Cities in the north and south, expansion of midmarket tourism and affordable domestic travel were some of the pledges made by the joint opposition presidential candidate Saturday night.
Speaking on the island of Thulhaadhoo in his first major campaign rally, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ criticised the government’s policy of population consolidation in the “concrete jungle” of the capital Malé.
“Our manifesto says we will develop the Maldives as an island nation. We have stated in the manifesto that we will find ways for people to live with ease on their birth island,” he said.
The pledge comes after President Abdulla Yameen announced plans to provide housing for the entire population in the Greater Malé region.
Ibu pledged to develop “at least two cities like Malé in the north and south of Maldives” and to bring down the cost of domestic air travel, which is currently more expensive than flying to Sri Lanka.
Other pledges included expanding guesthouse tourism throughout the country, tripling the tourism promotion budget, increasing the purchasing price of fish and outlawing foreign fishing vessels in Maldivian territory.
He also pledged to formulate land-use plans to award plots of land from islands like Thulhaadhoo.
While the Maldivian Democratic Party has publicised its ‘blue economy’ manifesto, the joint opposition’s manifesto has yet to be finalised. The ruling party is also yet to unveil its re-election manifesto despite the president’s announcement that it would be “gifted” to the public in mid-June.
Ibu, whose candidacy has been formally accepted by the electoral body, is on a three-day tour of Baa atoll.
Earlier on Saturday, the veteran lawmaker told supporters on Goidhoo island that a coalition government would pursue decentralisation and equitable development without neglecting any region.
The remarks prompted Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz to declare that no ruler has developed the country without discrimination as the incumbent. “‘Equality in governance’ is a trademark of President Yameen,” he tweeted.
Aside from branding the opposition as a threat to the country’s Islamic identity, the central message of Yameen’s re-election bid is his track record on delivering overdue infrastructure and “mega-projects” such as the Malé-Hulhulé bridge and airport expansion.
Ibu went on to accuse the Yameen administration of “organised and planned theft” and recalled the sacking of the former auditor general, who exposed corruption at the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
The embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the MMPRC, mostly from acquisition fees through leasing islands and lagoons, was the biggest graft case in the history of the Maldives.
President Yameen denies any involvement in the scandal, pinning the blame on his jailed former deputy.