Comment: Outside perspective on a young democracy

As two legislators from the US state of Oregon, we are usually focused on the politics of our coastal state of 3.5 million people. But thanks to an initiative sponsored by the Maldivian Democracy Network and the US Embassy, we found ourselves this month half a world from home, meeting with close to 20 members of the Maldivian Parliament, the President and Vice President, NGOs, and members of independent commissions.

The visit was an opportunity for us to learn about the political process in the Maldives and to share some of our own experiences with democracy in the US.

Throughout our visit, we were impressed and heartened by the level of commitment we heard Maldivians express to making their young democracy work. We heard plenty about conflict, sometimes bitter, between the MDP and DRP, between the President and the Parliament, but over and over again we heard politicians and commissioners express a profound commitment to keeping the Maldives on a democratic path.

Three additional points stood out:

First, we were struck by inconsistencies between the system of government the Maldives has adopted and the language used to describe it. The new Maldivian constitution established a Presidential system of government where, like the US, power is divided between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In this context, it strikes us as odd that the President and his cabinet is known as “the Government,” that his party is said to “rule,” and that the majority coalition in Parliament is commonly referred to as the “opposition.” In a system where government’s power is separated and balanced between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each branch governs. Thus, Presidents (including our own) must recognise their responsibility to work with parliamentary majorities, even when that majority is held by a party different than his own. Likewise, parliamentary majorities must step up to their responsibility to work with the President to lead the country, not merely oppose him in an effort to win the next campaign.

Second, we were struck by the universality of many aspects of democratic politics. In multi-party democracies on both sides of the world, politics can be petty. Parties clash. Legislators don’t always act like adults. The process of change is messy and slow. Practically every complaint we heard about Maldivian politics was one that we commonly hear about our own as well. One advantage for us is that 230 years of experience has shown Americans that for all its faults, democracy generally works pretty well – when given enough time. Today’s defeats may be tomorrow’s victories. Politicians come and go. Thanks to an independent judiciary, our Constitution has been preserved. We hope that the Maldivian people will temper their short-term frustrations, however justified, with patience for the long-term peace and prosperity that democracy helps promote.

Finally, we were impressed by the rapid expansion of civil society in the Maldives and we hope that this sector will continue to grow. For democracy to flourish, it is vital that society maintain a robust and independent media, aggressive non-governmental organizations, and an education system that includes instruction in civics. We were particularly impressed by organizations like the Maldivian Democracy Network and Democracy House, whose Youth Parliament program is helping train the next generation of leaders. As civil society develops, we are especially keen for it to help strengthen the independence of the judiciary, demand additional government transparency, and to hold legislators accountable for what they accomplish – and what they don’t.

As a young democracy, there is a great deal at stake in the Maldives. Like so many others around the world, we are anxious to see you succeed. We hope that our visit serves as a springboard for deeper ties between our state and your nation.

Jackie Dingfelder is a State Senator; Ben Cannon is a State Representative. Both are from the state of Oregon in the United States.

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].


7 thoughts on “Comment: Outside perspective on a young democracy”

  1. fair, balanced, insightful and hopeful assessment. There is no better place to lean about freedom and democracy than the US.. Thank you congressmen,,

  2. All politically correct observation, unimpressed is my judgment.

    My observations would be that democracy as practiced like huge countries like US isn't feasible to such a small nation state with a population that scattered and does not exceed even one million.

    separation of powers and sovereign bodies are influenced by the closely intertwined social fabric.

    The ratio of elected post to population ratio is just not financially feasible at considering the economic state.

  3. Very well said, but who is listening?

    The crisis in government today is indeed the direct result of ignorance.

    The few in government and outside who do understand the new doctrine of governance introduced by the Constitution (2008), and the necessity to build that democratic government and institutionalize it for that government to be effectively realised, have no shame in abusing the ignorance of the majority for their personal benefit and political gain.

    I specifically direct this accusation to Speaker Abdulla Shahid who, knowingly, breached trust as a member of JSC, to ensure that the hold he personally has over the judiciary remains intact for the next 30 to 40 years.

    That the Speaker Abdulla Shahid knew exactly what went on, and the long-lasting threat of his manipulations, cannot be denied. Abdulla Shahid is a learned man with a BA in Political Science and a Masters in International Relations (as far as I am aware), as well as a worldly and experienced man who has had the opportunity to march the corridors of power in Male’ and abroad.

    As for those others, the former Attorney Generals, the former Justice Ministers, the failed politicians, the novices who go on air to speak on these issues, I am not quite sure they have the same knowledge or capacities and capabilities as does the Speaker. They perhaps, are simply ignorant of their own ignorance, having had unchallenged platforms to dictate their nonsense in the long years of constitutional autocracy we had in the Maldives.

    Second, it cannot be denied that the former AGs and Justice Ministers now MPS, or running law firms and political parties concurrently, stand to benefit from having a bench they are not only familiar with, but knows all the secrets of.

    Knowing what I do, I can vouch that the Speaker’s ill-intentions were achieved at a cost of denying the State the power to protect and uphold the Constitution, and depriving every citizen of their “inalienable” rights. If that is not treachery, what is it then? Perhaps the law community would care to explain.

    What greater threat is there to a nation than a judiciary that is controlled by a few politicians?

    And IF, there really is no ill-intention in dismissing Article 285 as symbolic and orchestrating a symbolic oath for judges, why then is everyone so reluctant to have the matter debated or investigated?

    Please visit and do what you can to demand Independence for Judges, and an Independent Judiciary for the nation.

    Thank you
    Aishath Velezinee
    Member of JSC appointed under Article 158(h) of the Constitution

  4. @Yosemite Sam: I just want to back up what you said...

    The problems the development of democracy faces in the Maldives go beyond what one can read in a text book.

    Once you step out and dare to express an opinion or a desire for justice in the Maldives publically, you face very painful lies and accusations against you, often from the people you love more than anything else in the world.

    You see, as Yosemite Sam said, the Maldives is a close knit society where politics becomes deeply personal. I mean, you make a simple criticism of an econmic policy or decision in the Maldives to a Maldivian, and many will interpret that as a direct and vicious attack on a family member involved!

    So, to speak politics, you face overwhelming and painful threats, you face accusations of a criminal nature, you face being terrorized by gangsters, religious extremists and the police, you face mental and physical torture.

    If you don't have the guts to risk losing your kids, your health, and to be tortured by gangsters, policemen and extremists, then you don't really have freedom of speech in the Maldives.

    Freedom comes at the price of the risk of having your whole life destroyed.

    If you keep to yourself, and stay right out of discussing religion or politics, you are sure to have a peaceful and happy life and be able to make sure your kids and wife are safe.

    I often think I should have shut my mouth (or kept my hand off this damn keyboard)...

    Unfortunately, any person who has half a heart cannot remain silent forever in the face of tyranny.

    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, (MLK) however, so in the end, whether you oppressors in the Maldives like the interference of 'Faranji's such as myself or not, it is going to happen if you keep oppressing your own ppl, because it will eventually amount to you attacking us Faranji's, and like your ppl are fighting back (like Mrs. Velezinee above for example), we too have the right to fight back!

  5. The problem with modern democracy is that it can only be achieved after a famine, a civil war, a couple of assassinations, a house arrest, an attempted coup, a natural disaster, few dictators, and an endless list of revolutions!

  6. @ Aishath Velazinee

    "What greater threat is there to a nation than a judiciary that is controlled by a few politicians?"

    A judiciary controlled by ONE politician!


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