Comment: Happy Independence Day

“The United Kingdom, which always wanted to colonise Maldives with the co-operation of the Athireege family, finally came to Malé in the form of the HMS Britain, on 22 Feb 1887. The captain of this ship was Rodney M Lloyd. As a representative of the Governor of Ceylon came Rear Admiral Fredrick W M Richard. Accompanying them were Athireege Annabeel Ahmed Didi, and Abdul Kareem Mudhuliar.

This delegation went upstairs in the Palace and asked Sultan Mohamed Mueenudheen III, the Prime Minister Sumuvvul Amir Mohamed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan, and the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu to write an agreement between the English and Maldivian governments which would provide ‘protection’ to the Maldives. According to this agreement Maldives would become a colony of the English.

The whole of Maldives opposed this. This proposal to become the protected servant of anyone other than the Great Allah was rejected by the Sultan, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu, the military, and the people. About six days later the ship returned to Colombo.

There, in Ceylon, the British and their Maldivian friends arranged for Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib to write a letter of agreement in Arabic in which Maldives would become a full colony, or at the very least, a country which came under colonial authority. It was written in such a way that the Sultan seemingly requested British protection on his own initiative, and made the annual tribute ceremony the formal recognition of this new relationship. In the document, the Sultan was given a voice of abject humility, admitting weakness and an inability to stabilise the country.

The delegation, this time with the addition of Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib, then returned to Malé in two large warships. The British delegation went upstairs again to Mathige. This time the document, which the Chief Justice had refused to write, had already been written and only the signing remained. The Sultan, the Prime Minister, the military, and the people… all refused.

The delegation returned to their warships and the guns were aimed at Malé, and the people ran to the edge of the reef. The British and their friends came ashore once again and said if the agreement went unsigned, then Malé would be smashed to pieces. The Sultan and the prominent people agreed to sign the agreement to escape from death. The Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu said that Maldivians ‘should prefer to be martyred rather than accept that thing.” –Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik

It was 78 years later, on 26 July 1965, that Maldives finally freed itself from the agreement signed, regardless of what the people wanted, on that day in February 1887. 26 July has since been marked as ‘Independence Day’. Sunday will be the 50th anniversary of the occasion. Much has changed since. At this moment in time, it is difficult to see a scenario in which, faced with a situation where parts [or whole] of the country is to be owned by a foreign party, ‘the president, the vice president, the military and the people…all refuse’.

On Tuesday night, PPM submitted a motion to the Majlis: add a clause to the Constitution to allow the sale of Maldivian territory to foreign parties. The proposal was accepted and passed within 24 hours, with minimal debate, with the consent of 70 MPs. President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendment the very next day. Public consultation was never part of the momentous decision, which has the potential to change the very identity and culture of the Maldives.

Broadly speaking, there is nothing wrong with non-nationals owning land – it happens in most countries in the world. Where the Maldives is concerned, the problems are many: only two percent of its territory is land, the rest is sea; roughly 99 percent of Maldivians cannot afford to buy off the public land registered in their names; there is no independent judiciary or legal expertise to handle cases of such complexity; rule of law is emphatically absent; the corruption among government officials is unprecedented; and there is little room to expect any benefit from such sales to trickle down to the ordinary person.

The natural beauty of the islands has been to Maldives what diamonds were to Sierra Leone: a disaster for the ordinary men and women; an impediment to democracy; an obstacle to human development; and a pathway to massive corruption. Most owners of tourist resorts in the Maldives are rich beyond the ordinary person’s wildest dreams; many pour their money into the dirty pit of Maldivian politics to ensure the people elected are puppets whose strings they pull in whichever direction is more lucrative for them; they help block the opening up of the tourism industry in ways that would allow more even wealth distribution; all the money they earn from tourism are squirrelled away in foreign banks, little of it allowed to go through Maldivian economic system; and, in more recent times—as a way of appeasing their ‘Muslim guilt’ for benefitting from trading in services and goods considered haram—they have been funding extremist individuals and organisations that encourage people to hate ‘the infidel’, successfully ensuring the ordinary person would not want a share of the tourism wealth.

Who cares if large numbers of people are joining radical organisations like ISIS and dying in dozens? As long as they are not a threat to the tourism magnates’ personal wealth, it’s not a problem.

And now, it’s not sufficient that islands can be leased as tourist resorts for 99 years that are developed with all imaginable modern luxuries while locals live on islands often with no drinking water, waste disposal systems, electricity or proper sewerage systems. It is no longer enough to have Special Economic Zones where rich foreign investors will not be subject to any Maldivian laws, the proceeds of whatever they do on these islands of no benefit to Maldivians. Now lagoons and reefs are to be sold off to any billionaire with a dredger. They will own ‘for perpetuity’ 70 percent of the land they reclaim and, as freeholds, Maldives will have little or no control over whatever happens on this new land—dug up from the bottom of the sea destroying for the sake of its existence the life that thrives underwater, the life that sustains Maldives and Maldivians.

Life as Maldivians have known it for centuries is coming to an end.

Running parallel to the plan to sell the lagoons and its life to the highest bidders is the plan for forced migration of the people. 60-70 percent of Maldivians are to be moved from the 200 odd islands they occupy to around two or three islands in what is to be called ‘The Greater Male’ Area’. They are all to be housed on high-rise flats built on these designated islands, families crammed into tiny little spaces like hens in a battery farm. This is what has happened in Male’ already – once an idyllic island, now one of the most crowded—and often the dirtiest—cities in the world. Traditional ways of life are not just going to change as everything inevitably does; they will be forced to disappear. There have been no studies or analyses done of what the social and environmental impacts of such a migration of people will be. Such considerations are for wimps, not ‘a government with guts’, as this one describes itself to be.

The consequences will be dire, but work has already begun to seduce people into thinking it is a good idea, with computer generated 3D images of a city with sky scrapers and swimming pools, vast roads and theme parks. An urban artificial ‘utopia’ a-la Singapore or Dubai. Few are asking why, when we have 1200 islands, can we not find a solution that allows the Maldivian people to live on those islands, why there are no efforts being made to provide the services they need on the islands they have existed on for centuries. No one is asking why such damage is being done to our fragile environment by dredging holes in the reef, by moving sand from the bottom of the sea from here to there, when we already have enough islands for just 400,000 people to live comfortably on. In the 21st century, where eco-friendly solutions are being invented to accommodate living life with the environment, when sustainable development is trending, where innovative scientific minds are finding ways for man to adapt to their own environments rather than the other way around — Maldives is being forced to turn around and walk doggedly in the opposite direction.

