Democ­racy Head­ing for Fail­ure

The po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic sce­nario in the Mal­dives still ap­pears to be in a state of flux with the pos­si­bil­ity of more failed gov­ern­ments on the hori­zon.

Southasia - - Maldives Democracy - By Raza Khan

As var­i­ous con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal crises con­tinue to strike the Mal­dives, in­de­pen­dent ob­servers fore­see a cy­cle of failed gov­ern­ments in the near fu­ture. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent report is­sued by the Raa­jee Foun­da­tion, a Mal­di­vian civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the UNDP and the U.S State De­part­ment, a cy­cle of failed gov­ern­ments seems in­creas­ingly likely. The report, pre­pared by Pro­fes­sor Tom Gins­burg from the Univer­sity of Chicago Law School, dis­cusses and an­a­lyzes the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic con­di­tions in the Mal­dives. In light of cur­rent de­vel­op­ments and on the ba­sis of the find­ings, the report presents three pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios, of which the cy­cle of failed government is the most likely. The other two sce­nar­ios in­clude the dom­i­nance of a po­lit­i­cal fac­tion through hege­mony and the re­turn to a purely con­sti­tu­tional government. The last two pos­si­bil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the report, are the most un­likely due to in­her­ent flaws in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and ob­jec­tive and sub­jec­tive con­di­tions of the Mal­di­vian state and so­ci­ety.

In 2008, fol­low­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the state con­sti­tu­tion and the first-ever in­de­pen­dent elec­tions, sub­se­quently won by hu­man rights ad­vo­cate, Mo­hamed Nasheed, many po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts con­cluded that the tiny ar­chi­pel­ago of 1192 is­lands had suc­cess­fully se­cured a strong foothold in democ­racy. How­ever, in Fe­bru­ary 2012, wide­spread protests and a pub­lic out­cry led to Nasheed’s dra­matic and forced ouster from the pres­i­dency. The former pres­i­dent at­trib­uted his ouster to con­nivance be­tween the coun­try’s as­sertive ju­di­ciary, the op­po­si­tion fac­tions and fifth-colum­nists within his own party. Since then Pres­i­dent Has­san, Nasheed’s vice-pres­i­dent, even though in power, has been un­suc­cess­ful in quelling the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic un­rest the coun­try finds

it­self em­broiled in.

The Raa­jee Foun­da­tion report lists a range of causes stand­ing in the way of demo­cratic devel­op­ment in the Mal­dives. Th­ese in­clude “a po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that em­pha­sizes re­crim­i­na­tion over rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, a thin in­choate civil so­ci­ety, nascent higher ed­u­ca­tion, lim­ited trans­parency, a long tra­di­tion of pa­tron­age, mas­sive wealth in­equal­i­ties, dif­fi­cult pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graph­ics, weak politi­cized in­sti­tu­tions, a dis­torted la­bor mar­ket and a nar­row econ­omy vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ter­nal shocks.” The report re­veals most causes typ­i­cal of third world coun­tries or tran­si­tional democ­ra­cies and also dis­cusses some is­sues that are spe­cific to the is­land.

As far as the prob­lems con­cern­ing the static and tra­di­tional Mal­di­vian po­lit­i­cal cul­ture are con­cerned, the report in­di­cates that most of the po­lit­i­cal is­sues re­volve around per­son­al­i­ties rather than poli­cies. Such se­lec­tive fo­cus has stunted the growth of a true demo­cratic cul­ture as well as the in­sti­tu­tions. A young democ­racy, the Mal­dives can­not be ex­pected to ad­here to a level of ma­tu­rity re­quired to eval­u­ate poli­cies that would take as­cen­dancy over per­son­al­i­ties in such a short time. Like most South Asian coun­tries, the Mal­dives con­tin­ues to be a tra­di­tional and con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety where per­son­al­i­ties dom­i­nate and poli­cies are au­to­mat­i­cally pegged to per­son­al­i­ties. Fam­i­lies and clans like the Gand­his in In­dia, the Bhut­tos and Shar­ifs in Pak­istan and Mu­jee­bur Rah­man and Zi­aur Rah­man in the per­sons of Hasina Wa­jid and Khal­ida Zia still dom­i­nate the pol­i­tics of other re­gional coun­tries. There­fore, if other South Asian states, in­clud­ing the largest ‘democ­racy’ in the world, have been un­able to grow out of the fas­ci­na­tion and charisma of per­son­al­i­ties, af­ter 66 years of democ­racy, how can the Mal­di­vians be ex­pected to shun per­son­al­ity-fo­cused pol­i­tics?

