Six presidential hopefuls locked their horns in the first round of their debate, "Riyaasee Suvaalu", last night on TVM. The debate was full of sound and fury, but did it signify anything?
Answering the three standard questions put to each candidate, incumbent President Gayoom justified his track record since assumption of power in 1978. Quoting figures, he said the progress Maldives made in the three decades is a world record. Gayoom however reacted sharply to criticism of his track record by other candidates.
Anni appeared to be the most relaxed and composed among the candidates. He promised clean government and offered solutions to urgent problems facing the people, such as housing and the rising cost of living.
Gasim offered to solve the problems faced by the people, in areas such as health and education. In order to raise the money needed for social services he proposed introducing new taxes. He said he has the experience and the ability to continue the reform agenda.
Though a bit tense, Hassan Saeed was quite eloquent in introducing his agenda. His main thrust was on reducing wasteful expenditure, law and order and improving tourism related infrastructure and support services.
While Ibra stressed rule of law, Umar Naseer based his agenda on drug control and private sector development.
In general all candidates performed credibly. The following are the salient points made by each of them to help readers make their own judgments as to who won the debate.
- I am very happy to be here to see this day. It has been my dream to see a multi-party democratic election in the Maldives.
- When I came in 1978, the country faced a food shortage, and it was poor. Health centers and schools were few. Now these areas have improved vastly.
- I launched a reform agenda in 2004. Many of the reforms have been achieved; but there is unfinished agenda.
- While the economy has also progressed, it faces new challenges. Only someone with experience can face these challenges –someone who has the trust of international institutions.
- My promises are based on reality and thus feasible.
- I will strengthen drug control by establishing a special anti-narcotics force. Borders will be sealed against drug smuggling and harsh punishment will be given to drug traffickers. I will expand existing capacity for drug rehabilitation by establishing 2 additional centers with 500 capacity.
- I will reduce the crime rate and enable people to live safe happy lives.
- I will build 1500 flats in Hulhumale each year. In addition to this, 2 urban centers will be developed in the north and south of the country.
- This forum is not for talking about the past, but for presenting future plans. We must also accept the reality. The reform agenda is mine. For health care, people don't have to beg as some others are saying. It is done through government budget. Contrary to what others are saying laws have also been made.
- Through my reform agenda a new Constitution has been adopted, with separation of powers and full rights for the people.
- In the tourism sector 64 new islands are being developed and during 2010 we will achieve 1,000,000 tourist arrivals.
- In the area of fisheries, investments have been made and large fishing vessels have been built. This will be continued.
- We must accept reality. Already hospitals and schools exist. I also have a plan for population consolidation along with the development of safe islands.
- The government does not need do everything. I will empower the people so that they can solve many of their problems.
- A health insurance scheme has already been launched and will be further expanded.
- All preparations for establishing a university have already been made and what is remaining is the passing of the necessary legislation.
- We must also accept the reality that we can't provide equal services to people living in different places.
- We have made much progress in the last 30 years with reduction in infant mortality and increase in life expectancy.
- Tourism has expanded from 1300 arrivals to 700,000 and GDP increased from $300 to $ 2,900. These did not just happen. It was planned. That progress is a world record that cannot be broken.
- All problems we face today are the result of the progress we have made so far. We need to solve these problems.
- To do this we need taxation and above all a conducive political atmosphere.
- I will build a bridge to Hulhumale. It will solve most problems faced by Male people.
- We face many challenges. The People have to beg for health care. There is no safe water in 195 of the inhabited islands. One in three children goes into drug addiction. Only a 100 of those who sit for O level exams get government funds to study abroad. There is no safety on the roads.
- If I am elected I can solve these problems.
- Strict punishment is needed to control drugs.
- The current government has 44 members of the president's family in strong positions in the government. In my government there will be no members of my family.
- Before the elections I will present a schedule for implementing my agenda, including a plan for raising the money needed.
- If I am elected I will ensure that atoll chiefs and island chiefs are elected by the people to run their affairs.
- I will also ensure equitable distribution of wealth and reduce wasteful expenditure such as that on the Presidential Palace.
- The economy will be diversified and fisheries in the EEZ will be brought back to Maldivians. All licenses given to foreigners will be canceled. The seas will be patrolled to control poaching.
- Aquaculture will be introduced to diversify fisheries.
- While we rely on tourism, our airport is in a pitiable condition and we have no airline. Wealthy tourists do not get business class and first class seats to come to Maldives. I will develop the airport and establish an airline. Duty free shopping will be expanded.
- A world class hotel school will be established to train Maldivians for the sector.
- I will also diversify tourism by introducing health tourism and retirement homes. I will also change the current situation where only 6 families control tourism sector. Opportunities will be given to new investors to enter tourism. Soft loans will be provided for investment.
- I will provide a retirement scheme for resort workers on par with government employees. An investment scheme will be introduced for fisherman.
- This is a golden opportunity for the people to change things. They must use the chance wisely. People who offer to buy votes are admitting they are incapable. Those who sell votes are compromising their integrity, and their children will question them in the future.
- We respect old people. But it's not old players like Kuda Moosa who brought us the cup. But young players like Ashfag.
