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Religion takes centre stage in Maldives election

Hardliners support the incumbent while the religious conservative party backs the opposition.



Religion is once again front and centre ahead of the September 23 presidential election with hardliners supporting the incumbent and the country’s sole religious political party backing the opposition.

The Adhaalath Party was part of a broad coalition that backed President Abdulla Yameen in the 2013 election, during which his frontrunner opponent was accused of pursuing a secularist agenda that posed a threat to the country’s 100 percent Muslim status.

The religious conservative party – which has 6,887 members – is now part of the coalition seeking to replace Yameen with joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu.’

“We have confidence in Ibu. He will accept the guidance of religious scholars. He has done that so far,” Adhaalath Party deputy leader Ali Zahir declared at a rally Saturday night. 

Clerics are now scared to speak truth to power, he added, saying: “Do not be scared. You must only fear your Creator. By God’s will, we will free religious scholars.”

On Monday morning, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, head of Adhaalath’s scholars’ council, endorsed the opposition candidate.

“My support is for the joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and running mate Faisal Naseem. Both of them love Islam, prioritise the public interest and have not displayed traits of self-pride and arrogance. God willing, we will win,” he tweeted.

Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who is serving a 12-year sentence for a terror conviction, earlier this month rejected a presidential pardon offered through his former colleague Dr Mohamed Shaheem.

Shaheem, an Adhaalath founding member, was criticised for accepting an offer to become Yameen’s running mate after having resigned as Islamic minister over Imran’s imprisonment.

At a ceremony for the handover of the ruling party ticket Sunday night, Shaheem suggested that Yameen had rescued Islam from the brink of disappearance from the Maldives, whilst the president said he invited the Islamic university’s chancellor to help revise the education curriculum and “remedy” the apostasy and irreligious behaviour of some Maldivian youth.

This was necessary to keep the Maldives “a homogenous society,” he said.

Yameen’s remarks have been applauded by influential religious NGO Salaf, which praised the inclusion of penalties prescribed by Islamic Sharia in the Maldives penal code.

“Based on guidance from religious scholars – notwithstanding international pressure – President Yameen added a clause 1205 in the penal code to include the Islamic sharia penalties,” Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohamed Ibrahim, the organisation’s chief scholar, tweeted.

On Saturday, Salaf figures celebrated the president’s office order to remove “idolatrous” sculptures from an underwater art gallery in the Fairmont Maldives resort’s lagoon.