Comment & Analysis: Democracy by undemocratic means

At the DRP press conference last night, a Minivan News journalist asked whether the DRP believed the former government was completely free of corruption. Ibrahim “Mavota” Shareef did not deny the existence of corruption but instead, swiftly shifted the focus onto the presidential commission.

“I’m not saying that,” said Shareef in answer to the question. “If there is any corruption whatsoever, this government can investigate through proper channels and through legal means.”

But shifting the focus was not a shrewd piece of political manoeuvring by Shareef. In fact, no manoeuvring was required because the government has handed the opposition all the ammunition it could possibly need on a silver platter.

The creation of a presidential commission with controversial powers has unsurprisingly made more than a few people question the government’s intentions.

Instead of its six members appearing as the caped conquerors of corruption as perhaps they imagined, the government has succeeded in giving opposition members the opportunity to play the victim in a radical role reversal. A journalist last night even light-heartedly suggested DRP and PA consider contacting the Maldivian Detainee Network as MDP activists had done under the previous government.

By creating the commission without any apparent legal consultation, on what appears to be a presidential whim, the government has further opened the door for the opposition to appropriate the language of democracy and invoke democratic ideals to elicit sympathy for their “plight”.

A DRP statement distributed at the press conference wrote that a reversal of the democratisation process was taking place as President Nasheed resorted to “unconstitutional and heavy-handed tactics to cling on to power and crush the popular opposition”. Worryingly, their words carry an inkling of truth.

The government has averted the spotlight from the previous regime’s misdeeds and onto its own. It has succeeded in obfuscating its indisputably lofty objective – reparations for embezzlement of state funds – by choosing a not so lofty manner in which to attain its goal.

But, the presidential commission is symptomatic of a far greater MDP malady – a utilitarian attitude towards members of the opposition, which allows party members to rationalise wrongdoing for the greater good: to recompense both for past injustices and to pave way for a democratic future.

Unfairly transferring an island chief before the parliamentary elections as a campaign strategy is justified in the MDP mind, if the island chief is notoriously corrupt.

But undemocratic means cannot serve democratic ends, just as antagonism will not lead to peace. Perhaps it is time to ask why the government does not have faith in the existing independent institutions, such as the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission, and how these institutions can be strengthened.

If the government wishes to settle past injustices unilaterally, a strategy in line with more conventional methods of transitional justice should to be devised so that democracy is not derailed before it is even allowed to take root.

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Maryam Omidi

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