From “Anni” to “H.E.P”

“You know, they said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said that this country was too divided; too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.”

So spoke Barack Obama on the night that he won the Iowa caucuses. It was the night that he proved he could win the presidency by claiming victory in a largely white state.

These are words that could have easily been spoken by Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) when he won last year’s presidential election.

People try to put us down

When Anni and other reformists first launched the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) many did not believe that it had a chance of succeeding. After all, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government was all-powerful and exercised a huge degree of control over society.

Anni himself was seen as a figure who did not “look” like a president and thus would be unable to mobilize support in a country which was still deemed too conservative. This partly explains why MDP opted to go for a dual leadership structure, with a party president and a chairman. Ibrahim Ismail and Mohamed Munavvar both served as party president but did not manage to make much headway.

Anni and MDP were seen as too divisive. This led to all opposition forces trying to unite behind one candidate, with both Hassan Saeed and Gasim Ibrahim vying for that spot. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, speaking on behalf of Saeed tried to convince Anni to stand aside by asking whether Maldivians were more likely to vote for “foreigners” like the two of them, or for a “mullah” like Saeed.

Despite all this, against the odds, Anni managed to cobble together a victory in the presidential election. Many people familiar with the political spectrum would not have believed that it was possible. The election was, in many ways, a fairy tale. Or, as GQ magazine described it, a “momentous victory of belief against chaos.”

Talking ‘bout my generation

Since assuming power President Nasheed has further confounded critics by fitting into the role in a refreshing way. He has scaled back on the pomp and ceremony that Gayoom enjoyed. He fits in comfortably with the new, younger generation.

People now accept that the presidency is defined more by the strength of the occupant’s character than by gaudy displays of wealth and power. Nasheed walks to work everyday and is in the habit of making appearances at places like Al Fresco and the local market. “It’s better for the environment and I can stop and chat to people on the way,” explained Nasheed.

By all accounts, Nasheed takes a very business-like approach to government and gets deeply involved in policy issues. This has come as a bit of a surprise to opponents who subscribed to the school of thought that activism and intelligence could not coexist in one person.

The president’s hands-on approach was evident this Friday on DhiFM’s “One to One” show. It was the first time that a sitting president took questions from the public in a live radio show. Nasheed displayed a firm grasp of the issues as he engaged in a lively discussion with the programme’s host and those that phoned in.

Nasheed has managed to balance competing interests, keep the government in one piece, deliver on a few manifesto pledges; and all this while averting an economic collapse despite the empty treasury he inherited.

“It is one of life’s ironies that it falls upon this government led by a party, as has been criticized, accused of being activists with little experience of governing, to put the house back in order,” the president declared to a meeting of donors.

With twenty percent of his term up, the accusation that Nasheed is somehow not “qualified” no longer holds up. That his bachelor’s degree in maritime studies is the least mentioned line in his biography is unsurprising. After all, it seems to have had the least effect on his political career. Solitary confinement, exile, journalism, the study of Maldivian history, and the experience of starting a movement and managing a political party are what really inform his decisions.

Domestic bliss

And what has been achieved in one year? Better governance: corruption has been curbed and there is greater transparency. The influence of gangs, which are believed to have been in an unholy alliance with the former regime, has diminished.

An independent Anti-Corruption Commission and empowered customs and police services have seen the rule of law strengthened. The fact that more drugs have been seized during the last year than in the preceding five is testament to the work of these institutions.

The country is also closer to seeing real social justice. The old welfare system which was controlled by the presidential palace and saw much of the benefits go to family and cronies has been abolished. A new social protection programme provides a pension of Rf2,000 to all those over 65 years of age.

In what is a significant step for the government’s affordable healthcare pledge, about half the adult population of the country has been signed up for the Madhana insurance scheme. While utility tariffs are being raised in order to help plug the deficit, targeted subsidies are ensuring that the poor do not slip through the net.

Steps have also been taken to foster a climate for economic development. A responsible economic framework has been established with the assistance of the IMF. This involved tough political decisions which the former regime avoided taking. Rather than financing development projects through the budget, they are to be implemented through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

An early success story can already be seen. Transport networks, one of the MDP’s key pledges, have been established in two provinces and have brought markets and services closer to the local communities.

International affairs

President Nasheed’s star has really shone on the international stage. Seeing their foe being elevated to the role of global statesman has been a particular source of ire for his critics.

