Quitting Commonwealth will be “a huge mistake,” says vice president

Appealing to lawmakers to support the Maldives’ continued membership in the Commonwealth, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel has said that quitting the intergovernmental body will adversely affect the Maldivian youth, women and business community.

The People’s Majlis, at the request of president Abdulla Yameen, is set to debate the benefits of Maldives remaining in the Commonwealth today.

Some member states are lobbying the body’s democracy and human rights arm, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), to take punitive action against the Maldives over alleged repeated violations of the organization’s principles, including the jailing of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Quitting the Commonwealth will be a huge mistake, Jameel said in a statement issued from London today. “We should never allow the heat of politics to cause long lasting damage to national interests.”

The vice president noted that many of Maldives’ important partners are Commonwealth member states, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Continued good relations with Commonwealth member states is vital for the Maldives’ economy and security, he said. “It will be extremely naïve to think that snubbing an association in which our neighbours and partners play a leading role will not undermine our relations with them,” he said.

“It will be particularly foolhardy to quit the Commonwealth to spite the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group at a time when regional countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are sitting on CMAG,” he added.

Jameel is meanwhile facing impeachment by the People’s Majlis. A vote is expected on July 21. He abruptly left the Maldives within a day of the parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ attempt to impeach Jameel is the latest in a series of dizzying turn of events in Maldivian politics. The opposition backed the constitutional amendment in exchange for opposition leader Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest. Subsequently, the opposition and the government began talks in late June, raising hope of an end to a six-month long political crisis.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two ex defense ministers, a former ruling party MP and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The Maldives was first placed on the CMAG agenda after Nasheed’s ouster in 2012. A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be legal.

As efforts to place Maldives on the CMAG’s agenda for a second time intensified in July, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon threatened to leave the Commonwealth, claiming the “country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly” as a result of the events of 2012.

The CMAG, however, decided not to review the Maldives at a recent meeting in London.

Jameel today praised Dunya for her “policy of engagement” and said her efforts had prevented the Commonwealth from taking punitive steps against the Maldives.

Calling on the Maldives to foster existing relationships, Jameel noted that many of Maldives’ students study in Commonwealth countries and benefit directly or indirectly from opportunities linked to the Commonwealth.

As a developing country, Maldives also benefits from various capacity building programmes in the Commonwealth, he said. The inter-governmental body plays a vital role in supporting the integration of small states into the global economy.

While maritime security is an important priority for Maldives, the partners it relies on for operational capacity and effectiveness are mostly from the Commonwealth, he said.

“At every major challenge the Maldives had faced over the past 30 years, the Commonwealth has proved to be a vital partner, supporting, guiding and assisting us to attain success. These include strengthening national sovereignty through the small state security initiative in 1989, claiming a vast portion of the Indian Ocean and its seabed to expand our national wealth in 2010, or in supporting democracy-building as in 2005-2008, and facilitating national healing through supporting the work of the Commission on National Inquiry in 2012,” he added.

President Yameen in November 2014 had declared a foreign policy shift to the East, claiming that economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state as posed by some Western powers.

The Maldives joined the Commonwealth in 1985.

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PPM to file no-confidence motion in vice-president

MPs of the ruling coalition have officially endorsed a petition seeking a no-confidence vote in vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The motion has already gained 47 signatures and will be submitted to the People’s Majlis today, said the parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Ahmed Nihan.

The motion will require a two-third majority or 57 votes to pass.

The PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) control 48 seats in the 85-member house, and will need the backing of the opposition.

Jameel was not responding to calls at the time of going to press. He is reportedly abroad. The President’s Office on Thursday said President Abdulla Yameen had authorized a medical leave for his deputy.

Ruling coalition MPs have publicly accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty.

Some opposition politicians have claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery. The PPM is seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

But Nihan dismissed rumors over the president’s health. “He is very fit. There is no truth to these rumors.”

He said MPs are unhappy with Jameel over his alleged failure to defend the government during an opposition demonstration in Malé on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested from the historic 20,000-strong march.

“The opposition was making gross accusations against the government. But Jameel did not make any move to defend President Yameen, he did not say a word, but instead left Malé on that day,” Nihan alleged.

Opposition supporters had been protesting against the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

Nihan said that he had attempted to reach Jameel by telephone on Thursday night, when a ruling party MP first started collecting signatures for the no-confidence petition. But the vice-president had not responded by the next day, he said.

MPs of the ruling coalition held a meeting at 10:30pm on Friday to officially endorse the petition. Some 33 MPs had unanimously voted in favor, he said.

Translation: “PPM and MDA members vote unanimously to submit a no-confidence motion in VP Jameel.”

For the parliament to consider the removal of the president or the vice-president, a resolution with the signatures of one-third of MPs is required.

