. “And if you get say ten or fifty members, you get a promotion. So those who want promotions are running after others, saying please sign this, sign this.”
The 29-year-old health worker who spoke from Alif Dhaal Atoll said she was told by a PPM official that the chances of her husband getting a job at the powerhouse in her island would improve.
“I did it of my own will,” she said, adding that she did not know if the move would guarantee a job for her husband. Government employees on her island regularly change their political allegiances with the changes in government, she said.
One civil servant at the home ministry said she had not been approached at all, while another, also at the home ministry, said she refused to join when a coordinator had asked her to.
The woman who was promised a flat in Malé said more than 200 flat winners who are now uncertain of moving into their apartments were told by PPM lawmakers to join the party to “give them a reason to give us a flat”.
“But for me that is like selling my soul. People in the group often talk about how the first lady or Yameen is at or will be at a certain event and that we should sign and take forms to them.”
The MDP in a statement said: “This is a dirty act of corruption carried out by the heads of state-owned enterprises at President Abdulla Yameen’s orders.”
The opposition party, previously the largest political party in the country, had half of its members struck off its registry in October after the PPM-dominated parliament voted to retroactively apply a law requiring political party members to submit fingerprint records to the elections commission. The number of members in a party determines the annual grant it receives from the state budget.
The Gayoom faction meanwhile said: “We have received numerous complaints that staff at state-owned companies are being forced to join the PPM in order to keep their jobs. Some current members said they are being forced to sign a second form. This is unconstitutional.”
Some opposition members also noted that scores of MDP card-holding members working at state-owned companies were sacked in 2015 because they had participated in opposition rallies. The employment tribunal later ruled that some of the dismissals were unlawful.
Nihan, the majority leader, said he was not aware of any wrongdoing.
“I have heard such rumours, but they are an attempt to discredit the party,” he said. “I have received text messages asking if I would buy some membership forms, but they are a trap.”
He went on to state that the employees of state-owned enterprises and civil servants are allowed to join political parties. Political appointees, including heads of state-owned enterprises, will do what they can to maintain Yameen’s rule, he said, adding that the MDP had also seen a surge in members during its three-year administration.
He called it “the advantages of incumbency”.