President Abdulla Yameen’s faction of the ruling party has been accused of bribing supporters and coercing state employees to attend a rally on Thursday.
State employees said they were threatened with dismissal and salary reductions for failure to attend the rally, while people who travelled to Malé from the Maldives’ far-flung atolls on flights and boats chartered by the Progressive Party of the Maldives were photographed holding white envelopes containing cash upon their arrival in the capital city.
Most people were reportedly given MVR500 (US$32.4). Some have posted pictures of the envelopes with cash on Twitter.
— ShuAy™ (@shuay10) November 4, 2016
The Yameen faction claims some 12,000 people attended the rally at Malé’s carnival grounds. The high turn out demonstrates public support for Yameen, officials have said.
The rally is the first held by the party since a court stripped former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of his powers as elected leader of the ruling party and installed Yameen, his half-brother, in charge.
The allegations of bribery and coercion have prompted outrage on social media. In response, Abdulla Matheen, state minister for the environment, suggested the MVR500 notes were distributed as financial support for people who came to the rally from the atolls.
Posting a picture of an envelope with a MVR500 note on Twitter, Matheen wrote: “The arrangements for the real rally were good. Steps were taken to make sure those who came from far-flung islands did not go needy.”
Yameen faction officials were not responding to calls for comment at the time of going to press.
MP Abdulla Khaleel, the secretary general of the Yameen faction had denied allegations of coercion at a press conference on Thursday. “No one, whether [employed by] the government or otherwise is being forced to attend the rally. We have not heard of anyone being forced to,” he said.
Queues to enter the carnival area stretched four blocks. Supporters were required to walk through a metal detector to enter the carnival grounds. Army officers carrying rifles and traffic police were on patrol.
Employees of state-owned enterprises were given a sticker with a serial number upon entry. Some who spoke to the Maldives Independent on the condition of anonymity said they were compelled to attend.
— Mohamed Junayd (@mjunayd) November 4, 2016
A 25-year-old employee who works for the state owned utility company STELCO said his superiors had warned of action, including dismissal, for failure to attend the rally.
“We were all asked to come to the office at 7pm for a special dinner. We have to sign in when we go, and that is how they will check if everyone is there. From there we will all go to the rally together,” he said.
While STELCO staff had been ordered to attend previous rallies by the ruling party, the threats were “more heavy handed” this time, he alleged.
Another man who works at the Maldives Ports Limited said the company’s Chief Executive Office Mohamed Junaid “personally asked everyone to attend. He threatened us with dismissal and salary reductions if we didn’t join the rally.
Youth Minister Iruthisham Adam had sent a memo to all employees asking them to attend the “rally about the implementation of the government’s manifesto,” according to a picture of the memo posted online.
The Voice of Free Press, a local news website, also alleged that state resources were used to prepare for the rally. It posted pictures of housing ministry employees levelling and cleaning the grounds on Wednesday.
Yumna Maumoon, daughter of Gayoom, said in a tweet: “We know that the PPM members who came to Malé for the rally is being forced to attend. Have courage. [Things] will get better,” Yumna tweeted.
Aminath Nadira, the vice president of the Gayoom faction, said: “People are being brought from all over Maldives via chartered flights. How was the costs for this met?”
MP Ahmed Mahloof, a former PPM MP who was jailed on controversial charges of obstructing police was also sent an invitation to the rally, a move his wife described as cruelty.