The parliament can then set up a committee to investigate the claims laid out in the motion. The Constitution states that at least 14 days notice must be given to the president or vice-president before the debate.

He or she is also granted the right to defend themselves, both orally or in writing.

Jameel has been silent on the accusations made against him.

According to Nihan, the 47 signatures on the no-confidence petition include that of MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party.

The opposition’s backing appears to signal a move towards reconciliation. Former president Nasheed was transferred to house arrest last week.

Two days later, the opposition voted to back the first constitutional amendment, setting new age limits of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and the vice-presidency.

Tourism minister Adeeb, who turned 33 in April, was ineligible for the position as the constitution previously stated that presidential candidates and their deputies must be 35 years of age.

The government then extended Nasheed’s house arrest for eight weeks, but said it was because doctors are concerned over the opposition leader’s health.

The MDP has meanwhile agreed to the government’s demand to exclude Nasheed as a representative in talks. But a party spokesperson said MDP hopes Nasheed will be able to join at a later stage.

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Gayoom ‘unhappy’ with age limits for presidency

MPs of the ruling coalition have backed a constitutional amendment setting age limits for the presidency against the wishes of ex-president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, who heads the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), had sent a letter to the party’s parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan stating that MPs should wait on approval from the PPM executive council before supporting the amendment.

However, at an emergency meeting tonight, MPs of the PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) decided that the parliamentary group does not require approval from the council.

The amendment – proposed by MDA MP Mohamed Ismail – proposes setting an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency. The constitution currently only says a candidate must be 35 years of age.

If passed, the bill would bar Gayoom from contesting presidential polls. The former president, who is now in his early 80s, had served six terms from 1978 to 2008.

“Deeply saddened”

Minivan News has learnt that Gayoom had sent a text message to Nihan on the morning of June 9 expressing disapproval with the proposal. “I reject the proposal to set age limits for the presidency. It will only bring President Yameen into disrepute. Setting a cap on the age of a presidential candidate is not done anywhere in the world.”

Shortly after the message was sent, some 44 MPs voted to consider the amendment and sent it to a sub committee for review.

After the vote, Gayoom, in a second text message to Nihan said: “I am deeply saddened. There is no point to a man whose opinions are not considered staying on as PPM president.”

The parliamentary committee has since voted to accept the bill. It will now be sent to the parliament floor for approval.

The bill has fuelled speculation that President Abdulla Yameen plans to replace vice-president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.

Yameen is Gayoom’s half-brother.

The relationship between President Yameen and Dr Jameel is reportedly under strain. Jameel’s cousin, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was dismissed from the cabinet last month. The government did not provide a reason for the dismissal.

Yameen is currently in Germany in an unannounced visit and is due back on Sunday.

Three-quarters

A three- quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling coalition controls 48 seats in the 85-member house, and will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP).

A three-quarters majority will also be needed to impeach Jameel.

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has urged the nine JP MPs to back the amendment, although it would bar him from contesting the next presidential elections. He will be 66 in 2018.

Gasim announced last week that he will retire from politics once his five-year term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The tourism tycoon’s announcement comes weeks after the government slapped a US$90.4million fine on his Villa Group and froze the accounts of five of Villa Group’s subsidiary companies.

The claim was issued after the JP split from the PPM and allied with the MDP in a campaign against President Yameen’s alleged authoritarianism.

Gasim has since suspended the JP campaign and remained silent on the imprisonment of MDP leader and ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The JP is in disarray with two senior officials facing terrorism charges.

The MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and several JP MPs are continuing the campaign for Nasheed’s release.

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Government introduces Arabic lessons as part of Islamic education drive

The Ministry of Education yesterday introduced Arabic language as an optional subject for grades 1 – 12 in twelves schools.

At a inaugural ceremony held in Hiriyaa School yesterday, Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said the government will mainstream Arabic education in the Maldives, focusing particularly on Islamic education and the study of Quran.

Jameel said the introduction of Arabic language will bring a ‘special happiness’ to the people of Maldives, will strengthen the Islamic faith, and will introduce good behavior.

Stating that different ideologies have to be introduced into the education system in order to ensure the peace and stability of the country, Jameel pledged to introduce Islamic ethics as a subject in all schools within the year.

Reading and writing of Arabic script have traditionally been taught in the Maldives at a very young age, either at home or from private teachers. Most people, however, have little or no understanding of the meanings of Arabic language – an issue of concern often raised by local religious scholars.

The schools in Malé city which have introduced the new subject were Thajuddeen School, Muhyuddin School, Dharumavantha School, Aminiya School, and Hiriya School.