Independence Day celebrations this year ring hollow. From the plastic palm trees that line the main street of Male’ (the capital island of a country where the coconut palm is the national tree!); the fairy lights tastelessly thrown onto every available surface of the city; the Majlis’ removal of the Vice President in a political deal reeking of vengeance and personal glory disguised as a democratic ‘impeachment’; the Majlis ‘debate’ on the same night to float the idea of selling off Maldivian territory; the earlier ‘Adeeb Amendment’ to the Constitution to allow a specific person to become Vice President — it all smells of oppression, not independence.

Where once state and people together resisted until left with no choice to sign agreements that would infringe on Maldivian sovereignty and identity, today only lone voices are raised even in the face of serious national security breaches—such as foreign submarines making incursions into our territorial waters for no apparent reason. Instead of guarding borders and boundaries, the Maldives National Defence is deployed to repair broken generators and, at all times, protect the president and his government. Individual freedoms have been taken away, the Maldives Police Service dispatched 24/7 to ensure the people cannot—at any time—freely exercise their rights to freedom of assembly or expression.

The People’s Majlis has been turned into a place to fast-track documents loosely called ‘legislation’ that allow rulers to act with impunity, but under the legitimising veil of ‘democracy’. On Tuesday, the Majlis changed its procedural rules to say it is no longer necessary to discuss, analyse or debate a Bill before putting it to vote. As long as the ruling party has a majority, it can make anything law, without the people having a clue about what the legislation is for or what the rationale behind it is.

There is no judiciary to right any wrong, to provide justice where it is required. In its place is a state apparatus designed and implemented to control society the way rulers want. All substantial opposition have been robbed of their liberty, incarcerated in jail, put into solitary confinement, or held under house arrest. Their freedom is nothing but a bargaining tool of those in control.

The Maldivian Democratic Party is at its weakest since inception: it voted for the Constitutional amendment that allowed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb to become Vice President, and citing its position as a ‘centre right party’—a position which it has not relied on to justify much of anything to its members before—chose not to issue a three-line whip in the vote to amend the Constitution allowing sale of Maldivian property. Only a handful of MDP MPs voted against the amendment rushed through the parliament with such haste and absolutely no public consultation.

MDP’s weakness is the majority’s weakness. The party has led the Maldivian democracy movement for the last decade; for a majority of its supporters, the meaning of democracy itself is ‘MDP’s vision’. And when MDP’s vision is clouded—by force or not—followers are lost in the fog, directionless, unable to see the road ahead with any clarity.

As Maldives marks its 50th Independence Day, the Constitution, and the people, are both hostage to the whims and desires of the rulers. People are but mere spectators in games played among and between the rich, the elite, and the powerful. The future holds the prospects of foreign military bases on Maldivian territorial waters; becoming embroiled in Indian Ocean security issues and potential naval warfare; forced internal migration; living in slum cities; absolute loss of way of life and identity; and total subjugation to a ruthless dictatorship that will always put money before people.

We need to revive the spirit of collectively saying we’ll do anything but ‘accept that thing.’

Happy Independence Day.

This article was originally published on Dhivehisitee.com. It has been republished with permission. 

Dr Azra Naseem is a former journalist who now works as a Research fellow in Dublin City University. 

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Special laws must not pre-empt general criminal law

On 6 July 2015, a new anti-terrorism bill was submitted to the People’s Majlis that aims to replace the existing Anti-Terrorism Act 1990. Drafted by the Attorney General’s office, the bill was submitted by the President’s Office and is yet to come up for discussion in the parliament.

According to media reports, the bill defines offences and actions that constitute an act of terrorism and bestows additional investigative powers to state authorities. If passed, the bill will expand the legal framework to deal with terrorism.

This gives rise to several concerns. First, any new anti-terrorism law must abide by the 2008 Constitution. At present, Maldives is working to finalize its Penal Code, Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code to revise basic criminal law to align with the 2008 Constitution. Special laws are based on an assumption that a distinct legal framework, beyond general criminal procedures and standards, is needed. There is no basis as yet for this assumption in the Maldives. Laws like on anti-terror are legitimised under the pretext that “special circumstances require special procedures” but are often an excuse to let the inefficiencies of the state continue at the expense of civil liberties. Across the world, they have been used to reduce the rigor required by the standards of fair trial and have made it easier to put away dissidents and other people inconvenient to the ruling regime of the day. Once a specialized security regime is put in place, it is very difficult to rollback powers vested with the authorities as well as mitigate impact on civil liberties.

The government must, therefore, clearly articulate reasons behind introducing this bill. What is the level of terrorism threat in the country? What are the factors including socio-economic causes leading to its purported spread, and why is general criminal law (as being finalized) considered ill-equipped to address the threat? These concerns must be addressed now if Maldives is to avoid a legal regime where exceptionalism prevails over constitutional principles and accepted legal standards of criminal justice as embodied in general laws.

Moreover, the definition of terrorism provided in the bill, as indicated through media reports, is likely to be misused particularly in the absence of a penal code. The definition, for instance, includes activities carried out with the intent of promoting ‘unlawful’ political ideologies among others but what constitutes unlawful is not defined anywhere. This leaves space for subjective interpretation. Who gets to define an ideology or what is unlawful, or at what stage an ideology becomes unlawful?

Such drafting appears designed to curtail rights of Maldivians to freely associate and to establish and participate in the activities of political parties guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution. It also has the potential of being used arbitrarily to target and suppress political opposition, particularly when seen in light of additional powers of surveillance vested with the authorities. Even if left unused the very presence of such laws lying on the books creates a chill that shrivels the democratic impulse.

These concerns are amplified in light of the continued attempt to restrict constitutional rights through legislative action. Under the bill, those suspected of terrorism can have their right to remain silent and access to lawyers restricted. In November 2014, the Majlis amended the Law Prohibiting Threatening and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Objects which restricts the same rights for arrested persons in case of violent assault. These rights are fundamental features of a fair trial and need to be protected for proper administration of justice.

Given the serious ramifications of the bill, a process of public engagement on the subject matter is crucial. The government must use this as an opportunity to galvanize a national debate on whether an anti-terror law is needed at all in the Maldives, and if so, how best to ground it within the framework of democratic freedoms, human rights and international norms. Parliamentary committee review, which is likely to follow once the bill is accepted at the floor of parliament, is important but not sufficient.

