Saturday, November 16, 2013

Maldives election: Abdulla Yameen wins run-off vote

Abdulla Yameen has won the presidential election run-off vote in the Maldives, according to near-final results.

Mr Yameen had 51.3% of the vote compared with 48.6% for ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, with 98% of ballots counted, the Election Commission said.

Mr Nasheed had won 47% in the first round this month, just short of the 50% needed for outright victory, in an election process mired in controversy.

Mr Yameen is half-brother to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years.

Imad Masood, a spokesman for outgoing President Mohamed Waheed, told Reuters there were "four more boxes yet to be counted, but they won't make any difference to the final results".

There have been months of legal and political wrangling over the election, causing concern among foreign diplomats.

One result was annulled and two votes cancelled by the courts.

Mr Nasheed had been seeking to regain power after he was forced to resign in 2012.


Maldives presidential runoff: Yameen takes initial lead

Former President Mohammed Nasheed with nearly 48.5 per cent of votes was trailing his rival Abdulla Yameen with 51.5 per cent of votes in the controversy-ridden presidential runoff in the Maldives on Saturday, according to initial trends in the media.

With nearly 140 of the total of 475 ballot boxes counted so far, Progressive Party of Maldives leader Mr. Yameen, the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, had bagged 21,573 votes (51.5 per cent) as compared to Maldivian Democratic Party candidate Mr. Nasheed, who got 20,499 (48.5 per cent), the media reported.

Mr. Nasheed, who won the first multi-party elections in 2008 and ended the 30-year autocratic rule of Mr. Gayoom, had resigned under duress in a controversial transfer of power in February 2012 .

The archipelago nation did not hold any mid-term polls as the Constitution does not permit it.

Elections Commission chief Fuwad Thowfeek on Saturday said preliminary results will be announced by midnight while a formal announcement of the final outcome will be made on Sunday.

Mr. Thowfeek told reporters that fewer complaints were received by the Commission during the latest polls.

Voters queued up outside polling stations as voting began at 7.30 a.m. across the Maldives for the second round of the much delayed election to choose a new president amidst a constitutional crisis.

The current polls mark the Maldives’ third attempt to elect a new President since September. The runoff became necessary as none of the candidates could muster over 50 per cent votes in the first round of elections held on November 9, 2013.

In a crucial re-vote on November 9, 2013 Mr. Nasheed bagged 46.4 per cent of the votes, a marginal increase from his previous tally of 45.45 per cent votes in the September 7, 2013 polls that were annulled by the Supreme Court.


Abdulla Yameen Wins Maldives Election Run-off

Abdulla Yameen won the Maldives presidential election run-off on Saturday, the spokesman for the outgoing leader said, beating favorite Mohamed Nasheed in a close-run contest that voters hope will end nearly two years of political turmoil.

The result, yet to be confirmed by the Election Commission, represents a victory for the political old guard that united behind Yameen, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled for 30 years and was deemed a dictator by rights groups.

Imad Masood, spokesman for outgoing president Mohamed Waheed, said Yameen had won more than 51 percent of the vote. “Four more boxes are yet to be counted, but they won't make any difference to the final results,” he told Reuters.


Maldives vote for president after delay

MALE: Voters in the Maldives lined up Saturday in a presidential runoff that comes amid international concerns that the tiny archipelago nation may slip back to strongman rule after long delays in the election.

People were arriving at schools being used as voting stations well before polling started in an election that pits the country's first democratically elected leader and the brother of a longtime autocrat.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in the country's first multiparty polls in 2008, is favored to win after receiving nearly 47 per cent of the vote in the first round on Nov 9.

His failure to get at least 50 per cent for an outright win required a runoff against Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, a brother of 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Yaamin, received 30 per cent of the first-round votes and it courting the support of the third-placed candidate, tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim, who received 23 per cent.

Maldives is under scrutiny after failing to elect a president in three attempts since September and after incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan extended his term in office by six days, purportedly to avoid a constitutional void because the country is past the legal deadline to elect a new president.

