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Maldives clerics back president’s VP pick

Clerics said it was a ‘golden opportunity’ for advancing Islamic traditions.



Religious scholars in the Maldives backed the ruling party’s vice president pick Sunday, saying a vote for him was a vote for Islam.

Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives, is the running mate of President Abdulla Yameen in September’s election.

He was previously appointed Islamic minister by former president, Dr Mohamed Waheed, and retained his post when Yameen took office. He is also a founding member of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, which is now part of the Maldives opposition alliance.

His nomination earned the support of some clerics, who said someone like Shaheem could steer the Maldives towards a more peaceful future.

A senior executive from the Islamic ministry, Asadullah Shafi’i Ahmed, called it “a golden opportunity to advance Islamic traditions” and asked people to rally round Yameen and elect him for a second term.

He was speaking at a press conference organised by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives that was attended by 11 clerics, most of whom work for the government.

But Shaheem’s nomination underwhelmed the Adhaalath Party, which did not regard “Yameen’s running mate to be such an important person.”

“Yameen’s running mate announcement does not worry us,” party spokesman Ali Nazeer told the Maldives Independent. “We haven’t noticed any shift from members. We don’t believe anyone other than those few fully behind his (Yameen’s) tyranny will ever support him in this election. We think that’s a 20 percent maximum.

“We’ve seen that a running mate holds no value to [Yameen] and that anything could happen to someone in that position.

“Yameen first came to power in 2013 with a well-renowned scholar who had a PhD in shariah [Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed], but we saw that he was expendable  as soon as Yameen got the ‘religion vote’ needed to win the election,” he added, referring to Ahmed’s eventual impeachment.

– ‘Helping a tyrant’ –

Shaheem was also criticised for accepting the nomination.

“[We] should always prioritise society’s benefits over individual benefits. There would be no benefit to helping a tyrant,” tweeted Dr. Muhammed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, a state-licensed scholar who runs an Islamic question and answer group on the messaging app Viber. He has more than 86,000 followers on Facebook.

“It’s not smart for any good person go to a position that only allows singing praise. [We] should criticise when [we] need to criticise! But being trapped in a position that won’t allow that is dangerous,” tweeted Sheikh Ali Zaid, who added the position of vice president was just a title.

“Islam is the most important pillar of the Maldivian state. Islam isn’t the property of one political ideology. Using religion as a weapon for political reasons is a blow to the foundation of the Maldivian state. Stop it!” tweeted parliamentarian Abdulla Shahid.

Lawmaker Ahmed Mahloof criticised the PPM tactics of holding the press conference.

“Every citizen can question the sincerity of the people who, while already in PPM committees and in government positions supporting Yameen, go on TV and say for the first time they’re supporting Yameen in the name of religious scholars,” he said.