Since taking office, Nasheed has forged close links with democratic India, spent a night at Windsor Castle with Queen Elizabeth II, gave an impassioned plea for action against climate change at the United Nations General Assembly, addressed the Annual Conference of the British Conservative Party, grabbed the world’s headlines with an underwater cabinet meeting, scooped up the Anna Lindh Memorial Prize for Human Rights and Climate Change, been named Time magazine’s leading Hero of the Environment, and negotiated a $92 million dollar fiscal adjustment programme from the IMF.

Yet, all this pales in comparison to the Maldives’ role at the COP15 summit held in Copenhagen. With the talks on the brink of collapse, Nasheed and the Maldives delegation acted as a bridge between the developing and developed countries as they sought to come up with a compromise that would allow the process to carry on at the next COP summit to be held in Cancun, Mexico.

The leaders of the industrialized nations recognized that the support of the Maldives was essential if such an agreement was to be brokered and decided to invite Nasheed to the small group of 28 countries known as the “circle of commitment”.

What transpired in that room has since been leaked in The Guardian; that it was China and it’s proxies in the G77- led by its chief negotiator Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping of Sudan (incidentally, one of the most brutal countries on earth) that wrecked the chances for a stronger agreement is now well known.

So what benefits have the president’s performance at COP15 brought to the Maldives? For a start, cash for adaptation measures: $30 billion in short term aid from the developed countries spread out over the next three years. It gets better in the long term with a commitment to raise the figure to $100 billion by 2020. The Maldives will get a large share as it is a vulnerable, small island state.

However, the diplomatic achievement is much more valuable. Nasheed has now guaranteed his place as one of the key global figures on climate change with access to all the world leaders that matter. His voice will be an important one in the fight against climate change in the months and years to come.

Great Expectations

This assessment began with a parallel to the 44th American president, and it ends on a similar note. In many ways, the situation this country’s 4th president finds himself in is not much different: universally adored abroad, met with a sceptical and divided country at home.

Both face bitter political enemies who question their legitimacy and are bent on disrupting their agendas. They face demanding coalition partners with whom they are forced to compromise with. And to top it off, the weight of expectation from the people who voted for them has been immense.

This balancing act is not a situation either of them would have wished for; but their actions show that it is a reality that they are comfortable with.

Playing with the hand you are dealt whilst not losing sight of the long-term objective is what this is all about. And it is in this sense that Anni and His Excellency the President have proved to be not so different after all.


30 thoughts on “From “Anni” to “H.E.P””

  1. Happy New Year

    I have just read your analaysis of President Nasheed's first year of office. One thing you did not mention is the lack of progress in freedom of expression and practice for Maldivians who do wish to change their religion from Islam and stil play an important role in Maldivian society. Any comments?

  2. Well, anni is cunning. A true politician, he "used" both buruma and hassan, enticed them with what they were really after and then kicked them out at the most opportune moment, like a true politician. The only reason adhaalath has not been kicked out of his cabinet is politics again. He cannot have the conservative religious order on the opposing front, when the Maldivian Electorate is largely conservative and religious.
    Lets not be disillusioned, he has been a real fox and that's his greatest strength, and that is how he transformed himself into H.E.P from "anni" the activist.

  3. i don't really thing so.. Anni as the president has set forth a total no compromise no negotiation policy from day one in his office. This continued terribly till the end of the parliamentary election. You must have not forgotten the words "To my opponents who disturb me i will show my Nulafaakan dhakaalanan". Not exactly something you can quote for obama, right1. The fact is Anni MDP.. has always been unwilling to compromise or negotiate. They will not unless it is the last option. Failing to win parliamentary election and bills getting stuck in majlis has led Anni to submit and negotiate with the opposition. Now I am not praising any part of the opposition. But I'm just saying how can you compare Anni to Obama while Obama takes first option to negotiate and Anni takes it as his last option on all if his policies..

  4. Even though Mark Lynas was in the negotiation room, blaming the failure of COP15 on China alone is stupid. COP15 ended up a failure because of several countries and factors.

    President Nasheed was seen in news footage, clapping and celebrating an accord, which he believes saved the UN from embarrassment and salvaged the political career of several leaders. "If no accord had been reached, the status of the UN would have been in jeopardy while some European leaders would have been unable to go back to their people," Nasheed told reporters after returning from Copenhagen.

    While Nasheed has dubbed COP15 as a victory for Maldives and has lost no opportunities to speak about the money Maldives will gain for adaptation, people like Bill McKibben of are not celebrating.

    Nasheed's actions on the final day of negotiations proved to the climate change activists that he was not The Global President they were seeking.

  5. Sounds like a chapter from 'A Man for All Islands' by Royston Ellis. Quite a similar tone. Not interested in cult of personality. Not any more.