Some voters told The Associated Press that they were running out of patience. ''We are fed up with politics. It has slowed our life. There is no business anymore,'' said Abdullah Abeedh, a 25-year-old photographer.

The Supreme Court annulled results of an election conducted Sept 7 because it found that the voters' registry contained fake names and those of dead people.

Police stopped a second attempt at holding the election because all the candidates had not accepted a new voters' list as the court mandated.

The court intervened again to change the runoff election date, which had been set for the day after the Nov 9 election. It also ordered Hassan to continue in office despite the official end of his term on Nov 11.

The European Union warned that the country might slip back to autocratic rule and said it is considering ''appropriate measures'' if Maldives fails to elect a new president Saturday.

It said further delays will be seen as attempts to prevent Maldivians from exercising their democratic rights.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this week that Hassan's decision to stay beyond his term endangered the people's right to elect a new leader and called for the election to be concluded soon.

Maldives has seen much upheaval in the five years since its first multiparty election. There has been conflict between the judiciary, Parliament and the presidency, which often worked in different directions. The judiciary and bureaucracy were often accused of being loyal to Gayoom, the former autocratic ruler.

Nasheed was elected in 2008 but resigned midway through his term last year after weeks of public protests and declining support from the military and police over his decision to detain a senior judge whom he perceived to be biased. He later said he was ousted in a coup but an inquiry commission rejected the allegation.

Maldives is a predominantly Muslim nation of 350,000 people. About 240,000 are eligible to vote Saturday.

Source: AP

Maldives president leaves country on eve of crucial polls

MALE – The president of the Maldives has left the country on the eve of national elections that have been delayed three times, his spokesman said Friday, leaving a leadership void amid a constitutional crisis.

Mohamed Waheed, who took office after a contested transfer of power last February, left for Hong Kong via Singapore on Thursday evening to accompany his wife to a medical appointment, spokesman Masood Imad said.

Presidential elections are to be held Saturday.

“I believe it was an appointment they had for some time that they deemed not necessary to postpone any more,” Imad said, noting Waheed’s wife was suffering an eye problem.

The married father-of-three, who as president commands the country’s armed forces, intended to return in a month and would in any case be stepping down as president after Saturday’s election, he added.

“He doesn’t have to be in Male. He is constantly in touch. There’s no reason for concern,” Imad added, saying that the legislature would be responsible for inaugurating a new leader Sunday.

Pressure has been mounting on the former U.N. official from Western nations and India, with the European Union warning of “appropriate measures” this week if the Indian Ocean islands failed to hold a free vote.

Under the terms of the constitution, Waheed’s term in office officially lapsed last weekend but he said he would remain in power to allow the selection of a replacement.

In a speech announcing his intention to step down on Saturday after 21 months in power, Waheed thanked the people of the Maldives but said his tenure had been “hard and stressful,” according to a statement Friday.

The tourism-dependent country has been gripped by protests and instability since February last year when the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, resigned.

He said he was forced out four years into his term by mutinous security officers acting on the orders of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Waheed, then his vice president.

Both accused men denied the allegations.

A first round of presidential elections was held Sept. 7 that were won with 45 percent of the vote by Nasheed, a pro-democracy campaigner regularly imprisoned during the 30-year rule of Gayoom.

He faced a second-round run-off vote against the former leader’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen, which was scuttled by the Supreme Court. The court upheld a complaint about vote list irregularities.

Two further scheduled elections announced by the Election Commission were prevented.

Nasheed, who has promised to bring the perpetrators of the “coup” against him to justice if elected, will face Yameen in Saturday’s run-off vote.

On Wednesday, the 53-member Commonwealth bloc expelled the Maldives from its disciplinary panel, which has begun investigating the political chaos that could ultimately lead to the country being expelled.

Waheed, who has criticized foreign countries for trying to interfere in the country, shrugged off the attentions of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in an interview later that day.

“CMAG can decide what they want,” he told the local Haveeru newspaper.

Gayoom, speaking at a rally of parties opposed to Nasheed’s return to power, said Thursday that if his half-brother were elected, the Maldives would leave the Commonwealth. He also took aim at regional power India.

“We will maintain good neighborly relations with all countries, but will not allow them to interfere in our internal affairs, particularly in our domestic politics,” he was quoted as saying in a statement from the president’s office.


Voting starts in Maldives run-off presidential polls

People in the Maldives have started voting in a run-off presidential election, amid months of political unrest in the troubled Indian Ocean nation.

According to Elections Commission official Aishath Reema, polling booths across the country opened at 7:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) on Saturday with around 240,000 electorate given eight and a half hours to choose between two candidates.

She added that many people had lined up to vote even before the polling booths opened.

Former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed and his main opponent Abdulla Yameen are competing in the run-off vote.

Nasheed won a first vote on September 7 with 45 percent; however, Maldives’ Supreme Court dismissed the result, upholding a complaint about voter list irregularities.

After another attempt to hold the election was thwarted, a re-run of the first round was held on November 9 and Nasheed secured about 47 percent of the vote, which was still not enough for an outright victory.

On November 10, the Supreme Court postponed the run-off presidential election to November 16.

In a statement on November 14, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU underlines that “neither continuing uncertainty nor a drift towards autocratic rule would be acceptable to the EU and that it is therefore ready to consider appropriate measures should the poll on Saturday not bring the electoral process to a successful conclusion.”

The Maldives has been in chaos since Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically elected president, was toppled in a police-military-opposition coup in February 2012.

Nasheed has alleged that his resignation was in fact a coup at gunpoint, engineered by a clique of police, military and political rivals. His resignation brought thousands of supporters onto the streets across the country.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Commonwealth decides to wait till Saturday on Maldives

Colombo: The Commonwealth on Friday decided to wait till Saturday on how it should deal with Maldives, which has been struggling to elect a new president. Indian officials said the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has given a recommendation to the Summit that the conference wait till Saturdaywhen the rescheduled polls take place.

On Wednesday, the Maldives was expelled from the CMAG, which is investigating the political chaos after repeated court interventions to prevent the country’s presidential elections. The Commonwealth Charter provides for expulsion of members where democratic form of government is not allowed. CMAG expressed “deep disappointment” that the Maldives presidential election process had not concluded prior to the expiry of Mohamed Waheed’s term in office. India too has expressed its disappointment with the postponement of run-off polls till 16 November and said a new President should be sworn in at the earliest. A run-off between Nasheed, who led the first round of the presidential polls on 9 November, and his rival Abdulla Yameen is scheduled for Saturday. The current polls mark the Maldives’ third attempt to elect a new President since September. The first election on 7 September was annulled by the Supreme Court, citing the rigging of voters’ lists, while the Elections Commission’s attempt to hold polls on 19 October was thwarted by police after a Supreme Court ruling. Meanwhile, Waheed has stepped down as President of the Maldives and left the country.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

US warns Maldives president after vote blocked

MALE: The United States stepped up its criticism of the embattled Maldives on Tuesday, warning caretaker president Mohamed Waheed that a decision to remain in office after his mandate expired was endangering democracy.

The US State Department said Waheed's move to continue to govern after his time in office lapsed at midnight Sunday was unprecedented, after the tourism-reliant Indian Ocean nation failed to hold elections for the third time in two months.

"The US government is deeply concerned by President Waheed's unprecedented decision to remain past the legal mandate of his presidency, which ended on November 10," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement issued by the US embassy in Colombo.

"This action has endangered the Maldivian people's right to elect a leader of their choice," she said.
Waheed announced Sunday he would remain in office until a rescheduled run-off vote to elect a president is held on November 16, five days after the constitution mandates that his term should have ended.
The country's Supreme Court postponed Sunday's vote, just hours before it was due to be held, a move slammed by the United States and likely to draw further international criticism.

The court, dominated by judges named during 30 years of autocratic rule by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has blocked three attempts to elect a new leader for the Sunni Muslim nation of 350,000 people.

Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president who was ousted in February last year, is the frontrunner to return to power. He has accused the court and Waheed of deliberately blocking him. He secured nearly 47 percent of the vote in a first-round vote on Saturday, compared with just under 30 percent for his nearest rival Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom.

The United States accused the Supreme Court of "unduly" interfering in the democratic process by postponing the runoff, five years after the island nation introduced multi-party democracy. The political crisis deepened on Monday when the parliament's speaker warned Waheed he had no right to govern past his official mandate under the terms of the constitution.

On Sunday night Waheed vowed he would not step down despite opposition calls for him to go.
"The president assured the public that he will resign on the 16th (after the run-off election) and will not accept any further delays to the elections," Waheed's spokesman Masood Imad told AFP.

Nasheed resigned in February 2012 following demonstrations and a mutiny by security forces which he denounced as a coup engineered by Waheed and former strongman Gayoom.


Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa achieves 'Silver EarthCheck' certification for second year

One of only 6 resorts in the Maldives – and 212 resorts globally – to be certified to the internationally recognised EarthCheck company standards

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa, located in the heart of one of the largest and deepest natural atolls in the world, has achieved Silver EarthCheck Certification for the second consecutive year – making it one of the few resorts worldwide to gain such recognition..

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa was the first property in the Maldives to follow the EarthCheck Planning and Design Standards during construction, which resulted in the resort becoming bronze benchmarked in 2009 by EarthCheck – the world's leading sustainable travel and tourism certification organisation. Following an extensive audit in 2012, the resort reached the programme’s coveted Silver certification, and in 2013 was recognised for a second year, firmly placing the resort as a leader in the unique worldwide group of sustainable tourism operators.

As the Hyatt Group’s first sustainable tourism development, one of the primary objectives was to ensure that the resort was planned, designed and constructed in an environmentally sensitive manner. In addition, it also required that during operation, the resort should take great care to minimise its effect on the environment, enhance the Maldivian experience and to be as energy efficient as possible – a responsibility that the resort still places as a priority today.

Following the EarthCheck assessment in 2013, Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa was highly commended for our use of reusable glass bottles for drinking water, which is bottled onsite reducing plastic bottle waste by approximately 100,000 per year. EarthCheck also identified that the apparent awareness of our staff on environmental initiatives was highly commendable.

Ciara McCarten, Resident Marine Biologist and EarthCheck Coordinator commented: “We are extremely proud to be one of only 6 resorts in the Maldives to have reached this level, and are delighted that our ongoing commitment to the environment has been recognised by EarthCheck. We are aware that we have a big responsibility to continue our growth as a sustainable company, and we will therefore continue to work closely with EarthCheck to maintain and develop our environmental and social responsibility programmes.”

In April 2013, Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa was recognised in the ‘Best Sustainable Hotel’ category at the Asia Pacific Hotel Awards, receiving an international 5* award for their ongoing commitment to the environment. This achievement also follows the latest Hyatt Thrive initiative, the company’s global corporate responsibility platform, which focuses on community development work in the fields of education, the environment and promoting the cultural heritage of southern Maldives.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Maldives court postpones presidential runoff

Maldives' former President and candidate in the presidential elections Mohamed Nasheed, center left, casts his vote in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. After two months of political bickering and repeated failure to hold an election, Maldives voters headed to the polls Saturday to elect a new president for their vulnerable new democracy. (AP Photo/Sinan Hussain)

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The first democratically elected president of the Maldives and the brother of the country's former autocratic ruler have qualified for a runoff, according to results in the island nation's presidential election. But the Supreme Court postponed Sunday's runoff by six days, setting the stage for a constitutional crisis in this tourist paradise nation, which has been buffeted by political turmoil for the past five years.

Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned as president of the Indian Ocean archipelago last year, won nearly 47 percent of the popular vote in Saturday's election, while Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, the brother of 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, trailed with 30 percent. A third candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim, had 23 percent.

A runoff between the top two candidates was required because neither received at least 50 percent of the vote.

