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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asna Ali The writer is a busi­ness grad­u­ate. She has in­ter­est in po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues.

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,

claims other­wise.

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.

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