Fate in Bal­ance

The Septem­ber 2013 elec­tions in the Mal­dives will make or break the coun­try which has al­ready been strug­gling to em­brace democ­racy for a long time.

Southasia - - MALDIVES ELECTIONS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

“Fair­ness at a min­i­mum re­quires a level play­ing field. Thus, the ex­ist­ing cul­tureof mis­use of pub­lic re­sources

by the in­cum­bency to their elec­toral ad­van­tage must stop”

-- Pre-elec­tion Re­port by Trans­parency Mal­dives

“Our so­ci­ety is gen­er­ally very mod­er­ate. That’s why they elected me. That’s why they want to elect me again. [The Is­lamists] con­tested us in a par­lia­men­tary elec­tion and did not get a sin­gle seat. They con­tested us in lo­cal coun­cil elec­tions and did not get a sin­gle seat. But af­ter the coup they have three cabi­net

min­is­ters”

-- Mal­di­vian ex-Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Nasheed

De­spite un­cer­tainty, a grow­ing in­flu­ence of rad­i­cal ele­ments and in­ter­fer­ence from for­eign pow­ers, the Mal­di­vians are de­ter­mined to choose a Pres­i­dent in the forth­com­ing elec­tions, to be held on 7 Septem­ber 2013. Th­ese elec­tions prom­ise much hope. Yet the re­al­iza­tion of this hope hinges on hold­ing free and fair elec­tions of which arise se­ri­ous ques­tion marks.

A de­tailed pre-elec­tion re­port re­leased by Trans­parency Mal­dives says, “as­sur­ing” freedom for the up­com­ing elec­tions re­quires sus­tain­ing an elec­toral en­vi­ron­ment for vot­ers to freely choose a pres­i­dent with­out fear, in­tim­i­da­tion, and un­due in­flu­ence, but through the op­por­tu­ni­ties to fully ex­er­cise freedom of ex­pres­sion, as­so­ci­a­tion and assem­bly.”

Os­car Fer­nan­dez-Taranco, As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral for Po­lit­i­cal Af- fairs of the United Na­tions, dur­ing his re­cent three day visit to the Mal­dives, en­cour­aged all stake­hold­ers to en­sure con­di­tions for free, fair, inclusive, cred­i­ble and non-vi­o­lent elec­tions. Multi-party pres­i­den­tial elec­tions were held in the Mal­dives for the first time in 2008, end­ing 30 years of one-party rule. Mo­hamed Nasheed, who was elected in those polls, re­signed in Fe­bru­ary 2012 in con­tested cir­cum­stances and was suc­ceeded by his for­mer deputy, Wa­heed Has­san. The Govern­ment un­der Wa­heed set up a ‘National Com­mis­sion of In­quiry’ to probe the events lead­ing to the regime change. The re­port re­leased last Au­gust con­tra­dicted Nasheed’s claim of a coup con­ducted against him. How­ever the re­port, and later Nasheed’s ar­rest and trial cast a dark shadow on the im­par­tial­ity of the ju­di­ciary and the hold­ing of free and fair elec­tions in the tiny is­land. The UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the in­de­pen­dence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, found dur­ing her visit to the coun­try in Fe­bru­ary this year that “ju­di­cial of­fi­cials are not suf­fi­ciently in­de­pen­dent from ex­ter­nal pres­sures and in­ter­fer­ences.”

In Fe­bru­ary 2013, in the wake of con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, Nasheed took refuge in the In­dian High Com­mis­sion for about two weeks af­ter a court or­dered his ar­rest for fail­ing to ap­pear to face charges of abuse of power. As a re­sult of a deal bro­kered by In­dia, Nasheed left the In­dian sanc­tu­ary on 23 Fe­bru­ary 2013 – was ar­rested and brought to court to face trial a fort­night later on 6 March 2013. If con­victed, Nasheed faces dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion from the pres­i­den­tial polls, which will fur­ther give cred­i­bil­ity to his al­le­ga­tion that the trial against him is “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.”

Apart from the myr­iad of in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal tus­sles and po­lar­iza­tion plagu­ing the Mal­dives, for­eign states are per­pet­u­ally in­ter­fer­ing in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. In­dia and the United States share con­cern about the grow­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the re­gion. In 2011, China an­nounced set­ting up its em­bassy in Male amid grow­ing mil­i­tary and eco­nomic ties. Western democ­ra­cies are also wor­ried about the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Salafist par­ties such as the Ad­haalath Party, co­in­cid­ing with the ris­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the is­land na­tion. This be­came ev­i­dent when a bomb at­tack in Male wounded 12 Western tourists in Septem­ber 2007 fol­lowed by a sui­cide at­tack in May 2009 on the head­quar­ters of Pak­istan’s In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) in La­hore by Ali Jaleel, a Mal­di­vian mem­ber of Al-Qaeda. Close on the heels of that at­tack, Pak­istani troops ar­rested nine Al-Qaeda op­er­a­tives at a train­ing camp in South Waziris­tan in 2010, all of whom turned out to be Mal­di­vian cit­i­zens. This ex­plains why USA, EU, In­dia, China and other South Asian na­tions are voic­ing loud sup­port for elec­tions in the Mal­dives.

The U.S., EU and In­dia are pres­sur­iz­ing the Wa­heed govern­ment not to bar Nasheed from con­test­ing the Septem­ber elec­tions as it would fur­ther po­larise and rad­i­calise the na­tion. In­dia has al­ready taken a strong stance to­wards the Mal­di­vian govern­ment by can­celling a $500 mil­lion con­tract awarded to a con­sor­tium led by In­dian firm GMR to mod­ern­ize and op­er­ate Male’s in­ter­na­tional air­port. The grow­ing anti-In­dian sen­ti­ments pro­moted by Is­lamist par­ties such as the Ad­haalath Party, al­lied to Wa­heed’s Gaumee Ithi­haad Party (GIP), is a real cause of con­cern for New Delhi. The U.S. has pro­vided $2.5 mil­lion “for par­tic­i­pa­tion in democ­racy”, but an­a­lysts claim that the real aim is to pro­mote mod­er­ate ele­ments. Both the U.S. and EU con­sider Nasheed’s par­tic­i­pa­tion im­per­a­tive to free and fair elec­tions -- the for­mer pres­i­dent pre­dicts the coun­try will be plunged into vi­o­lence and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil if he is pre­vented from stand­ing in elec­tions. Nasheed, a hu­man rights cam­paigner, gained global at­ten­tion for his ac­tivism on the is­sue of global warm­ing dur­ing his ten­ure in of­fice. He held a cabi­net meet­ing un­der­wa­ter in div­ing gear to drama­tise the threat posed to the low-ly­ing Mal­dives by ris­ing sea lev­els.

The un­cer­tain sce­nario of elec­tions in the Mal­dives is aptly ex­plained by Trans­parency Mal­dives ob­serv­ing that “democ­racy con­sol­i­da­tion is im­pos­si­ble un­der a con­text where le­git­i­macy [of the govern­ment] is con­tested by a sub­stan­tial seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. Thus, key to suc­cess­fully ad­dress­ing the on­go­ing le­git­i­mat­ing cri­sis is hold­ing elec­tions in which can­di­dates of all ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties are free to con­test”. Time will only tell whether this ma­te­ri­al­izes or the Mal­dives plunges into fur­ther po­lit­i­cal tur­moil. Dr. Ikra­mul Haq and Huza­ima Bukhari - part­ners in the law firm Huza­ima & Ikram (mem­ber Taxand) - are Ad­junct Pro­fes­sors at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sciences (LUMS).

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