Parties face off in battleground of Thinadhoo

The island of Thinadhoo became a campaign battleground over the weekend as the senior leadership of the ruling party and opposition coalition descended on the southern population hub for rival rallies.

Violent clashes erupted between pro-government and opposition supporters when a ruling party delegation arrived Thursday evening. Video footage shows several young men with ruling party flags barge into a group of opposition activists and try to snatch a banner that read, ‘Welcome to thieves.’

The scuffle reportedly caused minor injuries before policemen forced the groups apart.

As ministers, lawmakers and opposition leadership figures went door to door, both sides meanwhile contested each other’s level of support. On social media, ruling party lawmakers contended that the opposition only drew 1,200 people to its Thursday night rally by ferrying supporters from 20 islands whereas more than 3,000 attended the Progressive Party of Maldives rally Saturday night.

The PPM’s Heyyosa rally was “the largest political activity held on Thinadhoo,” declared MP Ahmed Nihan. But opposition lawmakers alleged forced attendance of civil servants and staff of state-owned companies.

Ahead of the weekend rallies, Nihan stirred controversy by urging the Thinadhoo public to boycott the opposition rally if they value a purported MVR1 billion (US$65 million) worth of infrastructure investment by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

Speaking at the rally, opposition MP Abdulla Shahid disputed the government’s development narrative. Southern fishermen were unable to sell their full catch whilst 750 housing units previously allocated to Huvadhoo atoll were reassigned to Malé, he said.

At last night’s PPM rally, Nihan claimed that Thinadhoo has seen the most development under Yameen’s four years since the island was resettled in the 1960s, including harbour and road construction as well as land reclamation and the development of a ‘museum park.’

Delivering his whole speech in the southern dialect, Nihan, a native son, vowed to regain the two Thinadhoo parliamentary seats in upcoming by-elections.

The rally marks the launching of campaign activities and the president has decided to send a delegation to Thinadhoo every week, said MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, the PPM’s deputy leader.

Thinadhoo was previously a stronghold of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party but ruling coalition candidates won both of the island’s constituencies in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Thinadhoo MPs Saudhulla Hilmy and Abdulla Ahmed are among ten former ruling party lawmakers who were contentiously stripped of their seats after crossing the floor.

In May’s municipal elections, which saw a turnout of about 60 percent on Thinadhoo, opposition candidates made a clean sweep of both the atoll council and island council seats.

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Well, this is the dark side of political divide. Why in the first place opposition should intimidate supporters of the ruling coalition?