In Addu city, the new lessons have been introduced at Maradhoo School, Feydhoo School, Hulhudhoo School, and Shamsuddin School. In Baa Atoll, pupils at Thulhaadhoo School and Naifaru Madrasatul Iftitah will also have the option of taking Arabic lessons.

The ministry has said that the first twelve schools were chosen based on the fact that Arabic teachers were already present within the schools’ staff, and that the subject would be introduced in all schools within the year.

Speaking at the ceremony yesterday, Minister of Education Dr Aishath Shiham said that Arabic language is “very close to our hearts” and that learning the language is very important.

Jameel, Ahmed, Education State Ministers Sheikh Abdul Aziz Hussain, Sheikh Ali Zahir and Dr Abdulla Nazeer took model Arabic classes for Hiriya Schools students yesterday.

The introduction of Arabic language in all schools of the Maldives is part of the government’s stated education policies. The government has also pledged to prepare a scheme for the introduction ‘economically beneficial’ foreign languages within the first hundred days of the government and to choose two islands within this period for the establishment of Arabic medium schools.

With the exception of Arabic-medium Madhrasatul Arabiyyathul Islamiyya, the medium of instruction in all Schools of Maldives is English language – local Dhivehi language and Islamic studies are taught in Dhivehi.

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Police honour retired Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz ahead of his move into politics

The Maldives Police Services held an event on Monday night honouring retired Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz.

“If the police are once again made to do political work, the leadership will doubtless fail again. The police institution must be larger than the government or any other entity,” Riyaz advised the hundreds of serving officers in attendance.

Riyaz – appointed after the controversial transfer of power in February 2012 – stated that his plans to move into a political career are in order to build trust in this area too.

“The police must not be seen to be an institution that just protects the government. The police is an institution that serves all citizens and implements lawful orders and norms. We have to be answerable to the government. We have to be accountable to the parliament”.

Riyaz stated that, when he had assumed responsibilities of the police commissioner on the night of February 8, 2012, the police leadership of the time had “failed and hence, people’s perceptions of the police had completely changed”.

He asserted that one of his first objectives after assuming the post was to ensure that the police was freed from all external influences and went back to working independently and professionally.

Riyaz further stated that police had remained steadfast in the face of wrongful allegations and perceptions of their work, while emphasizing that during his time as commissioner he had “never made a decision or issued an order with the intention of inflicting harm or harassment to any specific individual”.

“When Amnesty International released a report with false statements against us, I personally made a phone call to their president. In response to every one of these statements, we sent a statement clarifying the truth of the matter.”

“When I first took up the post, I was reluctant to even claim my pay as there was so much murder being committed. However, due to the work done unitedly, god willing we haven’t seen a major death this year,” Riyaz said.

February, 2012

Riyaz spoke in detail about his role in the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

The retired commissioner – who had at the time been relieved of his duties as a police officer – stated on Monday night that he had gone there on the day with “good intentions because [he] could not bear to sit home and watch the situation the police and soldiers were in”.

He added that he had contacted both the current Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and former Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz via phone prior to going there.

Stating that he had prioritized national interest above all, Riyaz claimed that he had accepted the post of police commissioner because his country needed him.

“Police were desiring a leadership that would not issue unlawful orders. Many asked me why I was going back to this institution, including my wife. But I decided that I cannot turn my back to the nation at the time it needed me most.”

Riyaz ended his speech by “seeking forgiveness from any police officer of citizen I may have inconvenienced during my time as commissioner of police”.

“Although I am leaving behind life as a police officer and entering politics, I will always defend this institution. There is no institution I can love as much as I do the police.”

He added that Vice Presidentv Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed had been the first to advise him to enter the political arena.

Appreciation from the state

“The happiest day that I have come across so far is the day when a new president was elected on November 16, the second round of the presidential election. What made me happiest about it is that we were assured that a government has been established which will not undermine or disrespect important state institutions like the police, the military, the judiciary and other entities,” he said.

“And that this is a government which will protect the religious unity of this nation and ensure that expensive state assets are not sold out to foreign companies,” he continued.

“The fact that Maldivian citizens voted in a Jumhooree Party and Progressive Party of Maldives government proves that the events that happened on February 7 [2012] was not a coup d’etat,” he stated.

Other speakers at the event, including Vice President Jameel, Home Minister Umar Naseer and current Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed commended Riyaz for his work.

Home Minister Umar described Riyaz as an assertive and sharp-minded officer who had brought commendable development to the institution.

Current Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed stated that Riyaz had stood up to defend the police institution even when faced with “immense pressure, criticism and threats against [police officers’] families”.

“Even as police were referred to with various hateful names, and even some officers’ lives were taken, our brother Riyaz was working tirelessly in our defence.”

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Comment: Maldivian Democracy – Where to from here?

