Throughout Maldivian history, the system of government has been clearly structured on those who had property and connections. The leading positions of the government institutions as of late 2000 were unquestioningly a privilege to those born into aristocratic and landowning families and not based on merit. While they did not contribute to a productive Maldivian society, it was clear that, that system of government was the result of the society’s class structure and the institutional positions they maintained were by default and non debatable.
The system continues to exist even with the change of government and has been replaced by a group of hardcore political activists backed by the affluent and financially successful businessmen that the last regime fostered, holding more than 90 percent of the national wealth. The underclass, which covers at least 75 percent of the Maldivian population, continues to exist as one entity deprived of social standing while selected individuals both in the political and economic environment enjoy individualism and rights to become contributors and producers.
As the underclass continues as a permanent feature of both the regimes, both governments seemingly relied heavily on the pledges of the international community to bring about change. The promised change has been frustratingly slow and political representatives partly blame the lack of timely response and unfilled pledges by the international community being cause for non or slowed down government delivery. Although the country graduating from a least developing country this year onwards based on its per capita GDP of US$4600 (graduation criteria is US$900) the country’s social infrastructure has been heavily financed by development funding and donations. It is further characterised by low income families (16 percent of the population lives in poverty and unemployment rate is over 14 percent), weak human resources and a low level of economic diversification.
As before, most of the government ministries remain dysfunctional, lacking capacity and capability to perform, staffed by the people who are unable to produce results, lead by ineffective but loyal political activists of ruling political party.
Guarding the domain
A large underclass must exist for this model of society to function so that power hungry politicians can continue to dominate the country’s leadership. Within this exist the power hungry businessmen who are unwilling to let members of underclass enter into the realm of the “the privileged rich”. Within this exist the power hungry religious leaders, who try to formalise their control using religious mechanism. The three groups co-exist together relying heavily on each other to protect their existence. At the same time Maldives has a growing underclass indicating political, economic and religious control as three groups struggle to keep their supremacy over each other.
The privileged and the underclass need each other to function. Both the governments maintained the underclass by creating a large and dependent workforce making government the biggest employer in the country, a strategy to safeguard and retain loyalty. People’s values are formed by the structure in the society according to Karl Marx. To maintain functionality, the three groups work to create beliefs and conformity through various social, political and religious tools.
Functionalism at the cost of democratic principles
All the three groups work to create a consensus of belief and behavior (as functionalism has been described by Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903) and upholding the norms is a function of society. The norms are further defined by rules and regulations that the society needs to adhere to function as a body. Within this type of societal model, anyone who upsets or threatens the norms has to be removed to recreate balance, taken away to prison and removed from mainstream society.
There is no individualism in the Maldivian society except for those in control. Individual’s needs are not validated and only the overall function of society is important. The Maldivian society is thus a singular being – something that can be manipulated and changed as a whole and poverty and inequality are just valid parts of society, so are juvenile delinquency, crime and domestic violence.
The functionalist approach is extremely convenient for politicians and others, who assume to be the sole representatives of the Maldivian citizens and speak out loud for the people while the underclass are not consulted nor are allowed to have any access to the political sphere. The MPs increasingly act in their personal interest as they try to add to their financial remuneration and privileges, political status and social standing.
Behavior has to be acceptable or punished in the functionalist society. As the gaps between the leadership and underclass widen and the income disparity grows, uprisings such as those in the tourism industry will occur. The outbreak of unhappy employees in tourism industry has drawn calls for measures to curb their activities and expression, regulating behavior and introducing new punishments. Attempts to unify religious behavior are an ongoing effort of religious leaders who condone religious freedom of individuals in the Maldivian society.
Don’t rock the boat
Democracy promoting change contradicts functionalism as change in society is seen as disturbance. It is the “don’t rock the boat” model. The groups within the society such as family must promote the norms and children are to do what their parents do and to be what their parents are. Employees are supposed to work without negotiating and be grateful for the hand that feeds them. Religious practices must be observed without questioning. Traditions that do not work for the three leading groups mentioned earlier may be discarded and new practices may be invented through their own consensus as long as they can maintain status quo and their power. Needless to say but people are comfortable when there is stability, status quo and life continues without disruptions.
Conflicting functionalism is people’s economic and spiritual needs that must be satisfied being human nature and cannot be controlled by regulated mechanism. Neither fear as a control tool is effective over a long period nor may rightful behavior as translated into rules serve to control people in the short run. For the society to develop, the change has to happen although it is irritating, but eventually leading to a new adjusted society where balance is restored.
Alliance for power
Would it not be great if the underclass could defeat the “ruling” class? Maldivians were elated in 2003 when the reform movement started. The Maldivians (along with the international community) thought this was the underclass and the suppressed breaking out of a rigid fascist regime. Those hungering for leadership were made up of three power hungry groups tapping on the ignorance of the underclass Maldivians to think they can expect and own a better share of the wealth that the country was earning. Maldivians were willing prey to promises of the leadership following the parties they thought would serve the purpose.
The affluent business community saw it was time to shift over and contribute a puny percentage of their wealth to bring the change. They also saw this as an opportunity to take positions of control so that their wealth could expand further. Later extension of resort lease deals was up for debate in the Parliament where politicians-cum-businessmen sat representing the citizens’ voice. Some MPs and activists in party leadership still claim they are first and foremost businessmen.
The pact between the religious party Adalaath and the then-opposition MDP at the time of the elections in 2008 was the only way religious leaders could secure a powerful position within the new government. Alliance with the likely party to win in the second round of elections was made on mutual advantage of holding power within their domains.
The main opposition saw their advantage in an alliance with the two groups mentioned above, business men representing resources and religious leaders representing norms and practices that the average (underclass) Maldivian did not dare contradict and commanded total obedience to their leaders. Both the groups taking a stand beside the main opposition won the elections.
Democracy is a threat to Maldivian politicians, businessmen and religious leaders because it calls for sharing or wealth and privileges, position and power. Democracy dilutes society as a entity, through its principles promoting equality, fairness and tolerance where the individual and minority are validated and majority will is respected.
Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM school.
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