Nascent Democ­racy in Catch-22

An in­fant democ­racy comes un­der se­vere threat.

Southasia - - Contents - By Syed Moaz­zam Hashmi

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.

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