Comment: Citizen sheep

A Maldivian chronicler once recounted an anecdote of the late Prince Hassan Farid Didi who remarked back in the 1930’s that granting democracy to Maldivians is like giving a handkerchief to a monkey. “The monkey doesn’t know what a handkerchief is used for and soon it will wipe its bottom with it,” the Prince reportedly said.

A lot of Maldivians take offense at being compared to primates, but the past few weeks of political volatility has definitely called into question the country’s ability to shoulder the responsibilities of being a democracy.

The current crisis was sparked after the armed forces were commanded to forcibly detain Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed of the Criminal Court, after he ordered the release of two opposition leaders who were being prosecuted for “hate speech”.

The DQP leaders, Dr Jameel and “Sandhaanu” Ahmed Didi, had publicly accused the government of coming under the influence of Jews and Christian missionaries “to destroy Islam”. Religious hyperbole is frequently used for political slander in the Maldives – an unfortunate outcome of the country’s failure to adopt a secular constitution in 2008.

The military detention of the judge has led to a series of increasingly violent, opposition-led street protests in Male’ for the past 10 days. Protesters have allegedly attacked journalists, uprooted trees, damaged public property and vandalised a Minister’s house.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, High Court, the Opposition parties, the SAARC Secretary General and the Vice President have all spoken out against the detention calling it unconstitutional. Even the Prosecutor General has declared the detention unlawful.

This wouldn’t be the first time President Nasheed has exercised his uncanny willingness to shake things up.

In August 2010, he commanded the armed forces to lock down the Supreme Court after the Interim Supreme Court bench boldly decided to declare itself permanent. Following the siege, the major political parties managed to do some quick backroom negotiations to appoint a new panel of judges.

While the President’s latest salvo has successfully brought into the mainstream public conscious, for the first time, the long ignored issue of the runaway judiciary, it does raise concerns about the Executive setting unwelcome precedents for the future.

Runaway Judiciary

Aishath Velezinee, the former Judicial Services Commission whistle-blower, has publicly alleged that there is a collusion between senior opposition parliamentarians and the judiciary, which exercises undue influence over the JSC.

The JSC, which is supposed to be the independent watchdog of the judiciary, is itself dominated by judges and opposition allied politicians – and its record thus far is less befitting a watchdog, and more indicative of a lap dog.

Velezinee alleges that this is tantamount to a ‘silent coup’, where the judiciary is hijacked by a nexus of corrupt judges and opposition leaders, and the courts are used as an instrument to protect members of the old establishment that was overthrown during the democratic uprising.

The Criminal Court

The charges against Judge Abdulla Mohamed are extremely serious – ranging from corruption, to obstruction of police duties, to questionable judgments and poor professional conduct.

In February 2010, the judge ordered the release of a murder suspect – who would then stab another man to death within the next month.

The judge has in the past demanded that an underage sexual abuse victim re-enact her abuse in the public courtroom. These allegations were first reported in 2005 by then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, whose political party is now among those leading the charge to release him.

The police have in the past accused the judge of delaying search warrants by several days, allowing major drug traffickers to get away. The Home Minister accuses him ordering the release of suspected criminals “without a single hearing”. He also stands accused of arbitrarily dismissing court officials.

It does not help allegations that the courts are in bed with tainted politicians when the same Criminal Court Judge also bars the media from covering corruption proceedings against opposition-allied Deputy Speaker Nazim.

A February 2011 report released by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also highlighted the failure of the politicised courts to be impartial in providing justice.

The Rule of Law

While there are obviously dark clouds looming over Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s record, and the state of the judiciary is less than acceptable, does this automatically excuse the executive’s decision to forcibly detain the judge on a whim?

The unilateral actions of the very first democratically elected executive sets a rather poor precedent.

Will it be the case in the future that any elected President can arbitrarily command the armed forces to detain errant officials or citizens without the any court approval, or warrant or legal backing?

Will all future presidents be similarly entrusted to be the ultimate judge of when the Rule of Law can be subverted – if they feel it is in the larger interests of society? Will their judgements always be enforced through the brute force of the military?

The ruling party and the President’s apologists offer the explanation that given the nature of the allegations against Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and the cartel-like behaviour of the judiciary, drastic action needed to be taken to ensure justice.

Yes, drastic action was indeed required – but did it necessarily need to be initiated from the President’s Office? Does not ultimate power rest with the voting public anymore?

Citizen Sheep

It has proven surprisingly difficult to get the public involved in a debate over the many, many allegations against the judiciary – that less glamorous wing of state power where the primary actors work behind closed doors, hidden from the media limelight.

