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.
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.
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.
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