Comment: The politics of arrogance

There are so many things wrong with our democracy. A dysfunctional judiciary, stunted and already disintegrating party system, politicised and unprofessional media, polarized society, growing intolerance, xenophobia and the list goes on. But whatever the affliction is, the one underlying factor is always corruption. We know, corruption is an old song sung by all politicians everywhere. But this time around, we are not talking about the corruption of the old, the established and the already corrupt, but about the corruption of a fairly young generation of politicians who will possibly remain in Maldivian politics for another 30-40 years. We are talking about the corruption of a generation of politicians who could have been defined otherwise.

What went wrong?

The Maldives is celebrated as a model for peaceful transition to democracy. The opening up of the political system that began in 2003 led to free and fair elections fairly quickly. The old autocrat was not arrested and thrown into jail as happens in so many other countries, but instead given a hefty pension package and left to himself for the most part. Three branches of the state were made separate and independent, and the fourth estate was given its due freedom. What went wrong?

What went wrong is strikingly similar to what goes wrong in so many African democracies. The liberator who wrenches his people from the clutches of exploitative colonial powers is hailed in as the good leader, and then the people are forever stuck with him. And he is good, at least in the prologue. He must have believed in freedom, in people’s right to make their own destinies and to live a good life, to have fought so long and hard and put his neck on the line. For his bravery and courage, he is rewarded with legitimacy, people’s love and admiration. And he is handed the ultimate prize (via a free and fair election, of course)- the chance to become the president of the first real democracy in that country. But somewhere along the line, the leader miscalculates how far he can push his legitimacy and thinks himself above the law. In order to ‘save his people’, he convinces himself that he has to do whatever it takes, and sometimes the whatever part involves ugly nasty immoral things like corruption, bribery and appeasing big businesses at the cost of the public good.

Let’s not forget the party machinery that often ushers in these liberator-type leaders. What eventually ends up becoming a political party often starts out as a movement, a movement for freedom, liberation and democracy. The sole purpose of the movement-cum-political party is to free the people. And as such, upon independence or at the end of dictatorship, the party becomes a mere vehicle for the liberator-leader to ride in to take his rightful place as the head of the new democracy. Sadly, the party ceases to become anything more. Tangled in the politics of the day, the party fails to mature. It lacks a clearly articulated ideology, a set of values or anything for that matter that can define it independently of its liberation history. And just for the record, no, five key pledges does not amount to an ideology. People cannot be expected to analyse the party manifesto and derive the party’s philosophy on their own, if it exists at all. And no, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s personality does not amount to an ideology either.

What is so wrong now?

The problem is, not only does the party continue to be the liberator’s vehicle to remain in power but it begins to destroy all other parties around it, sometimes by guns and outright violence, but in our case with ‘secret’ deals that are not only accepted, but boasted about in political circles and laughed over at cocktail parties. “Hey, I paid Mrf 5 million and a BMW for that guy over there” wink. “Oh really, well I paid about Mrf 15 million for this guy right here. Prices keep rising by the day…we better buy up all available on the market before prices go through the roof! Hohoho!” And so, riding high on liberation victory, the leader and his party come to practice a vile sort of politics. A politics of “only we can be trusted with power” and “damn those slow and tedious democratic process.” In short, the politics of arrogance.

Of course, the liberator and his party machinery try to justify this politics of arrogance. They say that if they do not deliver and make good on their key pledges, then not only may they lose elections come 2013, but that, lo and behold, they will surely lose it to the old dictator or his brother! Not only that, if the MDP fails to deliver, ‘the people’ will cease to believe in the promise of democracy! And God forbid, we cannot let these things happen, not after all the blood and tears, not after trying so damn hard to go by that complicated and cumbersome constitution.

Therefore, in its mad frenzy to get everything done before the clock strikes 12 o’clock in 2013, the MDP government, instead of putting up a steady honest fight, is buying the entire game and in the process, relying less and less on democratic processes. We need not look beyond parliament for evidence. Let us be clear, the MDP is not outwardly undemocratic. Besides the occasional slip of the tongue, it sticks to its narrative of democratic governance at the podiums. But away from the cameras and the public’s eye, the party and most Maldivian politicians engage in what can be termed as real deal-making. And this real deal-making almost always subverts democratic processes. Surely, this has to be informal politics at its best.