“Maldives can never have stability through elections which has opposition Maldivian Democratic Party presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed’s name on the ballot”

“We will not hand over [power] through an election, [we] will not hand over even if he gets elected”

“Election fraud should be investigated and the election commissioner should resign”

- Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed

These are not political statements. This is not political discourse. This is not democratic discourse. We call ourselves a democracy – a young democracy. But these statements are the symptoms and early warning signals of a failing democracy.

Failing democracy

There are different versions and theories on what a ‘true democracy’ is, even though I believe that term is flawed to the core. No system is perfect and a ‘true democracy’ is too ambitious an aspiration to be realistically achievable. At the same time, democracy is also not just giving everyone above 18 a right to vote and a right to represent.

Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) runs an annual survey for a ‘Democracy Index’, which rates various sovereign countries across the world on how effective they are as democracies. They rate countries on five arameters which are commonly accepted as relevant for judging the strength of democracies: 1) Electoral process and pluralism; 2) Functioning of government; 3) Political participation; 4) Democratic political culture; 5) Civil liberties. While this annual ‘Democracy Index’ typically covers around 160 – 165 countries across the world, the Maldives is not ranked. One can go through the details of this index here and build their own perspective on how well are we doing on this.

My summary view on the state of Maldivian democracy based on an assessment of these parameters is that we are a democracy on ventilator, desperately gasping for life. The statements by a vice presidential candidate highlighted above are a reflection on the sanctity of our electoral process, rather the lack of it. No only this, ours is a democracy where the Supreme Court decides on the sanctity of electoral process based on a ‘secret report’ by the police without even giving a chance to the Elections Commission, or anyone else, to see the report – let alone comment on it. At the same time, one only needs to see through the various actions of the current government to see that we clearly fail on the parameter of functioning of government, with the rampant corruption and decisions that are typically taken under the influence of one of the president’s allies or the other.

President Waheed has been sanctioning millions of dollars’ worth of favours to the people who put him in power – £5million payments to Grant Thornton to stop corruption investigations against Abdulla Yameen, and the arbitrary 99-year lease extension for Mamigili airport are just a couple of cases in point. The recent decision by Waheed’s cabinet to sell MACL shares in the course of a week, while being totally silent on the valuation or process for sale as well as the role of the Majlis or the privatization board in the same is a further example of absolute failure of governance, which is marred by corruption, in our democracy.

Civil liberties, or the lack of them, is the most significant problem for us today. None of the media houses are independent since their owners are aligned with one political party or the other – a case in point is a recent headline in a national electronic newspaper which said “Nasheed doesn’t have time’ for second round presidential debate” while referring to the cancellation of MBC’s presidential debate. Brutal crackdowns on anti-government protestors are a norm of the day and tolerance for the opposition view is totally amiss from governance.

As for a democratic political culture, our country is being run by a ‘president-by-chance’ who has no popular support and who has been totally inept at maintaining public order, largely because he represents the old order and vested interests who brought him to power. It is only political participation that is the last remaining hope for the Maldivian democracy, and I am proud to say that we may be one of the best in the world on this parameter, but I fear we are starting to view our democracy in this very narrow perspective.

Constitutional void or civil disobedience or much more?

It is apparent from the discussion above that Maldivian democracy is faced with a number of challenges that threaten its very existence. What started in February 2012 was a political turmoil. Where we are at today is a constitutional void – where no one knows who has the power on which matters, and everything is a question of interpretation of the constitution. The more worrisome aspect, after this Supreme Court judgement on validity of elections, is where do we go from here?

Whether the Supreme Court had the power to cancel the second round or not is still in question – the executive was only too happy to implement its orders anyhow without regard to the powers of the constitutional institutions such as the elections commission. Whether they were right in annulling the first round, on the basis of a report the existence of which is in question, is an even bigger question. Parliamentary supremacy is a bit of an unknown concept in our democracy and anyone and everyone seems to challenge it based on their convenience – be it challenging the position of the speaker, or validity of seats of opposition MPs, or the simplest of things like not destroying the audio systems just to stop the other side from making their case.

The questions are many and there are no clear answers. Can the elections commission ensure a free and fair election with the high level of control that has now been given to the Maldives police? Will the Maldives’ police, who are led by a man recently reprimanded by integrity commission for his anti-Nasheed activism in the forces, really allow a free and fair election? Will any election in which Nasheed wins, despite any odds, be conceded as a free and fair election? What will deter the losers of the re-election from running to the Supreme Court again pleading some other kind of foul play and getting the elections annulled once again? Will Nasheed supporters accept a defeat calmly and with grace, without crying foul play, having received 45 percent votes in the annulled elections? Now that the sanctity of the electoral process has been undermined significantly, what is the way out of this situation?

