Fall of the MDP
One reason for Nasheed’s defeat in the parliamentary elections is said to be his opponents’ success in painting him as a pro-western, anti-Islam leader.
Like many of its South Asian neighbors, the Maldives is a fledgling democracy. After the Sultan was deposed in the 1960s, the country was ruled by Mamoon Abd al-Gayoom who was continually reelected through referendums. The first democratic elections in the Maldives were held in 2008.
In the decade preceding these elections, the Maldivian public was slowly becoming amenable to the idea of a democratically elected government. Concerns were raised by international watchdogs, including the Amnesty International, regarding the treatment of those who dared to criticize the government. There were reports of torture and long prison sentences. Eventually, anti-government riots, said to have been provoked due to human rights abuses, prompted President Gayoom to introduce certain reforms to the political system. These included formation of political parties and limiting the number of years of the president’s term in office.
Following further protests by the public, coupled with jail terms for prominent political leaders and the slowly loosening grip of President Gayoom on power, a presidential system of government, to be contested by multiple political parties, was approved by the parliament as well as the public. It was in these circumstances that Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party defeated Gayoom to become the country’s first democratically elected president. His party’s mandate was heavy on the sanctity of human rights and he promised transparent, corruption-free governance.
Nasheed and his party faced an uphill battle in introducing and implementing their promised reforms. Ex-president Gayoom and his supporters, who still had much influence on the electorate, took various actions to undermine the authority of the new government. Officials not loyal to the MDP ignored the official directives, protests were organized against the MDP and Nasheed was painted as a pro-western, anti-Islam leader. His policies came under heavy criticism from religious conservatives and there were accusations against the MDP of secret collusive ties with foreign forces to undermine the influence of Islam in the country.
The rising unrest finally resulted in Nasheed’s resignation on February 7, 2012. He has been insisting since then that he was forced out at gunpoint in a coup d’état though his successor, Mohammed Waheed,
Presidential elections in the Maldives took place in the autumn of 2013. These too were mired in controversy with claims of corruption and intimidating tactics quickly flying from all sides. But, finally, Nasheed conceded defeat to Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom.
That was not all. The MDP and Nasheed faced further defeat in the parliamentary elections, when the party lost out to a coalition led by the Progressive Party of the Maldives. The MDP now faces an uncertain future. There have been calls, all the same, for restructuring the party and the Maldivian public has been encouraged to give suggestions.
It has been suggested that Nasheed is part of the reason for the MDP’s failure and that he should step down from his position as party president. The MDP has also been advised to revamp its image which, whatever the facts may be, comes off as disrespectful towards traditional Islamic values. It is believed that one of the reasons for Nasheed’s defeat was his opponents’ success in painting themselves as more religiously inclined than Nasheed. Furthermore, the Maldivians believe that the MDP failed to deliver on its mandate and it was anything but transparent in its dealings during its tenure.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the status and future of democracy in the Maldives now that the lobby supported by an ex-dictator is back in power. It is believed that the country might sink into a religiously conservative dictatorship once again or continue to struggle with political upheavals for many years before leaders with the will to move within the democratic process emerge.
Since the Maldives’ economy is heavily dependent on tourism and investment, its internal matters are both influenced and closely watched by international powers. India, which had developed close ties with the country, is losing its influence. There is dismay over the closure of various projects funded by India and the country’s growing ties with Pakistan are being viewed with suspicion. It seems to signify the country’s move towards greater conservatism.
Also of concern is the increasing influence of Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, many tourists were outraged to discover that their plans to visit the Maldives had been disrupted because the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia had booked three resorts. Saudi Arabia has promised investments in the Maldives and there are plans to build mosques around the country with Saudi money.
However, due to its reliance on tourism to keep the economy afloat, it is felt that the Maldives cannot completely give in to conservatism. Some level of moderation must be maintained if foreign tourists are to be convinced to visit and spend their money in the country. Many of these tourists are Chinese which just might be one reason for India’s reduced status as an ally.
The Maldives is also one of those countries where religion has been used for political gains. It has been an age-old tactic to whip up public emotions by declaring moderate leaders as being anti-religion in order to erode their support base. Gayoom pursued conservative policies and it has become increasingly apparent that his half-brother is following in his footsteps.
So what is to become of the MDP and Mohamed Nasheed in this kind of political climate? Perhaps they too have become wiser to the fact that liberalism as a political strategy is not going down well with the masses these days – hence the call for the restructuring of the party. It is likely that the MDP will take steps to appease religious leaders and tackle some of the more serious allegations levelled against it.
It is very important for the future of moderate forces in the Maldives that the MDP does not lose further ground to conservatives. Unfortunately for it, the party has not just lost because of its overt liberalism.
Due to being new to the democratic process, the Maldives suffers from a problem that is typical of such countries: lack of political leadership that the people can get behind. Some sections of society believe that the only feasible course of action for continued stability is a shift back to either complete dictatorship or something akin to the Singaporean model of one-party leadership.
It will, of course, be much easier to introduce and implement conservative policies through a dictatorial regime that will most likely come down very hard on criticism. Unfortunately, due to the unrest in recent years, the general public might be more inclined to trade in their democratic freedom for some peace of mind.
It can only be hoped that the moderate forces in the Maldives get their act together soon enough to prevent this from happening and that the people accept that political upheaval is an unavoidable part of becoming a mature democracy. Rather than giving up so soon, the Maldivians should continue to strive for a politically independent future in which both moderate and conservative forces have a chance to air their differences openly without any fear of recrimination. Whatever analysts may say, the final decision regarding the political and social future of the Maldives lies with the people.