Comment: I am for democracy too

A coup is a coup. Much of what transpired at MNDF headquarters the morning of February 7 remains unclear, but several key facts have come to light, and placed in the context of Maldivian politics, leave no doubt in my mind that President Nasheed was ousted in a cleverly executed coup.

Following Nasheed’s forced resignation, the entire country burned. Key law enforcement institutions became Enemy Number One overnight. In contrast to the relative professional and non-violent reaction to protests against Judge Abdulla’s arbitrary detention, police used brutal force and violently targeted key MDP officials on February 8. Controversial appointments to key posts in Dr Waheed’s government, particularly the Minister of Defence and the Commissioner of Police, who served as the main interlocutors with President Nasheed at MNDF HQ, with no legitimacy whatsoever, further deteriorate MDP supporters’ faith in the police and the MNDF.

In an atmosphere so emotionally charged and tense, it is an elephantine task to remain rational, to stick to facts, and to make decisions that will save our democracy in the long run. It is even harder to do so when media channels, on either side of the political divide, are biased and resorting to propaganda. Nasheed and his supporters have unleashed a deluge of hyperbole to rile up crowds and chip away whatever is left of the public’s trust in the police and the armed forces.

Nasheed showed Waheed’s government and the international community his ammunition when he led his supporters into a direct, violent confrontation with the police and armed forces on Wednesday. He is using the threat of violence to force elections in two months, when it is very clear that an election in two months will not be free and fair. In the meantime, Waheed has come out to say he will not hold elections until 2013. What has been lacking in our democracy since 2008 stands in the way of restoring democracy today. Democracy is about compromise. Nasheed and Waheed need to meet each other half way so that our democracy is not flushed down the drains of history.

Even if Waheed’s government is illegitimate, what is done is done. And protracted civil unrest and violence in small communities, which may take generations to heal, is not the way forward. At a time when people are divided and emotional, we need strong leaders who place the good of the nation above personal gain. Waheed must have the balls to ensure that his government does not go after senior leaders in the MDP in the run up to elections in six months. In return to agreeing for elections in six months, Nasheed and his co must be given guarantees by Waheed’s government that the MDP leadership and supporters will not be made political prisoners. In my mind, there is really no other way forward and if people have suggestions, it is time we start a national debate on how to overcome this impasse in a conciliatory manner.

You say a liberal?

That said, the coup d’etat of February 7 is also a window of opportunity for the people to demand more and better from of our political leadership. One person had written on facebook that we might have been too tolerant of President Nasheed’s runaway administration. True, opposition political parties under Nasheed’s administration did not play by the same lofty rules we set for the government. But with more power comes more responsibility. Nasheed was in power, the opposition parties were not, hence the double standards in expectations. With our civil society so weak from 30 years of authoritarian rule, the political leadership had a massive responsibility. Nasheed had the power to write the story of our democracy differently. He may have lost elections in 2013 if he did, but he would have been a mighty hero in my mind had he focused on strengthening our democratic institutions over forcing and bypassing democratic institutions to ensure the fulfillment of the MDP’s five key pledges.

A 30-year dictatorship left a legacy: an uneven playing field; a weak civil society; a small and toothless middle class; a dearth of self-thinking peoples; and a biased media. The vestiges of dictatorship remain and they matter. History matters. But it only directs, it does not determine. The many constitutional crises, the political posturing, and the name-calling we see today are not inevitable results of a 30-year dictatorship. It is the combined result of a 30-year dictatorship, and a conscious choice by the Nasheed administration to play power politics instead of fostering the slow, painful and perhaps, in the short run, self-defeating, democratic reforms that would have strengthened our democracy.

When Nasheed came to power in 2008, he inherited not only a massive budget deficit, but also a political system that operated on political patronage. Nasheed did not try to change this informal system. He adopted masters of such politicking, including Ibrahim Hussein Zaki and Hassan Afeef into his administration, indicating that political realism would provide Nasheed government’s ideological grounding. To outwit Gayoom et al, Nasheed decided to play the power game instead of democracy. In doing so he acted like an astute politician, not a liberal democrat. Those who expected the latter, mostly liberals, are deeply disappointed with the Nasheed administration. The handful of young and educated who were convinced that an MDP defeat in 2013 would spell out the end of democracy, and those who foresaw an end to their innings with the end of Nasheed’s government, were glad that he played the part of a clever politician. But then the coup happened.

