This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.
On 19 September 2003 Evan Naseem, an inmate in Maafushi jail was brutally beaten and murdered by police, sparking off pro-democracy protests which ultimately led to the end of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s authoritarian regime.
Now, a decade later, the Supreme Court is expected to reach a verdict on whether or not to annul the votes cast in the presidential election held on September 7, the second democratic election ever to be held in the Maldives. A Supreme Court ruling that orders a revote would amount to a court order for an authoritarian reversal – there would be no second round on September 28, or on any other day in the near future.
Tragic as it is, this seems to be the most likely outcome of the hearings, for this road to the Supreme Court is where this election was always going to lead – it was planned this way. No matter what the election results were — if they put Mohamed Nasheed in the lead, the ultimate decision of who wins would be made by the judiciary, the most corrupt and dysfunctional of the three separated powers.
The judiciary is the biggest blunder of the Maldivian democracy. Nowhere near enough effort was made to free it from authoritarian clutches during the two and a half years of democratic governance.
First came the dismissal of Article 285 as ‘symbolic’, leaving all corrupt and unqualified judges on the bench in direct violation of the new Constitution; then the silent coup in the Supreme Court, followed by continuous violations of the Constitution and rule of law by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), none of which were dealt with adequately.
It was the corruption in the judiciary that contributed most to the events of February 7. The decision taken by the executive and the security forces to arrest the most subversive of judges – Abdulla Mohamed – was the weapon which authoritarians used most effectively to incite agitation and anger against Nasheed’s government, sustaining nightly protests until the police joined the street protesters and, together with those pulling their strings, presented Nasheed with the choice: resign or die.
Of course, the post-coup government took absolutely no action to reform the judiciary. To even expect them to do so would be the height of delusion. In the turbulent aftermath of the coup, former JSC member Aishath Velezinee who had attempted to thwart every one of JSC’s violations of the law, put it all together in book form; and several international experts brought out report after report with recommendations on how to reform the judiciary – to no avail. Most disappointingly, MDP, despite the bitter lessons of the past, took no concrete action either.
By July this year, judicial corruption had got to the stage where a judge could continue to sit on the Supreme Court bench despite being caught on camera having sex with three prostitutes in a Colombo hotel room. This man, Ali Hameed, will be one of seven men who will today decide whether or not our votes count.
That this is where it will all come to was becoming clear in the lead up to the election when Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) began making noises about going to the courts if there were discrepancies in the vote count.
While MDP and Mohamed Nasheed never stopped campaigning since the CoNI report in August 2012, which – with the blessing of the international community – legitimised the coup, PPM candidate Yameen hardly ever left the comfort of his own house to meet with the people whose votes he supposedly needed to be elected as president.
Ever since the election in which the Maldivian people resoundingly endorsed Mohamed Nasheed and said an equally loud ‘No’ to Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – the large façade that helped block from view the dirtiness of the coup – the entire country has been plunged into manufactured ‘uncertainty’ over the results.
First Gasim Ibrahim of Jumhooree Party went into hysterics, maintaining that he was the winner ‘if you minus the 90,000 votes’ that Nasheed received. Backing him are the same dark forces working in the name of religion that so cleverly contributed to the coup. Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Islamic MinisterShaheem Ali Saeed, Sheikh Ilyas Abdulla, and lately Salaf Jamiyya’s star preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem, have all come out to call for an uprising against ‘the Godless Nasheed’ in the name of Islam.
The idea is to provoke, provoke, and provoke MDP supporters and other democracy activists to come out on the streets in protest so that the security forces can crack down on them, creating an environment in which holding elections become ‘unsafe’. So far, the MDP has been able to keep calm and continue with their campaigning for the second round, deliberately ignoring the relentless smear campaign against Nasheed and the daily negative campaigning, even the ridiculous black magic and sorcery antics. But for how long?
In parallel with all this has been the forward march towards the courts. Gasim Ibrahim led it, but who is pushing him? In the beginning, it seemed to me almost certain that Gasim and Yameen were in on this together. They cooked up a plan to run for presidency so they can split the votes and then later form an ‘everyone but Nasheed’ coalition that would defeat him in the second round. But, information from a reliable source negated this theory. One individual who left Gasim’s JP shortly after the election to join the MDP relayed this story:
“Former military man Mohamed Fayaz [or F.A, as he is commonly known], one of the main coup-enablers who put his support behind Gasim, advised him to join Yameen following the election results. What else was there for Gasim to do?
Gasim responded with unbridled anger, swore at FA, and told him: ‘I would rather walk into the sea with my wives and children than join Yameen.’”