Using undue influence over the Supreme Court to play with the electoral process is not an acceptable answer for one side of the political spectrum. Disqualifying the most popular candidate from contesting the elections or not letting him take power – even if he wins the election and possibly even a re-election – is clearly not a plausible answer for the other side. This is a stark conflict and everyone is getting involved. Even the MNDF is getting politicised and polarised, along with the customs, air traffic control, and resort employees. That this conflict will only escalate further is increasingly likely and the recent arson attack on pro-opposition Raajje TV is an early warning signal of how bad things can get, if not checked in time.

Where to from here in search of solutions?

A conflict where a large proportion of people with a political voice start looking at every action of the state with suspicion is mostly avoidable. No one likes conflict and certainly not a violent conflict. With everything that is going on in the rest of the world – in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere – no one wants a conflict in the much more peaceful Maldives. Given the polarised nature of this conflict, it is important for order to be established in the Maldives sooner rather than later. Leaving internal institutions in the Maldives to chance upon a solution after a prolonged conflict is not what is required at present and may even be counter-productive.

Clearly, the Maldives needs the international community’s support to ensure that this conflict is not prolonged and is resolved for good with this round of elections. Moreover, it is not in India’s interests to see any prolonged conflict in its backyard, for such conflicts allow an opportunity to other countries to start playing an active role where they have been largely absent till date. It is important for India to establish diplomatic supremacy once again in the Maldives.

Ever since the suspicious transfer of power in the Maldives in February 2012, Indian engagement in the Maldives has largely been reactive. It has been on the ‘back-foot’ since February 2012 with the rising anti-India voices from some quarters of the political spectrum. President Waheed went back on his word to the Indian prime minister in cancelling the GMR agreement, and the much prolonged ‘Nasheed-holed-up-inside-Indian-high-commission’ drama in February 2013 only exacerbated discord. India has reacted well to manage some of these situations, though Indian diplomacy has failed on a few fronts, particularly in failing to gauge the allegiance of the current government of President Waheed.

The current conflict in the Maldives provides a perfect opportunity for India to take charge of the situation. The re-election is an opportunity to set the Maldives in order and to define Indian diplomatic supremacy in the region. It has to play an active role in building domestic as well as international consensus on whatever is required to ensure that the re-election, now that everyone seems to have accepted it, is free and fair and actually results in a smooth and consensual transfer of power on November 11. The number of diplomatic options India has are endless, but just strongly worded statements don’t seem to be enough of a deterrent to the various political actors in the Maldives. On the other extreme, far-fetched options like an international peace-keeping force or any sort of ‘boots-on-ground’ is totally out of bounds as well. While some sort of economic sanctions are a plausible diplomatic action, these haven’t been much of a deterrent in many cases across the world.

A possible tourism-embargo will hit the various political actors involved in this conflict and would force them to tow the democratic line such that the starkly polarised domestic politics could be sorted out once and for all. This is a call that has been made by the MDP as well, and has been welcomed and criticized in equal measure by various people across the socio-political spectrum in the country. Having said that, it is such details of what and how that India has to play without becoming actively involved in the local politics and without taking political sides. India has to build international consensus on what carrots and which sticks need to be used to ensure that any dubious dealings no longer stymie Maldivian democracy.

Maldivian democracy is on life-support and it needs international help, especially from India, to help it come back to life again after the 11th November.

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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Maldives crisis requires international assistance: former Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed

“I do not believe that the constitutional and political crisis in the Maldives will be resolved without international assistance,” former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has told Minivan News today.

Dr Shaheed – currently UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Iran – said he wished to correct local media reports claiming he had called for neighbouring India to intervene militarily to restore democracy in the Maldives.

“It does not have to be force – it can even be good offices,” he said, accusing media of distorting his comments.

Progressive Party of Maldives vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed meanwhile told local media that the comments were evidence of the “hunger for power” within the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“Calling for the Indian military to come to Maldives, I believe it is proof that they want power even by sidelining the country’s independence and sovereignty, through whatever means possible,” Dr Jameel told Sun Online.

Tension is growing in Male’ after the Supreme Court ordered the security forces to forcibly prevent any state institutions proceeding with the constitutionally mandated presidential run-off.

The poll was required under Article 111 of the constitution to take place on Saturday (September 28).

Controversy has nonetheless arisen over Shaheed’s remarks on twitter over the past few days, in particular a post from last Thursday (September 26)

CMAG must suspend the Maldives from CW n request India to invoke R2P!

— ahmed shaheed (@ahmedshaheed) September 26, 2013

Initial misinterpretation, argued Shaheed, was a result of Adhaalath Party Vice President Dr Mauroof Hussain distorting a previous message in which he had stated that an Indian takeover would be preferable to one led by local ‘takfiris’ (Muslims who label other Muslims apostates).