And again, just for the record, given the blatant political prostitution in parliament, even if the government builds an apartment for every Maldivian (doesn’t matter if they can afford it), a hospital (too expensive to maintain) on every island, establishes a fast ferry between all islands and makes every youth drug-free (but perhaps jobless), that does not prove that democracy worked. It merely proves that the MDP party machinery and its tactics worked. And these are two very different claims that have far-reaching consequences.

Why is it wrong?

The bitter result of the politics of arrogance and the corruption and bribery it necessitates is that it is imbibing a new generation of politicians with the view that politics is ultimately about being in power. That without absolute power, you cannot get anything done. That power is the be-all and end-all of politics. In doing so, they have changed the narrative of the land from “what is good?” to “what is the lesser evil?” And that is a damn shame. For if there was a reason I voted, it was because I trusted my elected official to make wise decisions that would contribute to me living well, and at the same time contribute to the greater good of the society. And I also trusted that official to not always see the greater good in monetary terms. And I also trusted that official not to cast the building of a harbor, an airport or a housing project as incompatible with sticking to democratic processes.

So the story goes that, the politics of arrogance not only deprives a nation of honest and virtuous politicians, but also buries the common good and on its tomb, plants the seeds of political power and waters it with the greed and lust of an emerging generation of crass politicians who are morally stunted and politically shackled for years to come.

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32 thoughts on “Comment: The politics of arrogance”

  1. This is probably the best piece of analysis done on the post-Gayoom Maldivian political era! Era, excellent job!

  2. Good read. Our people are so blind, or may be they are made to be blind by these corrupt politicians to the extent that they see no evil on what ever action the party lines show. I wonder when would the country, the people, will wake up. It better be soon otherwise, the country's development will no doubt go downhill. The only thing that matters now for all is greed and the material stuff of 'what will I get'... don't know what is wrong.

  3. Era, you rock, babe! You rock!!! This is my best read in 10 years on anything about Maldives! This is a must read for all those of us who got blinded by the politicians we were following. This should be a must read for all those Anni worshippers and Gayoom worshippers alike!

  4. I see the very first 4 comments praising the writer. One only hopes that he/she accepts them with humility - but then there are few humans like that. Unquestioning praise often leads to arrogance and we see that all the time. But then again, praise should go to where is it due...

    As for the subject of arrogance in society, it must have a cause and reason too. I am pretty sure that God has not created Maldivains as a particularly arrogant bunch. Could explicit arrogance be the only reliable survival tactic that people trust.. May be nothings gets done without arrogance..

  5. well said, era! its very rare that we find intellectual reasoning against the freak 'philosophies' of the current government. dont get me wrong, not a supporter of the former despot either, but im just saying that people, especially the youth are so desperate to be 'in' that they actually fear rebuffing the crazy-a** political motives of MDP - even if its so blatantly obvious that they are dabbling in corruption, nepotism, cronyism, abuse of authority, tolerance of wrong-doings, spoils systems - essentially everything the former regime was infamous for. sure, the presidents is 'cool' - heck he jumps over puddles, dances to bodu beru and participates in relay races. but so would any other fool off the street who wakes up from a haze to find hes president - duh! what a train wreck! its time this country woke up and realized that we are heading in the same direction we fought so hard to stray away from. only we can make this government transparent, accountable and just. cause it just isnt, as it is!

  6. Excellent article, Era Ali, thanks for submitting this so we can all read & learn.

    It will be interesting to see if anyone will actually argue against what you have said, in this comments section. So many articles descend into an arguing match, and I would really like to hear what the other side has to say to this ...

    I am already looking forward to reading your next submission!

  7. Interesting...

    Maldivians with the benefit of hindsight due to their advanced age knew to some extent that what we see now would be the end result.

    What we had was not really a democratic movement but a movement comprised of a dissatisfied and ambitious political business class.

