Sipping beer and staring at the ocean, tourists on Addu atoll at the southern tip of the Maldives usually ponder weighty questions such as whether to strap on a snorkel or sunbathe on the pristine beaches. An alternative exists: a political safari on the equatorial islands that bob up from the Indian Ocean, reports The Economist.
On the island of Gan, once home to a British military base, the police station is a blackened mess of glass and twisted pipes. Drive on beyond coconut trees and moored yachts and you find the burned wreck of a courthouse. Like other smashed official buildings, it is daubed with abusive graffiti.
Rioters struck in February last year, furious at the ousting of the country’s first directly elected president, Mohamed Nasheed. He, not unreasonably, called it a coup, having resigned under threat of violence. His immediate sin was ordering the arrest of a judge close to politically powerful families.
A new democracy, born with a fresh constitution in 2008, seemed about to die. Yet the evidence from the Maldives, where politicians campaign by speedboat, is that it struggles gamely on. Those who forced Mr Nasheed’s resignation have honoured the constitution and announced they are sticking to the timetable for presidential polls on September 7th, when voters will get a second chance. Parliamentary elections follow next year.
Rocking on a garden swing among coral houses on Addu, the slim ex-president is sure he will soon be back in office. “Statistics and the smiles of the people” suggest victory, he says. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says it has identified that over half the 240,000 registered voters will back him.
Mr Nasheed’s overthrow and subsequent harassment appear to have boosted his popularity. Foreign pressure kept him out of jail. As speakers blare out his party tunes, he says: “Somehow the country rose up in yellow,” his party colour. Voters perhaps also credit him for new pensions, social housing and cheaper health care brought in while he was in office.
It helps that his core supporters, the young, predominate among the population of 350,000: the median age is just 26. Politics is fiercely and widely debated on social media, where the MDP is adept. His party, advised by Britain’s Conservatives, looks professional. Recent local elections suggest strength in a heavily urban population: in Male, the crowded capital, and Addu, the emerging second city.