The government is urged to make the bill public at this stage, invite public comments and hold wide-range consultations, as is now the accepted practice in several democracies. The benefits of such an engagement are manifold, from building public confidence, creating a more informed citizenry to generating a sense of ownership among the public. It is also imperative that legal experts are involved to ensure that any new legislation is necessary and if so, that it is drafted in strict accordance with the 2008 Constitution.

Ultimately, unless the government makes sincere efforts to inform and involve the public before laws are enacted, restrictions being proposed through such laws are likely to lead to unrest and deep dissatisfaction among the public. The process of democratisation which began in 2008 is ill-served by processes which take no account of public opinion when drafting legislation; it is time this gap is addressed and this seems a good moment to make a new beginning.

Devyani Srivastava is a Senior Program Officer (South Asia) at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She can be reached at devyani@humanrightsinitiative.org.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: New penal code comes into effect! A truly historic moment

This article is by Hussein Shameem, a partner at Aequitas Legal Consultants and the former deputy Prosecutor General. 

Today is July 16, 2015, a momentous day in the history of the Maldives’ criminal justice system. The penal code of 1968 expired at 11:59pm on July 15. In this historic moment, 12am on July 16, 2015, a brand new penal code takes effect in the Maldives.

The revolutionary change we are ushering in today is significant even by global standards, and equivalent to the historic change brought by the ratification of a new constitution in the Maldives on August 7, 2008. The constitution, in addition to granting many fundamental rights, also brought in major reforms to the criminal justice system. These reforms can only be complete with the enforcement of the new penal code.

Article 61 (b) of the constitution states: “No person may be subjected to any punishment except pursuant to a statute or pursuant to a regulation made under authority of a statute, which has been made available to the public and which defines the criminal offence and the punishment for commission of the offence.”

The statute that defines criminal offences and the punishment for the commission of those offences is the penal code that took effect today. This law states, in clear and simple language and not in legal jargon, what criminal offences are and what their corresponding punishments are.

This penal code will improve transparency in the law enforcement sector. It clearly lays out what law enforcement officers can and cannot do, and provides measures that judges must refer to in meting out punishment. It allows an offender to argue several justifications in their defense, such as self- defense, defense of property or that of law enforcement authorities.

This is the age of transparency and access to information. Laws must clearly state how people are to be treated. This is a crucial element of the philosophy of the rule of law. If an individual knows beforehand how they will be treated under the law, it will increase their trust in the legal system. Public trust is one element lacking in and much needed for the Maldives criminal justice system. This penal code paves a path to gain that trust.

This penal code only applies to events that occur after 12:01am on July 16, 2015. Hence, the old law will be used in the prosecution of events that occurred before the new law came into force. This is because the public must be notified before a certain action is declared as a new offence. If an act is not an offence at the time at which it was committed, the person who committed the act cannot be prosecuted retroactively by a new law. This is not justice. Since this law came into force today, and since the notice was provided today, this law only applies to events that occur today onwards.

What will happen to cases under investigation at present?

Some crimes are reported to the police only days after they took place. Since the current penal code only applies to events that occur from today onwards, the police must consider the date on which the reported offence took place. Depending on the date of the alleged offence, the law they apply will be different. Hence, law enforcement agencies will have to consider both laws for a time being. But this will be resolved soon, when police start receiving reports of events that occur from today onwards.

This overlap is inevitable. If the enforcement of a criminal law is suspended for any period of time, it may permit criminality for that period. The police and law enforcement agencies will have to bear some difficulties in this period of transition, for our protection and safety.

What will happen to cases sent for prosecution to the Prosecutor General’s Office?

The Prosecutor General (PG) must press charges according to the law in force at the time that an offence was committed. Even if the punishment for the offence is considerably lesser in the new law, the charges must be filed under provisions in the law in effect at the time the act was committed.

Judges, however, must consider the more lenient punishment in sentencing. I will address that in the next section

What will happen to ongoing cases at the criminal court?

With the enforcement of the new penal code, prosecution in ongoing cases will continue according to the offence the person was charged with under the old law.

However, the accused has the following rights:

Firstly, the defendant will have the right to the justifications outlined in chapter 40, 50 and 60 of the current penal code. For example, if the offence was committed in self-defense, the defendant can take this argument up in the trial. Chapter 40 introduces six defenses, chapter 50 introduces seven, and chapter 60 introduces six. These chapters detail how these justifications can be used. The defendant will now have the right to argue the justification relevant to their circumstances.

Secondly, Article 59 (a) of the constitution states that if the punishment for an offence has been reduced between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, the accused is entitled to the benefit of the lesser punishment. Hence, judges are obligated to consider the punishments outlined in the old and new laws and mete out the lesser punishment. If not, the accused has the right to appeal the sentence at the High Court. Unlike before, the accused can appeal either the reasoning or the severity of the sentence at the High Court. If judges find that the accused was handed the severe sentence, they can reduce the sentence to the lesser punishment.

What will happen to completed cases?

If a case had been tried and a verdict had been delivered before the new law came into force, there will be no change to the sentence.

Exempted Acts

Even though the new penal code takes effect today, Article 18 states that the following acts shall take precedence (meaning provisions in the following Acts will take precedence over that in the penal code):

  • Act 12/2009: Special Provisions Act to Deal with Child Sex Abuse Offenders
  • Act 17/2010: Intimidation and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Instruments
  • Act 17/2011: Narcotic Drugs Act
  • Act 12/2013: Anti-Human Trafficking Law
  • Act 13/2013: Anti-Torture Act
  • Act 10/2014: Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act
  • Act 17/2014: Sexual Offences Act

Even though provisions in the above-mentioned laws will take precedence over the penal code, for prosecution under those laws, the defendant will get the benefit of defenses. If the defendant is able to prove such a defense, they may not be punished. For example, if a defendant is able to prove they were mentally incapacitated at the time of committing the offence, they may not be sentenced.

The offences mentioned in these laws, and the procedures relating to those offences must be reviewed by the Majlis and a decision on the annulment of these Acts must be made before July 15, 2016.

Because of all the reasons outlined above, the enforcement of the new penal code is truly a historic event. It opens doors for the Maldivian criminal justice system to become a globally accepted system.

Human beings wrote the penal code. Therefore, it is likely to have some flaws. They will become clearer as we begin to enforce the new law. These flaws can be corrected and the law can be improved further. In all countries, it takes some time to reform and improve laws. Our task now is to identify such gaps and block them. The Attorney General’s Office has set up a mechanism to do so—the Legal Resource Center (LRC). This center will consult with all stakeholders, conduct research and bring the necessary reforms to this law.

