Comment: Et tu Maldives?

For those looking for a bright side in the rather anticlimactic win of the much delayed/canceled/rescheduled Maldivian Presidential elections by the anti-democratic coalition led by Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, there’s some solace that this will probably be the final episode of the overly drawn out election saga.

Had President Nasheed won, there might well have been an endless number of elections till the anomaly was rectified.

Local democrats as well as the international community was waiting in apprehension to observe what clever trick would be employed to undo the election should Nasheed win again. Thankfully, the Maldivian public had other plans and rendered the whole discussion moot. It voted in another Gayoom to power.

Kingmaker Gasim

Gasim Ibrahim – who won 23% of the votes in first round – proved to be the decisive factor.

Yameen’s last minute deal with Gasim, who had just a day earlier hobnobbed with MDP leaders and publicly announced that 60% of voters of his voters would never vote for Yameen, clinched the victory by a slim margin of merely 5374 votes.

The election so far har been ugly affair, with the anti-democratic forces pulling every stop and resorting to every dirty trick – from subverting the electoral process, getting anti-constitutional rulings from the Supreme Court, harassment of the Elections Commission, flexing muscles available in the form of the Maldives Police Service to obstruct elections, and holding the whole process to ransom by refusing to sign voter registries – and hemorrhaging millions in public funds all the while.

However to Yameen’s credit, he did win the election – at least this round of it – fair and square.

For his part, President Nasheed had some gracious words of defeat and congratulations to the winner, pledging to respect the people’s verdict and uphold the democratic process.

Reading into the results

The elections prove one thing: the Maldives electorate is yet to mature. The outcome of the election was more or less decided on November 9th, when – despite all the ugly episodes that played out in full public view – the public actually rewarded Abdulla Yameen with a slightly increased vote share.

It was clear that a large section of the public was not going to be swayed by an actual manifesto, or promises of justice, and police and judicial accountability.

President Nasheed handsomely won all the major population centers, resorts and foreign boxes. However, it is clear from the results that there is still another Maldives. A more isolated, isolationist, xenophobic and paranoid Maldives that is still susceptible to dangerous emotive politics.

It is remarkable that this victory was pulled off on the back of exaggerated anti-Nasheed rhetoric with strong Islamist and hyper-nationalist overtones, as opposed to any realistic development plans or policies.

This rhetoric was often of fantastic nature – ranging from evil Christian Westerners and Freemasons trying destroy Islamic unity in the Maldives, to Nasheed attempting to build temples for GMR staff and other such absurdities. Yet, it found resonance among a large section of the population. Voting for ‘dheen’ and ‘qawm’ became the catchphrase for the anti-Nasheed voters, although it isn’t immediately clear what exactly Abdulla Yameen has ever done to protect or uphold either.

Nevertheless, the result is what it is, and in a democratic process, the public verdict is supreme.

With any luck, the newly installed government will not pursue overtly isolationist, xenophobic policies while in power. After all, the Maldives – which is dependent on imports for everything from oil to basic foodstuffs – is no North Korea.

Challenges and fears

The most immediate challenge facing Yameen Abdul Gayoom is the tanking economy which has largely been in free-fall since the February 7 2012 coup d’etat. He inherits a nation on the verge of bankruptcy and – unlike the previous Dec 23 coalition that disastrously fell apart – it will take an extended period of stability within his large coalition to pull off a sustainable recovery.

The concerns for liberals are clear. Would the extremist Islamist Adhaalath Party be put in charge of the Education ministry as speculated? Will the mullahs be oversee the curriculum for our young students? Subjects such as science and history are usually the early victims of subjecting the school syllabus to Taliban scrutiny. Pakistan has already attempted this with disastrous results. Five years of Adhaalath extravagance is sufficient time to destroy one promising generation of Maldivians.

The fear is that instead of a modern, cosmopolitan outlook necessary to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world, children may be inculcated with inward looking, ignorant ideologies that the Adhaalath party favours.

The Adhaalath party controlled Ministry of Islamic Affairs of the Nasheed government attempted to ram through the Religious Unity Regulations in 2010 that would have severely curtained media freedom, given expansive powers to the clerics to censor media and publications, and would have explicitly banned the mere criticism of mullahs under the threat of five years in prison.

Liberal actors within the Nasheed government stopped that heinous piece of anti-democratic drivel from being gazetted as law, thereby preserving media freedom and basic liberties for a little longer.

Would Abdulla Yameen similarly step in to defend the public from the censorship friendly mullahs? Would he defend the free media and ordinary citizens and bloggers’ rights to challenge authority? Or would he continue in the family tradition of locking up potential troublemakers and/or making them disappear?

Would the Yameen regime continue to uphold the unwelcome precedent of extreme media hostility set by Waheed? The Waheed regime – supported by the same actors that won yesterday’s elections – routinely boycotted opposition media, explicitly denied them police support (in violation of the constitution), and have sat in silence as their journalists were attacked, pepper-sprayed and harassed in public by police and other outlaws. Raajje TV was also subject to serious arson attack that destroyed the station this year, despite receiving advance warning and requesting for police assistance.

The Maldives Press freedom index has been one of the biggest casualties since the fall of the last elected government – having reversed all the giant leaps it made under President Nasheed and returned to abysmal pre-democracy levels.

One would hope that President Yameen will channel his efforts towards rectifying the media situation. But it doesn’t seem an encouraging prospect, considering Yameen’s own party, PPM, continues to boycott media channels that it sees as being aligned with the opposition.

Yameen’s electoral victory is also a possible shot in the arm for wanton police impunity which has been on public display since the overthrow of the Nasheed government last year. Police brutality has gone unaddressed under Waheed’s regime – indeed, it has been richly rewarded with perks and promotions and flats. This is likely to continue under Yameen. As a candidate, Yameen has actively sought Police support with the promise of housing, supplies and weapons.

On the subject of the runaway judiciary, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has thrown in some kind words for the international media’s sake about how it requires reform. However, it does not seem likely that Yameen would do anything to threaten his friends in the Judiciary who ensured him multiple attempts at resurrecting his lacklustre campaign, which allowed him to eventually emerge as winner.

Finally, it remains to be seen how the MDP deals with the electoral loss. When the MDP was in government, one of the most frustrating deals was the lack of a capable or democratic opposition to hold the government accountable. The then opposition routinely failed to challenge the MDP government on corruption or policy, choosing instead to pick up far more far reaching national issues like random statues and Israeli airlines and massage parlours.

Some commentators hope that the MDP could now actively play that lacking role in the Yameen government. President Nasheed has pledged as much.

Yet, one can predict right away that the horse trading season will begin soon on the parliament floor, and quite a few MDP MP’s are likely cross the aisle looking for greener pastures. This possibility means quite simply that the MDP might have reduced effectiveness going forward as an Opposition party.

Furthermore, if MDP loses its Parliament strength – and it likely will – it further reduces chances of judicial reform or oversight from the elected Parliament.

After nearly two years of punishing instability and conflict, the Maldives and its economy desperately needs some stability and return to the rule of law. While the return of an elected government is welcome, democrats remain apprehensive of the Gayoom clan.

When slightly more than half the voting public gives a mandate to a media-hostile, blatantly anti-democratic coalition put together by a former dictator, it surely justifies this apprehension.

Furthermore, keeping together the chaotic coalition will be an interesting challenge and one that constantly threatens us with instability. For now, the coalition has been given a mandate to protect of ‘dheen’ and ‘qawm’; we will see Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s final report card five years from now.

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: A method in madness

One of the most painful, overused cliches of modern times is the saying that insanity is the act of repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results.

The Maldives, then, can be considered to be suffering from a bizarre national lunacy.

On elections day a little over two months ago, some of us thought we’d finally return to stability. We then also kept our fingers crossed two weeks later – in vain, as it turned out. On October 19, optimistic souls believed Maldivian voters would be a third time lucky. And yesterday, some hoped we would be a fourth time lucky.

And now, some are praying we’ll be a fifth time lucky sometime in the indeterminate future. But as this writer comfortably predicted months ago, there remains a zero percent chance of any free, fair or credible electoral decisions being upheld under the present Maldivian regime.

Foolish assumptions

There is a method in this mad optimism, and it is based on a number of foolish assumptions – the very first being that elections will somehow defuse the two year long crisis.

On the surface of it, it seems rather logical that an election would lead to stability. But perhaps we forget too easily that we did have an election on 7th September 2013.

The elections were scheduled well ahead. The parties campaigned. The observers arrived. Citizens registered to vote.