    The "corruption" of the youth population came about due to the poor education system and inability of past and current governments to establish any form of meritocracy in the public sector (which incidentally is the biggest employer).

    The youth are vulnerable in this respect to politicizing factors. Career politicians as youth heroes have now been paraded in front of the growing youth population. We might see a "gold rush" of youth vying to emulate their new role models.

    However, all things come to an equilibrium in due time as resources are always less than the collective ambitions of a population. The inherent structural weaknesses planted by our failings in generation X will cause them to implode from within.

  8. Your articles about Maldivian politics are ill informed.
    You are finding misdeeds of parliamentarians and politicians. Agreed that Maldivian politicians are no good and corrupted to extremes. Do you know why? The average Maldivians are illiterates who do not understand what is good and bad ideologies for this reason 95 % our kind sell their vote just for 500 MRF.
    Tell me how a democracy can flourish in country as ours!

  9. talk about the gross crimes and decaying social fabric, the country is a social dump

  10. looking for the words Israel, Zionism, Adhaalath, 'harvesting organs', 'eye of zion' part...

    unfortunately this essay doesn't seem to contain these words..


  11. Hassan Ahmed,
    Its not the problem with education. Ok the average Maldivian would sell his vote for RF500. And the most highly educated and intellecual elite like Dr. Ahmed "Janaza" Shaheed would sell their souls for a little more. How do you explain this? Its got absolutely nothing to do with education.

  12. WPS Raja, there are many different types of education, the formal education you get at school, college and the university and the moral and ethical education your parents,teachers and society instill on you. Dr. Shaheed may have a doctorate from a reknown university that does not mean he is educated in the moral and ethical field. So what is lacking in our society is this second type of education. Both Shaheed and the typical Maldivian is deprived of this second type of education which brings civility to a society.

  13. Wonderful article... hope we will get to read more of the author's writing in the future... 🙂

    thank you for the analysis...

  14. @ W.P.S Raja Gopalan

    What has happened is a bunch of grown-up idiots, whose childhood was deprived of any luxuries of the affluent, has suddenly found access to an almost unlimited amount of wealth. In addition, they are also blessed with a real country with which they think they can play the way rich kids play with the latest models of toys.

    They have the money and the power. But they are still idiots -- a fact that proves extremely dangerous for the nation.

    To make matters worse for the nation and its people, international hawks, who has been relentlessly eyeing with greed on the potential Maldives has, this has become an opportunity almost too good to be true. And they are taking full advantage of it.

    By the time this government even realises what is happenning, it will be too late. We, Maldivians need to wake up and see whats going on before we cast our votes next time.

    We were misled into believing that change will make things better when in fact, it has worsened the situation not only for now, but for some time in the future as well. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel depressed. I also feel helpless.

  15. There is an easy and sure solution to political prostitution in Maldives – amend the political parties act to demand that an MP who changes a party in between his/her term must see re-election under the new party. Such a provision has worked in some countries and has ensured that MPs tow their parties’ lines. Believe me, no MP would blindly shift parties and face re-election. Only the principled and popular MPs would manage such. Maldivians should demand an amendment to the political parties act so that some semblance of discipline can be seen. As it is, the current arrangement leaves a massive chasm for corruption and under-dealing to thrive. Make it costly to shift parties – even if one were bought, they’d think twice about facing the electorate when not sure if they will win.

  16. @ yaamyn

    "Adhaalath party is responsible for the widespread corruption in our society."

    Aa-ha, Yaamyn.
    Don't tell me you are also John sometimes. lol 🙂

  17. @ yaamyn

    “Adhaalath party is responsible for the widespread corruption in our society.”

    Umm, yaamyn, you forgot to change your pseudonym this time. Looks like you typed the above comment in a hurry. You normally reserve such comments for your pseudonym John. Don't you?

  18. I dont believe that the experience of African democracies is the fate of Maldives, nor that it is entirely relevant besides an example of a transitional experience.

    I fully agree with the author that i voted for the same reasons. However, i also voted with the the belief that things will get very bad before they get better. In fact, i expected worse than the current situation of our country and economy. I am able to hope for better times because of this, I do have hope.