The legal system is not just dependent on good laws, but also on their enforcement. If we are unable to implement and enforce the law, even the most perfect law will not bring resolutions. I call on the law enforcement agencies to be sincere in enforcing this law, even if there are some difficulties at first. When problems arise, we must resolve them. The real problem is when there is no interest in solving problems.

Shameem is a consultant with the Legal Resource Center. 

This is a translation of an article written in Dhivehi. Translation by Zaheena Rasheed. 

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Will the new anti-terror bill deter Maldivian ‘Jihadists’?

This op-ed is by Mohamed Hameed, the former head of the police intelligence department.

The first reports of Maldivians joining in and dying in the civil war in Syria came in during mid-2014. Since then, more than a hundred Maldivians, including women and children, are reported to have left the Maldives to fight in battle in the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, and to live under the banner of the Islamic State. Dozens more have reportedly died. The latest are three young men from Malé’s Kuda Henveiru ward.

The Maldives needs legal measures to prevent the death and the steady outflow of Maldivians, but will the provisions in the new anti-terror bill, drafted by the Attorney General’s Office and submitted to parliament on July 6, act as a deterrent?

The bill metes out a jail term of between 17- 20 years for those who join in a foreign war or leave the Maldives with the intent of joining a foreign war. A jail term of 10 to 15 years is proposed for those who attempt to leave the Maldives with the same intent.

According to media reports, at least two groups of seven Maldivians have been caught in Sri Lanka and in Malaysia while attempting to board flights to Turkey. Under the new law, they may be jailed for up to 20 years.

Harsh penalties can act as a deterrent. But they are not enough.

The Maldives has tough laws on gang violence and knife crime. But the harsh penalties have done little to curb the fatal stabbings. In 2010, in response to a surge in murders of young men, the parliament passed a law banning threats and possession of dangerous weapons. The law metes out a jail term between six months and seven years for threats and up to three years in jail for possession of weapons. However, 12 people were killed in the ensuing two years.

In early 2014, President Abdulla Yameen’s administration removed a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty. In August of the same year, after three young men were stabbed to death in the space of a month, the parliament moved to restrict the right to remain silent and access to a lawyer for suspects. Since the amendments passed in December last year, six people have been killed, including three migrant workers.

Robust laws are never enough.

There have been multiple instances where law enforcement, especially investigative agencies have failed in dealing with cases of serious crime. This has affected public safety, and lead to questions over the force’s competence in protecting the public. The police service is perceived to operate without clear policies and strategies to tackle crime in the Maldives.

The model which the police service uses in order to achieve policing objectives is not known to the public or its officers. Counter-terrorism policing is a more complex subject where success relies heavily on how well regular police work is carried out in partnership with the communities the police service serves.

The criminalization of participation in foreign wars or attempting to do so is a minor aspect of the new anti-terrorism bill. The bill is mainly concerned with defining some 14 other offences as terrorism, including murder, disappearances, kidnappings, damaging property, hijacking vehicles, endangering public health or security, damaging public infrastructure and suspending public services. Punishments range from 20-25 years prison terms for perpetrators, and from 17-20 years for those caught planning a terror act.

Is the Maldives at threat from the above? Since the Sultan Park bomb incident of 2007, how many incidents of terror has the Maldives seen?

These questions are very important as the anti-terrorism bill curtails a host of civil liberties. The home minister is authorized to seek a monitoring and control or monicon order from the High Court to conduct surveillance of suspects, including tagging, restricting place of residence, restricting freedom of movement, intercepting communication and monitoring bank accounts. A monicon order can be issued without the knowledge of the suspect. The home minister only needs to provide the judge with a police intelligence report.

The monicon measures introduced in this bill appears to be modeled on the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) Act, passed in 2011. The law was passed in response to increasing risks of terrorism. The July 7 bombing of 2005 killed 52 and injured more than 700. Further, a significant majority of the UK’s migrant population are from Pakistan, a country considered the “epicenter of terrorism.” Do we face the same threats to justify the granting extensive powers to the law enforcement agencies and the curtailing of civil liberties?

It is also important to note that the prevention and investigative measures outlined in the UK Act is for those suspects who cannot be either prosecuted or deported by the UK authorities. In the case of this bill, monicon measures can be taken against suspects who are prosecuted and under trial, but cannot be held in custody.

While a monicon order can be sought on police intelligence information, it is important to note that there is no special law on the gathering and use of intelligence information. In the absence of such a legal or regulatory framework, there will always be questions over the credibility of such information. The provision of using intelligence in the anti-terrorism bill underscores the immediate importance of a framework on compiling intelligence reports. This framework must be agreed on by the law enforcement agencies, the prosecution authority and judiciary. Investigative agencies must be aware that intelligence information does not always count as evidence. Instead, it is good investigative practices that lead to successful convictions. A heavy dependence and high degree of admissibility for intelligence reports, as provided for in this bill, could lead to ineffective investigations.

It is true that a single act of terror can cripple the Maldives and its economy. The 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act is outdated and insufficient in dealing with the nature of modern crime. But is the proposed bill compatible with the risks Maldivians face?

The Maldivian government is yet to acknowledge how wide spread extremist ideologies are in the country. After months of pretending to have no knowledge of the number of Maldivians leaving for Syria, the home minister in December last year told the parliament there were some 7 Maldivians fighting abroad. The next month, the commissioner of police said the number was more than 50. Media reports since then indicate Maldivians are continuing to leave the country. The police have now begun questioning passengers on board flights to Turkey, even as reports indicated Maldivians were now seeking alternative routes to fly to Syria.

The risk of terrorism must not be underestimated. It is likely that there are some Maldivians with the motivation, the intent and the capabilities of carrying out acts of terror. But the most prevalent threats in the Maldives at present appear to be the recruitment of Maldivians for wars abroad and the spread of extremist ideologies. Although the bill does punish the dissemination of materials published by terrorist organizations, this is not enough to counter radical and extremist ideologies that give rise to terrorism and allow recruitment.

Comprehensive reforms and measures such as public awareness, early intervention and rehabilitation programmes to combat extremism must be put in place, along with or before the passage of this bill. There has to be a comprehensive picture on the problem of religious extremism and a cross-government strategy to tackle it. As a very first step, the government must publicly acknowledge the spread of extremist religious ideologies. Our elected officials must explain to the us the level and nature of threats we are facing and justify why we must allow the state to take away so many of our civil liberties.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Did former Maldives leader receive a fair trial?