When former MP and Chairman of the Special Majlis Drafting Committee Ibrahim “Ibra” Ismail expressed alarm in September 2011 over the growing excesses of the judiciary, the Supreme Court fantastically reprimanded him in a press release, asserting that criticising the Courts went “against the principles of civilisation” and that the constitution forbade such criticism.

In a democracy, the power rests with the people. However, Maldivians so far have shown little inclination to hold their state office bearers accountable.

In the neighbouring country of India, tens of thousands of outraged members of the public poured out onto the streets in recent months to protest against corruption in high offices.

The impact of overwhelming public sentiment and the willingness of the Indian public to hold their elected officials accountable worked. Several cabinet ministers and powerful provincial leaders previously thought to be untouchable by law suddenly found themselves behind bars.

Despite their every natural instinct, both opposition and ruling party leaders in India were forced to bend to public will and draft legislation that would create a new constitutional authority – an ombudsman that would be empowered to investigate corruption at the highest levels, including the Prime Minister’s office.

In contrast, the Maldivian public seems to be lethargic, and content with mindlessly echoing whatever slogan is aired by whichever party they happened to plead allegiance to.

Thus, we had ten thousand protesters mindlessly follow their sloganeering political leaders last month to complain about monuments and a host of other trivial non-issues, but there wasn’t a murmur to be heard about the serious charges of corruption and undermining of the judiciary by the same politicians who were on stage blathering about some imagined grief caused by invading Jews.

Pray where were the hordes of MDP loyalists that today defend the President and speak in angry tones against the Criminal Court judge, when the judiciary made a mockery of the constitution throughout the whole fiasco involving the appointment of judges?

Does anyone know the views of the opposition protesters on the state of affairs of the judiciary?

Are they not concerned about the under-qualified, under-educated, and sometimes convicted criminals of poor moral calibre that now occupy the benches of their courts?

If they are worried about the abuse of executive power, why are they not concerned about the abuse of judicial and legislative power?

Perhaps the Maldivian public is simply uneducated on the gravity of these issues due to the lack of any avenue for factual, impartial information – and having access only to a bunch of partisan propaganda outlets masquerading as ‘the media’, with the choice to pick one that most panders to their views.

The slant of the State media coverage of the recent protests is eerily similar to the language employed by Gayoom-era news propaganda. Similarly, the bias and sensationalism spewed by opposition-allied TV networks would make Fox News and The Daily Mail blush.

A second revolution

An argument can be made that the task of democratic transition still lies incomplete, and that democratic reforms only changed things in the executive, leaving the judiciary and parliament to remain bastions of the old guard.

The President and the ruling party have the right to educate the public and complete the task of democratic reform in all areas of governance.

However, if they feel that more drastic, revolutionary actions are necessary, then perhaps they ought to relinquish the position of the executive, return to the streets as ordinary citizens, and organize a grassroots campaign to cleanse the country’s courts and Parliament.

It simply does not bode well for the country’s democracy when the powers bestowed to one arm of the State is unilaterally employed to twist the other arm.

The country has already had one failed attempt at democracy before. If the actions of the democratic leaders causes the general public loses faith in democratic institutions and the rule of law, then there’s no reason to believe it won’t fail again.

The Maldivian public needs to realize that the ultimate Constitutional power is not vested in the President’s residence of Muleeage, but in the hands of voting citizens, and that if they are serious about completing the task of Judicial reform, then it is up to the citizens themselves to rise up and sort out the Judges.

Echoing the sentiments of the Prince Hassan Farid Didi, Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom once said in an interview that Dhivehin are not ‘ready’ for democracy.

Recent events suggest that both the Pharaoh and the Prince appear to be correct.

Four years after we voted in our first democratic government, the Maldivian public continues to be as clueless as the monkey with the handkerchief – and it is under our watch that politicians and judges wipe their bottoms with the constitution.

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 [email protected]


18 thoughts on “Comment: Citizen sheep”

  1. Gayoom actually said Maldivians are "not mature enough". Thasaarrafeh Nufudhey. and the devil was right.

  2. It is not democracy that is at fault, but rather the fact that the framers of the constitution did not put the proper balances in place. We have a judiciary that is unchecked and a legislature that exercises as much authority over the day to day running of government as the executive. There has to be a system of checks and balances put into place to ensure that governance can actually take place.