  6. COP 15 in my view was the very public demonstration that President Nasheed is now fairly comfortable in the two roles of activist and statesman. We see this happening more and more, domestically too. Kudos to him for having mastered the presumably difficult feat without losing touch with the people. However, it is likely to get more and more difficult to balance the two aspects as the demands grow domestically, particularly if the people start to get the message that he will personally look into their individual problems and expectations grow. This ended up being one of ex-President Gayoom's biggest weaknesses too.

  7. hehehe,

    a domestic president or international presidency, wonder what maldives requires?

    Be realistic~!

  8. I wonder what Anni could achieve with people like Aslam Shakir at President office policy Secretary ..Aslam Shakir is arrogant, short tempered and proud! The country and Anni needs people who can be humble yet explain to people the reform that is brought and also hardworking! Not stupid idoits! Anni pls change some of these people like Aslam to more admin stuffs perhaps!

  9. Agree with Mohamed. Sounds like a chapter from the dreadful 'A Man for All Islands'. More constructive criticism and scrutiny of Anni's administration please.

  10. 100% agree with Mohamed. not a fan of personality cults.. hope we can concentrate more on ideas, not the vessel that provides it. I wish for a day we would VOTE for ideas, projects, laws perhaps NOT for PEOPLE. everyone is a maumoon, Anni, Buruma, Hassan. it just the degree that differs..

  11. I also agree with Mohamed, cult stuff is not good, especially in the modern political scenes we are in today.
    Nevertheless, much about Anni has to be admired but we are forgetting the thousands of MDP members who made this happen, and of course, add to that the people who voted for CHANGE.
    Change is now here and we are seeing the benefits. For me, that is more than enough and with each day that passes, we are going to see more justice and freedom.
    Many in the Maldives do not really appreciate all that has happened, from 2003-2008; where we were, how we were and how it is today!
    We are free from tyranny....ignorance and fear!
    Much of it of course is down to Anni's leadership and courage, there is no doubt about that!

  12. yeah another old guard loyal to the dic....President appoints an Ambassador to the EU
    President Mohamed Nasheed has today appointed Mr Adam Hassan as the Ambassador and the Head of the Mission of the Maldives to the European Union. read & comment

  13. It is now more than a year since Anni became the president of Maldives. I can't see any change, instead things are getting worse than before. Radical groups like Salaf and other religious groups are becoming strong and they are almost ruling the country. This will finally lead to a war between Wahaabis and moderates. The present government is not doing enough to stop this.

  14. What was the percentage of votes Anni got in the first round? Oh yeah, people of Maldives did vote for MDP candidate to power. talk sense.

  15. I think Anni achieved plenty in the past year. But to me his weakest part is not attempting to provide any justice to those whose families have been systematically suppressed from prosperity/threatened/ill-treated/tortured/killed, simply because they dared not to submit to the will of Maumoon and his cronies. If you thought people who foster such thoughts are stuck with the past, think again as no society can enjoy lasting peace without justice. Perceived peace without justice is simply a win to the evil. A position man-kind will not tolerate for very long.

  16. Mohamed Shahid and Author,

    Its now more than a year since Anni became the president of Maldives (mind you an islamic state NOT a secular state by consistution). I can't see any change, instead things are geting worse than before. Radical group such as secularist and athests are becoming strong and are almost (perhaps for certain) ruling the country as before. This will finally lead to a war between true Maldivians (Muslims as per consitution) and the secularist or athests who controling much of the key insistutions and media such as Minivan. The present government will and never control the situation as it has an agenda to spread secularism. Such pitty for ordinary simple Maldivians who have a simple dream of peacefullness and tolerance. But these Secularist want to have their way or the highway. Goodluck

  17. sha, i do agree with you. but i reckon, it will take a lot of time, effort to change the way that people think; voting for ideas, projects,laws not the people.
    the article is very straight and nicely said. but what about the people who don't see the bigger picture, what they dont really understand is why there is a raise in the price of their electricity bill and there is no narudhama project to their island stated in the budget.
    They dont understand; subsidies, privatisation, PPP. these has to be explained to people in their languages, why this is not there, why this is not given and why Anni and the delegates from Maldives were rising their voices at COP15.
    what most people today can see is the smaller picture not the bigger one.
    im sure its will not only make people trust the government but also people will take a step forward to the development.
    Government is not very white but very grey too

  18. The MDP is slowly turning into a cult. I have seen MDP members talk about loyalty to the "cause" even if the promises are not delivered. Look at the South Province. From the State Minister downwards right to the Island Councillors, I do not see anybody trying hard enough to deliver on the promises; hardly anything has moved here. The Province is almost static and seems to stand still since the presidential election. The Hithadhoo Councillors try hard to disrupt any harmony from within. State Minister cannot control the friction within his core team. The whole local administration is in disarray.