The elections were even widely praised by experts and international observers as being free and fair. 88 percent of the people voted. The democratic candidate won with a handsome margin.

Except, the Gayoom-controlled judiciary then threw the results right into the trash can on what can only be described as exceedingly tenuous grounds. The third placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim alleged widespread fraud, and the court happily agreed – while doing away with the need to accommodate such inconveniences as any actual admissible evidence. Instead, the judgment was based on a “police report” so confidential that not even the defendants or their lawyers were allowed to have a peek at it. (Our Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen!)

The elections were annulled. The international community expressed concern. Millions in public funds were wasted.

Having apparently decided to completely ignore the existence of a constitution, the Court then went on to issue a 16 point “guidelines” to the Elections Commission, including a provision requiring the candidates to sign the voters registry before voting could commence – essentially granting a veto to the candidates, who could now permanently hold the country and the electorate to ransom.

A runoff election was scheduled for September 28. The parties campaigned. The observers arrived. Citizens registered to vote.

But any hopes of an election were quickly dashed when the powerful Gayoom controlled militia – unwittingly referred to by the poorly informed as the “Maldives Police Service” – kidnapped the Elections Commissioner and laid siege to the commission. The elections were stalled.

The international community expressed concern. Millions in public funds were wasted.

Amid much drama, yet another runoff election was scheduled for October 19. The parties campaigned. The observers arrived. Citizens registered to vote.

But then, mere hours before voting was scheduled to commence that morning, the Gayoom militia intervened yet again and laid siege to the EC. The election was stalled yet again.

The international community expressed concern. Millions in public funds were wasted.

Then as recently as this week – when the international community threatened and arm-twisted the PPM and JP candidates into signing the voter’s registry at the last minute – another election was scheduled for November 9th.

The parties campaigned. The observers arrived. Citizens registered to vote.

An election was even allowed to take place this time, and declared to be free and fair. 86 percent of the people voted. The democratic candidate won handsomely again.

A runoff was scheduled for today.

You would never guess what happened next.

Mere minutes after the interim results were announced, PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen announced in a press conference that he would not sign the voters registry, thus preventing the run off elections from taking place.

The elections are likely to be stalled. Millions in public funds have again been wasted.

Curiously, it appears the parties will campaign again. The observers will return. Depending on when Abdulla Yameen decides to be benevolent, citizens may yet again need to register to vote.

Even more curiously, it appears many citizens remain inexplicably confident of somehow arriving at a different outcome.

The EC has said it will cost about MVR 25 million in public funds for each bout of this insanity.

The myth of a democratic election

Democratic elections are held between democratic parties i.e., between registered groups that aim to win over people to some vague political philosophy. The elections in Maldives are a different beast altogether.

If it wasn’t already painfully clear to even passive observers of Maldivian politics, the battle in the Maldives is between democratic and anti-democratic forces; between one group that seeks a public mandate, and another that seeks to permanently disenfranchise citizens and has publicly called for military rule. Between one group that wins elections and another that has no use for them, thanks to its control of the judiciary and a state funded militia.

On one side is the only democratically elected President in the history of the Maldives and who now has two further unfulfilled electoral victories to his credit since then.

On the other hand is a motley coalition of a former dictator, his cheerless half brother who is noted in leaked US State Department cables as being notoriously anti-reformist, a network of their fat-cat cronies, and to complete the picture, the far right religious extremists.

Gayoom’s party is not an agent of democracy, nor are its allies. If anything, the PPM is a panic-stricken response to democracy and to democratic reforms that threaten to shake the Gayoom network’s foundations. And that hostility towards a democratic exercise is exactly what has been on shameful public display in the last few weeks and months.

There are no difficult questions here. No moral ambiguity. Surely, to use the words of the great English rockers Pink Floyd, the international community can tell a green field from a cold steel rail.

The international community

In a moment of surprising candour, PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen admitted that he was forced to sign the voters registry against his wishes by the international community. The implication was that he wouldn’t have proceeded with yesterday’s elections – which he wasn’t ever likely to win – had he not been arm twisted into doing so.

The constitutional deadline of November 11 looms large, and the country will fall into a legal void with no political or legal consensus on what happens next. As such, it will fall upon Gayoom’s uniformed militia – ostensibly also the country’s security services – to decide the course of events.

Gayoom’s militia, of course, is likely to use the excuse of the Supreme court ruling to continue to prop up Waheed – perhaps the first incumbent ruler in history to win a mere five percent of the votes in a public election.

This miscarriage of justice only promises further chaos and – one cannot stress this enough – it is absolutely absurd to expect any different outcome.

The Maldivian citizens have protested, and petitioned and voted multiple times – all to no avail.

Perhaps, then, one way to force a different outcome is to force a different reaction from the international community.

In the last two years since the elected government was overthrown, the international community has made endless, meaningless public statements of “concern”; statements that have done precious little to impede the repeated, systematic abuse of human rights and mockery of justice in the Maldives.

In the meantime, police brutality has been richly rewarded with promotions, perks, housing and medals. A runaway judiciary is trampling all over the constitution like a crazed pachyderm. What little accountability had existed before has long since vaporised. The Maldives’ press freedom rankings have fallen like a brick and returned to pre-democracy levels. And that’s before they made the country’s only opposition TV station disappear in a giant ball of fire.

R2P

Perhaps, just perhaps, now would be a good time for the international community to make good on its threats.

The Maldives hasn’t had a legitimate government since February 7 2012. However, after the constitutional deadline of November 11, even the fig leaf of legitimacy granted by the CoNI report and the benefit of doubt granted by international community, purportedly in the interests of stability, will vanish.

Crucial powers such as India, UK, EU, the Commonwealth and the United States, who are in a position to enforce change, must recognise their responsibility to protect the fundamental authority of the citizens of the Maldives over themselves, especially when attempts to exercise a democratic mandate have been repeatedly and so publicly frustrated.

If instead, the international community should choose to acquiesce to this daylight mockery of the public, and recognise the Supreme Court’s blatantly unconstitutional ruling propping up a loser with five percent mandate as the country’s leader, or accommodate the hijacking of the Maldives electoral process, or turn a blind eye to holding to ransom the rights of an entire population, then it very likely that the hopes of democracy will fade from this tiny nation and the Maldives might end up a failed state.

It is trivial to put pressure on the Maldives – a country that depends almost entirely on foreign income and aid to feed and clothe itself. Cut off military and financial aid to the rogue regime until an elected President is sworn in. Halt exports of local fish to European markets. Stop sending tourists to luxury resorts that line the pockets of the Gayoom fat cats. Impose restrictions on foreign travel of regime figures on diplomatic passports. At the very least, stop sending consignments of tear gas, projectiles and weapons that are being used to subjugate an entire population and choke off its citizen’s rights.

The international community could continue to stick to the routine of issuing public statements of concern and privately trying to negotiate backroom deals between the wolves and the sheep on what they’d like to have for supper.

But unless the world powers can be convinced to make much sterner interventions, we are all mad as hatters to expect any change in trajectory in the Maldives.

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: Maldivian history a mockery of past and present

Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

In an isolated country such as ours, with a culture that goes back thousands of years, history has become twisted beyond all recognition and ended up as an unnavigable tangle of myths and falsehoods. And it appears we are not done yet.

An unreliable history

The story goes that in the mid-16th century, the Maldives was dominated for a period of 15 years by the Portuguese who – for reasons lost to history – attempted to forcibly pour alcohol down pious Maldivian throats.

Three brothers from the island of Utheemu – Mohamed, Ali and Hasan Thakurufaanu – then intervened heroically, in a tale of cunning and tact, to overthrow the infidel Portuguese, and became heroes of Islam who saved our pious nation from the alcoholic, Christian invaders.

This grand, sanitised version of the story, where an Islamic hero defends the faith of the Maldivians from evil infidels would prove very useful for later rulers of the country, like Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who constantly stoked fears of evil Christian missionaries trying to take over the Maldivians precious Islamic faith – a tactic that persists to this day. In 2009, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a paranoid Maldives to be among the world’s Top Ten most religiously intolerant nations.

Over time, it became apparent that it was not just foreign invaders that threatened to take away our Islamic faith, but our own dead forefathers whose entire rich Buddhist culture was swept under the carpet so tidily that to this day, it cannot be properly acknowledged – much less celebrated.

As much as we tried to erase it from memory, a vexatious history kept throwing at us evidence of a rich pre-Islamic cultural past in the form of statues, Buddhist stupas and ancient coral stone engravings uncovered from all parts of the country that became impossible to entirely ignore.

