A Mal­di­vian Po­lit­i­cal Im­passe

Southasia - - Contents - By Anees Jil­lani Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous publi­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

The Mal­dives is per­haps the only coun­try in the world where al­most ev­ery cit­i­zen is a Mus­lim. In fact, its con­sti­tu­tion says that a non-mus­lim can­not be­come a cit­i­zen, con­test elec­tions or hold a po­lit­i­cal of­fice. De­spite this, it is noth­ing short of shock­ing that the Mus­lim coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly Pak­istan be­ing a fel­low mem­ber in SAARC, did not play any role in re­solv­ing the re­cent po­lit­i­cal im­passe and it was left to In­dia to send its for­eign sec­re­tary, Ran­jan Mathai, as an in­ter­me­di­ary who even­tu­ally suc­ceeded in bring­ing about a com­pro­mise. Don’t be sur­prised then when the Mal­di­vians look to In­dia rather than Pak­istan as their friend in the fu­ture?

The Mal­dives has been in tu­mult since Fe­bru­ary 7, when Mo­hamed Nasheed, the coun­try’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent, stepped down as a re­sult of a coup by the se­cu­rity forces which the lat­ter deny. He was re­placed by his deputy, Mo­ham­mad Wa­heed Has­san. The two sides, rep­re­sented by Nasheed and Has­san, have ap­par­ently agreed to hold elec­tions within this year. Has­san was oth­er­wise plan­ning to or­ga­nize an elec­tion in Oc­to­ber 2013 in a coun­try of 1,200 is­lands in the In­dian Ocean that is best known for its lux­u­ri­ous beach re­sorts.

Nasheed’s exit led to a tense stand­off, with his sup­port­ers clash­ing with the po­lice. Pres­i­dent Has­san in­stead asked Nasheed and his Mal­di­vian Demo­cratic Party to join a unity gov­ern­ment, which he re­fused and in­stead con­stantly de­manded fresh elec­tions.

It is noth­ing short of ironic that the Mal­dives was the first coun­try in South Asia to adopt a demo­cratic form of gov­ern­ment. The Mal­dives’ hered­i­tary Sul­tan, Sham­sud­din, in­tro­duced a con­sti­tu­tion on De­cem­ber 22, 1932, un­der which the Sul­tan was to be “elected” by a “Coun­cil of Ad­vis­ers” com­pris­ing the elite of the coun­try.

De­spite this early start, the Mal­di­vians to date have not been able to en­sure the sur­vival of democ­racy, de­spite their pe­ri­odic strug­gles. This coun­try of 330,000 peo­ple has, over the past 80 years, wit­nessed a bat­tle be­tween the forces of democ­racy and those of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, in which the odds have fa­vored the lat­ter.

The Sul­tans kept de­pos­ing each other till Jan­uary 1, 1953, when one Amin Didi abol­ished the Sul­tanate, es­tab­lished a repub­lic and be­came the first pres­i­dent of the coun­try. Amin’s rule how­ever was short lived as he was over­thrown in 1954. The coun­try re­verted to the Sul­tanate. How­ever, by the mid-1960s, peo­ple got tired of the Sul­tanate. In a ref­er­en­dum held on the is­sue in 1968, they voted for its abo­li­tion.

On Novem­ber 11, 1968, one Ibrahim Nasir was elected as the pres­i­dent to re­place the sul­tan. In 1978, he was re­placed by Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom, a univer­sity lec­turer who was then the Mal­di­vian Am­bas­sador at the UN. Gay­oom gave an ex­tra­or­di­nary thrust to tourism, which turned the Mal­dives into a coun­try with a per capita Gross Na­tional In­come of $5750 by 2010. Gay­oom, how­ever, was no demo­crat. He packed the Peo­ples’ Ma­jlis (par­lia­ment) with his rel­a­tives and cronies; he al­ways was the lone can­di­date in the elec­tions.

Nasheed in the mean­time formed the Mal­di­vian Demo­cratic Party, op­er­at­ing from Colombo in Sri Lanka. The 1990s saw Nasheed go­ing in and out of jail. Gay­oom even­tu­ally re­lented to the pres­sure and promised multi-party elec­tions and a two-term limit for the pres­i­dent in 2004. On Au­gust 7, 2008, he in­tro­duced a new con­sti­tu­tion un­der which the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions were held on Oc­to­ber 10, 2008. Nasheed got 54 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote and won. Mer­ci­fully, Gay­oom quit grace­fully.

The Mal­dives’ prob­lems how­ever con­tin­ued when Gay­oom’s Dhevehi Rayy­athunge Party won a slim ma­jor­ity in the par­lia­ment in 2009, which led to a con­tin­u­ous con­flict be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and the leg­is­la­ture. It is be­lieved that this con­stant tug of war riled up Nasheed’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, cul­mi­nat­ing in his down­fall and the re­cent im­passe.

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