Un­cer­tain Fu­ture

The Mal­dives finds it­self in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion and faces a se­ri­ous threat from the Com­mon­wealth if it does not clean up its act quickly.

Southasia - - Contents - By So­nia Jawaid Shaikh So­nia Jawaid Shaikh has worked in the me­dia and is cur­rently en­gaged in the so­cial sec­tor. She fre­quently writes on var­i­ous sub­jects.

Could the Mal­dives face pos­si­ble ex­pul­sion from the

Com­mon­wealth?

The na­ture of Mal­di­vian pol­i­tics can eas­ily be as­cer­tained from the fact that the is­land na­tion held its first ever elec­tions in 2008, hav­ing gained in­de­pen­dence in 1965 from the UK. Four years later, in Fe­bru­ary this year, the elected Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Nasheed was ousted, or so he says.

The coun­try, which has been a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion what with its vast sandy beaches and tran­quil set­ting, is in quite a pickle fol­low­ing ex-pres­i­dent Nasheed’s de­par­ture. How­ever, a look back into his­tory will re­veal that things were never easy for Nasheed.

In 2008, he was marginally able to beat then dic­ta­tor Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom, which led Nasheed to make a coalition gov­ern­ment. Coali­tions of­ten have the prop­er­ties of coals: scat­tered, black and ig­nitable. The coalition in the Mal­dives was ready to ex­plode as soon as Nasheed en­tered of­fice. This re­sulted in mod­er­ate par­ties and some Is­lamic groups form­ing al­liances with ex-pres­i­dent Gay­oom’s party while the army and the po­lice were caught be­tween choos­ing sides. Dur­ing the 2009 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, the al­liance was able to win seats which has since led to a num­ber of quar­rels and dis­putes con­cern­ing mat­ters of ad­min­is­tra­tive and po­lit­i­cal na­ture.

Nasheed in­stantly se­cured the sup­port that comes with the priv­i­lege of be­ing ‘a cho­sen leader’ in states be­lea­guered by long dic­ta­tor­ships. How­ever, like many ‘ cho­sen lead­ers’ he made mis­takes that re­flected the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of a dic­ta­tor­ship: Nasheed ar­rested the Chief Judge of the Crim­i­nal Court, Ab­dul­lah Mo­hamed, who re­fused to in­ves­ti­gate the cases against former dic­ta­tor Gay­oom. The en­su­ing un­rest forced Nasheed to re­sign only to later claim that he was forcibly re­moved at gun­point. Video footage showed his cabi­net min­is­ters be­ing beaten and Nasheed and his wife, dragged out by para­mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

A day later, in an op-ed pub­lished in The New York Times, Nasheed de­fended his po­si­tion, stat­ing, “Choos­ing to stand up to the judge was a con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion, but I feel I had no choice but to do what I did — to have taken no ac­tion, and pas­sively watched the coun­try’s democ­racy stran­gled, would have been the great­est in­jus­tice of all.”

The cir­cum­stances have brought Mo­hamed Wa­heed in power who has promptly ap­pointed nu­mer­ous min­is­ters from Gay­oom’s dic­ta­to­rial era. This ob­vi­ously brings Nasheed un­der a sym­pa­thetic light. The Bri­tish-ed­u­cated, ousted pres­i­dent con­sid­ers Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron and For­eign Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Hague amongst his friends. Sadly, these friends have not been much of a help with Hague only mildly stat­ing, “We hope that the new lead­er­ship will have re­spect for democ­racy. The fact that Nasheed was ousted or re­signed un­der duress is a tes­ta­ment that the cur­rent lead­er­ship has very lit­tle re­spect for democ­racy.”

Com­mon­wealth Spe­cial En­voy to the Mal­dives, Sir Don­ald McKin­non re­cently vis­ited the new pres­i­dent and urged the gov­ern­ment to call for early elec­tions. The visit failed to have as much im­pact as was ex­pected, con­sid­er­ing that the new elec­tion date has been an­nounced for June 2013; one year ahead of the pro­posed dead­line. The gov­ern­ment ar­gues that this is only con­sti­tu­tional.

The Com­mon­wealth has, on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions in the past, put pres­sure on mem­ber states to en­sure democ­racy. Over the years, it has faced heated crit­i­cism for not do­ing enough to ad­dress hu­man rights con­cerns or fur­ther demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. In­dia is also heav­ily in­vested in the is­sue. In­dia’s main con­cern re­volves around its Lak­shad­weep is­lands, one of the busiest ship­ping lanes in the world that also lies very close to the Mal­dives. Any po­lit­i­cal dis­tur­bance in the Mal­dives could pose a grave threat to In­dia’s busiest port. Con­sid­er­ing that In­dia has ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity to the Mal­dives and is an in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of the Com­mon­wealth, a po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that il­lus­trates a grow­ing in­flu­ence of Is­lamic par­ties also does not go well with In­dia’s in­ter­ests. Sim­i­larly, other states in the Com­mon­wealth do not want rad­i­cal al­liances form­ing in the is­land na­tion, which can be detri­men­tal and stren­u­ous on many for­eign pol­icy is­sues.

In­ter­na­tional pres­sure from the West, such as Bri­tain and the U.S has not been back­break­ing for the cur­rent Mal­di­vian gov­ern­ment. China and In­dia have al­ready urged for early elec­tions and In­dian For­eign Sec­re­tary re­cently held talks with po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Male. In the past, the Com­mon­wealth has sus­pended mem-

bership of its mem­ber states un­der dic­ta­to­rial lead­er­ships. How­ever, in the case of the Mal­dives, it may seem that the an­nounce­ment of elec­tions will cer­tainly buy time, which is of course more than what Nasheed or in­ter­na­tional watch­dogs would like. None­the­less, an in­quiry has been or­dered into the cir­cum­stances leading to coup.

In the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sce­nario, the coun­try’s tourism in­dus­try imme- di­ately came un­der pres­sure but the gov­ern­ment was quick to re­act and pla­cate any neg­a­tive re­views. It has as­sured the safety of tourists and re­ports have con­firmed that. Nev­er­the­less, the coun­try’s tourism in­dus­try, which sup­plies 30% of its GDP, will un­doubt­edly be dis­rupted ow­ing to the sit­u­a­tion.

It will re­quire time and some dras­tic steps from the Com­mon­wealth or any other in­ter­na­tional power to bring democ­racy to the coun­try. This phe­nom­e­non is of course not unique to the Mal­dives alone. De­vel­op­ments in Egypt and Tu­nisia have shown that break­ing from the clutches of a dic­ta­tor­ship is not sim­ply a mat­ter of rev­o­lu­tions, elec­tions or for­eign in­ter­ven­tions. It is a mat­ter of re-de­vel­op­ing a na­tional con­scious­ness and ac­knowl­edg­ing change. Ghosts of the past of­ten man­age to linger on if cor­rec­tive mea­sures to re­new the sys­tem are not taken in time. For Mal­dives, it will still be a long ex­er­cise in ex­or­cism.

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