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.
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.