A newly launched opposition platform in Maldives held its first rally on July 21, 2016, in the capital Male, despite the government's refusal to give permission.
Thousands turned out for the meeting of the Maldives United Opposition (MUO), where opposition leaders spoke and some exiled leaders joined via teleconference.
A ban on street protests in the capital Male has been in force since a police crackdown on a three-day protest staged by the opposition party Maldivian Democratic Party last November. The police have since blocked several opposition protests and gone after journalists and newspapers covering the protests.
#Maldives @PoliceMv taking down banners announcing opposition rally. Must be to increase space. On the wall. pic.twitter.com/xWYLld7iAR
— Sabra #FreePNasheed (@SabraNoordeen) July 21, 2016
On June 1, 2016, a number of Maldivian opposition parties and prominent political figures launched the MUO platform, calling for the restoration of functional democracy in the Indian Ocean island nation. Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, former vice president of the Maldives who is now living in exile in the United Kingdom, is heading the platform; his deputy is Ali Waheed, the chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party.
Its advisers include heavyweights like Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives who was was also given political asylum in the UK; Sheikh Imran Abdulla, leader of the Adhaalath Party; and Colonel Mohamed Nazim, former defence minister in the present Maldivian government.
The MOU had originally planned to hold its first rally on July 14, but was forced to reschedule July 21 due to bad weather. They had vowed to hold the event despite the housing ministry cancelling their permit at last minute.
Alternative date will be announced soon as tonight's MUO Rally was cancelled due to bad weather. pic.twitter.com/AVRZHAZh1a
— United Opposition (@mvopposition) July 14, 2016
The agenda of the MOU is to remove President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom through legal means and try him for money laundering. The platform also seeks to “protect the rights of 1700 individuals currently under prosecution, investigation and arbitrary arrest”.
President Yameen, the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, became the president in 2013 after defeating Maldivian Democratic Party leader Nasheed in the 2013 presidential elections. Opposition politicians disputed the results.
Nasheed had resigned as president a year earlier on February 7, 2012 amid protests against his government. Participants included a majority of military and police forces. Nasheed later described the events as a coup and said he was forced to step down at gunpoint, although his characterization has been questioned.
In March 2015, Nasheed was convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act of Maldives and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Amnesty International called the trial a “travesty of justice“.
The opposition accuses President Yameen's government of gagging media and criminalizing political disagreement. Last year, parliament sacked Yameen's vice president, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, on accusations of treason after months of disagreements between the two; Jameel Ahmed is now part of MOU.
Yameen has proposed governance reforms that would codify some of this behavior. Maldivian expat blogger Azra Naseem at Dhivehi Sitee called the reforms concerning:
Under the plan for reform, Yameen is making criticism a crime, is removing all opposition through legal and other means, wants to establish a one party system, and will engineer the electoral system or the voting system in such a way that he will remain in power for a long time to come.
Though the MOU rally was eventually held, Member of Parliament Ahmed Mahloof, the spokesperson of MOU, and three others were briefly detained on July 16 while promoting the June 21 rally. Journalist Mohamed Junayd reported:
#Maldives Criminal Court holds the verdict hearing for MP @AhmedMahloof behind closed doors in secrecy for national security reasons.
— Mohamed Junayd (@mjunayd) July 18, 2016
Mahloof didn't seem to let the arrest damper his spirits:
We are free and it's time for Masburi Riha #21July #MavesDhaanan :) pic.twitter.com/TucctxjnRP
— Ahmed Mahloof (@AhmedMahloof) July 16, 2016
Editor's Note: #MavesDhaanan means “I will also go”.
The rally was ignored by many government media outlets, but the political parties involved, private news organizations and citizens all posted to social media:
After May Day last year, huge turnout at an anti-govt demonstration in #Maldives as @mvopposition holds first rally. pic.twitter.com/44cestD72w
— Ali Naafiz (@naafix) July 21, 2016
#HappeningNow#MUO‘s mass rally against govt's tyranny & injustice. 1000's gathered.#Maldives @BBCWorld @CNN @ndtv pic.twitter.com/AymD8X0I01
— Insaaf (@AhmedXamyr) July 21, 2016
Massive opposition gathering in Male’, #Maldives calling to establish a transitional government. pic.twitter.com/MXaxwpvBpt
— RaajjeTV (@Raajje_tv) July 21, 2016
#InthiqaaleeMagahRaajje Jalsa #LivePics near MDP Haruge Sarahahdhu #MUO pic.twitter.com/V4t4HgUXxG
— United Opposition (@mvopposition) July 21, 2016
The Maldives United Opposition's first rally ends with a prayer pic.twitter.com/7TRs3rZbp0
— Maldives Independent (@IndependentMV) July 21, 2016
LIVE on #Periscope: Happening Now: MALDIVES Opposition rally #InthiqaaleeMagahRaajje #MUO Saabahey 💪🏾👏 https://t.co/rToGF66gm9
— Badruddeen (@Badruddeen) July 21, 2016
There are images of the rally uploaded to Facebook too. It remains to be seen how this new platform will affect politics in Maldives in the near future.