This comment piece by Toby Cadman was first published on Al-Jazeera. Republished with permission.

Cadman is an international lawyer and is currently advising the government of the Republic of Maldives on legal and constitutional reform. In particular, he is assisting the government in responding to the allegations made to the UN by former President Mohamed Nasheed concerning his conviction for an offence of terrorism.  

On March 13, the former president of the Republic of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, was convicted of terrorism. He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for ordering the army to arrest and detain the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdullah Mohamed. It was alleged that Abdullah was abducted by the army without any lawful order, held incommunicado for 72 hours, and then detained for a further 21 days in a military establishment.

There was national and international outcry at such an unprecedented attack on the judiciary, including statements from the United Nations terming the detention of the judge as arbitrary and in breach of international law.

It has been argued that Nasheed’s actions don’t qualify as terrorist acts. However, if similar actions had been conducted in the United Kingdom, the former president could have been charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment – an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Political turmoil

Regardless of whether or not he was at one point a head of state, all persons – irrespective of political office or other affiliation – should be brought to justice where there is credible evidence to demonstrate that a criminal offence has been committed.

Mohamed Nasheed was elected as president in 2008. While in office, political turmoil erupted. It is believed that he ordered the locking-up of the Supreme Court and ordered Judge Abdullah to be placed under arrest by the army.

Nasheed resigned live on national television, but less than 24 hours later, alleged that he had resigned under duress. An independent inquiry carried out by the Commonwealth, and observed by the UN, concluded that he had resigned voluntarily and that the transfer of power was lawful and constitutional. Therefore, his fall from power cannot be characterised as a coup.

During the former president’s trial, it was alleged that he had ordered the the abduction of a senior judge to prevent him from carrying out his judicial function.

In a BBC Hardtalk interview after his resignation, Nasheed stated in very clear terms that the judge had to be removed and that as president, in the absence of anyone else acting, he had to do it. The judge, in the former president’s words, was becoming a nuisance.

The targeting of the judiciary in such a way by the Executive cannot be accepted in any democracy and such an attack can only be construed as an attack on the constitution.

Allegations of flaws in trial  

It has been argued by the former president and his legal team that there were significant flaws during his terrorism trial and that, as a result, his detention is arbitrary and in breach of international law.

However, rather than appeal the verdict, his legal team filed a communication with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The government has been given until July 11 to respond to the allegations and a decision is expected in September.

The former president is arguing that arrest was unlawful, his trial rushed, and the composition of the panel of judges lacked the requisite independence and impartiality. There have also been allegations that the conditions of his detention breach his human rights.

Ordinarily, many of these matters would be subject to legal challenge through the national courts. However, the former president has elected not to appeal. Contrary to statements issued to date, it is the government’s position that the former president has not been prevented from appealing – he has chosen not to do so.

It is clear that in a politically charged case such as this, the media reporting can take a sensationalist and selective approach. It is essential that what is reported is accurate and balanced as the stakes are extremely high.

Prevention of an appeal 

Much has been made of the fact that Maldivian legislation was amended so as to reduce the time period for the lodging of an appeal from 90 to 10 days, thus alleging that Nasheed has been prevented from appealing.

He has not. The Maldivian authorities have repeatedly maintained that the former president is still able to submit an application for appeal and that it will be for the courts to consider. It is also important to note that the deadline for submitting an appeal within 10 days relates to a notice of appeal, not the full appeal.

It has been further alleged that the former president has been prevented from appealing through the court’s wilfully withholding of documents which are necessary for filing an appeal notice. However, the court records will clearly demonstrate that the judgement of the court and the trial record was provided to the former president and his legal team.

He refused to sign the court record. Notwithstanding this refusal and the expiration of the 10-day deadline, there is a provision in the law for a defendant to submit a late appeal if the delay has been caused by the authorities. Furthermore, there is a provision in the law for the courts to accept a late appeal “in the interests of justice”.

The conditions the former president was purportedly being forced to endure have been called into question. Again, these accusations of unfair or unlawful treatment are wholly false.

Underlying risk  

He was held, up until his recent release on house arrest, away from the general population. However, he is not and has never been in solitary confinement, and was detained in a facility that would not only meet international standards of practise, but arguably far exceed any acceptable level.

As a former president, he is entitled to VIP treatment in custody, which he received up until his release under house arrest.

There is an underlying risk underlining this entire court process – the potential of a trial by media. As with all cases, there are two sides to any argument, but the government’s position has not been given any attention and the offence for which the former president was convicted has been unnecessarily trivialized.

There is a clear obligation on all, be it members of the media, or members of the international community, to acknowledge both positions in relation to any case, and not seek to favour one when the issue is yet to be fully considered and determined by the appropriate tribunal.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Mosque, story of my country

This article was first published on www.patheos.com. Republished with permission. 

I feel the weight of a nation on my shoulders; a nation that is too often spoken of in the global community in terms of its natural beauty rather than in terms of its people. And I wonder whether my individual experience reflects the experiences of all those Maldivians, who share this fate of having their life experiences casually set aside whenever their country is mentioned. ‘Maldives has really beautiful beaches, right?’ I am often asked. ‘Yes, and very interesting people.’

Most of us are Muslims, living in about 190 of the 1200 islands that form our country. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution requires all laws made in the country to abide by Islamic principles and all Maldivian citizens to be Muslims. As young Muslims, growing up Maldivian is a privilege that few of us seem to appreciate. Our community is mostly Muslim; our education system, our laws, our traditions and ethos are loosely based around Islamic principles; we have historically been spared the sectarian disputes that have plagued many other Muslim communities worldwide; almost always, no matter where we are on an inhabited island, we have a mosque within walking distance.

That is not to say we don’t have our share of difficulties. Our rather reserved society has failed to respond to the spiritual, social, economic and other needs of our youth demographic, and we are suffering the consequences. Many young people are becoming either disillusioned with religion or radicalised by groups who promote sectarian violence and Takfiri ideologies among others. Faced with a general lack of everything: proper housing, jobs, educational opportunities, space for self-expression, and for many kids, even a stable family environment – Maldives has one of the highest divorce rates in the world -, many young people are turning to drugs and delinquency as outlets for their emotions and frustrations. To top it all, in an environment rife with corruption and political discord, the growing disillusionment of youth from the political process and social structures is resulting in young people becoming more sidelined from the general community.