Thus, a legend came into existence; a fantastical story of a sea-demon, the Rannamaari, who came from the oceanic depths and had to be appeased by a virgin sacrifice every month. Then, Abul Barakat, a Berber scholar from Morocco arrived in the country in the early 12th century and heard of the story from a grieving family.

When it was time for the next girl to be sacrificed, Abul Barakat volunteered to step in. He stood vigil throughout the night, reciting from the Qur’an at the idol-house where the virgins were left every month to be ravished and killed. That night, the sea-demon rose from the depths and drew close, only to plunge again beneath the waves upon hearing the holy recitation which continued till dawn. In the morning, the islanders rejoiced, and upon hearing this, the King was pleased and instantly converted to Islam – willingly followed by the entire population of the country who discarded their idols and got enlightened overnight.

This happy outcome continues to be the version of history taught in schools today, although local historians have since discovered copper plate inscriptions from the 12th Century that describes a much more blood-soaked process of conversion – with Buddhist priests being summoned to Male’ and beheaded. Many terrified islanders buried their beautiful coral stone idols in the sand, covered with palm leaves, to protect it from the King’s men.

The idols survived the king’s men. But they could not survive the religious paranoia of their descendants, who are left with a toxic relationship with reality, having been brought up on a diet of distorted history.

In December 2011, this writer wrote a piece mentioning the statue of Gautama Buddha recovered from the island of Thoddoo in 1959, that was decapitated and soon afterwards had its body smashed to bits by paranoid Islanders, leaving behind only its serenely smiling head.

Less than two months after the piece was published, Islamic radicals vandalised the National Museum, and completed the job by destroying the head in a fervour to protect their Islamic faith from this perceived historical threat.

An embellished past

As far as stories go, the tale of the demon Rannamaari is only slightly more embellished a truth than the tale of a model Islamic hero overthrowing the Portuguese who were trying to force alcohol down our throats.

Maldives chronicler Abdul Majid points out that Buraara Koi, an ancient narrator of history, described Mohamed Thakurufaanu as “an adulterer, a necromancer, a cheat and someone who enjoyed trapping birds into his extended adolescence” – characteristics unworthy of an Islamic hero.

To set right this historical glitch, Hussain Salahuddin, a conservative twentieth century chief justice and a former royal commissioner of history, “openly purged the traditional versions of ‘objectionable’ events and accounts and inserted politically correct material in their place – some of it fabricated by his own admission”.

While no authoritative version of our history could survive our endless assault on facts, the end result of both these tales – the Rannamaari and the Portuguese invasion – is very politically convenient. In both cases, the tale inextricably weds our national identity with Islam in a grand, exaggerated and sanitised recalling of past events, while simultaneously assigning our history to be as much as an enemy of our identity as any foreign invader.

Recently deposed President Nasheed, a self-proclaimed history buff, marked the Independence day by narrating tales of Maldivian history on the radio. He added another spin on this already convoluted story by saying that there isn’t evidence that Islam was ever under threat by the Portuguese – asserting that Maldivians were simply more pious than that.

Nevertheless, the Portuguese, whose archives interestingly seem to record no evidence of direct rule of the Crown over the Maldives, ended up as being yet another incarnation of the Rannamaari;  another woven yarn about a demon that had to be defeated to demonstrate the valour of Islam that finds resonance to this day.

For instance, Umar Naseer – one of the primary actors in the overthrow of the elected government last year – has described his actions as being equivalent of the overthrow of the infidel Portuguese. In the Maldives, anything can become a Rannamaari. Even an elected government.

As a population, we revel in collective myths.

Muddying up the present

President Nasheed is also fond of pointing out the cyclicality of history – and how we are a nation with a long history of subterfuge, conspiracy and coup d’etats.

After all, the first Maldivian republic collapsed in 1954 after President Mohamed Amin Didi was deposed in a coup engineered by his Vice President Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, who in turn was deposed and exiled to make way for the restoration of the monarchy.

Yet, the police and military backed coup in 2012 that installed Waheed in power seemingly came out of the blue. For a nation as fearful and hostile to its own past, learning from history is out of the question and the cyclic nature of events becomes inevitable.

And thus, all the pieces fell into place on Friday night, on the occasion of the country’s Independence day, for a farce so gigantic that one could almost hear the giant wheel of history grind in motion.

On that night, Mohamed Waheed, installed in power in last year’s coup d’etat, conferred upon the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the NGIV (Nishan Ghaazeege ‘Izzatheri Veriya, the Most Distinguished Order of Ghazi) – the highest civilian honour recognized by the Maldivian state.

The location chosen for this travesty could not have been more appropriate. It was the very museum hall where the priceless, exquisitely carved coral stone remnants of our Buddhist history were reduced to dust last February as the coup was unfolding. Disregarding expert advice, the surviving artifacts in the museum were moved aside to make way for this momentous sham. Outside, the muscular SO riot police had forcibly shut down the neighbouring Art Gallery and held back protesters.

The coral stone dust of our forgotten past still lingered in the air when Waheed proceeded to essentially give a giant one finger salute to two generations of Maldivians – including, as many point out, his own mother and brothers – who have suffered under the yoke of Gayoom’s tyranny.

As far as this writer is concerned, the title bestowed upon Gayoom is about as legitimate as regime that conferred it upon him – which is to say, not at all.

Nasir spins in his grave

Another President – President Ibrahim Nasir – was conferred the same honour by the Sultan of the time.  However, President Nasir – who introduced modern English medium curriculum, and radio and television and civil aviation and tourism and mechanized fishing boats that breathed life into, and continues to prop up, the Maldivian economy in the decades ever since – was stripped of his kilege and other titles by his successor, the Gayoom regime.

Much like former idols, spirits and sea goddesses were demonised overnight to fit a new historical narrative, former President Nasir was vilified, exiled to Singapore and sentenced in absentia in the early days of the Gayoom regime. Indecent cartoons and songs mocking him were played by the Gayoom regime on the very government radio stations that Nasir introduced.

Today, Nasir’s reputation lies impossibly tangled. On one hand, he is praised as the hero of our national independence and architect of the modern Maldives who was harsh on corruption. On the other hand, he is criticised as a heavy handed autocrat who allegedly stole from the public coffers. He lived out his final years in ignominy and disrepute but, having died just after the fall of the Gayoom regime, was given a hero’s burial in Male’ alongside his royal ancestors.

Whether Nasir was a hero or a villain, we can no longer rely on our muddled history books to tell. Gayoom’s attempt at manipulating history and his muddying his predecessor’s legacy was thus an unqualified success.

And last Friday, Waheed stacked yet another card on the house of cards that we call our nation’s history; another attempt to muddy up the waters, another perversion of history itself in a bid to whitewash Gayoom’s indefensible legacy.

To quote from Hegel’s Philosophy of History, “What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it”.

In a country where gods have morphed into demons, and falsehoods have become the basis of our faith, and myths explain our origins, and history itself is a giant farce – it is clear that Gayoom intends to be remembered not as the vain leader of a corrupt, nepotistic, iron-fisted regime who never faced justice for his decades long crimes – but as someone who can now point to his shiny new medal and count himself among the highest, most distinguished and honourable among our citizens.

And it looks like he just might get away with it, and history will be none the wiser.

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: India an unreliable friend

On 7 February 2012, somebody in the Indian High Commission – located barely a few meters away from the scene where mutinying cops brought down the first elected government in Maldivian history – gave some astoundingly poor advice to somebody in New Delhi, and what followed was one of the worst diplomatic blunders by India in recent memory.

The tear gas clouds had barely settled when Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh sent his ‘warm felicitations’ and became the first country to recognise Vice President Mohamed Waheed’s newly installed government – a coalition of radical Islamists and far right nationalists led by former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s party.

The United States and other Western powers would follow India’s lead in recognising the new regime, and – even as Maldivian democrats watched in disbelief – a major wrong that should have been straightened out was instead set firmly crooked.

The next day, the regime police continued targeted attacks on MDP leaders and activists. MPs were beaten half to death and lay unconscious on the pavements. Mohamed Nasheed, the first elected President of the Republic, was roughed up on the streets by uniformed men and was seen bleeding from the forehead. Scores of civilians were publicly brutalised and hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested while India naively pursued relations with the new regime.