Gasim is absolutely convinced he should have won. It is clear from the speech he made on September 9 in which he kept talking of his belief that he should have got 70,000 votes, not 50,000. Many have pointed out that Gasim is looking at the election as a business transaction. He poured in enough money to buy 70,000 votes, so he expects to get them. Gasim is, after all, the biggest tycoon in town.
Helping Gasim remain committed to the delusion is running mate Dr Hassan Saeed, once Nasheed’s advisor, then Waheed’s. He respected neither. Shortly after the coup, he was secretly recorded describing Waheed as the weakest politician in the Maldives. Now he’s behind Gasim, advocating in court on his behalf to annul the first round of September 7, not because he believes in Gasim’s ability to be President, but because it will prevent Nasheed from returning to power – Hassan Saeed’s (and a fair few coup leaders’) reason for being.
Gayoom and Yameen, ever the political vultures, have swooped in on the carcass of Gasim’s dreams, seeing it as the opportunity they have been waiting for, if not working behind the scenes to create. They have brought out to advocate on their behalf one of their big guns – Attorney General Azima Shakoor, the woman of void ab initio fame who annulled the largest foreign investment agreement in the history of the Maldives with the stroke of a pen and absolutely zero respect for national or international law.
Without so much as asking the Elections Commission about the alleged discrepancies in the vote registry, she was busy all day Wednesday arguing against the institution. As is habitual for PPM and other coup-makers, she cited the Constitution to justify her presence – Article 133 allows the Attorney General to enter into any case if it involves the interests of the people and/or State.
Problem is, she is not advocating on behalf of the people or the state but for Gayoom, her master since childhood. PPM and JP are taking strength from each other. The courts (including the High Court) have asked for evidence of discrepancies to back their claims, which neither party have been able to provide so far. Yesterday Dr Saeed argued that such evidence is unnecessary; given that the Attorney General – the Attorney General! -has stated that there are discrepancies.
What evidence does the court need when it has the AG’s word? It matters not that she has been lying through her teeth, saying that the National Registration, too, has filed several complaints against the voter registry at the Elections Commission when the registry has done no such thing.
Elements of the police, most likely the very same ones that enabled the coup on February 7, are in on it, of course. As the court asks for evidence, they are busy manufacturing it. Operation Blue Wave – the ominous strategy of providing ‘special training’ to hundreds of policemen and women and stationing them across the country to prepare for ‘inevitable discrepancies’ – is now bearing fruit. Despite the confirmation from over a thousand domestic and foreign observers that it was a free and fair election with a bare minimum of errors and absolutely no room for vote stuffing, the police are finding fresh ‘rigging’ attempts on a daily basis.
Despite renewed appeals from both local and foreign actors to respect election results, circulating on the social media today is also a ‘leaked’, ‘secret’ report of eight pages that count thousands of instances of alleged vote fraud. What this forgery resembles most is the similarly constructed CoNI report of August 2012. But, of course, there will be many hundreds who will believe it. Just as there are thousands who still believe the CoNI report.
To spur on the radical elements within the security forces, leaders of the ‘Godless Nasheed’ anti-campaign, the ‘rent-a-sheikhs’, have been targeting the police and military in their hate-mongering. Not satisfied with mentioning them in every public lecture as custodians of Maldivian nationalism and Islam, Sheikh Adam Shameem addressed them in two special lectures intended especially for them yesterday and early this morning.
Shameem’s hate-filled public lecture – broadcast on state TV and repeated on the private channels owned by coup-makers – was frightening, arguing against democracy, especially multi-party democracy, as a Western evil imported to destroy Maldivian faith in Islam. If this is what he said publicly, one can only imagine what he told the security forces in their barracks.
What the plan seems to be right now is this: the Supreme Court is to rule today that there must be a revote, which means that there will be no second round on September 28, nor a President by November 11, as is stipulated in the Constitution. Already, Madam Void ab Initio has voided void itself, saying not having a president would not leave a power vacuum.
If this Plan B is implemented, it is inevitable that the electorate, 88 percent of whom turned out to vote on September 7, will feel dejected, disheartened, and angry. Chief among them will be the 95,000 people who voted for Nasheed and against the coup and the authoritarian reversal. They will pour out onto the streets, just like the thousands who did on the streets of Male’ on February 8. If this happens, the final phase of Plan B will be implemented: rogue elements within the security forces led by coup-makers will crackdown on them brutally, violently, and without conscience. And with their batons and their bullets, they will try to kill all hopes of restoring democracy in the Maldives in any foreseeable future.
But, as Mohamed Nasheed said earlier this week, it is unlikely that Maldivians will let democracy die, having fought so long and come this far.
“People might try to rig two or three elections. [They] might try to arrest some people. And there might even be three or four coup d’etats. But, overall, I don’t see this curve slumping too much.”
The fight in which most of the country joined in 10 years ago from today is set to continue, for as long as it takes.
Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in international relations
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