With all of the accomplishments of the Maldives Media Training Project, there was also a major disappointment. Plans to hold the nation’s first-ever debate among multiparty presidential candidates were cancelled at the last minute. TVM had offered to host the event in its giant Studio 3. All six declared candidates were invited and told that those who did not attend would be represented by an empty chair. Four candidates accepted, but the major opposition candidate pulled out after hearing that President Gayoom had not responded. That left three candidates,and the major independent candidate was possibly on the verge of pulling out because he feared the other two participants would gang up on him, despite the fact that the format only allowed for candidates to address the audience but not each other.
The state-run radio station, Voice of Maldives, never agreed to carry the debate, and TVM never got around to setting up the studio. On the morning of the scheduled event, TVM CEO Ali Khalid pulled the plug, saying that only two or three candidates wouldn’t make for a very interesting show. That same morning, President Gayoom’s DRP party issued a press release saying that the president did not need to debate his rivals because he had served the nation for 30 years and everyone knows his policies by now. This was interpreted widely in the press as 1) arrogance by the DRP and 2) TVM caving in to pressure from the majority party. A link to an article from the opposition-leaning Minivan News service is below:
Update: As I write this from California a new candidate, Gasim Ibrahim of the Villa business empire, has thrown his hat in the ring. And there were tentative plans for a debate to be held on Aug. 28 or 29. TVM is planning to hold its own debate and a group of NGOs is also trying to sponsor a debate that will not involve TVM. Our team left TVM with a template for how to stage this type of event and we even briefed the host, whose name was kept secret but somehow leaked out anyway. I hope my friends in Maldives will continue to monitor the situation and post comments here.