Shaheed – noting that local media had run a second article in which he said corrected some of the mistakes made in the first – called on the Commonwealth to take a more proactive stance on the Maldives.

“My tweet on R2P was aimed at the Commonwealth, asking it to suspend Maldives from the Commonwealth and further asking it to invite India to play a more proactive role in restoring Constitutional authority in the Maldives.

“When the Supreme Court has been hijacked by thugs and bandits, the time has come for the Platonic question – who shall guard the guardians? The answer is CMAG, R2P and UN resolution 44/51,” said Dr Shaheed.

He called for a Commonwealth process, and noted that the R2P doctrine itself mandates a UN process, thereby ruling out any unilateral intervention.

Initiatives and resolutions

The R2P initiative is intended to address the international community’s failure to stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It views sovereignty as a responsibility rather than a right.

Former Foreign Minister Shaheed also suggested that UN resolution 44/51 could be invoked to invite Indian assistance to restore constitutional authority in the Maldives.

Resolution 44/51, which was introduced by the former Foreign Secretary Ibrahim Hussain Zaki in 1989, is titled ‘Protection and security of small island states’.

The Maldivian initiative was brought before the General Assembly after the attempted coup by Tamil mercenaries in Male’ the year before.

The resolution stated the General Assembly’s appeals to “relevant regional and international organisations to provide assistance when requested by small states for the strengthening of their security in accordance with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter.”

The subsequent paragraph also calls on the Secretary General to pay special attention to the security situation of small states.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had stated his concern about the Supreme Court’s decision ordering the postponement of the second round, given that the first round was “widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers.”

“The people of the Maldives have exhibited great patience and should have the opportunity, without undue delay, to exercise their vote,” he stated.

International processes

Expressing concern at recent events in the Maldives, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) last week “urged all those concerned to ensure that the second round of the election is held at the earliest possible date so that this constitutional requirement is met.”

Following last week’s CMAG meeting, Acting Foreign Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela urged the group to “take matters in proper context, and not to over-react on delicate situations in member countries”.

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Nasheed “will not be allowed to assume power” even if he wins election: PPM running mate Dr Mohamed Jameel

Running mate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)’s Presidential Candidate Abdulla Yameen, Dr Mohamed Jameel, has declared that opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Presidential Candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed “will not be allowed to assume power”, even should he emerge as the clear winner in the run-off election scheduled to take place on September 28.

The provisional results of last Saturday’s presidential election showed the MDP finishing the race on top with 45.45 percent of the popular vote or 95,224 votes. The PPM came second with 53,099 votes – 42,125 votes less than the MDP – while the Jumhooree Coalition led by resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim came third with 50,422 votes and incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan finishing the race at the bottom with just 10,750 votes – 5.13 percent.

The results mean that the winner of the election are to be decided through a run-off election – contested by both the PPM and the MDP – scheduled to take place on September 28. Both parties have since commenced their campaign.

During the PPM’s first campaign rally since the first round of the election, Jameel asserted on Tuesday night that his party was not prepared to hand over the country to Nasheed, whom he described as an “evil, wicked, radical and especially a mad man”.

“We will not hand over this country to an evil, wicked, mad man. We will not hand over through an election, [we] will not hand over even if he gets elected,” Jameel said.

The sacked Home Minister also vowed to “imprison Nasheed for a lengthy period” should a PPM government come to power.

“I am still saying that [Nasheed] will go to jail, by Allah’s will he will go to jail, we will do it, we will do it with Allah’s beneficence. We are waiting for the moment. At the right moment, we are certain that you [Nasheed] will be in jail,” Jameel told supporters.

He also promised free housing and healthcare for every police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officer under a PPM government.

Clarifying his remarks to Minivan News on Wednesday, Jameel stated that his comments during the rally reflected the “criminal charge filed against Nasheed” and other possible charges.

“As there is an impending [criminal] charge on him, he would be facing the outcome of the trial that would stop him from holding [the office of the president]. That is what I meant [at the rally],” Dr Jameel explained.

“Also, audit report exposes budget misappropriation of MVR 4.7 billion in addition to several corruption allegations which ultimately former President Nasheed will have to face. That is what I meant. So as a result of these charges he would not be able to hold the office,” he added.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) blasted Jameel’s remarks stating that he was “unfit to hold public office”.

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Spokesperson MP Imthiyaz Fahmy claimed that Jameel’s remarks showed how desperate the PPM were, and indicated that it was expecting a “bad election day” on September 28.

“He is openly refusing to obey the constitution and the laws of the country. He has openly announced another coup. This is a very serious remark,” Fahmy told Minivan News.

The MDP spokesperson also accused the PPM of not understanding how to campaign, only how carry out anti-campaigns against Nasheed.

