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Maldives government launches media offensive on boat blast

Cabinet ministers and ruling party MPs have launched a media offensive, appearing on some six TV channels every week night. Slick messages extolling President Yameen’s virtues have begun appearing on social media with the hashtag #IStandWithYameen.



Cabinet ministers and ruling party MPs have launched a media offensive stressing that the explosion on the president’s speedboat on September 28 was a “well planned” attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.

Ministers and MPs in pairs have made simultaneous appearances on six of the Maldives’ seven TV channels on Thursday and Sunday night, and are scheduled to do so tonight.

Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhooree Party, a former coalition partner, is joining the campaign tonight. In an interview with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) social media group Asurumaa today, he pledged to defend Yameen’s administration.

“I am ready to do everything necessary to defend this government, to do anything [President Yameen] requests of me,” he said.

Yameen escaped unhurt, but First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim remains hospitalised. Her injuries were first said to be minor, but government officials now say it will take months before she is able to walk again.

Forensic analysis reports of the speedboat by a team of multi-national experts have not been made public yet. Yameen is co-chairing a six-member inquiry commission along with Home Minister Umar Naseer. Three soldiers have been detained, the defence minister has been sacked, a government office has been raided and the homes of two of Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s associates have been searched.

Coverage of the alleged assassination attempt is leading news bulletins on Maldivian TV stations.

On Thursday, ministers and MPs offered first-hand accounts of the explosion for the first time, painting vivid scenes of the ensuing chaos. Asking viewers repeatedly to question the motive for the blast, they stopped short of pointing fingers. The Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) was heavily criticised for negligence, and officials assured that government services are continuing uninterrupted.

“The incident is not receiving the attention it should, the focus is shifting. The Maldivian public will see cabinet ministers and MPs on TV from now on to speak on the incident,” said majority leader MP Ahmed Nihan on state broadcaster TVM.

The TV appearances are the beginning of a campaign to inform the public, he added.

Slick social messages began appearing this weekend extolling Yameen as an energetic and modernising leader. Supporters began using the hashtag #IStandWithYameen.

On Sunday, the tone escalated, with some officials labelling the blast a “terrorist attack” as another MP said it was a coup plot. All vowed to bring perpetrators to justice, while PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla pledged to foil any attempts to impeach Yameen through the parliament. MP Ibrahim Waheed, also of the PPM, went on to cast suspicion on Yameen’s deputy, who is out of the country on official business.

The wide coverage contrasts markedly with the lack of news in the first week following the explosion. The inquiry commission has only held a single press conference, while the arrests and raids have only surfaced by leaks from anonymous sources.

The police and the president’s office have declined to comment on progress. Rumours of imminent raids and arrests kept the residents of Malé City awake this weekend.

The TV channels hosting the speakers are state-owned TVM, privately owned DhiTV, Sangu TV, Channel 13, MP Ahmed Shiyam’s Sun TV and Gasim’s Villa TV. MPs and ministers appear on hour-long talks shows on prime time between 8:00pm and midnight.

On Thursday, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, who was on the speedboat when the blast occurred, said the explosion went off underneath the seat where Yameen usually sits, but the first lady was sitting there when it happened.

She was thrown into the air and fell near the glass doors, Shainee said on Sangu TV.

“If the incident occurred while the president was sitting there, looking at the distance madam was thrown, and factoring in the additional force because of his weight, there is no doubt that he would have lurched much further. We know from physics momentum is linked to mass. If the president had been sitting there, the impact of the blast would have been much more. He would have hit the glass doors, if so, it is likely that he may have been killed,” he added.

The glass door falling off its hinges was a stroke of luck as the people inside could have suffocated, he said, and went on to suggest that the alleged assailants want Yameen to be bedridden.

When asked if the attack came from within the government, Shainee told Haveeru on Thursday that he did not “like to believe that such a thing would have been done,” but said he would accept the findings of the investigation.

The attack was planned to block the fast pace at which Yameen was developing the country, he said on Sangu TV.

“If opponents cannot match our [achievements] I think it’s something you must think about. When you have no other way, then it comes to extreme actions such as this. This is what it looks like to me.”

Officials spoke of their unwavering loyalty to Yameen, saying they have remained by his side, often late into the night, since the blast. Many MPs and officials have cancelled overseas trips.

Criticism levelled at the security forces revolved around the lack of necessary security measures.

Majority leader Nihan spoke of a previous sabotage attempt on Finifenmaa when sugar had been poured into its engine. “To this day, we do not know if an investigation took place,” he said on state TV on Thursday.

The ruling coalition will review pay and resources for the MNDF, he said, adding that “one or two wrongdoers” in the army should not be reason to condemn the entire force.

MP Ibrahim Waheed was more critical on VTV last night. “The security forces have been negligent. The Vice President has been negligent,” he said, arguing that the security forces, the vice president and the defence minister are all responsible for the president’s security.

He ruled out opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s involvement in the attack, and went on to cast suspicion on Adeeb.

“If the president had been killed, I do not believe this attack would have been investigated. That is what the assailants expected, justice must be served without consideration to who did it,” he said.

“A malicious friend is more dangerous than a known enemy.”

Adeeb has denied speculation of his involvement.

Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim, meanwhile, said if he were the defence minister he would have resigned in the wake of the explosion. Moosa Ali Jaleel, who held the post, was sacked last week. His dismissal was announced on Twitter at midnight.

PPM PM Abdul Raheem Abdulla, pledging to “humiliate” any party that seeks to impeach the president at this juncture, said: “We are not just talking about the 40 PPM MPs. The Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) remains with us, as well as JP.”

MDA MP Ali Mauroof, who was on board the speedboat at the time of the blast, said: “MDA will not allow room for the overthrow of this government or to weaken this government. We are with President Yameen.” The MDA controls some 5 MPs, while JP holds 11 seats.

Others who have appeared on TV are Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz, Health Minister Iruthisham Adam, Youth Minister Ahmed Zuhoor, Attorney General Mohamed Anil and Islamic Minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad. The MPs include PPM’s Abdulla Shinan, Mohamed Ameeth, Ibrahim Didi and Hassan Mufeed Abdul Gadir.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad will appear alongside Gasim on VTV tonight.