Maldives’ future “a cycle of failed governments”: report

The most likely short-term political future of the Maldives is a cycle of failed governments, according to a report produced by local NGO the Raajje Foundation, and supported by the UNDP and the US State Department.

“The Maldives finds itself at a critical juncture in its political development. The high hopes for the country after the new Constitution and first ever democratic election in 2008 have been tempered by the events of February 2012, in which President Nasheed resigned from office under claims of duress following weeks of public protests and increasing political tension,” writes Professor Tom Ginsburg from the University of Chicago Law School.

“This has led some observers to consider Maldives as a case of a broken transition to democracy, and there is growing disagreement among Maldivian commentators on what might the best or most desirable route forward.”

Democratic development in the Maldives is hampered by challenging conditions, including “a political culture that emphasises recrimination over reconciliation, a thin inchoate civil society, nascent higher education, limited transparency, a long tradition of patronage, massive wealth inequalities, difficult population demographics, weak politicised institutions, distorted labor market, and a narrow economy vulnerable to external shocks,” states Ginsburg.

“At the same time, the country is also confronted with major economic and social problems, such as the prospect of national insolvency and a young generation wracked by drug abuse, that would challenge much stronger states and more institutionally developed societies. This all renders the current moment one of very high stakes.”

The report documents an incendiary background for future political upheaval, noting that the 40 percent of the Maldives’ population aged under 21 are “not being integrated into traditional social and economic structures.”

Resulting issues included widespread youth delinquency and heroin addiction, affecting as much as eight percent of the population, the report notes.

“There are also other unstudied issues such as the slum-like overcrowding in the capital, increasing religious extremism, and a large illegal immigrant population, many of whom are believed to be trafficked as part of an organised racket in which the state seems either complicit or unable to control. Expectations are high but government capacity to deliver is low and a looming budget financing crisis means that there is very little room to maneuver,” it adds.

Researching such problems from the outside is difficult, Ginsburg writes, due to state obfuscation “by endlessly referring enquiries from one government office to another. Scholarship, policy analysis, and social data on the Maldives are almost nonexistent. It has for many been a very difficult country to learn about.”

“There is also very limited capacity in the Maldives for policy analysis outside a very few select government ministries. Indeed, there does not seem to be a culture of reasoned justification but rather any effort to provide a neutral perspective is assumed to be and is viewed as politically partisan.”

The report analyses the economic crisis facing the country, noting that ballooning public expenditure had reached the point where 10 percent of the population is employed by the government, and commented on the lack of an independent pay commission to prevent parliament and other commissions from effectively raising their own salaries to those akin to developed countries.

Independent commissions were in a position where they faced either accusations of selective enforcement based on politicisation, “or focused on fact-finding and other activities to keep them out of the heated political conflicts of the day.”

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC)’s mission to ensure the new judiciary was was clean, competent, and protected from political influence, “has sadly gone unfulfilled.”

“The courts have essentially been able to capture the JSC so as to ensure that the old judiciary remained in place under the new constitutional order,” writes Ginsburg.

“While the 2008 Constitution does include a provision allowing for five year terms for current judges before appointing them for a life term till the age of 70, presumably to allow some transition from the old regime, it is now not clear this provision will be exercised without some dramatic and unexpected change in circumstances.”

A raft of new civil society organisations which sprang up after 2008 were meanwhile accused of being “aligned with various political agendas”, while “a few organisations have obtained an effective chokehold on international funding and support, inhibiting the overall growth and competence of the sector.”

Three scenarios

Against this backdrop – “a cascade of serious structural weaknesses that undermine continued democratic development” – the report outlines three potential scenarios for the country: a cycle of failed governments; dominance of one hegemonic faction; and an eventual move towards constitutional democracy.

Scenario one: Cycle of failed governments

This scenario would be most likely to result ”if the current government pursues its legal case against former President Nasheed in a shortsighted and headstrong manner, or if Nasheed escalates conflict to try to ‘overthrow the government’,” Ginsburg writes.

In this scenario – the most likely – “personalities rather than policy differences continue to define the party system and alliances of political aspirants shift back and forth among two or three factions competing to secure access to state resources.

“These personalities, when in government, will therefore always have the incentive to stymie critically needed reforms for fear of cutting down the very patronage networks that sustain them and allowing their opponents to promise to restore this largess.

“In this scenario, true national leadership becomes the casualty. No one will be willing to take the tough decisions to put through the needed legislation, undertake essential bureaucratic rationalisation, and get the government on a proper fiscal footing. One government after another will find itself unable to do what is required in order to break through the cycle of repeated failure.”

With the state paralysed, “There will be almost no chance for the unanimous consensus required to make the constitutional changes needed to reintroduce rigorous judicial accountability or even rewind the country back to its transitional period.