In all of this, the failure of the Mosque – as an institution representing religion – becomes apparent. The sermons coming out of the Mosque almost always address matters relating to creed, never relating them to issues that are more directly connected to socio-economic problems. When such matters are addressed, often there is a huge disparity between the preachings of the religious scholar and the tested and proven principles of human sciences.

Moreover, the Mosque is often not a welcoming space for women. In the past year or so, I have carried out a project to photographically document the differences between the men’s and women’s prayer areas. Not all mosques have a women’s area. Of the mosques that do, some mosques have the rainwater drainage pipes coming from the roof ending right at the women’s entrance. Others have women’s prayer areas too small, especially for the number of women who come out to pray Tarawih in congregation at the mosque during Ramadan. And of all the mosques in the capital that I have been to, few have a women’s area that shares the general ambiance of the prayer area used by the men.

This general lack of consideration towards women is doubled by the lack women’s access to the lectures given by scholars (most importantly, perhaps, foreign scholars), in the men’s prayer areas of the mosques. Moreover, no female Islamic scholar in the country holds, or in fact has ever held, a public lecture in a mosque.

Despite the odds, though, Maldivians are inching their way forward. Young people are trying to beat the rising rate delinquency. Despite the failure of the mosque to address human rights, administrative justice and other important issues, the youth are filling the moral gap as they know how, with the help of international and local rights groups. Female worshipers are increasing at mosques, especially for Tarawih and Eid prayers.

Maldives is a country that is moving forward currently, perhaps, in spite of its mosques. The community, and often its most vulnerable, are suffering the consequences and compensating for the current failure of the Mosque. I hope that one day, the Mosque will be an institution that drives and contributes to our progress. For that to happen, the Mosque has a lot of catching up to do.

Aisha Hussain Rasheed is a Maldivian Muslim woman, who believes our Islamic heritage is the key to our future, if only we know how to use it. You can follow her on Twitter @ishahr and on Facebook.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: In Jameel’s defense

The vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed left the Maldives last week amid preparations by his Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) to impeach him. After two days in Sri Lanka, Jameel reportedly left to the UK on Saturday without President Abdulla Yameen’s permission.

Some ruling party MPs say Jameel has fled the country.

The PPM’s justifications for Jameel’s impeachment are vague. Some MPs have publicly accused him of disloyalty and incompetence. Others have said tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb is more suited for the job. “We do not want to hide what we want to do anymore. We are going to appoint tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as the vice-president before July 26,” one PPM MP has declared.

Meanwhile, rumors that President Yameen is fatally ill continue to persist. Opposition politicians say Yameen is seeking a trusted deputy ahead of a major surgery.

What is going on?

Impeaching a state’s vice president is no small matter.

Jameel was elected. The election may not have been free or fair, but its outcome was largely accepted. By many accounts, Jameel was the face of the PPM’s presidential campaign. Yameen was rarely seen in public, but Jameel walked door-to-door. He visited all the islands of the Maldives. Removing a vice-president amounts to overturning an election. It should only be undertaken for serious dereliction of duty.

If we allow Jameel to be voted out without debate, without a transparent and fair review of the charges against him, we are acquiescing to the most obscure of dictatorships.

Call your MP. Write letters to President Yameen. Demand answers.

Safe-guards

The Maldives constitution institutes several safeguards protecting the president and the vice-president from removal at the parliament’s whims. Article 100 lays three ground for impeachment: direct violation of a tenet of Islam or the law, misconduct unsuited to the executive or the inability to perform the responsibilities of office.

The constitution also says the Majlis may set up an investigative committee to review reasons for impeachment, and grants the accused the opportunity for defense. It further states that a two-third majority, or 57 votes of the current 85-member house, is required to remove the president or the vice-president.

The Majlis is expected to eliminate one of these safeguards today. PPM wants to amend the Majlis standing orders so that it will not be required to investigate charges against the vice president.

It is true that the constitution does leave the matter of setting up an investigative committee at the parliament’s discretion. However, even if an investigation does not take place, MPs must inform and convince us as to why Jameel must go.

Keep in mind, an impeachment is not the same as a vote of no confidence.

In parliamentary systems, prime ministers must enjoy the support of the majority to achieve office. The governments they head can fall if they lose a vote of no confidence, so they must preserve that support to stay in office.

But impeachment is a feature of presidential systems and requires a finding of extraordinary misconduct. As the separation of the executive and legislature is a fundamental aspect of the system, the impeachment process should never be used as a legislative vote of no confidence on the president or vice-president’s conduct or policies.

Impeachable offenses

Does the PPM’s charges against Jameel constitute impeachable offenses?

Speaking to Haveeru, one senior official accused Jameel of building an independent power-base by spending time with independent MPs. PPM parliamentary group leader MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News that Jameel had failed to publicly defend the government ahead of an opposition’s protest on May 1. Still others have said he failed to show progress in the health and education sectors.

Meanwhile, Adeeb in a text message to PPM MPs this weekend, said that President Yameen needed to be given room “to rule this nation without internal resistance,” and said “I have witnessed how difficult it is for HEP Yameen to rule with many frictions.”

These charges fall far short of the standards prescribed in the constitution. Vague utterances on loyalty do not make a case for impeachment.

If MPs removed the president or the vice president, merely for conduct of which they disapprove of, it would violate their constitutional responsibilities.

Unimportant?

Some justify the vote to impeach Jameel by arguing that the position of the vice-president is not important. It is true that the vice president is only given the responsibilities and powers delegated to him by the president.

But the constitution also states that the vice president shall perform the responsibilities of the president if he is absent or temporarily unable to perform the responsibilities of office.

Many US vice-presidents have lamented the lack of meaningful work in their role. During his tenure as the first vice- president, John Adams remarked: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that even the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

But he also says that the vice president “is nothing, but may be everything.”

US constitutional historian Lucius Wilmerding, writing in 1947 noted that even if the office of the vice president is unimportant, the officer or the individual serving as the vice president is certainly important.

For if the president becomes unable to perform his duties, then the vice-president will assume the presidency.

If rumors over President Yameen’s health are true and if he is to undergo surgery, he will have to hand over the presidency to his deputy. This is precisely why Jameel was elected. In voting for Jameel, the public was in fact, choosing a possible president.

