Comment: Gayoom and his legacy – the major obstacle to consolidating Maldives democracy

This article was first published on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

The Maldives’ first multi-party presidential elections of 2008 ended Gayoom’s thirty year dictatorship and adopted democratic rule.

But, like many other nascent democracies, the threat exists that Maldives may not be able to sustain its democracy in its fullest sense.

This is especially true after the coup orchestrated by the Maldivian security forces that ousted the first democratically elected President in February 2012. Added to this is the political activeness of dictator Gayoom, which in itself tends to heighten the prospect of Maldives falling back to a dictatorship.

As we head to the second democratic election in Maldives history, I want to ask: will a popular election alone help foster democracy in Maldives? Moreover, how could we prevent a full-blown authoritarian reversal with power back in the hands of Gayoom?

Gayoom’s continuing influence over Maldivian politics cannot be denied. This is not a unique experience for nascent democracies.

Research has established that legacies of authoritarianism from which democracies emerge put more direct pressure on democracies than cultural and economic factors[i].

This kind of pressure from Gayoom’s legacy the on Maldives’ efforts towards democratic transition has manifested itself in different ways. Take, for instance, the country’s political institutions.

During three years of democracy, attempts by Nasheed’s government to implement reforms needed for the consolidation of democracy were met with ever increasing obstructions from Gayoom loyalists within various institutions.

Firstly, the effort to create an independent judiciary (without which a modern democracy cannot function) has been entirely undermined by judges loyal to Gayoom. The Supreme Court bench itself is composed mostly of Gayoom loyalists who share his political ideologies.

It makes sense to me now that, when Majlis voted on President Nasheed’s nominations, DRP opposed most of them. Having been in a position to observe the negotiations closely, I myself believe that Nasheed’s nominations, opposed by DRP, comprised less biased, more suitable candidates.

At the time, DRP was Gayoom’s party with a majority in Parliament. DRP MPs made a habit of rejecting Nasheed’s nominations and proposing a list of their own instead. They pushed hard to sit certain individuals—like self-declared Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, a known Gayoom-affiliate—on the bench.

With the country facing a Constitutional void, President Nasheed compromised and nominated the current bench for Parliament approval.

Aishath Velezenee, a former Member of the Judicial Services Commission has provided a detailed account of how the process for appointing Supreme Court Judges took place.

The simple truth that we all know is, Supreme Court decisions have in one way or the other, benefited Gayoom and his allies. Is it a coincidence there is yet to be a Supreme Court decision that went against Gayoom or his allies?

Gayoom loyalists are similarly entrenched within the security services. Their loyalty to the dear leader had a major role to play in their mutiny against Nasheed on February 7, facilitating as it did the controversial transfer of power later that day.

Gayoom has denied widely circulated reports he was directing the night’s events from Malaysia. It cannot be denied, however, that he gave a phone interview to opposition-controlled media, indirectly encouraging the mutinying police.

It is no coincidence that after the coup, the head of security services are all pro-Gayoom loyalists. Now we have a Police Commissioner who served as the Deputy Commissioner in Gayoom’s regime, a regime well known for police brutality and torture.

The defence minister is a retired Colonel who also served under Gayoom. Furthermore, a reflection on the events in February 8 last year also shows that our security forces still continue Gayoom’s legacies.

Police brutality towards peaceful protesters, a defining characteristic of Gayoom’s regime, returned to the streets of Male’ with a vengeance, less than 24 hours after Nasheed’s government was brought to an end. It wasn’t hard to feel as if we had regressed, before 2008, before democracy.

Independent institutions play a vital role in consolidation of a democracy. Unfortunately for the Maldives, Gayoom loyalists are firmly embedded within, and often dominate, institutions like the Human Rights Commission, Police Integrity Commission and Civil Service Commission.

Most individuals comprising these commissions served in Gayoom’s government and still maintain close ties with him. This is hardly surprising given that just as with the nomination of Supreme Court justices, here too it was a DRP-majority Majlis that confirmed or rejected nominees to commissions.

The loyalty of some independent commissions to Gayoom was indeed evident from their actions following the police brutality on February 8. Neither the Human Rights Commission, nor the Policy Integrity Commission took any firm actions against the misconducts from the security forces.

Gayoom’s current party, the PPM, is so determined to retain these loyalists within the independent commissions that it is prepared to disregard even findings of serious misconduct against such individuals. The ongoing saga of Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy is a case in point.

Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee found in favour of a female staff member who accused Fahmy of sexual harassment and voted to remove him from the post. PPM members fought hard, but in vain, to save Fahmy. The Supreme Court was then asked to rule on whether the parliament’s decision was constitutional. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court ruled in Fahmy’s favour.

Gayoom’s dictatorial legacy, entrenched deep within our political system is the main obstacle to the consolidation of democracy in the Maldives. The 75 year-old leader’s revived political activeness is further strengthening this obstacle. Reforms to the judiciary, independent institutions and security forces are essential if we are to consolidate and sustain democracy.

[i] See for example, Shin, Doh Chull (1994), ‘On the third wave of democratization: A synthesis and evaluation of recent theory and research’, World Politics, 47 (1), 135-70.

Ahmed Hamdhan is a third-year Bachelor of Arts (Policy Studies and Political Science) and a student at the Australian National University.

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7 thoughts on “Comment: Gayoom and his legacy – the major obstacle to consolidating Maldives democracy”

  1. The legacy Qayoom has left was simply his Arabic influence and it is well cultivated in the Maldivian society. The Arab culture and Arab hegemony is what Qayoom tried to influence Maldivian society was well integrated in the society that he had enough time to intertwine in to Maldivian social fabric. Before Qayoom Maldives had Buddhist culture, people were peaceful non violent and timid, with emergence of Bedouin culture, xenophobia, prejudice and hatefulness took root in the Maldivian culture. Islamic education was seen as most important part of education this lead to flood of Mullahs who played big roll to destroy any democratic ideas and values and Mullahs were quite successful in this because Qayoom has natured full generation who were well cultured to be the good audience of Mullahs.
    Now Maldivian society is divided, if you don’t go Mosques you are hated, if you have not gone to Mecca for hajj you will be seen as less privileged, women without veil are called firewood of hell. Arabs became our brothers and Arab Israeli conflict is felt in our hearts.

    Now we need to disarabanise the society through education and bring the people to realm of 21st century to solidify democracy. It is very simple, we have to make the people to realize that we are not Arabs, we are simply some misfortunate people who drifted either from India or Sri Lanka and landed here who practiced Buddhism until accidently one Arab landed here who had succeeded to convert us to Islam. And we have to accept that the Islam is not epicenter of the universe and accept that Islam is one of many religions in the world that does not have any extra ordinary claims to be so arrogant. If Allah is true so is Buddha, Jesus or Krishna all are created by early human being soon after they evolved from carnivores to domesticate agriculture and started to eat hallucinogenic plants.

  2. There are so many threats to democracy already that it would be a miracle of democracy survives.

    To name one, the informal agreement by PPM and MDP to create a two party country (like the US) is very worrying. The US has also suffered because 2 parties.

    Small parties should have their unique voice and real leaders should rise up the challenge of managing many views.

    Two party system is also a form of dictatorship by elites.

  3. @moron on Thu, 20th Jun 2013 10:23 PM

    "It is very simple, we have to make the people to realize that we are not Arabs, we are simply some misfortunate people who drifted either from India or Sri Lanka and landed here who practiced Buddhism until accidently one Arab landed here who had succeeded to convert us to Islam."

    Not only that. Even if we all spoke Arabic, donned their garb and broke our teeth whilst falling towards Makkah, we will always be treated as 3rd rate garbage by the Arabs! If you ever want to see discrimination at its worst, go to the Middle East.

  4. Mullah Gayoom's Islamonationalism mixed with Dhivehistani feudalism to give rise to 30 years of autocratic control. The power of the Sultan, the arisocrats and the mullahs were consolidated into The Family's grip, who were above the law. Drinking alcohol, homosexuality and adultery were contrary to the mullah's teachings but Fathullah Jameel, Abdullah Hameed and Ilyas Ibrahim never worried about such things. All animals are equal but some are more equal and religious than others - that's the Mullah Gayoom's legacy.

  5. gayoom. and all infidel mullahs/ shaikhs are trying to make Maldives as a sheep so they can share the country like sheep.
    we Maldivian have to wake up and make real jihad to save our country from them this will be real Islamic jihad

  6. Credible argument in my opinion, well presented.

    Agree that Maumoon's legacy is A threat to democratisation, question whether it is the MAIN or Biggest threat? But it may well be I have no idea.

    Anyway, nice to have you in Australia Mr. Hamdhan. All the best with your studies. You will have many positive things to contribute to the democratisation of Maldives, hoping to read more from you in the coming years.


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