The runoff was supposed to be held Sunday, but hours earlier the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a petition filed by a member of Ibrahim's Jumhoory Party who asked for a postponement, arguing there was little time to campaign or forge alliances. The court set the runoff election for Nov. 16 as it was originally scheduled before it was moved up on President Mohamed Waheed Hassan's behest to avoid a constitutional crisis.

Hassan's term ends Monday, and the constitution requires an elected president be in office by that day. The Supreme Court on Saturday reiterated its previous ruling that Hassan will stay in office until a runoff election is held if no clear winner emerged from the first round, ignoring the possibility of a political logjam.

On Sunday, Nasheed demanded Hassan's resignation before his term ends at midnight, which would enable the parliamentary speaker to be caretaker and oversee the runoff. The constitution provides for the speaker to take over powers if both the president and vice president vacate their positions.

The U.S. Embassy in neighboring Sri Lanka expressed concern over the court order and said the Supreme Court's efforts to "repeatedly and unduly interfere in the electoral process subverts Maldives' democracy and takes decision-making out of the hands of the people."

The Maldives, which is known for its luxurious resorts, has faced much upheaval in the five years it has been a multiparty democracy. Society and even families have been divided along party lines, and institutions like the judiciary, public service, armed forces and police have worked in different directions and been accused of political bias. There is fear that continued political turmoil could harm the Maldives' reputation for stability and its economy. The country is heavily reliant on tourism, which contributed 27 percent to the gross domestic product in 2012.

The next president faces huge challenges in building public confidence in government institutions and dealing with pressing issues including high unemployment, increasing drug addiction among young people and improving transportation among the far-off islands.

Gayoom also told reporters late Saturday that he wanted a postponement of the runoff to sort out alleged discrepancies in the voters' list. Nasheed had said the elections were fair.

There is deep mistrust between Nasheed, Hassan and the Supreme Court because the former president believes the other two are under the influence of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom himself.

The integrity of the Supreme Court has been called into question, with the United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, last week accusing it of interfering with the presidential election and subverting the democratic process.

Saturday's elections were the third attempt to elect a president this year. Two previous attempts since September failed with questions over the accuracy of the voters' list prepared by the Elections Commission. The chaos left voters isolated and divided, and their country's new democracy under threat.

Observers had regarded the September election as largely free and fair, but the Supreme Court said it found the voters' register included fake names and those of dead people. Police stopped a second attempt to hold the election last month, claiming all the candidates had not endorsed the voters' list as mandated by the Supreme Court.

Some 240,000 people were eligible to vote in the predominantly Muslim nation, and about 86 percent voted.

Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country's first multiparty election in 2008, ending his 30-year autocratic rule. But Nasheed resigned last year after weeks of public protests and signs of declining support from the military and police after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge he perceived to be biased.

Nasheed claimed that he was ousted in a coup and accused his then-deputy, Hassan, of backing it. An inquiry commission set aside his claim of a coup but the country has since been in political turmoil.

Source: AP

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Maldives to hold fresh presidential poll, uncertainty lingers

By J.J. Robinson

MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives is set to hold a presidential election on Saturday after two recent polls were abruptly aborted, blocking the country's first democratically elected leader from returning to power.

The Indian Ocean island state, famous for luxury holiday resorts and picturesque atolls, has been in political turmoil since February 2012, when Mohamed Nasheed was ousted as president in circumstances his supporters called a coup.

Nasheed became the Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008 when he defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years and was accused by opponents and international rights groups of being a dictator.

Nasheed's main challenger on Saturday will be Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Gayoom. The other main contender is resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, a finance minister under Gayoom.

The international community has issued stark warnings in recent weeks that the Maldives' reputation as a haven for wealthy tourists had been tarnished by the political crisis.

"Through weeks of political bickering and questionable delaying tactics, the Maldives' democracy is now in peril," said U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison.

The United States, Britain, the European Union and India, have urged the Maldives to hold a credible and inclusive election.