Over one year later, the cycle of violence and unrest continues on the streets of Male’, as pro-democracy protesters clash with regime police. The latest confrontations started after President Nasheed, in a dramatic turn of events last Thursday, sought refuge inside the Indian High Commission following the Waheed regime’s renewed efforts to arrest him and convict him in what is essentially a kangaroo court.

Once again, all eyes are on India, keenly observing if there will be a repeat of the ghastly diplomatic miscalculations of last year.

A series of unfortunate decisions

The gamble in 2012 was this: in return for the recognition of his regime, Waheed had pledged to honour major Indian investments in the Maldives, including the $500 million investment by Indian infrastructure company GMR in the country’s main international airport. As senior Indian diplomat G Parthasarathy confirmed in a recent televised debate, India had also been given assurances that there would be inclusive, free and fair elections.

Once again, somebody in India’s MEA should have easily flagged that Waheed, being a political nonentity, could hardly be held to his word. As the tinpot leader of a party whose very existence – with merely 3000 odd members – is an exercise in vanity, Waheed hasn’t a prayer of being nominated, much less winning an election, and is destined to be discarded into political oblivion before the end of this year.

And yet, India went with his assurances even as the the regime’s extremist allies took out motorcades around the streets of the capital, demanding GMR’s exit and, for the first time in recent Maldivian history, spreading radical anti-Indian propaganda over loud megaphones.

Sure enough, with the same belligerence and arrogance that characterised their early diatribes against the CMAG and EU, the regime thumbed their nose at India, and the GMR deal was scrapped without the slightest courtesy and amid a barrage of heavy anti-Indian rhetoric propagated by radical regime allies like the DQP and the Adhaalath Party.

India’s big gamble failed, and the aspiring superpower was left with egg on its face as Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza publicly slandered the Indian ambassador, calling him a ‘traitor’ and an ‘enemy of the Maldives’. Furthermore, the regime that was legitimised with Indian support would proceed to cozy up to rival power China, with regime actors going so far as to lambast India while on Chinese soil.

Eliminating Nasheed

In the bargain, India also lost favour with former ally Nasheed – whose government had gone out of its way to align with them. From plugging the Maldives into the Indian coastal security grid, to seeking Indian investments in his much celebrated environmental, energy and infrastructure projects, to unilaterally sharing intelligence on religious radicals operating in the country, Nasheed was thoroughly a friend of India in every imaginable sense until India, with remarkable urgency, dumped him and rushed to Waheed’s aid in 2012.

Having scrapped the GMR deal in an ugly fashion, the Waheed regime also backtracked on the second assurance of conducting early, inclusive elections.

Observers of Maldivian politics would recollect that Umar Naseer, Vice President of Gayoom’s political party, had specifically stated in an interview immediately after the February 7 coup d’etat, that Nasheed would not be a part of the next elections.

The regime’s Home Minister Mohamed Jameel has been unable to hide his deep frustration over the overwhelming international pressure that has so far thwarted his concerted attempts to eliminate Nasheed from the political scene ahead of the elections.

Mohamed Nasheed, the lifelong democratic activist, is easily the only MDP leader who commands popular nationwide grassroots support and absolute loyalty of his party activists, making him the last remaining obstacle for the Gayoom network – of which Waheed is the nominal puppet head – to permanently dismantle the country’s nascent democracy and reestablish the old order.

It would be pertinent at this moment to recall that the Waheed’s former Human Rights Minister Dhiyana Saeed, as well as former Military and Police Intelligence Chiefs have independently revealed the existence of opposition plots to assassinate President Nasheed while he was still in power.

With the change of guard on February 7 last year, that has become unnecessary. With the country’s runaway judiciary and security forces firmly under their grip, there is not much to stop the Waheed regime from eliminating him ‘legally’ and ‘by the book’. And this, evidently, is the plan that is currently in place.

Your friendly neighbourhood democracy

Simply put, there is a zero percent chance of an inclusive, fair or free elections being held in the Maldives with the current regime in power.

Faced with this conundrum, Maldivian democrats as well as Indian analysts appear to be looking towards India as the saviour to back Nasheed, who – in a frantic Hail Mary move – is now holed up at the Indian Embassy.

The question is: Why should Maldivian democrats trust India?

There is little reason to expect India to step into the internal affairs of the Maldives for the sake of grand concepts like freedom or democracy in the neighborhood.

One feels that despite the rise of nationalist and Islamist radicals, and the runaway judiciary, and the reversal of democracy in the neighbourhood, and the creation of a police state in the Maldives, what really inspired India’s change of heart about the Waheed regime was the loss of its economic investments. In other words, had GMR not been thrown out, India would have likely continued to turn a blind eye to the regime’s systematic dismantling of democracy in the Maldives.

Perhaps, having been rudely rebuffed by the Waheed regime that has now chosen to align with China, India is merely invoking the patron saint of lost causes by turning to Nasheed.

For the average Maldivian, however, the power struggles between the two large regional powers are a matter of less importance than having a working economy, a functioning judiciary, an expectation of justice, a representative government, and freedom from a familiar brutal police state that has reared its head again after a 3 year slumber.

The solution to these problems have to necessarily be local. Far from relying on foreign intervention, the MDP needs to campaign and educate and rally the public behind the goals of judicial overhaul and peaceful civil disobedience for change.

While one must acknowledge the invaluable assistance from theiInternational community in forcing the iron-fisted Gayoom to bow down before the people and ushering in the democratic transition in the last decade, the truth is that sustaining a democracy is a task that is best accomplished at home.

Not India’s war

The playwright George Bernard Shaw said in the early 1900’s, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve”.

The harsh truth is that the Waheed regime has survived for over an year – despite the reckless trampling over citizens rights, the outright hostility towards the free media, the excessive brutality and the total impunity – only because the Maldivian public has allowed this injustice to take place.

Appearing on The Daily Show, President Nasheed quipped about the Americans following India’s lead in legitimising the coup: “I wonder if it is an intelligent thing to outsource your foreign policy”

Likewise, it is perhaps lazy and counter-productive for Maldivians to outsource the task of nation building to a neighbouring country that has its own vested interests. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the primary lessons that Maldivian democrats should take away from the experience of the February 7 coup. What has been stolen from the Maldivian citizens must be reclaimed by the Maldivian citizens. The responsibility for safeguarding our democracy remains ours and ours alone.

While India intervention could certainly make the task of restoring democracy exponentially easier, it nevertheless remains an objective that needs to be met regardless of India’s stand on the matter.

And yet, as a liberal, democratic Maldivian citizen, one hopes that New Delhi might one day realise that propping up military and Islamist backed anti-democratic forces in its immediate neighborhood will never serve India’s interests – either in the short term or the long term.

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: The strange case of Dr Hassan and Mr Saeed

Dr Hassan Saeed is an educated, articulate man. The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader, former Attorney General and one time Presidential hopeful has penned a series of articles in a local daily, in which he outlines his vision for a democratic future for the Maldives – although one could argue that much of it is various justifications for getting rid of President Nasheed ahead of 2013.

He was launched into the national limelight by former President Gayoom – along with Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Dr Mohamed Jameel – as the reformist, camera-friendly face of his dictatorial regime.

Perhaps to Gayoom’s detriment, the media savvy Dr Hassan Saeed was perceived as collaborating with various agencies to actually implement those reforms – efficiently working within the system to lay some of the groundwork for the historic 2008 elections that he would contest himself.

As Attorney General in 2005, he was the first to file complaints against Abdulla Mohamed – the Criminal Court ‘Judge’ who was detained by Nasheed’s government earlier this year leading to the national crisis that ultimately led to its downfall.

Hassan Saeed, who would later campaign vigorously for the Judge’s release, had highlighted serious cases of Abdullah Mohamed’s misconduct, including misogyny, obstruction of justice, and perhaps committing child abuse in court by making children enact their own molestation in front of the actual perpetrators and the rest of the court.

While one cannot legally defend the unlawful detention of any citizen, Dr Hassan Saeed’s efforts certainly gives one some moral ammunition to combat the country’s broken judiciary and the vile characters at its helm.

There is much to admire about Dr Hassan Saeed.

On 14 November 2012, Minivan News published a leaked letter written by this gentleman to the Indian Prime Minister.

In the letter, Dr Hassan urged the Prime Minister to make Indian infrastructure giant GMR terminate its contract to develop Male’s international airport, on the basis of a range of serious allegations – from the Indian High Commissioner not knowing his job, to massive bribery allegedly being carried out by GMR.

Failing this, Saeed warned, the Maldives would become a ‘fertile ground for extremist and nationalist politicians’.

