The President’s Office has confirmed the receipt of an investigative report into the “unauthorised deployment of Special Operations (SO) police” at the People’s National Front (PNF) congress on Tuesday. 

President Dr Mohamed Muizzu, expressing deep regret over the incident, assured that actions will be taken against those found responsible. The investigation was initiated following the obstruction of the PNF congress, led by the son of former President Abdulla Yameen, by police forces despite clear instructions to the contrary.

The PNF faced obstruction from the police during their scheduled congress at Ghiyasuddin school, prompted by a request from the Education Ministry citing school protection needs. The police intervention, which included the use of pepper spray and resulted in physical confrontations, has drawn sharp criticism from President Muizzu, who claimed that these actions were against his direct orders and expressed deep regret over the incident.

President Muizzu highlighted the lack of communication from the police and the Home Minister during the event, indicating a significant breach of protocol and disregard for his directives. The President’s statements reflect a commitment to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and political activity, emphasising that no undue force should be applied in such contexts unless under exceptional circumstances.

This altercations underscore ongoing tensions between the PNF and the current administration, with PNF interim President Zeine Abdulla Yameen voicing dissatisfaction with the government’s approach to political freedoms and accusing it of obstructing their activities.

Despite the contradictory actions of the state, the President’s Office assured that the government does not intend to hinder lawful political activities and aims to facilitate such events within the bounds of current logistical challenges posed by school reopenings and exam schedules. Nonetheless, the incident has raised questions about the administration’s handling of political opposition and its commitment to democratic principles.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Tuesday issued a strong condemnation against what it perceives as the government’s “unlawful” intervention during the PNF congress. The MDP accuses President Muizzu’s administration of moving towards authoritarianism by preventing the assembly of PNF supporters at Ghiyasuddin International School (GIS).

The MDP’s statement underscored the security forces’ use of pepper spray on peaceful attendees, criticising the suppression of political expression and viewing it as indicative of the Muizzu administration’s authoritarian tendencies. The party called for an immediate halt to efforts aimed at disrupting the PNF’s formation and for the protection of Maldivians’ rights to a free and fair political environment.

The incident also drew strong condemnation from leading opposition figures.

The chairperson of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Fayyaz Ismail, expressed deep concern over the government’s actions to obstruct the inaugural congress of the People’s National Front (PNF).

In a post on social media, Ismail criticised the current government’s pressure on the Elections Commission, private schools, and the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to disrupt and stop the formation of the PNF.

“We fear that this will be the modus operandi of this inept government going forwards,” Ismail wrote. “[President] Dr. Muizzu should not be afraid to allow the formations of political rivals. Please do not derail the Constitution and the laws.”

Positing on social media, senior advisor of the MDP and former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih highlighted the constitutional rights to political party formation, peaceful assembly, and the expression of dissenting views. Solih’s remarks emphasised these rights as foundational to a vibrant society, not mere privileges contingent on the government’s approval.

Abdulla Shahid, the president of the MDP, linked the government’s actions to a broader climate of fear, attributing it to the administration’s struggles with parliamentary election campaigns and allegations of corruption. Shahid’s statement reaffirmed the MDP’s stance on the importance of the right to establish political movements, assembly freedom, and expression as essential elements of the Maldives’ democratic framework.

Additional reporting by Mohamed A. Haleem