Nasheed won a September 7 election declared largely credible by international monitors, although he faced a run-off ballot having failed to garner more than half the votes.

The Supreme Court annulled the election amid allegations of vote rigging, and the police canceled an October 19 poll after Nasheed's rivals failed to sign a voter registry.

Following a meeting with incumbent President Mohamed Waheed on Wednesday, Nasheed's rivals dropped a threat to veto the election and agreed to sign the registry, removing a major obstacle to the vote.

Waheed says he will not remain in power after his term expires on November 11, raising the prospect of a leadership vacuum if the latest bid to hold the vote falters.

The Election Commission said it would hold any run-off on Sunday, if no one gets more than half the vote on Saturday, and announce the winner the same evening.

Some 240,000 people are eligible to vote.


The tension has set state institutions against each other.

The Supreme Court is generally seen as sympathetic to the those loyal to old leader Gayoom, while parliament is dominated by Nasheed's supporters.

The Supreme Court opened hearings against legislators from Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ahead of its planned vote on whether to impeach the attorney general, prosecutor general and defense minister.

Two MDP legislators were convicted and dragged from parliament by security forces last week, while the MDP voted to impeach Attorney General Azima Shukoor, a lawyer for former leader Gayoom prior to her appointment.

Nasheed's rivals say top election commission officials favor his party, and they still have major doubts about the credibility of the election.

Nasheed, who once held a cabinet meeting under water with members wearing scuba gear to highlight the danger of rising sea levels, is equally suspicious of his election rivals.

"There is no way they will participate in peaceful political activities," Nasheed told a rally this week.

Nasheed's removal in 2012 sparked protests by his supporters and a subsequent police crackdown. A Commonwealth-backed commission of inquiry later concluded that his removal did not constitute a coup.

The crisis has hit tourism, a vital source of earnings, and the Maldives has faced fuel shortages because it is unable to pay suppliers on time amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

As well as restoring investor confidence, the new president will also face rising Islamist ideology.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Maldives opens up to backpackers

Most visitors arrive at the Maldives' airport island, take a speed boat or seaplane to their expensive coral-fringed private resort and spend the next week relaxing in blissful ignorance of the country around them.

Most visitors arrive at the Maldives' airport island, take a speed boat or seaplane to their expensive coral-fringed private resort and spend the next week relaxing in blissful ignorance of the country around them.

Most visitors arrive at the country’s airport island, take a speed boat or seaplane to their expensive coral-fringed private resort and spend the next week relaxing in blissful ignorance of the country around them.

It has been this way for decades, the result of a deliberate policy of keeping the wealthy holidaymakers – mostly Westerners and often newly-weds – on uninhabited islands separate from the local Muslim population.

The Islamic Republic applies different laws for both: travellers are free to drink alcohol, eat pork, and for those not on their honeymoon, enjoy pre-marital sex. Elsewhere, Maldivian women can be flogged in public for fornication.

”Since Maldives is a Muslim country, we have always supported the idea that the tourism industry should be separate from the inhabited islands,” says Mauroof Hussain, vice president of the conservative Adhaalath Party.

”If the hippy-type of travellers come, along will come drugs and narcotics which even now our society is suffering from,” says Mauroof whose party has been a minority partner in successive governments since 2008.

While the archipelago is still far from the hippy trail, the sight of backpackers wandering around Male and the nearby island of Maafushi is growing thanks to a new policy to attract budget travellers.

”Things like nudity are not acceptable in a place where people are living,” adds Mauroof. “The people complain that they are praying in the mosque and just outside there are tourists in bikinis.”

Since a reform under the country’s first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed in 2009, Maldivians have been allowed to open their own guesthouses on populated islands.

While fundamentalist interpretations of Islam imported from the Gulf and Pakistan are progressively taking root in the Maldives, Mauroof’s views lie far outside the mainstream and are ridiculed by many.

What started as a trickle of guesthouses has become a torrent with entrepreneurs like 25-year-old Ibrahim Mohamed converting properties and profiting from what is the islands’ biggest business and foreign exchange earner.

