Nascent Democracy in Catch-22
An infant democracy comes under severe threat.
The year 2012 continues to be a tough one for the nascent democracy in the Maldives. The political turmoil that started in January seems to be driving deeper with all stakeholders sticking to their guns thus further complicating the international politico-strategic situation in the Indian Ocean.
In an uncontrolled public protest, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the largest political party in the opposition, has been demanding an early election to bring former President Nasheed back in power. Nasheed was ousted in February in a bloodless coup led by the police and military; the coup has since been described as a mutiny against the first ever democratically elected president.
Besides his personal ambition of regaining the president’s office, Nasheed’s demand for early elections has found limited ground, which has
failed to attract the support of major international players. Nasheed has been warning and adamantly believes that if polls are not held early, radical Islamists will exploit the opportunity to consolidate their position.
Radical Islam took roots in the Maldives during the thirty-year dictatorial regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who used orthodox elements to meet his political ends and allegedly orchestrated the coup to overthrow Nasheed. The radical parties’ threat might not be significant in the broader picture just yet, but it has certainly provided support against democracy and continues to echo in the murky scenario.
President Waheed, former deputy to ex-President Nasheed, has declared that the presidential election will be held in July 2013 in accordance with the Constitution. Nasheed, however, fears that if Waheed’s government gets more time, the radicals will meddle with the process. The encroaching Salafi threat is now quite evident in Maldivian politics. Previously, Islamist parties had failed to win a single seat in the elections but in the postFebruary scenario, they secured three portfolios in the Cabinet thus fueling Nasheed’s paranoia.
President Waheed’s party has a bare minimum representation in the parliament, hence a backlog of legislation stagnates the House, which also drives the demand for early elections. In April it was rumored that both sides had reached an agreement over early elections but fell apart when they delved into the nitty-gritty.
The continuation of violent street protests and the retaliation of the charging police whose brutality and abuse of human rights is a matter of concern both at home and abroad, raised some eyebrows but not significant enough to convince the US to seriously intervene.
The gravity of the issue emerged when the Maldivian police tried to ac- quire a warrant to dismantle the protest and the Criminal Court denied it due to the human rights abuse record of the police. Ironically, it was the arrest without warrant of the chief judge of the Criminal Court on January 16 that ignited the protests that ultimately cost Nasheed his job on February 7.
The US and India are on a similar wavelength when it comes to elections next year. However, the European Community and the Common- wealth are consistently demanding early elections to end the political turmoil and wipe Maldivian streets clean of violent protests and subsequent human rights violations.
Despite being at loggerheads over the domination of the Indian Ocean region, both the US and India appear to be on the same page regarding China’s port enhancement project in the region, which is seen as an expansion of Chinese hegemony in the Indian Ocean. Valerie Fowler, US Charge d’affairs in Colombo also reiterated US involvement, stating that the US had been in touch with the Indian Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai and its High Commissioner, D.M. Mulay in Male regarding the issue. The American envoy added that the US is working with India and other international partners to see the Maldives progress towards holding elections.
The international pressure seems to have worked its way through, resulting in President Waheed’s govern- ment accepting Nasheed’s nominee, Ahmed Saeed, for the Commission on National Inquiry (CoNI) in accordance with the commitment signed on May 15 with Sir Donald McKinnon, Special envoy of the Commonwealth secretary general. According to the communiqué of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Maldives, the government has accepted Saeed’s name to demonstrate its seriousness in allowing the CoNI to continue with the inquiry in a genuinely independent and impartial fashion.
The MDP remains focused on its demand for an early election while the 30-point wish list of the government focuses on demanding a more rational mob behavior in its protest rallies. The prolonged conflict among the power hungry antagonizing forces and subsequent demands for fair and early elections has only recently begun and from what it seems, may have a long way to go before anything concrete has been achieved. It is essential for the Maldives to allow the masses to choose who should rule them and bring the South Asian nation back on the track of democracy -- a process that remains in its infancy. Syed Moazzam Hashmi is a political and security analyst, a senior journalist and former Political Affairs Advisor to the US Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan.