Comment: Reactive and obstructive politics threaten democracy in the Maldives

The International Day of Democracy (September 15) is a good day on which to take stock of democracy in the Maldives, a country that is well into its democratic awakening.

This is an opportunity to look at the successes achieved and the challenges that lie ahead – to look at the progress of democracy, with all of its opportunities and difficulties.

You can see the progress made as a nation in the rapid advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A great deal of faith has been placed in democratic governance as a system, and in its transformative power for the country as a whole.

The space for free expression has been unlocked and is vibrant, with the role of the media growing. Two successful elections have been conducted, and the level of engagement by the people in the country’s development is increasing.

The forthcoming local elections offer another opportunity to show how democracy, development and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

However, transition and change is always a painful process and there is still much to be done. Tensions have run high in recent months between the Executive, Majlis and Judiciary, the three pillars of democratic government. We still find ourselves in a political crisis that has made it very difficult to make progress on issues of pressing importance to the nation.

This has created a logjam of desperately needed legislation, including bills necessary for the functioning of the Maldives’ economy and government. The judiciary, institutions and independent commissions have sometimes come under remarkable pressure. There is a great need to build their institutional capacity to help them function as strong democratic institutions.

Why does the political crisis matter to ordinary Maldivians, who may just reduce their support and involvement in democracy for a while?

The best answer to this comes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says “setbacks in democratic advancement are setbacks for development. Development is far more likely to take hold if people are given a genuine say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.”

This view suggests that the progress of democracy, and the resolution of the political crisis, is in the best interest of every man, woman and child in the Maldives.

With the parties frequently at an impasse, the challenges can seem too great to overcome. But I do believe that solutions are readily available to the parties, should they commit themselves to working towards them.

Dialogue and cooperation on areas of common interest (and there are many of these) are the only ways to deal with the challenges facing the country. I hope that the governing and opposition coalitions can recommit themselves to political dialogue after the September recess is over, so as to find political solutions that allow government to function as it needs to; and ensure cooperation where it is needed within the Majlis, and between the Majlis and the Executive.

This does not mean that there has to be agreement on everything – democracy is about managing disagreement in a productive way. But I do believe there are high expectations for government and opposition to work together on finding solutions to problems that affect the country.

The United Nations has been supporting the parties in the last few weeks to try to find these solutions. The UN is committed to continuing to help Maldivians to safeguard and advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country. But it has always been clear that these are Maldivian talks, on Maldivian problems, and we believe that a locally owned process offers the best way forward, with support from the international community when it is needed.

Maldivians and the parties that represent them face a decision point now. With the Maldives being one of the most promising young democracies in the region, there is undoubtedly a strong national commitment to democracy.

But should the political crisis continue as it is, many democratic gains could be lost. The choice therefore is to find a way forward and resolve political differences through dialogue and compromise to the greatest extent possible; or to continue reactive and obstructive politics that threaten the democratic project and prevent progress, even on issues where the parties might agree on normally.

It is my sincere wish that dialogue is chosen, trust is slowly but surely built, and Maldives continues to take the path towards a united, just and democratic nation.

Andrew Cox is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives

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23 thoughts on “Comment: Reactive and obstructive politics threaten democracy in the Maldives”

  1. My dear friend take a second look at Maldives and tell me what you see is democracy. If you can slander and defame others without punishment, is this freedom of expression, if murderers can roam free in the street, is this advancement in human rights, When parliament enact laws and send them to the president to get it ratified who just pockets them and says there is no time frame for him to so, what do you call this, is this an ingredient of democracy. When parliamentarians cross the floor for Mercedes is this how politicians functions in democracies. When the elected President of the Country declares publicly that he will do things if his party members requests but would show is evil side if opposition tries to get something, is this what you call democracy. I can go on and on. But I tell you Mr. Cox there is no democracy in the Maldives, there never was and I do not think there ever will be. You do not know Maldivians as I do as I am a Maldivian who has lived through the last forty five years and am full aware of the happenings in the country. Nothing has changed in this country, to be honest it has gone from bad to worse. There is systematic degradation of institutions, the judiciary is being ridiculed, values have been eroded, and morals have been lost. This is a society that is going to destroy itself very soon and is moving towards that destruction at an alarming speed. So Mr. Cox take a second deep look into the real Maldives and tell me what I have stated is correct or wrong.

  2. with due respect sir, as an ordinary maldivian this democracy is meaningless since we are under an economic dictatorship where the poor keeps on getting even poorer and the economy is controled by five or six individuals who happens to be leading the parties and majlis vote. unfortunatly the public keeps electing these rich tycoos so that they they will be able to protect their interest (tourism bills) at the expense of public good. so please stop this democracy talk and helps us free from this dictatorship. many thanks

  3. I see the typical Maldivian style response, not critical or respectable nor analytical either. Though Maldivians know better about Maldives or their ppl it doesn't meant that others don't understand these differences however being a Maldivian no matter how old or young we are we don't understand or have experienced democracy and equity in terms of wealth or social. Democracy in other parts or world have evolved and flourished for many years and what we see today is nothing new except that others have gone through a decade or so before. Maldives cannot be isolated from the rest of the world like before, to eat fish and coconut and relax on the beach though it maybe more carefree and less responsibilities to deal with. Thus it is not only globalization that changes the world, more integration and interdependencies is inevitable. Therefore it would be very wise not to waste energy like a child being stubborn for not getting what they want immediately... Thus our experience, culture and wise thinking can be used in a better and constructive manner for a better future ....

  4. I agree with your overall point, the importance of dialogue and compromise between the government and the opposition coalitions. But how do we bring about this?

    I have always thought it is the civil society, the NGOs, the media (including internet), the youth groups, students, and a rekindling of public sphere that must pressure the government, the parliament and politicians into good action.

    The UN, friendly countries, the international community can make more investments into building civil society in the country: provide cash, training, joint programmes, etc. What's given now is not just enough.

    Who has seen any sensible article coming from the media or an NGO on the benefits or disadvantages of the tourism tax bill, for instance?

    The poorly educated wealthy businessmen in the Majlis will have their way, the crooked politicians will also have their way without a critical civil society.

    Besides, democracy's nervous system is the civil society.

  5. Democracy has many hues. No specific color. Depending on who it is, the destination color varies.

    We need to assess what democracy we want. Like the US? UK? other EU? or god-forbid, the Saudi???


    Do we want to garotte the human rights clauses, as stated in the UN, as we see fit and dance about 'Oh we have a democracy....democracy...'

    Please dont talk about democracy, before you have a close look at our constitution. There are clauses that can expressly be stated as non-democratic.

  6. Aussie or Botany Bay or whatever, Just because others have had similar experiences does not mean Maldives have to go through them. If our leaders are wise enough they can adopt policies that can avoid such situations. They are not in itself inevitabilities. The most common excuse you guys say is what we are going through is just teething problems experienced by new democracies. That is not true. That is the excuse used by dictators and their benefactors to hide their dirty acts and hidden agenda. Just because you are an Aussie does not mean you are more wise or brainy or civilised, If you look into your ancestry it is not a surprise that you will support the current system of government in the Maldives. You have criminal genes in yourself. We are presently ruled by a president who himself is a thief a common criminal like those the British sent off to Australia. Just do not go on and talk about globalization, marginalisation, privatisation or civilazation and boast about your liberal thinking on religion, same sex marriages, gay bars, prostitution, legalisation of drugs or whatever others you fancy. Spread them in your country and enjoy. Now you have heard what a stubborn person can say when he or she gets pissed off but thing is they are true and it hurts.

  7. Dear Mr Cox
    I acknowledge the above article and appreciate your advocacy. At the same time
    may I ask you to review,revise and define criteria and evaluation scheme of your public bids to be transparent and democratic to avoid corruption of your staff and government institutions that you support with funds, hand the projects to their friends. Please do not compromise and it discredits your work when issues like this comes out of your agency

  8. well well people can be very smart and dumb at times. Think we know everything even it is clear that is not the case. Attacking others easy rather correcting own mistakes or understanding the truth, but it is the action of ignorance and the smart ones always think they know all but wise man always says the more I know the more I don't Know and wise man is wise cause he knows he doesn't know everything. "You can only be young once. But you can always be immature." —Dave Barry

  9. Maldives is suffering from the growing pains of ALL third world countries. An alarming rate of population growth combined with precious few resources to support them.

    Over the last 20 years, the population has increased at a reckless pace whilst economic progress has barely touched most of the populace. The gap between the rich and poor have grown ever more. The social problems we face today are spilling into every sphere of life.

  10. What is this "democracy" he speaks of? I've got petty quarrels that require my attention!

  11. Consolidating democracy in Maldives was never going to be easy. It is, however, necessarry. As expressed here by others the role of Civil Society is extremely important for this process. We need to move foward, urgently.

  12. I agree with Maldiva.

    Mr Cox should put his own house in order first before he goes around trying to pull "peace talks".

    The only work that the UN office in Male' seems to do now is tender work and make contracts with companies, civil society and individuals to carryout various types of work such as publishing directories, making video clips, conducting useless studies that do not seem to serve a purpose. etc.

    And at the moment, I certainly don't see any transparency in the way the UN recruit its own staff as well as select the successful bidder.

    I would like to know exactly what method Mr Cox employs to ensure that UN office is free of corruption and also nepotism.

  13. I as an ordinary Maldivian appreciate Mr.Cox's article. I believe we have made huge progress in our democratic system. As Cox said much needs to be done still.
    It will need a unified effort from all those involved including our friends abroad. We will succeed since I can't imagine any other path for Maldives except democracy. We are already enjoying the benefits of the new system.

  14. Democracy should not come only those in power. There is a big role for the people as well in making those in power accountable. If disagreements prevent smooth functioning of the state the people should demand that parties bring forward the interest of the people and sit down to resolve issues. Everyone should and can be made accountable, but what we see here is general apathy.

    By the way, to the disgruntled losing bidders in this thread, ever though maybe you are not getting work because there are others better than you?

  15. Dear Mr Cox
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write to you on this issue.
    I have to say Mr Cox practice what you preach. Check what is happening in your own office and keep your eyes open on how your staff are selecting people for various positions. Believing that UNDP is having a equal opportunity approach I have applied for a job which later I realized was given to a person less experience, less qualified and who happened to be a relative or friend of the selection team. Realizing this through friends I am wondering how UNDP define equal opportunity approach and how they can say at the end of each mail that all selection is on merit. Can UNDP be so hypocritical?
    Mr Cox, giving the benefit of the doubt to you and blaming the local support staff under you I request you to investigate and find out what is happening in UNDP regarding these things. And do please explain the methods UNDP apply in selecting staff for various positions. Be more transparent and follow the ethics and keep up to what you say and write

  16. Dear Mr. Cox, Thanks for your concern for the democracy in the Maldives. This is your duty too. I am surprised that you are not aware of executive not abiding by laws he himself ratifies, but you are aware of "logjam of desperately needed legislation, including bills necessary for the functioning of the Maldives’ economy and government. The judiciary, institutions and independent commissions have sometimes come under remarkable pressure. There is a great need to build their institutional capacity to help them function as strong democratic institutions."
    What is the use legislations when they are been abandoned by the executive? whats the use of strengthening judiciary when its ruling are not been implemented? whats the use of democracy when ordinary citizen's are been assured by the president that he will only to his party members and will attend to requests of his party members, is this the democracy UN-Maldives promoting?
    True, two major elections have taken place, the other is on the horizon,is it democracy, during election rallies, when the president says that he will directly and indirectly influence the polling, is this the democracy? certainly this what we the maldivians wanted to avoid? Like Ibrahin Kalo, i can go on and on but whats the use, we just have underway what other countries have undergone centuries.It looks like this your advice to Maldivians. BUT what many of you seems not to understand is weakness of our economic strength.We believe only Allah can help us.

  17. Talking of Democracy...when Police starts raping woman and 1st Dig murderers on the loose n ruling the streets forget about it.

  18. I am one of the bidders for a project of UNDP recently - th one on Youth Facility Mapping. I did not get shortlisted. There was no evaluation criteria and upon inquiry they sent me a table which they said was used to shortlist candidates. It was not clear how they marked the bidders. I do feel the bidders have a right to know exactly how they scored and UNDP is not willing to reveal it. I want to know how the bids were processed since bidders were asked to give a work plan, propose a budget etc and all the elements of a usual proposal was there.

