Comment: Hope rekindled

It was with some trepidation that I awaited the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP’s) announcement of a ‘big gathering’ on 19 April 2013 and the news of parliamentary speaker Abdulla Shahid making his maiden speech that night after joining the party.

But, as on many other occasions before, the event was organised and carried out with such precision and grandiose style that it far exceeded any events, national or otherwise, that I had ever witnessed in the Maldives.

In fact, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that it was the largest gathering ever in the Maldives, certainly one held by a political party.

Watching, observing and listening to the speeches that night has certainly rekindled lost hope, at least for me personally, and I am sure there are many others who feel the same way I do.

The MDP showed that they as a party understood what democracy is through their maturity in willingly to embrac and welcome Shahid to their party and giving him a place of honour among their ranks.

Shahid had been in the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) before and being the Speaker of Parliament, should, as many MDP supporters have previously alleged, be held responsible for at least some of the difficulty that the MDP Government experienced in getting much needed legislation passed through parliament.

But, as was befitting a mature democratic party, MDP supporters set aside their differences and welcomed him with open arms – something which should have been the hallmark of the current government that keeps claiming they are responsible for bringing unity to the country.

What Shahid expressed in his speech about young technocrats joining the MDP will no doubt depend on the way that MDP treats Shahid and others like him. For it is no secret that, among his many other talents, Shahid is also one of the most highly experienced technocrats in the Maldives.

In the past, when the MDP had been in the government after winning the 2008 elections, it had acquired a reputation for being too hasty in throwing out well-educated, skilled, and highly competent staff whose only wrong-doing had been that they did not belong to MDP and had been in government service during Gayoom’s time.

But what MDP supporters had failed to recognise then, is that these people had very little choice of contributing to their country unless they worked with the then government.

What MDP also failed to recognise is that most of them were simply technocrats who had no political ambitions and therefore chose not to join any political party. As Shahid so eloquently stated in his speech, “there are many of us who firmly believe that MDP is the only party that can move the country forward and bring development through its policies and democratic values”.

What many may fail to recognise is that MDP’s strategies of focusing on the individual needs of citizen’s rather than targeting highly visible projects for gaining votes, places them far ahead of their rival parties in terms of protecting the human rights of Maldivian citizens.

Maldivians have over the years experienced a number of developmental activities which have not had any significant impact on improving either their livelihoods or their living conditions as had been stated as the objective of the many National Development Plans since 1985. Instead, these plans have been a wish list which the government had used to shop for donor financing.

However, the MDP Manifesto has shown quite clearly to the people that realistic plans to achieve equity goals are possible and implementable even within a short span of time, as was demonstrated within the three short years of the MDP Government.

There is no doubt that the average Maldivian, when they think about their situation rationally, would be extremely grateful to the MDP Government’s implementation of their inter-island transport network, the adequate housing policy, the single-session schools education policy, the technical and vocational skills development programme, and the social protection programs for the elderly, the disabled and single mothers, as well as the Aasandha health insurance scheme for all.

Similarly, there is no doubt that the new policies that the MDP is proposing for the 2013 elections will go a long way in consolidating the economic and social rights of many Maldivians.

Examples of these can be seen in their proposed expansion of guest houses policy and the development of mariculture in selected regions of the country — something that had in fact been suggested by the first UN fact-finding mission to the Maldives, way back in the late 1950s when the Maldives had not even gained its independence.

What I would like to see further is for MDP to announce their policies on how to tackle some of the pressing social issues as economic development needs to go hand in hand with social development for the people.

For instance, I would like to hear from the MDP on how they propose to bring back another Second Chance programme for reformative justice which has been proven overseas to be far more effective than incarceration, especially in the case of young offenders.

Additionally, I would also like to know how MDP plans to deliver a more effective and efficient public service that is befitting a modern Maldives in the globalised world of the 21st century.

As Maldives is highly dependent on its service sector, and given its geographic vulnerabilities, it is important in this modern era of internet communications to expand this technology for providing faster and efficient services to both its citizens and non-citizens who visit the country.

Efficient and effective service delivery should also take into account that a number of Maldivian tax payers reside overseas and in order to protect their rights and avail themselves of the services offered, it is important for them to be able to access services from where they reside. In certain instances this might mean making exceptions for them to be able to personally collect important documents such as national ID cards and passports.

I sincerely hope and pray that MDP can bring hope back and keep the window to democracy open for the many of us who are disillusioned and disgusted at the recent turn of events in our beloved country.

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