In a very real way, Nasheed himself is to blame for presenting coup planners with ample fodder and opportunity. Arbitrarily detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed for nearly 20 days, in spite of the arrest’s unconstitutionality, in spite of continued street protests that often turned violent, and in spite of escalating police fatigue, Nasheed defended the arrest to the last minutes of his administration and continues to defend it today. But to this day, Nasheed has not explained the precise national security threat that justified the military detention of Abdulla Mohamed. By commanding the MNDF to arbitrarily arrest Abdulla Mohamed and detain him on their training camp, Nasheed unnecessarily plunged one of Maldives’ few professional institutions into disarray and opened it up to politicisation. Presidents who are concerned with consolidating democracy do not issue such orders. They do not think in “either or” terms. Creativity and compromise are fundamental characteristics of a strong democratic leadership.

You say a revolution in 2008?

History matters. Those who were rich and powerful under Gayoom, remain rich and powerful today. In short, our democratic “revolution” in 2008 failed to change the status quo. The aristocrats and merchants who own the tourism, fishing, construction, and shipping industries act like an oligarchy. They have the means to ensure that they maintain their monopolies and deflect any harm that come their way. Take for example what happened with the penalties for tax evasion. And where is the minimum wage bill? What happened to workers’ right to strike? When democratic institutions, such as the parliament, become monopolised by aristocrats and merchants, and when the main rule of law institution, that is the court system, remains dominated by unlearned persons who are easily manipulated by the aristocrats and merchants, the middle class that is the key to democratic consolidation, has no representation and no space to assert itself.

To his credit, Nasheed did attempt to foster a middle class. He implemented a long overdue taxation system that forced tourism tycoons to pay their fair share for state bills. His policies sought to improve access to basic services. And he faced huge challenges. But in playing power politics, he also ensured that the rich and powerful remained so, and nurtured a new group of rich and powerful people who would ostensibly protect his presidency and candidacy in 2013. To that end, a number of development projects continued to fall into the hands of those affiliated with the MDP, and sometimes those hands were not the most capable and able. And the lease of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is anything but transparent. If justice is fairness, Nasheed government’s corrupt activities fell short of delivering justice, and served to exacerbate the already existing crisis in the judiciary.

Way Forward

The way forward is in compromise and learning from mistakes. It is not in taking sides and refusing to budge. Peace is not a platitude. To characterise peace, conciliation, and negotiation as platitudes and “bullshit” is to reject the essence of democracy. And being “colorless”, and withholding blind support for the MDP or any other political party is not a wholesale rejection of democracy. Restoring Nasheed, whichever way possible, will not restore democracy.

No to street violence, No to political witch hunts, No to destroying the social fabric of our small nation, and No to politicising our armed forces and the police. But Yes to elections in six months. The current government is illegitimate and the nation cannot afford to wait until 2013 for presidential elections. At the same time, MDP supporters will risk the nation by going out on to the streets. The political leadership of this country should go to the negotiation table fast if we are to restore democracy. And people of this country should step back from pledging blind support to leaders. Learn from mistakes. Pledge your support to democratic processes. Pledge your support to negotiations and elections, not in two months when an election would be impossible, but in six months, when it has a better chance of translating your vote freely and fairly.

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]


13 thoughts on “Comment: I am for democracy too”

  1. In the early 2000s for five years I was a foot soldier on the side of some people fihting hard to bring democracy, freedom and human rights, rule of law and propserity to my country. The war ended with my side winning in 2008. What I saw for 3 years from then was very different from what I was told. The fight for freedom, democracy and rule of law were just nice words to keep us fighting so that people like Reeko, Maria, Balak, Thimarafushi mustafa could plunder the wealth of the nation just like Gayoom and his cronies ilyas and yaameen did before them.

    So please dont get this talk about fighting for democracy started. I am not in this fight. This is nothing but a big bloody farce!