”Maldivians are very welcoming people. It wasn’t Maldivians that wanted separation, it was the government and a few businessmen saying that they should be isolated,” Ibrahim told AFP. “The Maldives can’t hide from the world anymore.”

His three-roomed Sundhara Palace located on a busy street of the cramped capital Male opened at the beginning of September, offering basic en-suite accommodation for US$30 (RM94) a night.

The cheapest resorts are usually about 10 times this, with prices stretching up to several thousand dollars a night – with expensively priced food and drink on top.

Ibrahim stresses that the guesthouse policy is also “a good system to get money to the people instead of to wealthy businessmen”.

A handful of well-connected resort owners who prospered under the 30-year autocratic rule of strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom continue to control the Maldives economy and are active in politics.

These oligarchs have united against Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted in February 2012 following a mutiny by security forces which he branded a “coup.”

His efforts to return to power through the ballot box have since been thwarted with the country wracked by protests and uncertainty after the Supreme Court annulled elections he won on September 7.

The court order came in response to a legal challenge from the third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim, one of the country’s wealthiest tycoons who is in alliance with the Adhaalath Party.

A re-run of the polls was ordered for Oct 19, with the British government warning travellers to avoid demonstrations and take precautions in the capital.

(Note: voting was delayed and will now be held on Nov 9.)

If re-elected, Nasheed has promised in to expand the guesthouse policy as part of his ambitious social and economic reform programme.

”The industry is flourishing very rapidly. We feel there is so much more scope for that,” he told reporters days before voting in the first round of the election in September.

One of the people to take advantage of the changes is Dutch tourist Chris Constandse, a 27-year-old web designer who works for a travel website in Amsterdam.

He booked a few nights at a hotel in the capital, but plans to spend the rest of his two-week holiday staying in guesthouses dotted around the country of more than 1,000 islands.

”Backpackers go to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and I was like ‘I always do things different’, so I thought I’d go backpacking in the Maldives,” he told AFP shortly before leaving on a ferry for one of the nearby islands.

”The most important thing is that you get in touch with the people. I’ve stayed in Male for three nights and I’ve already met some people and made some friends.” – AFP Relaxnews

Source :

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ageing coconut trees in Asia put livelihood of millions at risk - ANN

Asia's coconut trees are so old that production is falling well below global demand for coconut products, experts say.

New trees must be planted soon, or the decline in production will affect the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers across the region, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned.

Indonesia, India and the Philippines as the world's top producers might have the most to lose, experts said at a three-day conference in Bangkok.

It ended yesterday with a call to immediately plant new stock and boost yields from existing "middle-aged" trees by using better farming techniques.

Global demand for everything from the flesh of the nut to coir fibre, as well as coconut oil and coconut water, is growing at roughly 10 per cent a year.

Yet, production is growing at only around 2 per cent a year in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Together, the three countries produce 47 billion coconuts a year, accounting for 70 to 80 per cent of the region's production. The region in turn accounts for 90 per cent of the world's production of coconuts.

Of the 13 countries represented at the conference, eight had sent ministers - signalling the urgency of the problem.

A coconut palm is at its most productive when it is between 10 and 30 years old. However, most coconut palms in the region are over 50 years old, the FAO says.

Essentially, farmers content with good harvests have neglected to plant new seedlings. India, for example, needs to replant 450,000ha with new trees, which will require millions of seedlings.

There is no alternative, said Mr Romulo Arancon, the Jakarta-based executive director of the 19-member Asia and Pacific Coconut Community.

"It is really a smallholder industry, and even if it is a minor contributor in terms of gross domestic product for some countries, the population involved in it is enormous," he said.

He estimated that one in five people in the Philippines - which earns US$1 billion a year from coconut exports - depends directly or indirectly on the coconut sector.

Moreover, on some Pacific and Asian islands, coconut palms buffer shorelines against rising sea levels.

"It is the coconut that keeps us alive," said Mr Ahmed Shafeeu, the Maldives' Fisheries and Agriculture Minister.