The Majlis must carefully consider the kind of misconduct that renders a president or vice president constitutionally unfit to remain in office. As several professors of law argued at the US House of Representatives ahead of a vote to impeach President Bill Clinton, the parliament’s power to impeach, like a prosecutor’s power to indict, is discretionary. Hence, this power must be exercised not for partisan advantage, but only when the circumstances genuinely justify the enormous price the country may have to pay in governance and stature.

Hawwa Kareem is a pseudonym. She holds a degree in political science

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Whose pragmatism? Which principles?

It is surprising that some have attempted to justify Wednesday’s constitutional amendment to change age requirement for the offices of president and vice president on its substance.

The efforts to amend the constitution by putting an age limit for the president and vice president and by giving the powers to the president to appoint and dismiss vice president, curtail electoral rights. This includes the right to elect the vice president and the right to contest political office. These efforts are also dictated by the whims and wishes of the government of the day, not by any widely felt need for democratic reforms to the constitution.

However, it is more baffling the amendment has been defended on the basis of “pragmatism”. This is because this amendment is directly related to the failure of opposition’s “pragmatism”. One is forced to wonder whose “pragmatism” does the vote serve?

Whose pragmatism?

Nebulous words like “pragmatism” hardly clarify what the constitutional amendment is about.

The amendment is not simply about the removal of the current vice president. It is about President Abdulla Yameen’s desire to fully control and perpetuate political power. The amendment is yet another attempt, on President Yameen’s part, to eliminate serious, potential presidential candidates.

There was a reason why former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom rejected it, and pointed to the unacceptability of setting age limit to 65 years. This not only disqualifies Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, it also disqualifies Gayoom himself, and Yameen’s long-time political rival, Ilyas Ibrahim, as presidential candidates.

One is therefore forced to ask whose “pragmatism” this vote serves?

Yameen could have attempted an old style illegitimate dictatorship. But this vote, with its appearance of democratic agency and a position of bargaining power on opposition’s part, seems to be typical to his type of new despotic regime, ruled through a veneer of legitimacy, fully utilising democratic discourses, formal institutions and other antics of democracy.

One could therefore call the success passage of the amendment Yameen’s “pragmatism”, not Maldivian Democratic Party’s or JP’s.

Political pragmatism indeed assumes the belief that one has agency and one is in a position of power to somewhat direct things. However, the opposition acted not from the belief they were in a position of power or real agency.

The vote to pass the amendment was an outcome of complete disillusionment, if not distrust, in what ordinary people are capable of achieving. It was also an outcome of the belief the international community has failed to act against the rise of Yameen’s new despotism.

In other words, it was an outcome of the belief there was no power and democratic agency in politics through ordinary people or the so-called international promoters of democracy.

The vote is therefore not opposition’s pragmatism. It is their defeatism.

Why defeatism?

It is easy to put blame on ordinary people when their mobilisation could not be sustained or the mobilisation could not achieve one’s unclear goals.

Yet sustaining political mobilisation for major changes requires certain common ideals. At the very least, it requires common sensibilities and affects.

From the beginning, MDP defined their political mobilisation against Yameen’s government based on “pragmatism”. For example, the alliance with JP, who had stolen the first round of presidential elections in 2013, was defended on “pragmatism” based on common “interests”.

But a group capable of sustaining political mobilisation effective to bring major positive changes cannot rely on “pragmatism” based on narrow “interests” alone. A set of shared ideals for a shared political future is necessary to sustain mobilisation. The opposition not only lacked these shared ideals. It is also not altogether clear they held any political ideals individually, beyond rhetoric such as “In Defence of the Constitution” or “Aniyaverikan Ninman”.

The nebulous term “aniyaverikan” to capture all the disparate interests or unclear goals of the opposition also lent itself to conceptualisation by religious leaders such as former Adalat president Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed in terms of the tripartite sins in Islam: sins against God, sins against one’s self, and sins against third parties.

Short of common ideals for a shared future, such a political grouping must be, at the very least, based on common sensibilities and emotions. True, anger and betrayal might have animated many, including JP leader, businessman Gasim Ibrahim. However, one wonders if this anger and sense of betrayal have any affinity with the sensibilities shared by others.

The lack of a shared future based on shared ideals and sensibilities was deeply felt from the first rally against Yameen’s government on 27 February. Some also saw even the May Day rally, the biggest so far, as a failure because of this lack of shared goals based on common ideals and sensibilities. By June 12, any doubt as to the political parties’ ability to sustain a common political mobilisation was gone.

If this is so, one is left to wonder, isn’t Wednesday’s vote really a failure of “pragmatism” by the opposition?

Despotism facilitated

There is no proven formula for how to achieve and sustain democracy. Therefore, the matters of how to achieve and sustain democracy fall within “pragmatism” if pragmatism is about what works in practice.

As the great pragmatist William James held, holding on to certain beliefs even if they could not be proven to be true provided those beliefs could bring about positive consequences, is partly what pragmatism is about.

However, some beliefs as to how to achieve democracy have clearly no positive consequences. The belief in the “short walk” to democracy and the belief that the wisdom and dictates of single individuals to be sufficient to walk this walk, seem to me such beliefs.

It is the public rationalisation based on these beliefs that led to Wednesday’s vote. It is not democratic pragmatism.

In doing this, opposition is facilitating Yameen’s new despotism to flourish. If this so, to my mind, it is foolish (and thus “unpragmatic”) to think the most popular politician in the country will be allowed to contest in 2018 under fair terms. That is, if he is allowed at all.

Azim Zahir worked at the President’s Office and Transparency Maldives. He has a Masters in Political Science from the University of Sydney.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Cutting a deal with the devil?

The opposition today backed the first amendment to the Maldives Constitution and set new age-limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. The vote is widely perceived as a deal made in exchange for two months of house arrest for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) is seeking to replace vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who some MPs have accused of incompetence and disloyalty. Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb is expected to take over the vice-presidency.

The vote has bitterly divided opposition supporters and leaders.

Opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ali Hussein said:

Critics say the vote is undemocratic and argue the Constitution is not to be toyed with in the interests of a few. But supporters describe the deal as pragmatic, and claim Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest offers hope of an end to a five-month long political crisis.

The great fall

For some, the amendment is a victory for the opposition as it “eliminates” three strongmen from Maldivian politics; vice-president Jameel, former president of 30 years Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is now in his early 80s, and JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, who contested in both the 2008 and 2013 presidential polls, but will be 66 and ineligible in the 2018 election.

Jameel is particularly unpopular among Nasheed’s supporters. He led a religious-nationalist campaign against Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government. In a 2013 campaign speech, he said: “Even if you [Nasheed] are elected, we will not hand over power. You will always remain in prison.”