“If this is a free democratic country that upholds the law, I am sure the police would have arrested the man while he was on the podium. I believe the police must investigate the statement and the Prosecutor General should press charges against him,” Fahmy claimed.

The government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Parliamentary Group Leader Dr Abdulla Mausoom also criticised Jameel on local media.

Mausoom claimed that Jameel’s remarks meant that he was preparing to “break the laws for a lengthy period of time”.

Jameel – who played a central role in toppling Nasheed’s government on February 2012 – had previously repeated his claim in the press, both before and after Nasheed’s controversial step down, that he would make sure the former president is “put away for a long time”.

Last March, during the PPM’s presidential primaries, Dr Jameel declared that it was both a “national and a religious Farḍ (obligation)” to prevent Nasheed from contesting the presidential election.

“Nasheed of Kenereege does not have any chance to come to power. We would not give that chance [to him]. That is something we ought to do. It is both a national and a religious Farḍ (obligation),” Jameel said at the time.

During the lead up to the mutiny by the police and the military on February 7, 2012, that forced the change in government, Jameel publicly announced in an anti-government rally that an Islamic jihad (struggle) against Nasheed’s government was an “obligation” to all Maldivian Muslims.

Jameel while he was a member of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) was one of the co-authors of a “hate-pamphlet” released against Nasheed’s government, in which it claimed that Nasheed was participating in “an anti-Islamic conspiracy”.

“Since 2006 Gaza where many millions live has been blocked from land, air and sea and all its inhabitants enslaved and locked up. Nevertheless after coming to power Nasheed’s main priority was fostering ties with Jews,” read the English translation of the pamphlet.

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Comment: Revisiting the Maldives’ transition to democracy

This article was first published on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

The first multiparty presidential election of 2008 in Maldives saw an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the adoption of a modern democracy for the first time in the Maldives. Nevertheless, as in many other nascent democracies, there is real doubt whether Maldives can sustain its democracy in its fullest sense, especially after the recent coup that ousted the first democratically elected president in February 2012.

Some scholars argue that the mode of democratic transition a country experiences proves to be a critical factor in determining the country’s democratic future. Hence, an analysis of the mode of democratic transition that occurred in Maldives may help in predicting whether democracy could be sustained in future.

Political scientist Samuel Huntington argues that the process of democratisation could be determined based on ‘the relative importance of governing and the opposition groups as the sources of democratisation’.

He identifies three broader modes of democratisation; (1) ‘transformation’ (from above) occurs when the regime itself takes initiative in bringing democracy; (2) ‘replacement’ (from below) occurs when opposition groups take the initiative and replace the regime by bringing democracy; and (3) ‘transplacement’ (through bargain) occurs when both government and opposition work together to bring about democracy.

My aim here is to analyse the process of democratisation in Maldives in terms of the theories offered by Huntington, and identify the modes of democratic transition that occurred in Maldives.

This in turn may help predict the future sustenance of democracy in Maldives. I will argue that no one particular mode of democratisation occurred in Maldives as none of them materialised fully. However, various efforts from the current opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), together with the leadership of Mohamed Nasheed, have contributed significantly to the process and facilitated negotiations with the regime leading to democratisation.

To achieve the stated-aim, I will discuss the major events that contributed to the democratisation process in Maldives by relating them to the modes of transition outlined above.

The initial period of democratic struggle – a period of near ‘replacement’

The initial period of the struggle for democracy in Maldives depicts characteristics of ‘replacement’ where citizens started to challenge the regime through various means and made attempts to overthrow the autocratic government. The first serious challenge to dictator Gayoom was in 1988, with a failed coup attempt carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries financed by wealthy Maldivians. A year after the attempted coup, the election of western-educated young politicians to the parliament in 1989 resulted in increased pressure for democratic reforms.

However, many of them and their family members faced significant threats from the regime and some of them were imprisoned for various politically motivated charges[3]. The regime continued to suppress major opposition figures through arbitrary arrests. In 2001, Mohamed Nasheed – both a Member of Parliament and a major opposition figure – was arrested and imprisoned for two and half years. The same year, the opposition MDP made their first attempt to formally register themselves as a political party. The Home Ministry, mandated to register civic organisations, sent the petition to parliament where it was overwhelmingly rejected.

On September 20, 2003, civil unrest broke out in the capital Male’ sparked by the death of prison inmate Hassan Evan Naseem. Evan was tortured to death by security forces during an interrogation. News of his death led to riots in the prison and a subsequent shootout by the police that killed three more inmates and injured many others. The news spread throughout Maldives, becoming the major trigger for many to publicly demand democratic reforms.

