Parliamentary candidates from a nascent leftwing group are seeking to challenge the parties that dominate Maldivian politics and form the “establishment,” drawing attention to the influence of big businesses and hidden campaign donors.
Navaanavai met the press Tuesday to introduce its two candidates, Fathimath Rishana for the Central Maafannu constituency in the capital and Ahmed Mohamed ‘Forme’ for the Dhaalu Kudahuvadhoo constituency.
Both were endorsed after a thorough vetting process, spokeswoman Fathimath Saaira told reporters.
Rishana also pledged to publish an audit of campaign finances after the April 6 polls.
“This is something no candidate from any party in Maldives has ever done,” she said.
“The excuse parties give not to do this is that it’s not mandated by the law. The law does not forbid it either. So if you have any sincerity, show your finances to the people.”
Financial statements are necessary for voters to understand conflicts of interest, said Rishana, who has a background in disaster management, having worked on the 2004 Tsunami recovery programme and later in the Maldives Red Crescent.
The long-awaited report of the country’s biggest corruption scandal released last week showed how politicians use relatives and front companies for money laundering, she observed.
– Money and politics –
“The biggest problem in Maldives right now is the influence of big businesses and black money in politics. Politicians and parties are deep in the pockets of big businessmen,” said Forme, a human rights defender who previously worked at Transparency Maldives.
He cited the unprecedented theft of US$90 million from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation as evidence of the influence of “black money” on political parties and state institutions.
“This was an organised crime done by big businessmen, political parties and state institutions together. It shows the extent that stolen black money has gone into the pockets of political parties and political leaders,” he continued.
“People currently in the ruling coalition were also very much involved and they even benefitted from it. During the past five years, we saw parliament unable to find out the truth about this, and they wanted to hide it more. What is even more worrying is that MMPRC money is being spent on and by candidates running from these parties. Majlis 19 will not have integrity if this is happening.”
Regardless of the merits of a party’s legislative agenda, “nothing that truly benefits people will happen as long as the people in parliament are businessman and their associates with conflicting interests,” Forme contended.
He criticised President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih for attending the opening of resorts that were leased through the MMPRC and called on the government to take back the islands.
“This is not zero tolerance to corruption,” he said, referring to the new administration’s anti-corruption drive.
– “A higher standard” –
Navaanavai hopes their campaign will push voters to question candidates and parties about their finances.
“Even if we run for just two seats, we are setting a high standard with our campaign. Publishing financial statements and campaign finances. It’s pressure for all constituencies,” Rishana said.
“As long as political parties do not publicise financial statements of candidates and the party’s finances, any talk of cleaning out the parliament or having a zero tolerance to corruption is just that, talk.”
The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party has asked its 86 candidates to submit asset declarations but is yet to make statements public.
The president and his cabinet’s personal finances were disclosed last month, the first time it was done by any administration. But the assets and income of spouses have yet to be made public as pledged in the new government’s 100-day action plan.
Voters must also push candidates and parties to be more transparent, Forme added.
“We urge people to ask their candidates ‘where’s your financial statements? Why are family statements or foreign investments not included in it?’ Now there’s also a lot of talk about cleaning out the Majlis. When you talk about cleaning the Majlis, political parties must tell people who’s funding the parties,” he said, referring to the MDP’s recent campaign slogans.
Campaign finances for last year’s presidential election have not been released, he noted, stressing that the identity of donors and financiers remain hidden from the public.
Navaanavai will not accept money from big businesses and would instead rely on small donations, said spokeswoman Saaira.
The maximum amount an individual could donate is MVR4,440 (US$288).