    What i dont see you address is the underlying, real issue: perhaps because it is so obvious. Why would a nation allow a dictator to stay for thirty years? Why would people tolerate corruption and not cry out? Why would people tolerate the unspeakable acts, and slights of of hand done in plain sight by persons selected and paid by ourselves?

    It is not a fault of Maumoon abdul Gayoom that he was allowed all the time he had, though we curse him. It the people who have yet to grasp democracy and awareness ( and true self awareness). I am forced to believe that time is essential in this matter, as well as chance, though the government should have done a better job making people aware. For this reason, i am willing to give this government a chance, with support, till their term is over.

    I feel that your article was a well written descriptive piece, a lament to our times.

  19. mugabe, gaddafi, castro, mubarak, idi ameen, mobuto, marcos, saddam. these are all heroes turned dictators. you can find many others in history of the world. but up until today, there are still peoples who just havent learned this lesson; power corrupts, and ultimate power corrupts ultimately. otherwise sri lankans would stop their war hero rajapakse or maldivians will stop their freedom hero nasheed.

  20. Just for general information - the person who has been commenting on this thread (as well as some others) as 'yaamyn' is not me (Me, being the blogger)

    Due to the lack of any identity verification process on Minivan News, I cannot help this.

    As for the two who responded above, it's quite possible. John, 'yaamyn', it seems anybody can respond in any name.

    As a blogger who's been quite open about his non-mainstream views, I cannot imagine any reason why I should have to recourse to posting anonymous content on Minivan News.

    If I have something to say, I'll say it in my name as always.

  21. "Therefore, in its mad frenzy to get everything done before the clock strikes 12 o’clock in 2013, the MDP government, instead of putting up a steady honest fight, is buying the entire game and in the process, relying less and less on democratic processes."

    The mad frenzy would have been unnecessary if the tyrannical parliament would have acted as an honest branch of the political system. When every ounce of their energy goes to "sarukaaru zimmadharukurn" -translation topple the govt, MDP did feel obliged to play the game. If MDP wanted all power to themselves as some commenters proclaim, Yaamin et al, would never have been able to gain a seat much less stand for election as an MP.

    Give the govt a responsible opposition which plays by the same lofty rules you people lay for the govt, honesty can't be had from one side alone.

    When the average voter has the attention span and the critical thinking ability of a fruit fly; honesty will go unrewarded. I almost wish the President buys 400 cars, just to remind people where we are coming from. your selective memories go back dozens of years but somehow exclude recent history when it is unsuitable for your narrative.

    We are obligated to allow consolidation of power today because there is no viable opposition. I say no viable opposition because I just saw Zeday on TV beating his own drum, he is proud of his election victories of 90%, 91% etc and mocked President Nasheed on his paltry 54% achievement. To say that he is the opposition is an affront to our intelligence.

    We have today the closest thing to a just government in history. No government began by voluntarily including the opposition and allowing dissent as we see today.

    MDP does have hero worshipers who follow the party line no matter what, but they do have people who would never support the government today, if not for Zeday and gang of murderous kleptocrats impatiently waiting in the sidelines for their next opportunity.

  22. dear peasant. why do i have a feeling you are not a peasant but someone born with a silver spoon in mouth. someone who doesnt understand the pains of ordinary people living in the baazaars of the Maldives. your comment seems to single out the blame on the old dictator and the weakened political party he is trying to promote as a viable opposition in the maldives. whatever the comic actions are committed in the parliament by the comedian MPs from DRP, is it a justification to buy MPs and take them to your side? you say you are left with no option but to consolidate power. may i ask why you are consolidating power. is it for democracy and good governance? or is it for the consolidation of power for another elite group of people who will rule the maldives like the old dictator did? didn't the people of maldives vote against the dictator because they wanted an honest and transparent government? under the old dictator MPs were given plots of land, good jobs and other benefits because they would nominate the dictator term after term for the presidency. aren't we seeing just the same thing happening again when the government in power buys MPs to consolidate power? we have seen the current president try to assimilate small political parties into his own. dr waheed was approached several times to join MDP. ibra has finally left his weak party and joined the MDP. there will ultimately no strong opposition in the maldives. finally it will be MDP, their puppets in the tourism industry and all the elite who joins in the game of corruption.