“Given the politically weak bargaining power of the general public, and the large and still growing youth demographic in particular, radical ideologies and charismatic anti-establishment figures may become more popular with a frustrated but disempowered population,” Ginsburg predicts.

Scenario two: Dominance of a hegemonic faction

“Some already talk openly about a ‘Singapore option’ in which a single political party takes leadership and empowers a technocratic state apparatus to provide for the public good,” writes Ginsburg.

“The permanent collapse or suppression of one faction to another does not seem likely to occur without a use of force which would put Maldives in clear violation of its treaty obligations and basic international norms. Consequently, efforts to attain hegemonic control would actually likely lead to an even more adversarial version of the cycle of failed governments scenario in a way that is perhaps reminiscent of Maldives’ present situation,” he warns.

“With a still politically disempowered public unable to truly hold government to account, this scenario may similarly also lead citizens to look to more radicalised religious and non-establishment actors who claim to offer more equitable alternatives to the status-quo.”

Cautioning against comparisons with Singapore, the report notes that the Maldives “is coming from a completely different context and, more significantly, does not have a potential leader who could command the respect that Lee Kuan Yew earned in Singapore.

“Pursuing a strategy premised on the promise of enlightened leadership is thus risky and likely to fall back into a cycle of failed governments. It is also what the Maldives had sought to move away from in the first place by not supporting a continuation of its prior tradition of autocratic governance.”

Scenario three: Constitutional democracy

The most internationally-desirable forecast for the Maldives “is also the least likely”, writes Ginsburg.

“This would involve potential alternation in power among political groups, a focus on policies as the basis for political decision-making, along with a deep infrastructure to support the development and implementation of policies, significant constraints on extra-constitutional governmental action, and a sense of political maturity that has heretofore been lacking,” he states.

The report outlines a number of recommendations to achieve this scenario, particularly constitutional education to encourage the kind of public pressure “that ensures that politicians and government agents comply with the orders of courts, independent agencies and the intent of the Constitution.

“Ignorance of the public on their own Constitution is by far the most obvious gap within the Maldives’ democratic transition,” the report suggests.

In terms of judicial reform, “There must be mechanisms to ensure that the judges obey the law and apply it consistently. there are reasons for concern about the current situation, in which the legal framework is underdeveloped and the Supreme Court has foreclosed many of the extant channels of ensuring accountability.”

Ginsburg proposes a more active and independent, self-regulating bar association, with lawyers freed from the requirement to be registered through the attorney general’s office. He notes that the International Bar Association “has repeatedly offered its assistance”, but suggests that the prospect is unlikely “given the politicisation of the various groups who would have come together for such a purpose.”

Programs such as citizen-initiated ‘court-watch’ initiatives, common in other countries, were hampered by the lack of open courtrooms. Moreover, “rules squelching discussion of court decisions form a major barrier to this or any other channel of accountability.”

The report proposes the use of laymen in adjudication, with four to five citizens “sitting with two to three judges in serious criminal cases such as murder.” However, “the challenges of implementing such a system in the Maldives with its dense network of family ties should not be underestimated.”

The report cautions that donors supporting the development of judicial capacity in the Maldives “must tie this to developing enhanced mechanisms of accountability.”

Read the report


18 thoughts on “Maldives’ future “a cycle of failed governments”: report”

  1. During Nasir time all our government ministries were headed by a persons who the present generation says are not educated because there Doctor before their names. Now every has doctor before their name but sadly it stops there. There is no wisdom in them unlike the previous ministers.

  2. @garudhiya on Thu, 24th Jan 2013 5:10 PM

    "During Nasir time all our government ministries were headed by a persons who the present generation says are not educated because there Doctor before their names. "

    What's your point? Nasir and his mates also looted the country, and he buggered off to Singapore to spend the rest of his life on stolen money. Nasir was a brutal dictator who killed many a citizen and caused endless suffering for many families.

    The "Doctor" is not a necessary qualification for anyone, be it in a government post or not. The title, at best, represents that the person has made a significant contribution to academia and that's it; nothing more, nothing less. Everyone, given the opportunity, can get such a title.

    It's interesting that the "Singapore option" is being sought mostly by PPM, despite the fact that their record shows that they are the least fit for that purpose. With a 30 year old dictatorship behind its leader, as well as becoming a one-family party, they can never aspire to do what Lee Kwan Yew did to Singapore. If they could do it, they've already had 30 years at it, and that's plenty of time!

  3. Our doomed country.
    I will not accept that my future, our future, the future of our youth will be screwed by a bunch of -too rich - elitarian people who would bring our country completely to the brink.
    I will fight, fir a better future than this and go fo the fourth option : revolution, INGILAAB !.

  4. Sounds right. Democracy can't succeed here, because people that get elected or have a chance of getting elected, are ready and willing to abuse the system. Their loyalists supporting them whatever they do to get or stay in power.