  3. I don't agree Maldives is not ready, but you, just like other countries, have to learn on how to live in and with democracy. It takes time, but don't say you cannot as that would be the first sparkle to take you back. There is not way back. Some European countries needed 25 years to settle a democratic spirit, What is happening to Maldives is the beginning of the process. Keep working, keep working and you will see the light. Stop working and you will go back to the age of the cave. It is not a time to stop … other countries are watching you.

  4. This comment was in the wrong article, this is the corrected comment.

    Nietzche said that to defeat a tyrant you must become one.

    I believe that this dark principle has an element of truth in it, and that, this principle is the best way to understand why democracy does not seem to be being realized in the Maldives.

    Yet as I said, this principle is only partly true. Yes, tyranny can defeat tyranny, quickly, and effectively. yet tyranny still reigns. But it is the longer, more painful struggle of being true to ones moral ideals in the face of adversity and suffering, it is moral fortitude which can defeat tyranny in the long run, yet this is the slow and painful path.

    Neither Maumoon nor Anni have ever wanted to be tyrants. Maumoon described himself in his Autobiography as a Humble Servant. Anni described his Government as a Compassionate Government.

    In the struggle to repress tyranny, both leaders seem to have created, or revived and strengthened structural monsters which feed on Nulafakan (Ruthlessness) bribery, blackmail, repression, character defamation, intimidation, brutality. In their desparation to repress the tyranny, they fail to perceive they have create monsters they cannot control.

    Every historical attempt to kill and end the tyranny of the ‘Rannumari’ Jinni which tyranizes the Dhivehin has only ended up giving new life and power to the Ranamari, who returns in a new form.

    I am of the opinion that some form of a radical, bottom up cultural evolution would have to occur for this cycle to be broken.

  5. Haha! Democracy is indeed a way of life from the evil kaafir Jew! It is not to be followed by Muslims, and this is what happens when you bow down to Jews and try to imitate their way of life.

    Just imagine how much better our lives would be, if we followed the Islamic Sharia, and became a fully Islamic country! There would be no poor people due to zakath, and there would absolutely be no crime because of the punishments Allah SWT has ordered upon criminals. Corruption and such other Jew-inspired evils would also be non-existent!

    Mashallah! We shall see a better day when Islamic Sharia is established in our country, and we move forward to making South Asia an Islamic Caliphate.

  6. I guess, Maldivans have yet to pay their fair share of pain and suffering for democracy and freedom. So far, things have been very easy for them. Life has been easy. We still do not know what it feels like to be without freedom. Like Africans if we could not feed ourselves, someone else has until now done that for us.....Once that price has been paid, we will have a society built on democracy and freedom..

  7. "An argument can be made that the task of democratic transition still lies incomplete, and that democratic reforms only changed things in the executive, leaving the judiciary and parliament to remain bastions of the old guard"

    OK, yaamyn rasheed, so things changed in the Executive huh? The change is about replacing Ilyas with Maria. Yameen with Reeko. Abdulla shahid with Maussoom. Thief with thief. Thug with thug. swindler with swindler. crook with crook. Thank you for enlightening us.

    If this is really about genuine change its very good. But there is little evidence to show that this is about bringing genuine change. All that we see is thugs like dhonbileh and Reeko highjacking the president and running the government like they run a drug cartel.

  8. To destroy the monster that was Ibrahim Nasir then, Maumoon was born. And to destroy the monster that Maumoon became, Anni was born. Who will emerge to destroy the monster that Anni will become, and what kind of monster will he be !

  9. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Constitution.

    It was 'by design and intent' that the powers of the State were divided amongst the Executive, Majlis, Judiciary and the Independent institutions.

    This was to avoid any repetition of Maumoon style one-man Dictator ship. The Members of the Special Majlis that drafted the Constitution were so fed up with Maumoon that they decided to limit the powers of the executive branch and eliminate an 'all powerful' Executive.

    It was mainly MDP members in the Majlis that fought and succeeded to reduce executive powers and pass some of it to the Majlis.

    President Nasheed is finding it difficult to manage his government simply because the people of this country did not give MDP a majority in the Majlis. If they did, there would have been smooth sailing.

    Why didn't the public give MDP a majority in the Majlis after voting in Nasheed to power? My guess is they had second thoughts.

    Historically, our rulers are used to getting the judiciary to be a rubber stamp. But under the New Constitution it is an independent branch of the State.

    The real powers we face are due to the irresponsible Majlis that we have. The yhave not completed many of the enabling legislation to make our Constitution work smoothly.

    In the New Constitution, we have the latest 'software' but we are trying to install it in outdated 'hardware'.

