Former president Mohamed Nasheed on Sunday apologised for remarks made about government jobs for activists after an outcry from members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.
The speaker of parliament stirred controversy by criticising demands for jobs as a reward for facing pepper spray at opposition protests during the previous administration.
“It is needful for people who were pepper sprayed to have some kind of opportunities. But again I find it very shameful talk to say, ‘I did this and that but there’s nothing for me today.’ We don’t want him to remain with nothing,” Nasheed said at the closing ceremony of the MDP’s youth congress on Saturday.
“But it’s up to him to find something, to come out for something. We can’t take the Maldives to full employment by giving everyone government jobs. That can’t be done.”
The Maldives government employs about 32,000 people but Iceland, which has a comparably small population, has only 7,000 civil servants, he noted.
The remarks sparked a backlash on social media as supporters and activists took offence. Many complained about the lack of opportunities for MDP members while officials and independent commissioners appointed during the previous administration remain in office. In particular, several people objected to the recent appointment of a deputy minister of Islamic affairs who actively campaigned for former president Abdulla Yameen.
In the face of widespread outrage, Nasheed contended that his remarks were misconstrued and apologised “if the confusion was caused by the manner of my language.” The former president said his point was that the government could not employ everyone and that jobs should be created sustainably through sound policies.
Following Nasheed’s apology, MDP chairman Hassan Latheef said in a tweet on Monday that he understands the anger over the appointment of Hussain Shareef as deputy minister and tagged president’s office chief of staff Ali Zahir, a leader of the Adhaalath Party, one of four parties in the MDP-led ruling coalition.
In the same speech on Saturday, Nasheed also implied support for decriminalising soft drugs, alleged a conspiracy in the 1990s to hook Maldivians on heroin and suggested that people on two northern islands were “mad” for wanting to build domestic airports at the cost of environmental degradation.
The former president has a history of causing offence with controversial statements. Ahead of April’s parliamentary polls, Nasheed denied calling for the legalising the sale of alcohol on local islands after religious scholars denounced comments he made at a campaign event about developing the guesthouse tourism industry.
In January, Nasheed was accused by prominent scholars of encouraging premarital sex for saying unmarried women should be prescribed contraception or allowed to have a tubectomy to prevent birth out of wedlock.
He later apologised for “misunderstandings” caused by his remarks, which he said was about children born out of wedlock who become vulnerable to drug addiction.