Yesterday was parliamentary elections day. The Maldives hasn’t seen too much in the way of democratic elections for the last thirty years or so, since the (now ex-) president Gayoom has held a pretty tight grip on power for six consecutive five year presidential terms. The Lonely Planet guidebook gives him a pretty poor rating, accusing him of imprisoning political opponents, awarding lucrative posts and contracts to friends and family, and living a fairly lavish lifestyle. At the end of his presidency his offices were audited for the first time in thirty years- he had 250 cars (amongst a bunch of other stuff) for his private use! Male’s only four square kilometres- god knows where he drove them, let alone kept them!
The presidential elections in November last year, held following intense international pressure, ended the privileged life for him. Yesterday’s elections were for MPs from all the Atolls- about 170 positions all up. Feydhoo, the island next to where I’m anchored, has a population of about 5000, and had fourteen candidates vying for the position. Apparently it’s no biggie for politicians-to-be to buy votes for between a hundred and five hundred dollars. Candidates record (or commission) songs to be written encompassing their “policies”, and hire trucks with huge loudspeakers on the back to drive around the streets sharing the message with everyone, at high volume. Feydhoo is only about a kilometre long, so there’s plenty of scope for noise.
My (shipping) agent here accepted a free trip to the neighbouring island of Hulhumeedhoo, his home town, on the hope that he’d earn his vote. I accepted his invitation to tag along.
Hulhumeedhoo is known in the Maldives for being strongly Muslim. Legend has it that a shipwrecked Arab trader converted the locals to Islam several hundred years before the rest of the islands. The people here seem just that little bit more conservative, although it could also be because they’re not used to seeing Westerners too often.
We visited an old cemetery, oriented towards Mecca, and featuring beautiful carved coral block headstones. What a spot of paradise- I wouldn’t mind resting in peace in such a beautiful location.
There were also a number of WWII fortifications, machine gun posts, etc. The Germans (according to my guidebook, Japanese according to my agent) actually torpedoed a British ship here in 1944, which is now a local dive site.
My agent found the time between showing me around and introducing me to him family, to cast his vote. I didn’t ask if was for the speed boat ride provider, but I was grateful all the same for a nice day out.