Dr Hassan Saeed’s warnings are absolutely correct, as any observer of Maldivian politics over the last few months would agree. The extremist, nationalist rhetoric has reached a feverish pitch, and never before in modern times has any Maldivian political party taken to abuse regional neighbours as a political platform.

Having said that, the same observers would also notice that it is Dr Hassan Saeed and his allies who best embody this nationalist, extremist threat.

Will the real Hassan Saeed please stand up?

It is a bewildering metamorphosis that Dr Hassan Saeed undergoes between his clashing personalities, playing Jekyll and Hyde with staggering ease.

“Nationalism and extremism in India’s backyard is not good for India or our small country,” said the reasonable Dr Hassan in his letter.

But the same Dr Hassan Saeed was present on the podium on 23 December 2011, where he joined other parties in rallying thousands behind extremist, nationalist demands – including the closing down of ‘massage parlours’ and preventing the landing of Israeli airlines, thus saving us all from the impending Zionist invasion that exists primarily in Sheikh Imran’s imagination.

On one hand, he has co-authored a book titled ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam’, where he academically and emphatically argues for freedom of religion within the framework of Islam, while making the case against capital punishment for apostasy.

On the other hand, he has published a series of pamphlets, including one titled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, pouring vitriol on President Nasheed for ‘fostering ties with Jews’ and failing to support medieval practices like flogging in the Maldives.

Dr Hassan Saeed extends copious platitudes to Dr Manmohan Singh in his letter, even thanking India for defending the country in 1988 against armed terrorists.

But how does he reconcile this with the fact that he – through his minority Dhivehi Qaumee Party pamphlets – is the primary source that has poisoned the airport debate with harsh anti-Indian rhetoric?

On one hand, he warns against India bashing and how unhelpful it can get. On the other hand his only representative in Parliament vocally defends the willful public slander against the Indian High Commissioner by Abbas Adil Riza, the spokesperson for the Waheed Regime.

So then, one wonders, who is the real Dr Hassan Saeed?

Is he the democrat who pens numerous articles extolling the virtues of democracy? Or is it the man who candidly acknowledged that the controversial February 7 transfer of power that he was involved in was a ‘unique coup’?

One Hassan Saeed brought up ‘legitimacy issues’ of the Waheed regime in private, calling the former Vice President “politically weakest person in the country“. Another Hassan Saeed publicly lauded the Waheed regime, giving it a generally favourable report card.

Is Dr Hassan Saeed the enlightened academic that makes convincing arguments of a pluralist, modern, tolerant Islam? Or was that just a mask for the Jew-bashing, anti-semitic Hassan Saeed behind the feverish Islamist rhetoric that constantly destabilised the country over much of the last year?

Is he the reasonable statesman who understands the wisdom of maintaining close ties with a friendly neighbour like India? Or is the real Hassan Saeed the guy who publishes India-bashing literature? Is he the mild-mannered man who is married to a foreign lady, or the rabid xenophobe spewing nationalist rhetoric?

Could the Hassan Saeed that calls President Nasheed’s record in office “indefensible” also be the same guy whose party defends the bombastic imbecile in the President’s office who might very well lead us to war with India before lunch?

These are important questions to ask, because one of these Hassan Saeeds is an asset to the nation – an educated, intellectually sound, democratic, modern Muslim who can contribute immensely to salvaging what precious little is left of our democracy.

A democracy, one sadly notes, that was shredded with the connivance and active support of the other, irresponsible and much more unwelcome Hassan Saeed.

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: So long, and thanks for all the democracy

On the night of August 29, groups of uniformed officials of the Maldives Police Service were observed going around Malé in trucks, singing songs and mocking opposition MDP activists – the same ones they brutalised in a nationally televised theatre of violence during the events of February 7th and 8th.

The next morning, large groups of uniformed police were huddled together on the streets in their riot gear, their faces concealed by balaclavas, while the country awaited an announcement from the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) appointed by the Waheed regime to ‘investigate’ the controversial transfer of power.

The announcement surprised exactly nobody; the council of pigs had found in favour of Napoleon. There was no coup, it ruled. In fact, there wasn’t even a police mutiny. And if there was one, it didn’t quite break any law, the report found.

By evening, the Waheed regime’s Police Service – now apparently empowered to make their own laws – had declared that calling them ‘traitors’ was now a crime, and any person indulging in the act would be arrested.

The declaration followed in the footsteps of two citizens being arrested in recent days for the offence of calling Waheed a ‘traitor’. Journalists witnessed one lady being taken away on 30th August, allegedly for the crime of taking photographs of the police.

Over the course of the day, scores of MDP protesters would be detained by the police in ancticipation of large scale protests against the findings of the report, and the continued demands for early elections.

With the international community apparently eager to wash its hands off the Maldives, there will be plenty of time and opportunity for the police to deal with troublesome critics over the remainder of Waheed’s rule.

The CoNI Report

Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed, the sole representative of President Nasheed on the 5 member Commission, resigned the day before the report was to be made public. In a press conference following the publication of the report, Saeed pointed out what appear to be serious lapses in gathering evidence and recording testimony in preparation of the final report.

Among them, he highlighted that CCTV footage was provided for only 3 out of 8 cameras around the MNDF area, and even those had hours of footage edited out. No sufficient explanation was given by the security forces.

The Commission was not provided any CCTV footage by the Police and the President’s office, according to Saeed. Nor was CoNI granted access to information gathered by the Police Integrity Commission.

Furthermore, no interviews were held with any official of the notorious ‘Special Operations’, the highly trained riot control force that played a crucial role in the ouster of the first democratically elected government, as well as the subsequent targeted attacks on civilians, MDP leaders and party activists. Also missing was the testimony of Umar Naseer, the Deputy Leader of PPM who has publicly declared his role in the overthrow of the elected government, and revealed the existence of a ‘command centre’.

According to Saeed, other prominent interviewees alleged to have played a role in the coup d’etat appeared to have been coached, with all of them giving standard, non-commmital responses.

None of these alleged lapses or limitations were highlighted in the final report.

Illegal duress

Section 4F of the report, defining ‘Coercion in Law’ begins as follows:

“Coercion, as used in the Decree, refers to the American legal concept of illegal duress or the English legal concept of intimidation. This is a real threat delivered by one or more wrongdoers to another to harm and injure the latter or his family if the victim does not do something as demanded”

But surprisingly, the report makes no mention of the leaked audio recordings, first aired by Australia’s SBS Dateline program, that clearly reveal the President pleading for the safety of his family in return for his resignation on the morning of February 7.

There were a few other sections of the report that raises eyebrows. Regarding an allegation about an SMS purpotedly sent by the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Environment, allegedly asking for the disbursement of 2.4 million Rufiyaa to the mutinying cops, the Commission had this to report:

“[Mr. Saleem] debunked the message effortlessly, claiming that he did not recall sending such a message. After hearing him, the Commission would not invade and investigate the privacy and personal affairs of all and sundry…”

While the first sentence suggests some truly extraordinary levels of trust placed by the Commission in the testimony of the accused, the second reveals an inexplicable reluctance in pursuing every possible avenue of inquiry to uncover all relevant facts behind the power transfer – which, by definition, was the Commission’s job.

Furthermore, the report seems to paint a picture that the President was completely secure and faced no threat inside the MNDF HQ, when in reality it is undisputed that sections of the already outnumbered military had broken ranks and joined with the hostile police and opposition protesters in rioting outside.

Video recordings aired on National television showed military officers refusing to obey the President’s orders. Retired colonel Mohamed Nazim, in the video clip where he is seen addressing the mutinying forces outside, talks about being received warmly inside the MNDF HQ.

Indeed the CoNI report itself quotes him as saying “When I entered the military headquarters I was given a very happy scene. Everyone within the military lifted me up and very completely revealed their support for me. God willing, things will happen today as we want”.

If one is familiar with the fate of former Maldivian rulers facing chaotic mobs, then one realizes that guns were not necessary to threaten the President’s life. All that was required was for a solitary soldier to throw open the gates.
The report itself states elsewhere that all command and control was lost.

All of this appears entirely contradictory to the conclusions of the report that asserts that President Nasheed remained in control and had legal options to employ force to deal with the situation, which he refused to do – and therefore could not claim he resigned under duress.

This lends some credence to President Nasheed’s claims that the report was prepared with the political situation in mind, rather than with any serious ambition of uncovering facts.

Options before the MDP: Way forward

It is unrealistic to imagine that ordinary civilians, no matter how numerous or passionate, can topple a regime that is protected by a modern, trained, unsympathetic – and in this case, hostile – police and armed security forces.

