Rev­o­lu­tions for Peace!

Democ­racy will rule supreme in this is­land na­tion.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The writer is a se­nior jour­nal­ist based in Karachi.

“When dic­ta­tor­ship is a fact, revo­lu­tion be­comes a right.” French writer Vic­tor Hugo said this and the Mal­dives to­day seems to be fac­ing the same sit­u­a­tion. Two dic­ta­tor­ships are lead­ing to a revo­lu­tion or the begin­nings of a revo­lu­tion.

Mal­dives’s for­mer pres­i­dent Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom ruled the coun­try for 30 years (1978 2008) with an iron hand. Gay­oom’s op­po­nents al­lege that the for­mer pres­i­dent’s ‘ten­ure’ was full of cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism and that he didn’t shy of us­ing terror tac­tics against dis­si­dents. Of course, Mau­moom Ab­dul Gay­oom has de­nied all these charges but his half-brother, the cur­rent Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen Ab­dul Gay­oom is also us­ing some tough tac­tics to keep the op­po­si­tion in line. For starters, he put the main op­po­si­tion lead­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Nasheed, be­hind bars.

The story is not as sim­ple as it seems. Mo­hamed Nasheed en­joys mas­sive public sup­port as leader of the first and largest po­lit­i­cal party - the Mal­di­vian Demo­cratic Party (MDP). Mal­dives is also a cham­pion of hu­man rights and democ­racy. This alone would pose a prob­lem for those who wanted to re­tain the 30 year plus au­to­cratic rule of el­der Pres­i­dent Gay­oom.

But things did not stop there. Nasheed made history when he came into the po­lit­i­cal lime­light by con­test­ing the coun­try’s first multi-party pres­i­den­tial elec­tion through pop­u­lar vote - the 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions – in which he was elected Pres­i­dent of Mal­dives. He was the fourth pres­i­dent of the coun­try and the first to be elected through pop­u­lar vote.

De­spite his strong public sup­port, Nasheed was un­able to com­plete his five-term and re­signed – he says he was forced to re­sign ‘at gun­point’ by mil­i­tary and po­lice of­fi­cers.

He was re-elected to lead the na­tion as pres­i­dent in

2014 but this stint was even shorter com­pared to the first one. Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen took over the reins of the coun­try af­ter win­ning the 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. In­ci­den­tally, the sec­ond round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions was can­celled af­ter early poll re­sults put Nasheed ahead of Yameen and Nasheed lost by a nar­row mar­gin.

Nasheed was con­victed for ar­rest­ing Crim­i­nal Court Judge Ab­dulla Mo­hamed while he was pres­i­dent. He was cleared in Fe­bru­ary 2015 and then re-ar­rested and charged in March 2015 un­der anti-ter­ror­ism laws. Nasheed’s 13 year sen­tence and ar­rest ig­nited ma­jor protests across the coun­try. His sup­port­ers poured into the streets chant­ing slo­gans and ex­press­ing con­cern that the gov­ern­ment was try­ing to end his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer for good.

The clashes have now grown vi­o­lent be­tween Nasheed’s sup­port­ers and the po­lice, as calls for his re­lease in­ten­sify. Pro­tes­tors have la­belled the present gov­ern­ment as ‘il­le­git­i­mate’ and MDP lead­ers claim that the pro­tes­tors are be­ing at­tacked by ‘gangs’ in front of po­lice but no ac­tion is be­ing taken against them. They openly de­clare that the peo­ple of Mal­dives would not al­low the coun­try to be taken back to the ‘dark reign’ and that they would de­fend the con­sti­tu­tion.

The strong stance of the op­po­si­tion re­veals that things will not re­turn to nor­mal un­til MDP’s lead­ers and Nasheed are not re­leased. The peo­ple are yearn­ing for a change that they see with Nasheed’s party and lead­er­ship com­ing back. In these cir­cum­stances, Pres­i­dent Yameen needs to re­think his strat­egy and not take any hasty steps that could stir more prob­lems for his coun­try and gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially since the whole world is watch­ing.

The chang­ing mood of the peo­ple of the Mal­dives re­veals, now that they have tasted democ­racy, that they will no longer be re­strained by a dic­ta­tor­ship. That they are on the streets, protest­ing for Nasheed’s re­lease, it also in­di­cates that they are no longer afraid of stand­ing up for their rights. Peace and sta­bil­ity in the Mal­dives is ben­e­fi­cial to many coun­tries, es­pe­cially In­dia. They are con­cerned about the bad state of hu­man rights in the Mal­dives. In­dia has more stakes than oth­ers. It needs to keep the is­land na­tion on its side mainly be­cause of its lo­ca­tion in the In­dian Ocean. It is con­cerned about the grow­ing pres­ence of China in the re­gion, as well as the strength­en­ing re­la­tions of the Mal­dives with Pak­istan. To stay ahead, In­dia needs to keep its feet firmly grounded and that’s where Mal­dives be­comes im­por­tant. In­dia would want to keep a strong pres­ence in the In­dian Ocean and would pre­fer a gov­ern­ment there that is more amenable.

In­dia can­not al­low the Mal­dives to be vul­ner­a­ble, giv­ing oth­ers a chance to get a foot in­side the coun­try. But to keep its pres­ence valid, it needs to first rein­vig­o­rate its in­flu­ence by help­ing the Mal­dives in its time of need. For fur­ther progress in the re­gion, In­dia and China which have strong economies, should stop com­pet­ing for the cov­eted po­si­tion of ‘re­gional power’ and fo­cus on first im­prov­ing the sit­u­a­tion near home. Both coun­tries do want to main­tain ami­able re­la­tions with each other.

In­dia should fo­cus on im­por­tant projects and not in­dulge in covert and overt mis­sions.

If Pres­i­dent Yameen wants to prove he is a strong leader work­ing for the ben­e­fit of his peo­ple and his na­tion, he should sup­press his per­sonal de­sires of lead­ing the na­tion with an iron hand and al­low the na­tion to blos­som into a democ­racy. Such steps will be in the na­tional in­ter­est and reap longterm ben­e­fits. Im­prov­ing re­la­tions with neigh­bours like In­dia and China would also be a pru­dent step.

Nasheed should be re­leased and elec­tions held. Who­ever is elected through pop­u­lar vote should be al­lowed to com­plete the full term and maybe some kind of sys­tem may be put into place through leg­is­la­tion.

It may take time for the Mal­dives to set­tle down and lay down a roadmap for projects that can bring pros­per­ity to the na­tion. But the first step is to lay the foun­da­tion for peace and pros­per­ity in the coun­try, and also sus­tain the main in­dus­try - tourism. This can be done by im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties and ex­pand­ing the econ­omy.

The peo­ple of the Mal­dives have tasted democ­racy and will no longer be re­strained by dic­ta­tor­ship.

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