Here’s one celebratory tweet:

Meanwhile, Gasim’s forced retirement from politics brings many, a great relief. He was a key figure in the fall of Gayoom’s 30-year-dictatorship. Although he backed Nasheed in the 2008 polls, the tourism tycoon played a key role in Nasheed’s ouster in 2012. He then helped Yameen defeat the MDP in 2013.

In January, he allied with the MDP in an anti-government campaign, but abandoned ship when the government slapped a US$90.4million fine on his tourism businesses. The “kingmaker’s” retirement will level the playing field between the two major parties, the PPM and the MDP.


“At the very least, we have been saved from these two,” said an opposition supporter.

If Adeeb is appointed to the vice-presidency, it will undermine the Gayoom family’s hold on power. The PPM had, in fact, backed the amendment against Gayoom’s wishes. The former president, who also heads the PPM, said last week: “There is no point to a man whose opinions are of no value staying on as PPM president.”

Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, was absent from today’s vote.

President Yameen, as Gayoom’s half-brother, was elected on his popularity and Gasim’s backing. But in the past 18 months, he has created his own power base, with hand picked MPs and ministers. His right-hand man is tourism minister Adeeb.

New political actors

Why the sudden drive to replace the vice-president? PPM MPs have said Jameel is incompetent. But the opposition claims Yameen is fatally ill and is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery. It is precisely Adeeb’s rise to power that some opposition supporters fear. He has been accused of massive corruption and illicit connections with gangs. Why tamper with the Constitution to bring an unelected minister to power?

Azim Zahir, a political science student at the University of Sydney, said: “This amendment is clearly undemocratic as its objectives are to ultimately negate the democratic impulse behind giving the people a direct say in the election of a vice-president and also negates the electoral wish of a majority in 2013.

“It allows changes to the constitution at the wish and whim of the government of the day, and in this case that wish is to appoint as vice-president, a politician perceived as highly corrupt and suspected in egregious crimes such as torching of TV stations, and abduction of journalists.”

But one opposition MP asked how today’s vote had been undemocratic:

Aishath Velezinee, a whistle-blower and former member of the judicial watchdog, said: “The problem is not the substance of the constitutional amendment, but the manner and purpose of that amendment.”

Fuwad Thowfeek, the former Elections Commissioner, agreed: “As a matter of principle, I don’t believe that anyone should support a change in any article of our constitution for the personal gain of anyone or any party.”

Supporters of the vote, however, say Adeeb is and will continue to run the show with or without the constitutional amendment. Although there have been no changes to the letter of the Constitution until today, the parliament and the Supreme Court have violated its spirit with the dismissal of the Auditor General, the guidelines for the elections commission and the human rights watchdog, and the dismissal of the Chief Justice.

Honor the deal?

More pressing are the following questions: Will the government honor its promise and keep Nasheed under house arrest? Why didn’t the opposition demand Nasheed’s unconditional release? Was a constitutional amendment worth eight weeks of house arrest?

What kind of precedent are we setting if we allow the government of the day to hold opposition leaders to ransom for votes?

Previous political compromises have not worked out well for the MDP. For instance, in 2010, the MDP reached a compromise on appointments to the Supreme Court and the appointment of unqualified judges to the judiciary. Those same judges sentenced Nasheed and other opposition politicians to jail this year.

In 2013, Nasheed and the MDP accepted the findings of a Commonwealth-backed inquiry that the 2012 transfer of power was constitutional. The lack of accountability for the unlawful transfer of power haunts the Maldives to this day. Isn’t it high time the MDP learnt from its mistakes?

But, opposition supporters say the MDP was forced to compromise then and now due to the political reality of the day. Although the MDP is the largest political party, it continues to face a hostile parliament, judiciary and security forces. Democracy is won through hard compromises and dirty deals.

Supporters say a deal is necessary as President Yameen has refused to back down despite the mounting diplomatic pressure, the daily protests and the historic marches of February 27 and May 1.

“To free a man held by a terrorist organization, you must make a deal. You cannot argue on legal principles,” said Mujthaba Saeed, an MDP member. “I do not trust the government. They might take Nasheed back to jail at any moment. But what we are trying to do is to find a path forward from a slim chance.”

Hope

Many of Nasheed’s supporters say his release alone will energize and reinvigorate the opposition’s campaign. They also hope that the government will compromise further by dropping charges against hundreds of protesters and free jailed leaders.

“We are incapacitated to stand up for ourselves without this one unique single person who inspires us. I selfishly want to see Nasheed free because all hope for freedom of expression and right to assembly are weakening day by day when Nasheed remained in jail. Less and less people turn up to protest. But today, it just seems more alive, people are talking about this, people care, There is hope,” said Ifham Niyaz.

Others have called for soul-searching. “Sell your votes in every election. Stay at home and criticize every move? Have you no shame?” asked one supporter. Another said: “It is Nasheed who must rot in jail. It is Nasheed who must protest on the street. But I, I will stay home and tweet.”

The disappointment has led still others to call for a new political ideology and new political leaders. But who will that be? Azim, the PHD student at Sydney University said: “I don’t know. I’m just saying democratic, utopian energies and hopes have been exhausted. Current times, crises, open up for new possibilities and new people. I just wish there could be such visions and such people and such parties. I suspect many people share these same sentiments, but this may not be sufficient enough for a change within the next five years.”

Transparency

Some opposition supporters have censured critics for the storm of criticism against the MDP for choosing a deal. “Where were all these critics when MDP was alone on the streets?” asked one Twitter user.

“No one had an opinion when the constitution was raped by Gayooms so that they could come back. Even now, the only point they want to discuss is MDP cutting a deal,” said photographer Munshid Mohamed on Facebook. In reply, his friend said: “If Gayoom’s and PPM actions are the standard for our commitment to democracy, then we’ve lost before we even started.”

For many, this is the sticking point. They expect better of MDP. The party in January had urged the public to follow it in a campaign to defend the constitution. But today they voted to amend the same constitution.

“I thought about it, I can’t agree with the MDP. If this is pragmatism – then so is the guy who sells his vote for an Air Conditioning unit,” said blogger Yameen Rasheed.

One thing is clear. The people deserve to know more. If the government and the opposition are making deals, it must be through open and transparent negotiations. MDP stands more to lose than any other party with the current opacity. As a party that stands for democracy, it cannot ask its supporters to blindly trust all of its decisions.

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