It will cer­tainly re­quire time for the Mal­di­vians to achieve po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity and it will also re­quire a sus­tain­able and un­hin­dered demo­cratic process. How­ever, keep­ing in view the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, a sus­tain­able democ­racy in the Mal­dives seems un­likely. This is the most sor­did po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity of con­tem­po­rary Mal­dives. The Mal­di­vian peo­ple will need a strong ed­u­ca­tion to rea­son and un­der­stand that wran­gling over per­son­al­i­ties does not serve any pur­pose. In­stead, the cher­ished goals of devel­op­ment, high stan­dards of liv­ing and na­tional pres­tige can only be at­tained by fo­cus­ing on is­sues from a na­tional per­spec­tive.

A strong, con­scious and re­spon­sive civil so­ci­ety is in­dis­pens­able for the flow­er­ing of a demo­cratic cul­ture and in­sti­tu­tions within the coun­try. Civil so­ci­ety oc­cu­pies the arena that is above the in­sti­tu­tion of fam­ily and be­low the level of the state. In other words, the con­cept of civil so­ci­ety in­cludes ev­ery­thing that is non-fa­mil­ial and non­state. It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that civil so­ci­ety does not come into ex­is­tence by it­self but is rather de­pen­dent ei­ther on the con­tin­ued en­gen­der­ing of con­scious­ness within the so­ci­ety re­gard­ing na­tional du­ties and in­di­vid­ual rights or an un­hin­dered demo­cratic process. The Mal­di­vians have an em­bry­onic civil so­ci­ety be­cause the democ­racy and con­sti­tu­tional government is only five years old. The Raa­jee Foun­da­tion report should have men­tioned the in­verse pro­por­tional link be­tween a weak ed­u­ca­tion struc­ture and a strong civil so­ci­ety. Although the devel­op­ment of a strong civil so­ci­ety may take sev­eral years and decades to be achieved, the rais­ing of a vi­brant higher ed­u­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture could be done within a few years. In fact, it is far eas­ier to achieve this in the tiny Mal­dives than the densely pop­u­lated ar­eas of other South Asian coun­tries. In this re­gard the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­stead of pro­vid­ing aid to the Mal­di­vian government, must fi­nance the higher ed­u­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture within the coun­try.

A long tra­di­tion of pa­tron­age, mas­sive wealth in­equal­i­ties, dif­fi­cult pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graph­ics, weak politi­cized in­sti­tu­tions, dis­torted la­bor mar­ket and a nar­row eco­nomic base are the out­come of lack of good gov­er­nance. A closer look would re­veal that the con­cept of good gov­er­nance is it­self de­pen­dent on strong civil so­ci­ety and ed­u­ca­tion struc­tures.

The so­cial and hence the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic prob­lems of the Mal­dives are com­plex and in­ter­re­lated. It is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for Pres­i­dent Has­san to in­de­pen­dently tackle the multi-pronged in­se­cu­ri­ties which the coun­try cur­rently faces. While he may not be able to rec­tify the is­sues stunt­ing the growth of a demo­cratic cul­ture and civil so­ci­ety, he may be able to in­tro­duce poli­cies to trig­ger devel­op­ment in the con­cep­tu­ally tan­gi­ble ar­eas of econ­omy and higher ed­u­ca­tion. He could do so by di­ver­si­fy­ing the eco­nomic base, which is al­most en­tirely de­pen­dent on tourism and by pro­vid­ing a blue­print for devel­op­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion. Against this back­drop, the pos­si­bil­ity would re­main that the coun­try’s mil­i­tary, see­ing the sit­u­a­tion mov­ing to­wards a to­tal col­lapse, may again in­ter­vene and take over the reins of government. If this hap­pens it would be a fail­ure of the so-called Mal­di­vian politi­cians and would com­pel the mil­i­tary to take con­trol rather than the other way round. Nev­er­the­less, mil­i­tary rule in the Mal­dives or in any coun­try has never been a so­lu­tion to the prob­lems faced by a coun­try but has been cause of many prob­lems. In the con­text of the Mal­dives, it would make things worse.

Raza Khan is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and re­searcher on the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy and the Af-Pak re­gion. He has served in sev­eral se­nior po­si­tions in the Pak­istan government and is cur­rently writ­ing his doc­toral the­sis on re­li­gious ex­trem­ism-ter­ror­ism in Pak­istan.

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