Young people must be free to have fun and live safely, former president Mohamed Nasheed said Monday, as he urged political leaders not to fear a backlash from religious conservatives.
Nasheed recorded a message on SoundCloud that was similar to one issued last month, when he called on people to “make pain your passion.”
He said it had become hard for young people to live in the Maldives and used a fictitious example of a young person who worked, was respected by their family and wanted to “have fun, listen to some music and sometimes even go to the disco and dance.”
“It has become hard for young people to live,” he said. “Every time she goes out to the street more people harass her. More people are trying to alienate her from being a part of Maldivian society. More and more young people are starting to think it is hard to live in the country.”
The Maldivian Democratic Party was working on its manifesto, he said, and one of its aims must be to build an environment that had space for everyone. “Finding a land where girls wearing the hijab and girls who don’t are allowed to live happily and safely,” he said.
Nasheed’s comments were pounced upon by the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, while the pro-government tabloid Vaguthu ran a story with the headline: “Maldivian youth are now denied the right to party – Nasheed.”
A senior PPM figure quoted from the article and tweeted: “What can you say?”
But Nasheed used his audio message to tell politicians to not be afraid of the “irreligious” label.
“It must not be the work of one political party to provide the chance to have fun, entertain and live happily. The political leaders of the Maldives must not step back in fear that any talk of hoping for a life of happiness would be branded ‘irreligious.’
“The life that you want for your own family must be available for all Maldivian families.”
The comments appear to be a pointed reference to the luxurious lives of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s children and the offspring of tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim when they were growing up.
A representative from Nasheed’s office told the Maldives Independent on Tuesday that nothing like that was said or insinuated in the audio message.
— Table for one —
The MDP is in a coalition with Gayoom, Gasim’s Jumhooree Party and the ultra-conservative Adhaalath Party – a party which has previously accused Nasheed and the MDP of being “irreligious” during past election campaigns.
The Jumhooree Party was working on a manifesto, its secretary general Ahmed Sameer confirmed.
“The MDP will make a manifesto too. We are making one as well. But we’ll only decide after everyone comes to the discussion table with what they have. Everyone has the right to collect their own information,” he told the Maldives Independent.
“The thing is, even if a group of people plan to go eat together, one of them might get very hungry and eat on their own,” he added.
The Adhaalath Party also said it would not comment on Nasheed’s disco manifesto plea, but said it believed that everybody must have the chance to enjoy themselves.
“It is often assumed that the Adhaalath Party is all about the spiritual and completely discards material concepts. This is not the case,” Ali Nazeer told Maldives Independent.
Discussions about entertainment opportunities for young people could only be dealt with after attending to other matters, he said
“We must not forget that young people have been forced to leave their jobs because of their religious beliefs.
“As you might remember, immigration staff have been fired because of some uniform codes, many women in teaching have been fired by the civil service,” he said, referring to several immigration officers fired for refusing to trim their beards and teachers fired for wearing the niqab.
All parties in the Maldives are bracing themselves for a tough presidential poll this year.
The opposition alliance has been planning to field a unity candidate, but the matter has yet to be settled with just five months to go before the first round of voting.
The diverse opposition alliance has previously clashed on issues such as taxes, tourism policies and most of all religion.
Main photo: Raajje.mv
This story has been updated.