President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, on Sunday, delivered a televised speech on the occasion of Maldives' 55th Independence Day.
During his address, the President called on political actors to prioritize national interest and to rise beyond shared differences and to not "politicize every trivial thing to create divisions and strife within our community".
According to President Solih, given that Maldives attained its present freedom through peaceful means and foresight, the country's national policy and political direction should also ensure that continued independence is maintained in similar, harmonious fashion.
Further highlights from the President's address:
- Referring to Maldives' multi-party democracy, he affirmed the Solih administration would value the input of those in disagreement, welcoming such assistance in the pursuit of broad national interests.
- To retain independence, President said, open engagement with the international community is vital, especially with regards to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing climate change.
- Reflecting on the island nation's advancement through its tourism and fishing industry, the President remarked that time was rife to begin economic diversification.
- He spoke on the importance of women and youth participation, for the development of other industries, to expand Maldives’ human resource capacity and in strengthening the Maldives' economic portfolio.
- Dubbing the Islam as the "source of Maldives’ pride", he elaborated on the entwined nature of the country's religion and national identity.
- President Solih called on all Maldivian citizens to meet their collective and individual responsibility to do their "utmost to help this country develop and prosper".
Concluding the address, the president offered prayers to the late President Ibrahim Nasir, second President of Maldives and the man that signed the country's Declaration of Independence. Then, saying a few solemn words for all those who have fought and struggled for the cause of the Maldives’ independence, he recited a final prayer to Almighty Allah seeking his protection and aid in Maldives' recovery from the ongoing global pandemic.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's words come at a time when public ire is at an all-time high, since he first took office in 2018, as negative sentiments grow louder fuelled by the government's movements in various areas.
As such, despite the President's words to welcome different political views, the government recently banned protests and all forms of public gatherings without "prior written approval by Maldives Police Service", whilst easing other restrictive measures imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID19.
Over the last couple of months, a number of rallies were held by concerned citizens, advocacy collectives and opposition over a number of issues, the most recurrent being over impunity for sexual offenders appointed to public office, more stringent measures to ensure the safety of women and children and over its continued tolerance over severe mistreatment of expatriate workers in the country.
Therefore, though the President urged citizens to play their part to boost the Maldives' progress, on July 15, the government drew criticism for issuing a statement that chastised civil society on the vague grounds that narratives and initiatives of certain non-profit organisations, were encouraging the violation of the law. NGOs have and continue to play a vital role in both the country's COVID19 response, as well as in a number of other areas such as gender, disability and environmental advocacy.
On the economic front, the president's stance towards diversification strikes a different chord in implementation, as out of the MVR 2.5 billion stimulus package introduced to counteract the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a significantly large portion was spent on the tourism industry rather than Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The national bank revealed in May that MVR 100 million from the relief funds were issued to resorts and businesses that generate more than MVR 10 million in revenue per year.
With respect to President Solih's expression of a peaceful future, amid various expat-led protests that took place between March to July, last week the Chief of Defence Major General Abdulla Shamal publicly equated the actions of foreign workers to attempts toward taking over the nation, describing the migrant worker situation as a "national security threat".
Though the president himself has previously acknowledged the exploitation of expatriates working across the island nation, of which crimes reported include human trafficking, withholding of wages, poor living conditions, and other human rights violations, he has not responded to scrutiny over comments made by the Chief of Defence or other MNDF leaders.
Furthermore, despite the President Solih's call for an end to "politicizing" issues, in terms of actions taken by state on the aforementioned issues, the government has demonstrated a clear contrast in the manner with which it applies remedies. Whereas local media has reported state taking immediate steps on issues that involve members outside the ruling faction, a slackening speed was observed regarding that matters that strike closer to centre.
Overall, Independence Day 2020 has seen numerous groups within the local community speaking out, in unprecedented unison, alleging that although Maldives retains its status as a sovereign nation, all people in the country "are not free".
Maldives gained independence from the British under an agreement signed with the United Kingdom on July 26, 1965. Since then, the country has celebrated July 26 as the Independence Day each year.