    There is much misgiving on the UNDP procedures. I can say that the issues with UNDP's evaluation process discourages people from coming forward. Recently the first bid for consultancy for capacity development assessment of Councilors and Administrators attracted not one single bidder in the first round and in the second round there is suddenly over 60 applications. So let us believe it....

    I also feel there is a need for transparency and clear directions within UNDP.

  19. @Ibrahim Kalo: I do not know who this 'Aussie" is but I am also an 'Aussie' and must say that I seriously doubt Aussie was offended by your reference to our convict ancestry. I find it an interesting study in cross-cultural relations to observe that many think Australians can be offended through reference to our convict ancestry...What may be deemed as something to be ashmaed of in one culture is not considered something to be ashamed of in another culture. Whilst a Maldivian may find being accused of being a convict offensive, most Australians of Ango-Celtic-Saxon descent wish they could prove convict connections, it is a source of pride.

    In fact, most Australians would not even understand how that is suppose to be offensive, because our cultural thinking is very different.

    Australian working classes have had more dignity and rights, more power than almost any working class from the rest of the world. Values of resistance and courage are esteemed over values of subservience and obedience amongst our working classes. Most Maldiviand find it odd that the working classes are proud to be workers, as in your nation the workers are generally oppressed Bangladeshi's who are really looked down on.

    The courage of the working classes to stand up for rights has historically drawn strength from knowledge of the suffering of the convicts, who are viewed through the lens of history as being not criminals, but heroes of resistance and courage. The crimes of most of them is minute, they stole a sheep or a chicken or a loaf of bread to feed their families due to their impoverished condition as victims of the industrial revolution. Their 'theft' is interpreted as courage, as standing up to an exploitative, unjust law which says do not steal, but then gives the rich the right to steal from the poor through exploitative labour practices.

    Also, most working classes reject the Queen and the Union Jack. They have their own flag (as used by the builders union) which is the flag of the eureka stockade.

    I could go on. But here is the essential point. In Australia, though we are far from perfect, the innate dignity of the working classes has been suffered for, whilst in Maldives, the working classes (resort workers union etc...) has a hell of a long way to go.

    As a working class Australian myself, on that not, I extend my full heart and solidarity with the Maldivian Resort Worker's Union and to the labourers...

  20. I am sorry that my comment had zilch to do with the article and was only a response to Ibrahim Kalo's comment. So, to draw a relation. I will try to give it some relevance.

    My comment, as well as Ibrahim Kalo's comment were "reactionary" and therefore had no hope of achieving a solution to the problem at hand, that problem - getting constructive feed back about how to deal with disgareement in a mutually beneficial manner rather than REACT...

    It is so easy to do, to get sidetracked from solving the real issues by reacting!

  21. @Ibrahim Kalo
    If you want to criticize us Australians with something which deserves criticism, if you want to react, well, accuse us of racism, we deserve that.

    Many Australians are racist. Also, many Australians are very prejudice towards Islam. Now for that, I am deeply ashamed. We have a shocking record against Indigenous Australians, our rights for our workers struggle has never included them. Our indigenous (Australian Aboriginal) folk had been exploited and raped to the bone. These things are things all Australians need to be sorry for. We need to make 'Tauba" (repentance) and I myself have done that as an individual and have worked hard to help Indigenous people and to help Muslim refugees, but the general community is very racist and for that, I am deeply ashamed to be called an Australian....

    Although I am deeply Australian, my country's soul runs through my blood, I have been accused of being a traitor because I reverted to Islam.

    One thing which really comes through when one studies the life of the prophet Mohammed (SAW) is that the Prophet was very much a victim of racism as were the early Muslims who were despised by many Jews as the 'illiterate...' to feel the pain of being rejected, humiliated, scorned because of race is to be united to the Divinely Inspired suffering's and struggles of the Rasul and the Suhaba. Certainly, when I am with my wife (who is Maldivian) and when she is victimised because she is dark, I share that pain, and it makes me understand Islam a lot deeper.
    Oh, sorry off topic again, won't happen again, but I had to clarify that for Ibrahim Kalo.


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