MP for Vilimalé constituency, Ahmed Nihan, is the leader of ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ parliamentary group. Minivan News interviewed Nihan ahead of mass anti-government demonstrations planned by the Jumhooree Party and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Zaheena Rasheed: Former President Mohamed Nasheed has a lot of supporters. He has now allied with the Jumhooree Party and they are planning a mass demonstration for today. Do you consider this a threat?
Ahmed Nihan: No. You see, there are about 50 MPs in our parliamentary group, a lot of their constituents are here. The past two days, we’ve been working on finding out how many people will attend the protests. So based on that, we do not foresee any such danger. I do not believe the state should obstruct the right to free speech. If citizens are dissatisfied with this government, they must be able to say so. But that right must not be abused to violate others’ rights, such as closing down streets, blocking lagoons, they cannot do this. But this is a cautious situation, we must be alert, to acts of terrorism, I’m saying this because this has happened before. And I note, there are some young men who’ve been convicted on terrorism, for example I have one mother whose son was sentenced after vandalizing the Villa TV Station on March 19. What answer do I have for her? There are many on my island, Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, who have terrorism charges pending against them, at least 112, following the torching of government buildings on February 8. I am sure they are not criminals, they became sucked into politics. And tomorrow, how many will be tricked into this again? We will not support vandalism and arson.
Opposition parties say President Yameen’s government is lurching towards authoritarianism. Can you tell me what you believe are PPM’s democratic successes and what you plan to do to protect democracy in the future?
Many Maldivians believe the biggest challenge the country faces is the enforcement of the rule of law. Some are able to walk free, there are many cases where young men wielding swords, machetes and weapons are shedding blood. The whole country used to be in shock when they heard of a murders, but since 2007, we’ve seen over 30 murders. Everyone believes upholding the rule of law is essential in putting an end to this. In the past year, President Yameen, has taken an important step forward for a resolution. For example, the amendment to the Possession of Dangerous Weapons Act, charges will be pressed within ten days and it will be prosecuted within 30 days. This will prevent the intimidation of witnesses, and the accused changing their confession statements. We also have a draft of the Criminal Procedure Act; with this it shows President Yameen is working to turn this country. This is not an easy task for any leader, especially with a large youth bulge.
How does this relate to democratization?
What I’m trying to say is, politics rolls from the courage and determination of politicians, not just from what is written in the law. It must be implemented. To show he has the courage to implement the law, President Abdulla Yameen has said he will enforce the death penalty, once it has passed through all necessary appeals. Delivering justice is our biggest aim. We are in a state of fear, we are seeing such gruesome scenes, who would want to see this?
When there is a link between political stability and public safety, does the government have any plans to initiate talks?
The President met with us on Wednesday, and he said he is always ready for dialogue, but on reasonable grounds. If you look at the real issue behind the current crisis, all these trials are not yet completed. The opposition’s role is to criticize the governing party, MDP is good, and MDP must criticize the government. But the JP’s motives are unclear.
They are not coming out for the people. Gasim Ibrahim is working in his own interest. He left Mohamed Nasheed in 2008, after only 21 days in government, because he did not get what he wanted. It’s the same with us. Even if Mohamed Nasheed comes to power next, if he doesn’t oblige with Gasim’s demands, he will do the same. They were behind the 22 days of protests prior to Nasheed’s resignation. These are the same people who cried and hugged each other when he resigned. And the people who carried Nasheed’s resignation letter, the people who spurred the country into two years of chaos, who forced MDP supporters to the streets shouting traitor, they cannot be clean now. So I think tomorrow’s protests will amount to zero. There will be no benefit to anyone.
They cannot say this government wasn’t elected legally. The question is are Maldivians in the business of overthrowing governments? Are we engaged day to day in overthrowing governments? This cannot become our daily lives.
When the government hands him lagoons, islands, forgives him the money he owes the government, he will turn on Mohamed Nasheed.
So what is your government’s plans to ensure political stability?
Following the events of February 7, some people believe the president will resign. Because Nasheed did. President Yameen will not do that. He is firm, he will not resign and go home. He will face challenges, and he will ensure safety for everyone, and ensure the country remains a sovereign state. This government will not allow any acts that affect our sovereignty. He will protect our sovereignty. The national security forces will stop such acts. I am certain.
Opposition parties are claiming former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defense Minister’s charges are politically motivated. What is your response?
Honestly, if you look at the sequence of events, our new constitution does not give the opportunity for politically motivated charges to be levied against any individual. This is different to previous years, when the president could arrest someone at will for their political beliefs. Political parties are free to operate now, it’s been ten years since we were granted that right. Prosecuting someone for crimes they commit, or may commit is upholding the rule of law; this is the norm anywhere in the world. This is one of the strongest facets of democracy. Justice must be ensured. If this is a society, where an individual is able to evade justice after committing a crime, then there is no democracy here. Even if its President Nasheed or former minister Nazim.
I want to note, it is not the government that presses charges, the constitution clearly states it is the independent Prosecutor General who presses charges. Now, some argue the PG is pro-government. A PG must be appointed to the post through the Majlis as per the constitution. Where will you go, to which court, to see if the person is independent and impartial? As we transition to democracy, there have been many events where all parties were not satisfied with the outcome. This is because we are not a consolidated, institutionalized democracy. The new constitution was most heavily influenced by the then-opposition. Are we to go back to square one again? Where do we start again? Or do we go forward with the current situation, everyone cannot be appeased all the time.
They cannot show us any evidence to back their claim that these charges are politically motivated. President Abdulla Yameen did not initiate these trials. We do not see his involvement at any level in this. But Mohamed Nasheed was involved in the arrest of the judge, he has said so in public, at three events, he went so far as to claim Judge Abdulla would not be able to go within 100 meters of the court. We can see his engagement to that level. But President Yameen has not commented even once on today’s events. I can clearly testify to this.
Many have expressed concern over the Criminal Court denying Nasheed legal representation, when the court sentenced him to pre-trial detention
The problem here is that this case concerns a former president. I personally do not believe a former president should be dragged to court just like that. I am the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ parliamentary group leader. Why? Because I proposed the law on privileges to former presidents. Even then I attempted to stop events such as this. The law had an article 9 – MDP threw it out. I had proposed that if criminal charges are to be pressed against a former president, they be passed by a Majlis committee or a majority or two third majority of Majlis. This is not saying they shouldn’t go to court. But MDP annulled it. The result is the challenges President Nasheed is currently facing.
At the time, my idea was that – not everyone becomes president. They would have to take many decisions, which they cannot share with the public, due to national security reasons. So we cannot prosecute them the same way as any ordinary person.
This is not to say that if they commit a crime, whether its Nasheed or Gayoom, the law must apply to them. But because they were former presidents, I tried to ease it for them.
Anyhow, charges have been pressed. And on Nasheed not having had enough time to appoint a lawyer, I hear Nasheed has been afforded the opportunity to defend himself. He still has the opportunity to defend himself, the opportunity to tell us why, for what reasons, he did it. I believe he has that opportunity.