  10. Ilyas Ahmed on Your comment is awaiting moderation. Tue, 24th Jan 2012 6:06 PM

    Second last para...should be the 'The real problems'.

  11. Ben and logic you are far from the truth regarding Gayoom and the tyranny.

    Gayoom had no tyranny to deal with in the first place. Nasir resigned on his own will and without any pressure. Sure he had an uprising and it was brutally put down in a few hours and then everything went back to the same.
    He usually let the public do whatever they want so long as they did not bother about politics. If you get involved in politics then that is the end of you.

    When Gayoom became President, he had no real opposition to deal with. It was the same story as 2008 that people were fed up of Nasir and Nasir himself was fed up with the people.
    FYI I have to admit that Gayoom was probably the first democratically elected President under the constitution that was valid then. Of course the way they elected was not a multi party democracy but The Majlis nominated a name and that name went for a public referendum. Gayoom was not the first option of The Majlis either as it was Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi whom the Majlis nominated but he refused and then they voted for Gayoom. Incidentally he only got a majority vote.

    So Gayoom did not have to deal with tyranny at all to rule the country. I have to admit that his first 2 terms were good and his third term was fair and then it started to go downhill.
    Nasheed has to deal with a violent opposition from the word go who could not accept that Nasheed could be the President.
    That is not to say that he could and should have handled this issue much better.

    Yamyn is right that this majority of the blame should lie with the public as they do not seem to care about the corrupt Judiciary etc while they protest about a statue of a lion in Addu Atoll.
    Unless the public stands up for their rights starting with the judiciary we wold continue downwards.
    I have to say that the NGO's are an absolute disgrace. They should be on the forefront to lead this charge against the judiciary and yet they are the very people who are encouraging this corruption by supporting the corrupt judges.

  12. Maldivians are cult followers and very few think for themselves. we can not have a democracy until we have an educated citizen along with a stable economy.
    like you have pointed out, we have citizen sheeps..
    i hope there is a new revolution coming and hope it wont cost much, because we cant efford.

  13. MDP is trying to uphold the spirit of the law and judiciary. The opposition is hiding behind the letters of the law hoping that it will endure.

    What is really needed is a call for a revolution 2.0 by MDP.

    MDP needs to make a drastic unpopular measure and then justify it well. There is only one shot at this and it better be done fast.

  14. hyperbole is used on both sides. The only difference being, every single person finds a preference, and finds one side's hyperbole more believable and even legitimate, than the other's.
    Can you honestly say that the protestors have been that violent compared to past protests, though? Maybe you weren't in male' at the time but people's motorocycles were set on fire and shops damaged and raided. Maybe the only difference is the so called terrorist sheiks all surprisingly repeatedly appealed for calm and avoiding violent confrontation. not to mention it was two of the opposition figures that got attacked and beaten up on the street, one being burnt from lit cigarettes. Isn't this a form of terrorism?But obviously this isn't worth acknowledging or emphasising since it's the side one supports that would look bad, and minivan is run by that side. nor is it important to emphasize the lack of due process in the decisions being made, instead of the other's faults. citizen sheep for sure.

  15. democracy only works with civilized human beings. There is a LOTTTTT of work to be done in that area. we are beyond jahiliyyah now. wayyyy back. we've even lost sight of civilization. we are yet to become humans. a national rebirth is necessary. as president nasheed says... tharaqqee akee insaanaa tharaqqeevun. or something like that. he have earned my vote for one more term. let him finish what he started. i dont see many people with principles and a vision here. but if he cross the line (the line is not that near considering the shit people and situation he is dealing with)...he shall pay for it!

  16. Its true that most Maldivians are incapable of running a country. Because 20 years of brutal beat-the-fear-of-freedom-of-thought-into-their-heads can do that to anyone.

    And yes, Maumoon did that.

  17. Do not compare India with Maldives. India has everything in it.

    As for democracy and freedom, India had a decades-long struggle for independence which was led by several extremely able leaders.

    Indian people learnt during that time.

    Then, after independence in 1947, Indian people have had decades-long experience of voting and changing governments.

    India is also so big, so diverse, and so rich in wisdom and culture.

    Compared to Indians, Maldivians are living in a fool's paradise.

    Maldivian leaders, from the prince you mentioned downwards to present times,Gayoom included, wanted to keep people as slaves.

    Rulers were very successful in keeping the population down as slaves.

    When the slaves suddenly got freedom, they did not know what to do with that freedom.

    It is a bit like the story of the abolition of slavery in the USA.

    It looks increasingly likely the Maldivians are ging to destroy themselves.


Comments are closed.