    What has the President got to do with it? For one thing, he is too preoccupied with brokering deals outside the country to evaluate the situation closer to home and work on amending this. His appointees are not performing and this is evident even to himself. MDP has already lost the local council elections in the South Province, even before the bill is passed. MDP, in fact, hardly exists. The current chair of MDP should take responsibility for this.

    I wish Anni and the current GoM all success. But as it stands, the future looks bleak. President has to evaluate his appointees and kick out the disruptive elements for MDP to win the local elections. If NOT an MDP pro local council is elected, we can goodbye to 2013 elections because MDP will fail to deliver on the key promises which will ultimately decide whether Anni and the current GoM is in fact a success.

  19. I think Mohamed and Will Jordan are being a bit too harsh. There is a difference between a book written to glorify an old dictator who has ruled for over 20 years with this article about a new President. As far as I can see there is no distortion of the facts or attempts to gloss over the truth. Clearly written by someone very pro-govt. But a bit more sensible than the anti-gvot rants we see on the editorial pages of Haveeru.

  20. @Greg Fletcher; over the year there has been an increase in the number of foreign elements, such as yourself, propogating "better" religions for Maldivians. As a result it has helped to increased the activity of islamic fundamentals in this country.

    The other thing is why bother on this articles omission on the religion, Minivannews, regligiously spread your concern in daily dozes, either by creating hatrage among the less faithful and the ones on the extreme end (see this page and the coverage given to some islamist group, Salaf).

    By the way, werent you aware of the recent hiring for the President Office. Bloke, poke your nose on to your own stuff. We shall do it our own way.

  21. The making of 'A Man for All Islands' biography is a very interesting topic. More details of how this book was written:

  22. If Anni is to regain his lost popularity among the people, he needs to look in to people to whom he has offered various positions.

    Specifically he has to look at the Councillors at islands who are being very autocratic and who are looking to pile up their wealth before the election of atoll and island councils. these people are tarnishing your image Mr. President.

    Please remove them office. Specially councillors like Sobe & Naeem in Addu Atoll.
    MH - Addu

  23. While I do agree with the general gist of this article that Anni has transitioned successfully from an activist to a president, I doubt if the particular course of action that he currently employs is one of premeditated design. I think a significant debt is owed to a rather fast ride on the trial and error learning curve. He has made mistakes, and experience shows that he grossly miscalculates things. The whole civil service salary increase/reduction fiasco being a good case in point. The circus that has become the decentralisation bill is another. But I guess it only reinforces the fact that he's human and therefore is one us.

    I merely labour this point because the whole article lionises the president as a man imbued with infinite wisdom. The writer, at times, sounds like one of those fools who hang around medieval princes singing their praises. This would have been a better article if the writer also highlighted those issues where solutions are elusive or where the policy focus has been less than deserving.

    Having said this, Anni is of course a million times better than that wolf, MA Gayoom.

  24. Agree with Esteban Cordoba. The article would have been better if it had referred to some of the mistakes that were made (appointing lots of councilors without properly checking if they had what it takes to carry out their mandate, etc.)

  25. i dont see any achievements in terms of domestic bliss. The appointed state ministers, councilors should have been given a clear picture of the president's "aneh dhivehi raajje" concept.
    Now what we see is despots who are trying to make the most of this dissarray we inherited from golhaa's regime.
    Believe it or not we are loosing and if action is not taken NOW it might be too late to win the peoples trust and sincerity. The appointed local councilors are not welcomed by the local people infact they are the people who have corruption/autocratic stains on their back. We want our local leaders to be an model to the society, we want them to work with the people for the people. not some one who sits in a chair all day long in a aircon room.
    President nasheed, we want u to be a NATIONAL president.

  26. I voted for naseedu because i don't want maumoon to rule this country for next 30years.and i am very sure we will never let anybody to rule this country for 30years.we want a president who loves the country not a president who wants the country to love him

  27. this article now very famous. good article. it is republished in blog too:

  28. Rashyd

    Thanks for your comments. The reason I raised the issue is that the Maldives Government signed a UN Protocol on Religious Belief, Conversion and Practice. And as far as I am aware, it has not been put into practice. The Protocol, which your former President signed, means Maldivians should be allowed to change and practice a different faith, if they so desire. As a Muslim, you would be concerned about your fellow brothers in other countries if they have problems, so the same applies to those who are of a different faith. I do pray that Wahabis do not gain a foothold, otherwise the moderate Muslims in your country will suffer.


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