- I want to become president to do things the people want. It requires hard work by capable men. We also need to accelerate the pace of development.
- The 1998 constitution also included rights. But people did not get those rights because the necessary laws were not made.
- Only someone involved in the process of constitution reform can ensure that the required laws are passed.
- I will develop 5 urban centers, with each center having a good hospital, so that citizens do not have to travel abroad for treatment.
- If I am elected I can do it; I have the experience and the knowhow to raise the required funds.
- I can also solve the drug issue faced by the country.
- I will introduce GST tax on tourism in order to raise the funds needed for social services like health and education. Thus every citizen will get the benefits of development.
- I will bring control of EEZ fisheries to Maldivians and ban harmful practices like the use of nets.
- I will establish an investment bank to provide soft loans. Taxes on loans will be reduced.
- Air transport will be provided to all atolls and a sea transport network will connect all islands.
- I am sure the people will vote differently this time to elect a responsible layer.
- I came to politics to change things. Everyone knows that for the first three years of Special Majlis not a single word was written in the constitution. But it has now been completed.
- All this was made possible because of sacrifices by many people.
- Everybody knows the situation that existed before 7th august, and what needs to be done to consolidate the gains. Only a someone with experience can do it.
- This is a rare moment in time, an opportunity for change. We have made a lot of sacrifices to reach it.
- Multiparty democracy is essential for clean government.
- Our past experience is that rich businessmen have always tried to influence the government to their advantage.
- We have listened to the people and conducted surveys to identify people's concerns.
- One of the main concerns is the increasing cost of living. We promise we will keep prices within reach of ordinary people.
- Housing is another problem especially in Male, with 1 in 5 families living in one room. We will provide soft loans for housing.
- We will develop a transport system to connect all islands and facilitate business.
- We will control drugs and provide rehabilitation of prisoners.
- We shall reduce wasteful government expenditure that prevents people from getting the benefits of development.
- Monopolies are preventing fisherman from getting the full international price for their products. We will ensure that fisherman get their rightful dues.
- I believe that the tourism sector is moving in the right direction. I will provide protection to those who work in the sector.
- Services do not reach the people not because the country is large, but because there is no transport system. We shall establish a transport network. We shall also establish health insurance so that health care is within the reach of the people.
- In order to implement our programs we will raise the needed funds, establish the necessary infrastructure and train human resources.
- We are moving towards another Maldives. We all know how we are here. The old system is changing and old people are changing their ways. Barriers are coming down.
- We call on the people not to sell their votes or bow down to pressure. It's a fair election that the people want.
- In 2004 people came out in protest because they knew there was no other way to get their rights. This has been historically so. The Constitutional reform was necessary because without it people would not get their rights.
- There is no rule of law in the country and a sincere person is needed to bring the rights in the reformed constitution to the people.
- I am not making too many promises. My main promise is to establish the rule of law, and it can be done soon.
- Once rule of law is established, people can progress on their own.
- I will provide quality pre-school education free of cost.
- I shall bring the drug situation under reasonable control within 2 years. Drugs are out of control because there is no rule of law.
- Health care and other social services can be provided to all, once we reduce wasteful government expenditure.
- I shall increase taxation to raise the money needed to bring the benefits of development to the people, and distribute wealth equitably.
- I will ensure that sincere people who do honest work are rewarded, not just party members.
- Banks play a crucial role in development, though hidden. I shall ensure soft loans are available to small and medium businesses.
- In the area of fisheries, foreigners will be excluded. The sector will be developed through encouraging the private sector. The government role will be to maintain quality control.
- There is no system to distribute wealth, and rich people are monopolizing businesses. I will introduce an Anti-trust law to address this.
- The election will change the future direction of the country and the people must keep this in mind. They will see the results of their vote for the next 5 years.
- The people have seen how those who have been entrusted responsibilities have performed. They know who delivered results and who made excuses. People beyond 40 years don't change their characters.
- I am not interested to come to power through just any means. I have a vision. Those who share that vision please vote for me.
- We are currently navigating a dangerous ocean, and getting wrecked in each reef –drugs, religious divisions, housing shortages, basic services like jetties, crime.
- Teachers have no control over students, parents have no control over children, and the government has no control over citizens.
- I also could have ignored these issues; but my patriotism has forced me to come and tackle the issues. I will not budge from my responsibilities.
- I am willing to sacrifice my life for the nation and I am also prepared to take lives for the nation, should the need arise.
- I will bring people to the religion and introduce the Sharia law.
- In 10 years I will reverse the drug situation. I will do this through implementing death sentences for traffickers and confiscating their property.
- I shall relocate people living in islands with less than 400 population in the first 5 years and those living in islands with less than 700 in the second 5 years. I shall develop 4 cities in different parts of the country.
- I will establish local government in 5 areas of the country, governed by elected mayors and atoll chiefs.
- In my government, economic government will be through the free market and open competition for the private sector. Soft loans will be provided.
- In the area of fisheries, subsidiary industries will be developed. Aquaculture will be extensively developed.
- Health insurance will be provided to all citizens.
- Tourism will be developed through public companies with shares sold to the public.
- The people get the responsibility to vote once in 5 years. The vote is not a prize or a medal to be given to someone for past services. Nor is it for sale to someone with money.