THE LAST STOP
Challenge from the ‘Sunny Side’ of Democracy
The Maldives experienced its second elections on September 7 after the revival of democracy in 2008. Former President Nasheed, who was deposed by the Army and replaced by his Vice President, Mohamed Waheed, in February 2012, got the largest number of votes, 95,224 (45.45 percent of the total). His chief opponent, Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, could get only 25 percent votes. Waheed could manage only 10,750 votes (5.13 percent). The total number of votes polled was 211,000. The numbers may appear amusing to the people of India and Pakistan where candidates even in a university election get more votes.
The Republic of the Maldives, however, is a tiny country with a population of only 350,000. Despite this, the country is in a political mess, with politicians unwilling to come to a settlement acceptable to all. Corruption is rampant as the stakes are high since those in power have acquired many of the 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls, spread over 90,000 square kilometers, on long-term lease. Highly luxurious resorts have been built on some of them with the rents going into millions of dollars every year. It is not surprising then that the powerful cannot agree to share power.
The fact that bases and ports can be built on some of the atolls make the country a lot more appealing to countries with a stake in shipping lanes passing through the Indian Ocean. As such,, countries like the United States, China and India continue to interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives.
Apparently, former President, Nasheed is close to India. This was amply proved when he sought asylum in the Indian High Commission a few months ago when the police tried to arrest him.
Maumoon ruled the Maldives from 1978 to 2008, thus becoming the longest-serving leader in Asia. Mercifully, he declared earlier this year that he would not be contesting the September elections. But then his half-brother Yaamin jumped into the fray on behalf of Maumoon’s Progressive Party.
Since no candidate out of the four who contested elections was able to secure a simple majority, under the constitution, the two candidates who won the most votes were supposed to go to the second round, polling for which was scheduled for September 28.
However, just four days before the run-off polls, the Supreme Court suspended the elections while examining a petition against voting irregularities filed by Qasim Ibrahim, a business tycoon and head of the Jumhooree Party, who managed to get 24 percent votes in the first round. The Election Commission had earlier rejected his allegations of irregularities as he had failed to substantiate them.
Notwithstanding the bitterness in the wake of the Supreme Court’s latest ruling, the election was expected to be a tough one for President Nasheed as Yaamin, Qasim and Waheed had joined hands against him. The acrimony surrounding the elections, and then the delay in holding them, is not good for the Republic of the Maldives. It is feared that political turmoil will continue and may actually worsen.
Nasheed and the supporters of his Democratic Party continue to lament his unlawful ouster in February 2012. Therefore, they would not be satisfied with anything less than Nasheed coming back into power which they consider his due right. On the other hand, the group led by the former autocratic leader Maumoon and current President Washeed, may not be willing to see Nasheed in power ever again.
The situation is quite similar to the tug of war we witness in Pakistan after every few years between the PPP and its opponents. We all know what the outcome is in such cases: military intervention. As a well-wisher of the Maldives, every Pakistani hopes that the country does not go through what we have been experiencing for the past 66 years.