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.
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.