The police have superior training, equipment, strategy, organization, intelligence gathering and other resources to counter and defeat any move that civilian protestors could possibly make. The same forces that protected the dictator Gayoom against an overwhelming tide of unpopularity can sufficiently protect his alleged puppet.

Given these realities, it is wise that President Nasheed has chosen to make a major concession and accept the findings of the report, while calling to implement its much welcome recommendations that include the strengthening of various institutions such as the HRCM, Police Integrity Commission, JSC and the Judiciary while also calling for swift action to be taken against rogue cops, who the report acknowledges had engaged in acts of brutality towards civilians.

While there remain serious injustices to be addressed and plenty of reasons for the MDP to be rightfully outraged, the path forward necessarily involves having to break the political gridlock that has paralyzed the nation since late last year.

It is clearly in the best interests of the public that the All Party talks resume and the daily business of running the nation and fixing the economy take centre stage again.

There are important lessons to learn from February 7. President Nasheed and the MDP need to introspect and reflect on their own considerable mistakes and poor judgments. The most important among them, perhaps, is committing to uphold the rule of law without any compromises, no matter how morally justifiable it may be.

With under a year left for the next scheduled elections, the MDP would be well advised to direct its efforts and resources on going back to the people and rallying them behind larger ideals.

Ultimately, one must remember that it was the people who handed a mandate to President Nasheed in 2008, and despite the ugly precedent set by the police and military, it will hopefully be the people once again who will make the decision in 2013.

So long, and thanks for all the democracy

With the publication of the CoNI report, and the apparent willingness of the international community to confer the same legitimacy on Waheed that it once granted the iron-fisted Gayoom – ostensibly with ‘stability’ in mind – the clocks have effectively been turned back a few years.

The Maldives’ unprecedented democratic revolution that began in the early 2000’s has ended prematurely, and many of the gains made since then have now effectively been reversed.

After three years, the Police have once again become an entity to be feared and loathed. The familiar intimidation of the media, and bullying tactics that were so widely prevalent during the Gayoom dictatorship is also back.

Waheed’s regime has been outright hostile to the free media, repeatedly barring the only opposition-aligned TV station from covering President’s office press conferences, and permanently withdrawing police protection for the channel’s reporters – despite explicit constitutional safeguards upholding media freedom. There is plenty of visual evidence of Raajje TV’s reporters being harassed and pepper sprayed at close range by the police; targeted attacks on the station by pro-government goons in August forced the station to interrupt services.

Citizens now face arrest for merely calling Waheed and his police forces ‘traitors’, whereas his regime regularly and unapologetically refers to citizens demanding early elections as ‘terrorists’.

The runaway judiciary remains weak and ineffectual, and there is no longer an elected President in power with any interest in fixing this crucial, but broken third leg of the base on which the country’s democracy was built to stand.

With a spineless media, a lethargic civil society, an incompetent Judiciary, weak institutions and watchdogs, a heavily politicized Police and military, not to mention the overarching influence of money and corruption in the whole process, the gargantuan task of achieving practical democracy in the Maldives appears forbidding, if not downright impossible.

To sow the seeds for a new revolution, the MDP needs to go back to the grassroots and educate the public.

February 7: the legacy

February 7 has left in its wake some very unwelcome precedents and niggling questions.

First among them is the newly acquired role of the police and military in determining the transfer of power, which the constitution had originally envisaged as being the sole prerogative of the voting public.

Will all future governments of the Maldives be required to buy the loyalty of the uniformed services with a range of perks, pay hikes, unprecedented promotions and turning a blind eye to their excesses and brutality in order to remain in power, as demonstrated by the Waheed regime?

Shall the Maldives follow in the footsteps of Pakistan that, over 65 years since independence, has failed to see a single democratically elected government complete a full term?

Finally, will the Maldivian judiciary ever become a house of justice for the public? Or will it remain perpetually overrun by incompetent fools, resistant to any external attempt bring them in line with the ideals enshrined in the constitution?

Does the Maldivian public really stand a chance to complete the democratic transition process we embarked on nearly a decade ago? Or will the next guy to attempt this Herculean task also pay the same price that Mohamed Nasheed did?

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: To serve and protect dictators

You cannot teach an old dictator new tricks.

As the Maldives continues to experience the reversal of their democracy, the Maldives Police Service was out on the streets once again yesterday, demonstrating their tired old Gayoom-era tricks.

Early Tuesday morning, an unprecedented number of police arrived at Usfasgandu, the protest site on the south eastern side of Male’, where pro-democracy protesters led by the MDP have been demonstrating for months calling for early elections.

Armed with a search warrant, they forcibly evicted the protesters from the scene. Hundreds of police men and DED officials then combed through the area, later claiming to have recovered such criminal loot as a box of condoms and a potentially illegal “brown substance” – conveniently wrapped in MDP membership forms, lest anyone doubted their story.

The scenes evoked memories of March 19, when a joint police and military raid on the previous MDP protest camp at the nearby Raalhugandu area recovered more unlawful substances and cans of illegal alcohol, that were rather thoughtfully stored by the protestors in convenient MDP branded boxes, presumably with a large colourful arrow pointing towards it.

Those familiar with the Maldives’ painful transition to democracy would remember a time when the police were routinely employed by the state to harass and intimidate dissidents and crush all opposition.
Those times, it is evident, have come roaring back.

“Rule of law”

According to the Police narrative, the mutiny that culminated in the toppling of the first democratically elected government was ostensibly led by patriotic police officials who were disillusioned with the ‘unconstitutional orders’ they were being handed by the elected leaders.

In keeping with that noble spirit, hundreds of police officers publicly renewed their vows to “uphold the rule of law” in dramatic television footage captured at the Republican Square on that fateful morning.
It is the pride of any nation to have a Police Service that espouses such fanatical devotion to the “rule of law”.

Yet, one can’t help but call into question the sincerity of the Maldives Police Service’s newfound love for their constitution, and their hastily arranged commitment to the ‘rule of law’.

What is one to make of the brazen criminal actions of the rogue Police and military personnel who went on a public rampage, ransacking the MDP party quarters and beating up their activists?

How does one explain away the storming of the State broadcaster and airing on it content from a private TV propaganda outlet belonging to businessman politician Gasim Ibrahim – who is alleged to be among the primary financers of the coup d’état?

What does one make of the intensely politicised nature of a police department that appears to stop just short of publicly swearing allegiance to a certain political party run by a former dictator?

Exactly which law were the Maldives Police Service upholding when they threatened and physically assaulted elected MPs and the democratically elected President of the Nation? Under which clause of the Police Act did they assault some of their own senior officers inside the Police HQ on the day of the coup d’état?

Certainly, the rule of law could not be more violated than when the Police continued to dismantle the Usfasgandu camp site last night, in direct contravention of court orders forbidding them from doing exactly that? From their actions, it is plainly obvious that the Maldives Police Service couldn’t care less about “the rule of law” – which continues to be the ruse employed to explain away their treason on February 7.

For their part, Waheed and his newly appointed Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz have also publicly lauded the police for their unapologetic actions on February 7th, hailing it as a great example of ‘upholding the rule of law’.
There has been no investigation, and not a single police officer or military personnel has been booked for the brutality and wild excesses of that dark day.

Instead, in keeping with the Gayoom-era tradition, the Police have been richly rewarded for their services. For their troubles, the newly installed regime has lavished the Police and military with a record number of promotions, and monetary rewards.

Waheed – the problem, not the solution

With his various public utterances about ‘National unity’ and pledges to uphold the constitution, Waheed has attempted to project his regime as some kind of force for stability.

Unfortunately, Waheed’s appeal to ‘unity’ appears to be about as hollow as the Police Service’s professed love for the ‘rule of law’. He continues to eagerly defend the indefensible by refusing to take action against identified cops, who brutalised civilians in full public view and continue to do so with impunity.

While his helmeted riot cops continue to beat back thousands of angry protesters every week with their batons and shields, Waheed appears to not be interested in even acknowledging their sincere grievances. Instead, in the months following the coup d’état, he has lost no chance to colour the supporters of the MDP – by far the largest political party in the country – as ‘terrorists’.

It must be noted that the MDP led protests that have continued unabated since February have been largely non-violent, marked by weekly rallies and public forums – and often music, dancing, exhibits, videos, and speeches.

