At a certain point this fall, the presidential elections in the Maldives stopped looking like the hiccups of a young democracy and veered into the realm of farce, writes Ellen Barry for the New York Times.
Mohamed Nasheed was the leader after a first-round election back in September, but the country’s Supreme Court begged to differ. The court, which was allied with one of his rivals, voided the September election before it could reach a second round, citing irregularities in voter rolls.
The court scuttled another vote planned for October, ordering the police to surround the election commission. In November, after Mr. Nasheed had trounced his rivals again, the court derailed a second-round vote with another last-minute delay.
Something about it felt familiar. I had just arrived in South Asia after five years in the former Soviet Union, where I saw one leader after another dispensing with truly competitive politics.
Elections kept happening, but there was only a glaze of competition; for the most part, the opposition candidates were docile, handpicked characters, because no one else was allowed to run. On the rare occasions when actual rivals were able to take part, as in recent elections in Ukraine and Georgia, the candidates who lost found themselves in court or in prison. The experiment in democracy, born in the euphoria of the 1990s, seemed to be ending.
In South Asia, that experiment is much closer to its beginning.