  2. The author's assessment of the political situation fairly accurate. A series of political blunders of President Nasheeed led to his own downfall. His mistakes presented his enemies with powerful ammunition to oust him from office. He had ignored warnings of a coup being brewed by his opponents. His advisers would have underestimated the potency the enemies who were determined to remove him from at any cost. In fact he has survived a number of attempt by his opponents in the past because he acted correctly in defending his Presidency on those occasions.
    He has deviated from democratic principles in the name of defending his government. It would appear that he had to apply illegal methods to fend off illegal attacks against him.
    To my mind MDP still has a huge support base. The MDP under Nasheed;s government has begum exciting development programs including taxation which was long overdue.
    Maldives needs peace and stability. A fragile economy will have far reaching consequences if instability is prolonged. Politicians therefore have a huge task of resolving problems to save the nation.

  3. Yes, Alibeyya, you're right and the author does have a lot of valid points. I along with others have long pointed out to the mistakes of President Nasheed. During the latter part of his administration, certain hardline elements within his party seemed to have taken total control without fully realising the consequences.

    The change of regime was illegal and it was a coup. One of the actors on the day itself announced it to the media. Former military man, Nazim announced to the media infront of MNDF HQ, that President Nasheed will resign by 13:30 "unconditionally". If that doesn't amount to a confession of a coup, I don't know what would!

    It was "dressed" up as best as they could to make it look like an orderly transfer of power. Let's not fool ourselves with what actually happened. Part of the "going forward", and "healing" process is recognising the truth of what happened.

    The author points out to a key fact: the business tycoons and the social elite (which are synonymous in this country) are in key positions of the political landscape. They have plenty of vested interests to protect, and Nasheed rocked their boat, very hard.

    Look at the appointment of two cabinet ministers, one of whom actually works for the biggest tycoon in the country, namely, Gasim. The other one is the secretary general of the Maldivian equivalent of a chamber of commerce. Waheed had just handed out 2 of his cabinet posts directly to the money men!

    Do we have a hope in hell of building the democratic nation we aspire to? Probably, but not in our generation!


  5. Ahmed and Alibeya, you are correct. I was absolutely fed up with the Nasheed government. I was against the use of the MNDF for the arrest of Abdulla.
    Sure he was corrupt and the judiciary is corrupt too but Nasheed could have used different means to ensure that this case was handled differently.

    The way forward for Maldives is half way as the Era has suggested. I felt that had Nasheed remained President he would have lost the election in 2013. Now I feel that MDP and its allies would win it. Not because they have become popular all of a sudden but a lot of people have discovered that a military or a Police Coup is not the way to get rid of a legally elected President.
    If we let this situation continue, today it was Nasheed and tomorrow it would be another President. No country where legally elected Presidents are removed by force has survived as successful countries.
    Maybe Nasheed should step aside and let someone else run for President from MDP?
    Maybe Waheed should hand over power to the Speaker of the Majlis till election?

    I think the best solution is for the Speaker of the Majlis to take over the Interim Government NOW and run the country till the next election. He can have a unity government and MDP, the largest political party has said that they would accept it and would have no problems in joining such a government.
    Then the Ministers would be people who do not have any strong affiliations to any party and knowing that they are there only for the interim period.
    There are many capable people who are willing to be part of a unity government for a short period. They would ensure that the government functions democratically and openly.
    In the mean time all parties should promise not to block the government and not to disturb the peace.
    The then government would also suspend the Manifesto of MDP too as this government would have no mandate to promote it.
    That would ensure that we have stability in the country and that free and fair elections are held.
    The moment the Speaker takes charge stability would come to the country and it also guarantees that free and fair elections are held.

    I also have questions why Waheed and the others are refusing to let the Speaker run the country?
    Are they scared that they would be found out? After all the Speaker is not from MPD but from DRP.

  6. Marie, sorry but I have to ask you, why are you so aggressive? I thought this article is a good opportunity to invite to reflect upon the current situation, it give a lot of space to put apart the emotional thoughts and behaviors for a much more constructive dialog. In a civil, democratic community we should not spend all the time in those empty polemics.
    Why do you refuse to give a positive contribution to build up the place where we are living? How do you imagine it will be your life, the life of your children if you keep on complaining private behaviors, in a sort of never-endig gossip?! which kind of aspectation do you have? are you appealing to summary justice? is it what we are seeking for? is it what it could help the Maldives community to grow up?!

  7. Great article, at a time when everyone seem to have forgotten how we got here in the first place. Nasheed and Co needs to stop pretending that he was a champion of democracy and human rights, he just wasn't.