Yet, during the latest raid yesterday, Police again took into custody several MDP leaders, including MDP spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, and a couple of elected MDP councillors. When enraged protesters poured out onto the streets again last night, the Maldives Police Service responded yet again with heavy-handed tactics.

Apparently pleased with this campaign of intimidation, Waheed’s Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said on his public twitter account, “I commend the way our MPS attend (sic) Usfasgandu”.

From delaying tactics and misinformation, to harassment and intimidation, Waheed’s regime appears to have played all its cards since February 7th, and yet it is clear that the protesters simply aren’t willing to go back indoors until their demands are met.

The fact of the matter is that the continuing unrest – where a significant percentage of the population feels robbed of their legitimate government in highly questionable circumstances – can only be resolved by free and fair elections, and ensuring justice for the victims of mindless police violence.

These are absolutely essential for the public to restore their confidence in the government and heal the deep rifts with the security forces.

However, thus far, Waheed has shown no inclination to quit his stalling tactics, keep his erring ministers in check, ensure justice is served to the criminals in uniform, or stop his posturing against international bodies like the CMAG, or actually let the public have their say as a way out of the crisis.

Thus, it naturally follows that Waheed is the problem and not the solution – for he and his newly adopted network of Gayoom cronies are exactly what lies between the public and their vote.

To maintain this unsustainable status quo, Waheed has resorted to the same tactics that Gayoom did – namely, taking the Maldives Police Service off their leash and letting them loose upon the public, assigned with the singular task of cracking down on dissent with impunity.

Thus, the regime that was brought to power in a hail of batons, shields and tear gas continues to be sustained by the same ugly means and the country as a whole continues its free-fall into a dissolute police state.

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: He is not my President

There are few individuals who have lost as much goodwill and respect of democrats in as little time as Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

Among them was his own brother Naushad Waheed Hassan, the former Deputy High Commissioner of the Maldives to the UK, who handed in his resignation letter following the February 7 coup d’état. In a statement, he said “…it is with a heavy heart that I have to say that this is indeed an illegitimate government and I cannot be party to it”.

Maldives Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, resigned live on air on Al Jazeera, citing “moral and ethical concerns” surrounding the transfer of power. Dr Farahanaz Faizal, the Maldivian High Commissioner to the UK, also tendered her resignation, saying: “They robbed the people of the vote and when I saw the brutality of the police… that was the final straw”.

Over 100 days later, tens of thousands continue to march in protest and express contempt for the man who undid the country’s first democracy.

Coercion

It is hardly a matter of debate that what  transpired on February 7-8, 2012 was a coup d’état.

Indeed, the then Vice President Mohamed Waheed himself claims to have been watching the events unfold on national television as the country descended into chaos.

TV stations were played harrowing videos of police senselessly beating MDP leaders and supporters unconscious on the streets. We saw dramatic footage of police and military personnel, led by Dr Waheed’s brother, storming into and taking over the headquarters of the state broadcaster, as well as ransacking and destroying the MDP party campus.

Online videos show a former military colonel Mohamed Nazim (later appointed Defence Minister), demanding an ‘unconditional resignation’ from the first democratically elected President in the nation’s history.

An amateur video clip showed the alleged coup leaders holed up in the police headquarters along with a former policeman Abdulla Riyaz (who has since been appointed Commissioner of Police) and current Deputy Commissioner Hussain Waheed (who had earlier denied his presence at the scene), showed them hugging and celebrating. Gasim Ibrahim, the businessman leader of Jumhooree Party, was seen remarking that he was relieved it was over “without involving a military takeover”.

PPM Vice President Umar Naseer – a man renowned for speaking exactly more words than necessary – has publicly revealed the existence of a ‘command centre’ and openly boasted at a party gathering that the President’s life was on the line had he not resigned.

Indeed, Australian television SBS Dateline has aired devastating audio clips of an agitated President Nasheed pleading for the safety of his family in return for his resignation. In yet another leaked audio clip, Waheed’s own advisor, DQP leader Dr Hassan Saeed – has termed it a “unique coup”.

The brazen violence against MDP leaders by the regime forces, the arrest warrants issued against Nasheed less than a day of his ouster, and the subsequently leaked audio and video clips leaves no room for doubt that the first democratically elected President of the Maldives was made to resign under duress – in other words, an unambiguous, clear-cut case of a coup d’état.

There is simply no intellectually honest argument that can be made against this.

What remains to be seen is whether the perpetrators of the coup will face justice for their treason, and whether Maldivians will ever get to learn the finer details of the plot that overthrew their first democratically elected government – of how it was conceived, financed and executed.

Uncovering the facts

Whereas governments like India have spectacularly miscalculated their response to the coup d’état, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and EU have been more forthright about their demands from the newly installed regime – early elections, and an independent inquiry.

In what is essentially Napolean hiring a council of pigs to investigate the affairs at the Farm, Waheed put together a three-member ‘independent’ inquiry commission, two of whom served as Cabinet ministers in Gayoom’s former regime, to “investigate” the coup d’etat.

The Commission for National Inquiry (CNI) came under heavy fire from CMAG, which gave the government four weeks to reconstitute the panel to include international experts and a representative acceptable to the MDP, or face the consequences.

A lot of tantrums were thrown in retaliation, with prominent figures allied with the regime ridiculing the Commonwealth body, going so far as to accuse them of accepting bribes. One MP even introduced a bill in Parliament to withdraw from the Commonwealth.

Another MP, Riyaz Rasheed, offered his enlightened opinion that the UK was not, in fact, a democracy, and proceeded to mock the British Queen as “physically challenged” in a bizarre diatribe that would have earned most people a long vacation in a padded room.

Despite the alternating complaints and swagger, the regime finally relented with just a day left on the deadline and agreed to have a Commonwealth approved co-chair on the Inquiry Commission, and also gave an assurance to CMAG that a member nominated by President Nasheed would be appointed.

However, no sooner did the Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon board his flight than the regime’s obstructive tactics were back in full force.

The regime rejected all nine names proposed by President Nasheed. Instead, Waheed’s Attorney General Azima Shukoor laid out the “conditions” that needed to be met by the nominees, including the demand that they should not have served in a political position in the past two years, and must not have taken a public position on a matter that has been at the centre and forefront of the national debate for over a 100 days.

And if Nasheed doesn’t find such a candidate in less than two weeks, the regime vows to unilaterally appoint a lawyer to fill the spot.

Rewinding the clock

With the delaying tactics in place, the regime has embarked on a series of steps to try and legitimise the power grab.

The government has already hired London-based PR firm Ruder Finn – for an assignment allegedly worth about US$300,000 – to rebuild their image in major Western countries.

Former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, once employed by Gayoom as the ‘reformist’ mask on the his brutal dictatorship, seems destined to forever keep applying lipstick to hideous pigs.

As Waheed’s ‘advisor’, he has been penning a series of articles in the local media, talking about ideals of democracy and state building – a rather weak and laboured point, coming from someone who continues to play lackey to an unrepentant, brutal dictator who has never faced justice for his three decade-long crimes.

The State TV channel, forcibly renamed ‘TVM’ by the vandals on February 7, continues to be known by its Gayoom-era moniker. Gayoom’s children and close associates have all found high ranking positions in the newly formed regime, which Waheed insists is a “continuation” of the former government.

Every major MDP policy – from decentralisation to regional development – has been either reversed or suspended. Boards have been reconstituted, organizations have been abolished, and even the ministries have been reshuffled to closely resemble their Gayoom-era counterparts.

Meanwhile, in another throwback to the despotic Gayoom era, the Waheed regime has engaged in systematically dismantling all avenues of dissent against his government using a heavy handed campaign of intimidation.

Following President Nasheed’s first public appearance following on the coup d’état on February 8, a massive spontaneous protest was crushed with unprecedented police brutality that drew condemnation from international Human Rights organizations like Amnesty International, as well as the local Police Integrity Commission. The regime-appointed Police Commissioner has announced that he will not investigate the mindless violence perpetrated by the police of those days.

After weeks of demonstrations calling for early elections showed no signs of abating, the regime sent in a cavalcade of military and police vehicles to forcibly evacuate and dismantle the protest site, while also rather conveniently recovering boxes of illegal alcohol once the media was out of sight.

In recent days, the regime has indicated its intention to yet again take over the protesters’ new camp, and also usurp the land from the MDP controlled Male’ City Council.

While he has stalled and delayed elections in any way he could, Waheed has been agile and and moved fast to reward the police service with a record number of promotions and has generously increased their headcount by a further 200 staff. He has also paid out generous lump sum awards for years of “pending” allowances to the military forces, in a move that couldn’t hurt his popularity among the uniformed forces.