    In short, we are fu*ked in the short run, and submerged under the ocean in the long run.

  5. Be careful with Rajee Foundation. It is run by Jude Laing, an Australian-Britisher, who once worked for the MDP, then Nasheed's Government in Singapore where he was closely involved in the oil trade investigation. But just before 7 February, he was thought to have crossed to Yameen's side.

  6. this veRy godd atrtiCle. I think my beLovqe preisideNt Annie wil Likqe this. He is reall petiriet. he verry godd leder

  7. The UNDP and the US State Department are good at writing reports. Had they supported the democratic governemnt in a practical sense after the coup this state of affairs would not have arisen. And Ibrahim Mohomed, American foreign policy has never been their greatest achievement. The world is littered with lasting evidence of their mistakes in dealing with other countries. We do not have to accept the fate they predict for us. We have to move forward and work for better things ourselves.

  8. I think this country would be run by PPM aka Maumoon's family for a long time. A family member of mine, who's close to the higher ranks of PPM, said that even if MDP wins the upcoming election, their government would be toppled almost immediately. This has also been repeatedly said by PPM heads during their gatherings, more recently by Mahloof after the congress. Their main priority now is to send Nasheed to prison for locking up Ablo Gaazee.

  9. "...more significantly, does not have a potential leader who could command the respect that Lee Kuan Yew earned in Singapore."

    Yes indeed!
    Maldives needs politicians that are willing to serve their own people - not their own selfish interest. According to the current situation, it is almost impossible to find any politician who fit the criteria.

    Corruption is the major problem and it becomes worst every year. Unless the leaders are ready to change - there is litter hope.

  10. @ MM Lee

    Yeah. Maldivians need educated youth in the political scene, not half-wits and some guy who was driving a taxi and decided to run for majilis and incidentally gets elected because hey whadya know there was nobody else good enough.

    More so in the People's Majilis, we need educated people of independent political sphere, not affiliated to any party but working for the common good of all Maldivians, not for the benefit of a specific political party. Aligning to specific parties usually results in individuals working for party interests rather than national interest.

    All the parties do in Maldives is squablle amonsgt themselves over petty things, instead of working for the common good, such as passing laws. Almost 90% of the time spent in Majilis is spent on arguing and heckling rather than on constructive bills making. heck i wonder if there are any people in the majilis with the literacy to draft revisions to majilis bills,

    We need to clean out all the players in the political arena, and bring in uncorrupted youth. Clean out the maumoons and the anni's and the yameen's and the qasims and the hassan saeed's. And bring in someone intellectual to the post of Presidency and to our people's majilis. Who has intelligence and a specific education level (say minimum degree level), so that that person can contribute to making better laws rather people who break majilis furniture all the time.

    Then again, there maybe people who advocate FOR breaking majilis chairs and tables (WE DID IT FOR YOU ! YEAH ! WE WERE BREAKING THAT CHAIR FOR YOU ! and that pot with the plant, and that computer station, and tearing down the national flag ! We did it FOR THE PEOPLE ! ).

    This is the level of intellect in the people's majilis.

  11. So then why don't the US take over and rule it like it should be? Don't forget to bring in Jude Laing as your Legal Counsel, or else there will be more reports saying what a scumbag the US is. Please also don't ask UNDP to leave or anything. They are the best non political s---ers around.

  12. “…more significantly, does not have a potential leader who could command the respect that Lee Kuan Yew earned in Singapore.”
    Yeah right. Respect can always be earned if you are the only person allowed to run in election. In such manner, Saddam was most respected man in Iraq and Gaddafi in Libya. Singapore is not counted amongst oppressive governments for same reason Sauds are not considered better than North Koreans or Talibanis. As for Maldives, this is turbulent times but it is just the start - they will find out a way (hopefully good one) on their own.

  13. Religion and politics are part of evolution out of natural selection. Religion evolved during hunter gathering period with rituals to celebrate rain and favorable seasons for gathering and ultimately with fear of death a gene called Vmat2 was evolved. This gene either can be eliminated by vigorous education and brain exposure to critical thinking on religious matters. Maldives is lacking this precondition to eliminate Vmat2 gene and expression of this gene makes Maldivian less civilized and merely behaves with natural selection.

  14. Democracy in a sunni muslim nation racked by drug addiction and islamic fundamentalism?......excuse me I'm laughing so much I need to sit down.
    Is Saudi Arabia democratic?
    Is Afghanistan democratic?
    Is Yemen democratic?
    Is Pakistan democratic?
    How can a country that does not even allow freedom of worship even THINK of democracy?......hell need to freeze over first before this happens.

  15. Democracy cann't thrive in a closed society which doesnt encourage dessent and pluaarity of opinon be it cultural or religious.
    Therefore the probabality of Democracy succeeding in MALDIVES IS REMOTE.


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