The Real Chal­lenge

The Pres­i­dent and the Op­po­si­tion in the Mal­dives must make col­lec­tive ef­forts to deal with the colos­sal en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges that dog the coun­try’s progress.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

The coun­try needs col­lec­tive ef­forts to deal with en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges.

Ever since its tran­si­tion to democ­racy and the first pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2008, the Mal­dives has been in midst of po­lit­i­cal up­heavals. Com­pris­ing over 1,000 is­lands, the Mal­dives was ruled by Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom from 1978 to 2008. Although his long au­to­cratic rule en­sured sta­bil­ity, it sup­pressed demo­cratic forces.

Mo­hamed Nasheed was the first demo­cratic Pres­i­dent who came into power in 2008. Se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences emerged be­tween Nasheed and the busi­ness com­mu­nity which op­posed many of his poli­cies. Nasheed specif­i­cally ac­cused ‘the beach re­sort’ own­ers of fi­nanc­ing the Fe­bru­ary 2012 coup against his gov­ern­ment wherein he was forced to re­sign at gun­point. He also blamed the army, the po­lice and sup­port­ers of for­mer Pres­i­dent, Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom, and even his Vice Pres­i­dent, Mo­hamed Wa­heed – who suc­ceeded him – sub­se­quently, of hatch­ing con­spir­a­cies to re­move him from power.

Af­ter a long pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, the coun­try re­cently wit­nessed its sec­ond pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. In the first round, no pres­i­den­tial can­di­date could gain a clear ma­jor­ity. Mo­hamed Nasheed ob­tained 45 per­cent votes against his main ri­val Yaamin Ab­dul Qay­oom, half-brother of for­mer Pres­i­dent Mau­mon Gay­oom. Yameen got 25 per­cent of the votes while the Mal­di­vian mil­lion­aire re­sort owner, Qasim Ibrahim got 24.07 per­cent votes. It was ex­pected that Nasheed may get sym­pa­thy votes as he was force­fully ousted from power, but he couldn’t meet the re­quire­ment of 50 per­cent votes. The fail­ure of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to gain the min­i­mum re­quired num­ber of votes paved the way for run-off polls, which were held on Septem­ber 28. The bat­tle was be­tween the two ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties: Nasheed’s Mal­di­vian Demo­cratic Party and Yaamin’s Pro­gres­sive Party.

Although, there were re­ports of mal­prac­tices, the head of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of the Mal­dives, Fuwad Thowfeek, re­jected all such charges. He as­serted that the elec­toral ex­er­cise, which was over­seen by in­ter­na­tional ob­servers, was largely trans­par­ent. In fact, the sec­ond round of elec­tions pro­vided yet another op­por­tu­nity to the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to en­sure that polls were held in a trans­par­ent

The Mal­dives is highly vul­ner­a­ble to en­vi­ron­men­tal changes. It needs col­lec­tive ef­forts from the new pres­i­dent and the op­po­si­tion to deal with the se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges.

and free man­ner.

The is­sues which dom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal de­bates dur­ing elec­tion cam­paigns re­flected a grow­ing schism and in­creas­ing po­lar­iza­tion in the so­cial struc­ture of the coun­try. For a coun­try which is fac­ing the dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ance from the world map, is­sues re­lated to en­vi­ron­men­tal changes were con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence from the elec­tion cam­paigns of con­test­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The Mal­dives is said to be highly vul­ner­a­ble to en­vi­ron­men­tal changes. There are re­ports pre­dict­ing the coun­try may dis­ap­pear from the world map in the next 50 years be­cause of the grad­ual rise in sea lev­els due to global warm­ing. Male, the cap­i­tal city, is only two me­ters above sea level and so are most of the other Mal­di­vian is­lands.

While en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are alarmed about the fu­ture of this coun­try, its lead­ers seem to­tally obliv­i­ous to the dan­gers it faces. Their in­dif­fer­ence was ev­i­dent from the is­sues that dom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal de­bates dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. These ranged from cul­tural vul­ner­a­bil­ity vis-à-vis what is per­ceived by Is­lamists as a Western ‘cul­tural in­va­sion’, the grow­ing in­flu­ence of In­dia on Mal­di­vian so­ci­ety and po­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tions among con­tenders for the pres­i­den­tial of­fice. Hardly any can­di­date high­lighted the en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges.

A num­ber of is­sues have been raised by an­a­lysts with re­spect to the coun­try’s fast chang­ing po­lit­i­cal land­scape, their fore­most con­cern be­ing whether Mal­di­vian so­ci­ety is ready for the change which the ousted pres­i­dent pledged to bring in? This as­pect be­comes cru­cial con­sid­er­ing that Nasheed was not al­lowed to im­ple­ment his poli­cies by his op­po­nents. Some other is­sues re­late to the per­me­ation of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism in Mal­di­vian so­ci­ety and the im­pend­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe and how well-pre­pared the coun­try is to deal with such a huge chal­lenge.

In­dia’s in­flu­ence on the Mal­dives is also a cause for con­cern for many. Nasheed has been a tar­get of scathing crit­i­cism for his overt pro-In­dia lean­ings. He never tried to hide that he has a soft spot for In­dia. For ex­am­ple, an­swer­ing a ques­tion from a Chi­nese jour­nal­ist, he once re­port­edly said, “We, In­di­ans and Mal­di­vians, come from the same stock. We lis­ten to the same mu­sic, we read the same books, we eat the same food.”

The Mal­dives has a 100 per­cent Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. Yet, un­like Bangladesh or Pak­istan – the two other Mus­lim coun­tries in South Asia – anti-In­dian feel­ings are low in the Mal­dives.

In Fe­bru­ary 2013, Nasheed took refuge in the In­dian High Com­mis­sion when a lo­cal court is­sued a war­rant for his ar­rest af­ter he failed to ap­pear for a hear­ing. He de­fended his act by ar­gu­ing: “Mind­ful of my own se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the In­dian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the In­dian High Com­mis­sion in Mal­dives.”

In­dia’s main com­peti­tor in the Mal­dives is China. Nasheed also hinted at Bei­jing’s grow­ing in­ter­ven­tion­ist ap­proach to­wards the coun­try. There are ap­pre­hen­sions that with its enor­mous eco­nomic and in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, the coun­try may be­come a ‘soft’ bat­tle­ground or ‘an area of com­pe­ti­tion’ be­tween In­dia and China.

The coun­try’s jour­ney to­wards democ­racy has been rough, mainly be­cause of newly formed po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions. To worsen mat­ters, is­sues which were not im­por­tant, such as up­hold­ing of cul­tural and re­li­gious norms, were given promi­nence by vested in­ter­ests.

In the post-elec­tion sce­nario, the coun­try needs col­lec­tive ef­forts from the new pres­i­dent and the op­po­si­tion to deal with the se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges. There are re­ports that the af­flu­ent Mal­di­vians are buy­ing prop­erty out­side the coun­try be­cause they are afraid that their is­lands may sub­merge in the com­ing decades.

This trend can set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent. The sit­u­a­tion in the Mal­dives calls for unity among all stake­hold­ers. They need to get their act to­gether and take mea­sures to pre­vent any such catas­tro­phe.

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