Waheed has also appeared to be shoring up his Islamist support, sharing a podium with far right Islamist politicians and businessmen, rallying the ‘mujahideen’ behind him in a fiery jihadi speech delivered on February 24.

Waheed’s strategy of using tried and tested Gayoom formula of employing twin pillars of religious paranoia and military force to prop up the regime is increasingly evident.

It is starkly clear that the present regime threatens to rewind the clock back by a decade, undo every progress the country has made since the democratic struggle began long years ago, and return the country back to the hands of the same tyrant whose clutches we had barely escaped.

Every day that an election is delayed is yet another day that the old monster of despotism spreads its tentacles wider.

If the international community fails to make a firm stand to resuscitate the Maldives’ rapidly failing democracy, and ensure justice for the victims, then it will turn out to be an even bigger body blow to Maldivian democrats’ diminishing hopes than Waheed’s betrayal ever was.

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: A mutiny against democracy

When retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim addressed the press for the first time following his appointment as the country’s new Defence Minister, he strongly asserted that there was no pressure from the armed forces on President Nasheed to resign.

He further claimed in front of journalists that the armed personnel gave no indication either way even when the President had asked them for advice.

However, in a video broadcast afterwards on RaajjeTV, the retired colonel is seen addressing the mutinous security forces at the Republican square on the morning of seventh February. In the video, he is seen coming out of the MNDF barracks, and telling the assembled forces over a loud speaker that he has conveyed their demands, which included the President’s ‘unconditional resignation’.

Clearly, the new Defense Minister needs to rethink this statement, and be more forthcoming about the day’s events.

Furthermore, why the new Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz – who had been sacked earlier – was seen carrying the President’s resignation letter is another question worth asking.

How Nazim and the Abdulla Riyaz, both civilians at the time, were allowed to freely walk into the MNDF barracks and closely accompany the President remains a mystery.

What is clear is that when the President is forced by the armed forces to resign under the threat of violence, held in military detention, brutally beaten up on the streets along with his supporters by the police, has an arrest warrant against him within a day of his resignation, and all the appointments made by his successor are known allies and associates of the former dictatorship that have been hostile to his presidency, then it is time to acknowledge the incident for what it is – a coup d’etat.

A puppet government

To be absolutely clear, Dr Waheed is a admirable man. He is an articulate and accomplished person, with a ton of experience and is eminently worthy of handling the responsibilities of the Presidency – arguably much more so than any candidate the main opposition parties has to offer.

However, the circumstances leading to his acquisition of power are vague, and the little that is known is corrosive to the country’s democratic ambitions.

Noteworthy among them is that the main opposition parties had publicly called upon the armed forces and the police to plead allegiance to the Vice President a week before the police mutiny even happened.

In a democracy, the transfer of power has to absolutely remain the sole prerogative of the people, exercised through the ballot box. This is a sacred writ of democracy that cannot – and should not – ever change.

A few hundred policemen should not be able to forcibly execute a regime change.

There is an ongoing effort by the opposition parties to portray the coup d’etat as a ‘popular’ uprising. But thankfully, it is trivial to discredit this assertion.

While there were 20 days of sustained protests by several opposition parties in the days leading up to the coup d’etat, the sparse attendance at these rallies – considering the sheer number of political parties behind it – proves that it wasn’t representative of the general public will.

Furthermore, Dr Waheed’s appointment brings with it greater portents.

Dr Waheed has little political influence or grassroots support to implement any independent decision. His fledgling political party hasn’t a single elected member in either the Parliament or a local council.

He is, thus, in a poor position to enforce or carry out the mandate of the people. Without the backing of the MDP, it is likely that the only policies he can realistically achieve are opposition demands that, again, have no electoral mandate.

“Rule of law”

Dr Waheed has also failed to strongly condemn the excessive police brutality against civilians on February 8, the day President Nasheed was released.

Despite having repeatedly vowed to uphold the ‘rule of law’, people were beaten unconscious, the ousted President was roughed up, and at least one senior member of Parliament was beaten mercilessly by the police under his watch.

His failure to reassure the people might have very well contributed to the arson and violence in the southern atolls, as supporters of President Nasheed torched police buildings and courts in response to the heavy-handed police crackdown.

The silence of the new President was only matched by the apalling insensitivity of the newly appointed Commissioner of Police who, when asked to respond to the excessive use of force by the police, insisted that the police always used ‘minimum force’ – and that he would leave it to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Human Rights Commission HRCM) to judge if they had stepped out of line.

On the other hand, the armed forces forcibly took control the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation State media, renamed the station to ‘TVM’, as it was known during the Gayoom dictatorship.

The station is now a police propaganda outlet, and refuses to cover massive MDP rallies around the country, or the police brutality that has attracted condemnation from Amnesty International and other bodies:

A photo circulating on Facebook apparently showing defected police and MNDF celebrating in the courtyard of the state broadcaster, after taking it over on Tuesday.

Unity government

Dr Waheed has also said that he’s looking forward to forming a “unity government” and find common ground.

However, his appointment of Dr Mohamed Jameel as his new Home Minister puts a dark cloud over the sincerity of this effort.

By all measures, Jameel is a hawk. He led a strong, high rhetoric Islamist charge against the government when he was in opposition. His responses during his initial press conference were politically charged and combative, instead of the conciliatory tone Dr Waheed promised his government would have.

Jameel has vowed to raise terrorism charges against “those involved” – including President Nasheed. To his credit, Dr Waheed has called the comments “unwelcome”. However, if he is sincere about building peace, perhaps he needs to rethink his cabinet appointments.

The string of appointments of Gayoom regime loyalists and apologists to the cabinet and as heads of armed forces does nothing to quell the charges of political conspiracy.

When the legitimacy of the government is in doubt, and its willingness and capacity to deliver on the people’s electoral verdict is in doubt, and when these factors have created an atmosphere of extreme volatility, then the solution seems to be rather obvious.

An immediate election would restore the mandate of the people, and grant legitimacy and authority to an elected party, which would bring back some much needed order.

However, key foreign governments like India and the United States have failed to advocate this position, choosing instead to recognise the legitimacy of the newly installed government, backed by Gayoom regime forces, tainted business interests, and Islamists.

This decision has the potential to permanently reverse the democratic gains made by the country since the democratic uprising.

Dr Waheed himself argues that the political climate of the country is not conducive to elections – whatever that means.

Perhaps more likely is the contrary view that the conditions in the country are not suitable for the present government to continue, nor is it advisable for another – much larger – reason.

Setting a precedent

Other countries in the region, such as Pakistan, have experimented with letting the armed forces dictate the rulers of the country. And in the bargain, Pakistan has become a failed democracy mired in chaos and conflict.

It is therefore tragic that the Maldives is all set to follow in Pakistan’s footsteps, without even having experienced two election cycles.

Could future political parties in the Maldives come to power simply by winning influence in the police and armed forces? Will the demands of a few hundred uniformed personnel strip 300,000 people of their democratic verdict?

If the currently installed government is granted legitimacy, what would stop the country’s defense forces from pointing a gun at future elected governments?

The Maldivian constitution says that the ultimate power rests with the people, and the people alone. This is the central tenet of the constitution – the one line that decides that we the people are in charge of our democracy.

However, if this coup – this travesty – is allowed to take place unopposed, then we would have set the unwelcome precedent that a few men with guns can override the mandate of the people.

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

Inside the MNDF base during Nasheed’s last moments in power:

Translation (provided by the MDP, Minivan News is currently verifying accuracy).

0:00-00:07 Moosa Jaleel: avahah, avahah, avahah {fast, fast,fast}

President Nasheed: Nikumey, nikumey, nikumey {Go out, Go out, Go out}

00:10 – 00:13 Nasheed: Anekahves…..alhe mee {Not again……..then this}

00:14-00:17 Nasheed: Nikan Kameh kobbala, Nikah kameh kohbala ,kaleymen {Please do something, please do something, you guys}

00:29-00:42 Nasheed: Nilaam, Nilaam ………gossa nikumey…. mulhi rajje halaaku kuranee kaleymen thibegen….Nukunashey. {Nilaam,Nilaam…..get out there…the whole of Maldives is being destroyed, by your inaction}

Unkown: Nukumeveytha? {Is it possible to get out?}

01:00-1:03 Unknown: Mariyamen rulhi aiss gen Male thalhaalanee. {Mariya and them has gotten angry and destroying Male.’}

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