Revolutions for Peace!
Democracy will rule supreme in this island nation.
“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.