  23. @KRP on Mon, 13th Jun 2011 11:58 AM

    You have highlighted in your relatively short comment what the author failed to mention. Thank you.

  24. Dear Aminath Shamla,

    I will admit I have a better life today than those living in the "bazaars". However there was no silver spoon for me. I chose my moniker because I have a lot in common with the bazaar folk. I grew up a peasant. When 80% of your family income goes to a landlord, that is what you essentially are - a peasant.

    This is the elephant in the room not discussed in politics or during fiery protests. As long as peasants like you do not consider your actions, and make good use of the powers you have, you will remain peasants for a long long time.

    "old dictator and the weakened political party he is trying to promote as a viable opposition in the maldives"

    If the above is what you truly believe, then my time in explaining my political views to you any further would just be a waste. You seem to have arrived at your conclusion, by all means don't allow pesky things like fact or rationality stop you from jumping right in.

  25. True to the point..this has been my argument as well..the current MDO government is very corrupt but its good at selling its dreams to the simple folks...Did you people notice middle aged women wearing yellow burgas smiling in MDP rallies, its just amazing......They dont know anything, they don't know how corrupt this government is and how this government plans to stay in power for another 500 years..buying politicians..huge contracts for the yellow folks...

    MDP and Anni is the biggest despot.

  26. Sorry, I don't see an analysis here at all.

    The writer can write in English very well. However he/she has a very poor understanding of the historical and cultural context of the country in relation to the politics of the country.

    The defects doesn't necessarily defect because some one bribed them. The MPs are accountable to their constituent. And people have high expectations at a time like this. There would be a lot of pressure on the MP if we keep on seeing what we see everyday on the Majilis floor. Besides, no one who aspires a career will stay in a party like DRP where it revolves around its symbolic leader.

    In short, you politics of arrogance applies better on the Opposition or the Adalaath Party.

  27. @ yaamyn

    "... the person who has been commenting on this thread (as well as some others) as ‘yaamyn’ is not me (Me, being the blogger)"

    In that case, why did you respond at all to my comment above in which I implied that you are also John?
    How did you know that I was asking you?

  28. Rocket,

    I didn't. Hence, "For general information -"

    I've seen this going on for quite sometime. This is, I think, my second attempt at issuing a clarification.

    Anonymous comments attract trolls - and apparently, some of them like to comment in my name for reasons beyond my understanding.

    I strongly recommend Minivan News move towards a modern commenting system like Disqus that allows anonymous comments, while also having the capability to verify users.

  29. I am sad to read that those who bribe politicians are proud of it, if it is done out of even SEEMING necessity, it should be a source of shame not pride.

    I mean, after having read Saul Alinsky, the left wing realists on the ethical dilemma's involved in promoting social justice (in a chapter about means an ends) I can kind of remain non-judgemental about bribing. I don't like it, but, if faced with the same desparate situation, would it be more JUST or humane to achieve nothing, yes I would feel all self righteouss whilst the poor people are wounded because I would not be corrupt, no siry! What self righteouss, selfishness.

    When morality amounts to only a feel good feeling of self righteoussness, it may seem like honesty, or morality, but it is ultimately SELFISHNESS! True morality is that which serves the welfare of others, not ourselves. Locked up in a golden, moral idealistic cage, we would be loveless, selfless and impotent!

    Alinsky pointed out in great depths, the lies that had to be told for slavery to be abolished for example, for justice to be promoted, so reading him, I have to say that, whilst I HATE bribery and corruption, I don't dare JUDGE it because, if I was in that situation, what would I do?

    But, BRAGGING about it, with pride? Pride because you could BUY someone? REALLY!!! I can't stomach that, THAT makes me sick.

    The only appropriate emotional response should be, shame that one is forced to do evil so that good may avail, it should be a grave thing...


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