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.
Could the Maldives face possible expulsion from the
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.