    Having said that, It was a coup and and what happened during the coup should be investigated. A way forward needs to involve all political parties but most importantly a truth and reconciliation for what the police and mndf had done.

    I fear that the security forces are in fear for their jobs and are now under the politicians clutches. This politicisation is extremely dangerous and remedial measures need to be taken urgently.

  8. Fellow Maldivians
    Stop all this bickering and start focussing on the facts for the sake of saving the country and its future.
    Fact is 28% of GDP of Maldives is derived from Tourism. Foreign investors will not put their money in a politically unstable country.
    Democracy, Freedom and Peace can be achieved without violence.
    Maldives has highly educated young people who is capable of steering the country in the right diection.
    Please do not let the old corrupt politicians brain wash you. Wake up and start making suggestions how to solve the crisis.

  9. Over the last 80 years "Baghaavaai" has played an importatnt role in the Maldivian politics. Winners and losers

    Mohamed Amin vs. Male Public (Male public won)
    Ibrahim Nasir vs. Thinadhoo people (Ibrahim Nasir won)
    Ibrahim Nasir vs. Kuda Buraasfathi/Boduburaasfathi (Ibrahim Nasir won)
    Maumoon vs. Sikka/Minakuday/Kuvaa Mohandhey/Kerafa Naseem (Maumoon won)
    Maumoon vs. Abdulla Luthufy (Luthfy won for a few hours but eventually Maumoon Won
    Anni vs. Nazim sir (Nazim Sir won)

  10. Fellow Maldivians
    Stop all this bickering and start focussing on the facts for the sake of saving the country and its future.
    Fact is 28% of GDP of Maldives is derived from Tourism. Foreign investors will not put their money in a politically unstable country.
    Democracy, Freedom and Peace can be achieved without violence.
    Maldives has highly educated young people who is capable of steering the country in the right direction.
    Please do not let the old corrupt politicians brain wash you. Wake up and start making suggestions how to solve the crisis.

  11. i am a srilankan buddhist. maledives is our neighbouring country. nasheed was the first president who was elected by people. he has right to rule the country till the end of his session. it is not the democracy if police and army force against it.president nasheed is a close friend of the sri lankan nation.when sri lanka was facing some war crime problems you appear and struggled on behalf of us.dear president always we are with you.

  12. As for being regarded to "colorless" i would like to say thank u for the mention on this one.

    I have started the "colorless" group on Facebook, "not" in order to encourage people to remain "apolitical". February 7th and 8th brought nightmares to all of us. Events that followed lead most people to believe we are seeing the end of a nation. Facebook being a platform where most of the social activities were being shared i saw people go at each other with such hatred and anger. Name calling, blame game, family members getting separated over political differences, friends against friends :(.

    I saw our whole nation suddenly at a stage of going into an unknown war as a result of the political turmoil which took place. We voted for democracy not mutiny. We brought the party system for the betterment of our nation not to divide a nation. A nation came first before political differences. Our tourism industry was at stake. People's lives were at stake. What were we gaining?

    Colorless group platform was made for people to unite against violence in the nation. It was made to promote peace. It wasn't an attempt to side with the government which took control over. Nor was it made to stop people from going ahead with their party supported activities. It has received criticism and a lot of negative comments. We understand that. People are sentimental and is understood that when the mind is clouded with such strong emotions people would fail to see through reason. We called for everyone in our nation to take peaceful measures whatever activities they plunged into and we encouraged people to see through their differences and see that each person is a citizen of our nation. We existed as a whole. While we cannot agree to opinions we can respect them. We can find a common denominator in our beliefs and try to unite with that as the root. I think betterment of the nation is what everyone has in mind. What betterment is when kin kills kin? Where do we look for safety when all institutions we have looked upon are crashing all around us?

    We all need justice. We look for our leaders to provide us with the sense of security we seems to be losing. I for one do not understand the power play of politics. Nor do i wish to. I want a nation where my children can grow up to be healthy human beings who understands principles of human existence. Honesty, Love, Hope, Peace, Caring, Selflessness and Faith in God above.

    People are intelligent. They can come up with ways to achieve what they want in a way that can leave our nation united and prospering. Our nation has grown weak with its different convictions. The old saying that "United we stand, Divided we fall" . Now i see nations within the nations. Let this not happen. Let them unite once again. Let our nation be a nation once and for all. We need democracy and above all we need Peace and Justice.


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