Since the September unrests, Gayoom came under tremendous pressure from both domestic and international actors that compelled him to announce democratic reforms. On June 2004, during an informal meeting, Gayoom announced his proposed changes to the Constitution including two term limits for the president, direct election of the president, measures to increase separation of powers and removing the gender bar for political participation. Moreover, he urged citizens to publicly debate his proposals. The opposition were still very sceptical about Gayoom’s real intentions and raised doubts about whether he could bring about concrete reforms.

However, the reform announcement itself facilitated the opposition to organise more activities publicly. Matt Mulberry from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, argues that the reforms announced by Gayoom ‘technically gave citizens freedom of speech and freedom of assembly’. As a result, some citizens organised a series of “minivan debates” (‘minivan’ means ‘independent’ in Dhivehi) where they discussed the political issues facing the country. Unsurprisingly, the government sent police to disrupt these debates, eventually declaring them illegal.

Despite these repressive actions, the opposition organised a huge protest on August 12-13, 2004 to mark the death of Evan Naseem and demanded reforms, including the release of political prisoners. A record number of citizens took part in the protest which became the largest political gathering ever in the history of Maldives at that time.

The crackdown that followed the protest led to the arrest of hundreds of activists and injured many protesters. As a result, violence erupted in capital Male’ and other parts of the country. Despite the oppressed media, news of the regime’s repressive actions attracted the attention of many international actors. By then, President Gayoom faced immense pressure from the UK, US, India and Sri Lanka to bring about political reforms.

From ‘replacement’ to ‘transplacement’ – a period of joint action

The mounting international pressure and political instability in Maldives led to a new phase in the democratisation process as the regime agreed to have serious negotiations with the opposition. The willingness of joint action from both the regime and the opposition led to a period of ‘transplacement’ in the democratisation process. The regime agreed to sit with the opposition for the first time in the UK.

During the negotiations, the regime agreed to more reforms including formation of independent oversight bodies such as the Police Integrity Commission and the Judicial Services Commission. Moreover, informal talks between reformers within the regime and the opposition were held in Sri Lanka facilitated by the British High Commissioner.

However, the lack of true commitments from the regime led the opposition to realise that international pressure alone would not help bring down the autocratic leadership. Hence, they increased their efforts in organising more protests, speeches and sit-ins. As a result of the mounting support for the opposition’s cause, reformers within the government increased their efforts in pressuring Gayoom to implement urgent reforms.

The pressure from a few reformers within the government and the opposition MDP led to a period of ‘transformation’ where the regime was compelled to take reform actions. In April 2005, the then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed overturned his predecessor’s decision by issuing a formal legal opinion to allow the registration of political parties. In June 2005, the parliament unanimously voted in favour of a resolution to allow multi-party democracy for the first time in Maldives. The MDP – the main opposition party – led by Mohamed Nasheed was formally registered, along with several other political parties representing different views. In March 2006, the regime published a roadmap that ‘included 31 proposals for revision of the Constitution, a series of time-bound commitments on human rights, and proposals to build institutions and mobilise civil society’.

However, many still doubted whether the regime was committed to real reforms. Ahmed Shaheed (then Foreign Minister) later argued that, through the reform agenda, Gayoom was seeking to get rehabilitated and thereby stabilise his presidency. He argued that, by 2007, Gayoom had achieved his aim by gaining widespread domestic support and getting rehabilitated.

However, new cracks that significantly weakened the regime emerged as those most closely associated with the reform agenda left the government. On 5th August 2007, both Dr Hassan Saeed and Mohamed Jameel (Justice Minister) resigned from their posts. They claimed that working outside Gayoom’s regime was the only option to advance their reform agenda. Later on the same month, Ahmed Shaheed resigned from the post of Foreign Minister, accusing the government of stalling democratic reforms. These developments saw more public support for the opposition reform movement. After several disagreements with the Special Majlis (Special Parliament), Gayoom ratified the new Constitution in August 2008, allowing key democratic reforms and paving way for the first multi-party presidential election in October that year.

Democracy sustainable?

As evident from the discussion above, three modes of democratisation have contributed to the democratisation process in Maldives, though characteristics of ‘transformation’ are very little. Interestingly, there appears to be a correlation between each mode as the occurrence of one type led to the other. This observation therefore contradicts Huntington’s view that the three modes of democratisation are alternatives to one another.

However, it is important to note the significant role played by the opposition MDP, especially Mohamed Nasheed as the leader who never took a step back in his quest to bring democracy to Maldives. It is clear that MDP played the most critical role in the process of democratisation. I have previously argued that Gayoom is the major obstacle to sustaining democracy and the threat is heightened more than ever with his current political activeness.

Reflecting on the process of democratisation and the strong influence of Gayoom on many institutions till today, I still doubt sustenance of democracy in the Maldives. Similar to the 2008 election, this year’s election is very much a choice between democracy and autocracy.

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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