Al Jazeera’s 101 East program has conducted an in-depth interview with new President of the Maldives, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan. The original interview can be seen on Al Jazeera’s website. The transcript below was provided by Al Jazeera.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Let’s start with the events on Feb 7 when President Nasheed resigned. He says that it was under duress. Was it a coup?
Dr Mohamed Waheed: It wasn’t a coup. It’s been portrayed in the Western media as a coup d’etat. But the president resigned voluntarily. We have pictures of him having a Cabinet meeting following which he writes his own letter of resignation. And in front of the television camera, he announced he was resigning with his Cabinet standing behind him. He could have indicated even indirectly even if he was under duress. He didn’t. It took 24 hours before he changed his mind. I am convinced that he resigned voluntarily.
FI: Doesn’t it disturb you though that your presidency is being challenged and being undermined by these accusations?
DMW: Of course these are unfair accusations. We were totally unprepared, it took us by surprise. And therefore, we could not get our message across to the rest of the world, to tell them about our understanding, to tell what actually happened. He had the machinery already in place because all these people were appointed by him from his party only. And therefore all shifted with him to his house and began the media campaign to show to the rest of the world it was a coup d’etat. It wasn’t a coup d’etat, if you think it was do you think he would be out here talking to you and everybody else? You know there’s no restriction on his freedom and he is moving around. We have a democracy and we are respecting it. We welcome an independent investigation to find out exactly what happened. We will not be in the way of finding out the truth.
FI: We have seen footage of security forces out on the streets; we have seen people demanding for the resignation of the then president Nasheed. Mainly these people have been the security officers. That’s what we are seeing from the video. Also, we have video footage of your current defense minister entering the barracks and then coming out of the barracks demanding the President’s resignation. We see him also in the President’s office just before and just after the resignation. Now, at that point he was just a civilian. Why was a civilian given so much privilege access?
DMW: I have no idea because I was not part of what happened that day.
FI: Did you know this was going to happen?
DMW: No, absolutely not.
FI: But you met with opposition parties before this happened.
DMW: The opposition call for his resignation has been going on for a very long time. For almost three weeks we had serial demonstrations every night in Male, calling for the President’s resignation for various reasons. And when this thing happened, nobody expected this to happen. My understanding of the issue was that the president was issuing unlawful orders to the security forces and at some point, they decided that enough was enough and they were not going to listen to him. And that’s when he decides that he was going to submit his resignation. But he changed his mind afterwards.
FI: Why do you think he changed his mind? Why do you think he is now saying it was a coup?
DMW: I think he just lost it. He lost it and realised what a blunder he had made. Maybe this was a trick he was playing on the people; I don’t know. But he resigned voluntarily and in front of the camera. He could have said under the circumstances, I am being forced to resign, but he didn’t. He didn’t give any indication, any clue. He could have called me and said “Waheed, I am being forced to resign.”
FI: What would you have done?
DMW: I would not have taken the oath of office if he had said that. He should have called me, he didn’t. He called some of the ambassadors in this country asking for help, he called some of his party members, and he called the rest of the Cabinet in his office but he didn’t talk to me.
FI: Why do you think he didn’t call you, is because he didn’t trust you?
DMW: We haven’t been talking for a while except in the….
FI: Is it because he thought you were not part of his plans in the Maldives?
DMW: We all fought for democracy in the country. It was not a reversal. I was part of the democracy movement as well.
FI: It does seem like a reversal though now that you have appointed this particular civilian, a retired colonel as the defense minister, you have appointed Mohamed Jameel Ahmed Home Minister both of whom are known as supporters of ex-President Gayoom. You have also appointed Dunya Maumoon who is Gayoom’s daughter as the state minister of foreign affairs. Are we about to see Maldives slide back into dictatorship here?
DMW: I have also appointed to the Cabinet people from seven other parties. I am trying to form a national unity government. I want everyone to participate.
FI: But everyone is looking at the security forces and they are saying the people who head this security forces are Gayoom’s supporters.
DMW: That is not true. The Home Minister is not from Gayoom’s party. In fact, the current Home Minister was in Nasheed’s government. President Nasheed came to power in a coalition. He was unable to win by himself. We brought in other parties and we won the election. But soon after the elections, he decided to go back on his words. And get everybody out of the government. The Home minister was one of them and what we saw progressively after that was a gradual reversal of democracy. The head of state began doing things that were unconstitutional like locking up the supreme court, arbitrarily arresting political leaders and detaining them without charge, and finally we have this very bizarre situation where the president orders the military to arrest a serving judge.
FI: During these events, you served as vice-president. Did you object to his actions?
DMW: Yes, I objected and advised the president that it was not the way to go about it.
FI: Did he take your advice?
DMW: He does not take anyone’s advice. He is not somebody who takes people’s advice.
FI: Why didn’t you as vice-president then resign?
DMW: I spoke out; I said this is not the way to do things. I don’t particularly like these people or the judge, I don’t know him. This is not the way to go about it. There are constitutional ways where these things have to be done.
FI: Do you trust the judiciary in the Maldives?
DMW: I trust the judiciary but it has its problems.
FI: What sort of problems?
DMW: There are problems in the sense that it has to be strengthened like in the use of modern evidence; I would like to see that the judiciary becomes more independent; that they have more resources.
FI: It has been said that the judiciary in the Maldives cannot be trusted and it is corrupt and basically supports the Gayoom regime?
DMW: No, no, no. This is not rue. The Supreme Court was appointed by the president himself. He was the one who nominated the Supreme Court judges.
FI: When you took office, several high profile officials overseas resigned. Among them are the Maldivian ambassador to the UN who went live on Aljazeera, the High Commissioner to the UK also resigned, the Deputy High Commissioner who happens to be your own brother also resigned. He said he did not know why you were favouring Gayoom. He warned you not to join the people of the autocratic ruler Gayoom. How do you feel when you are being connected to the former dictatorial regime?
DMW: The High Commissioner and the deputy high commissioner who happens to be my brother were all appointed by Nasheed. Their loyalty is clearly with the former president. Most of the educated people in this country were educated in the last 30 to 35 years. And out of that, former President Gayoom ruled this country for about 30 years. So it is very difficult to find people here who have not served with President Gayoom or who have not been with this government. If you look at the closest people to former President Nasheed you will find that there were a lot of people with him were also with former President Gayoom and his government. So it is an unfair accusation that I am taking particularly side with Gayoom. That’s not true; of course I want all political parties to be involved in a political process. Therefore, it is also proper that we must bring people from his party in.
FI: Do you not think that the specter of Gayoom looms large over Maldives and this is why you have this political turmoil now?
DMW: Not entirely. Of course Gayoom is a factor because he got 40 percent of the votes in the last election. You know, he still has some support. The man has got to be given a little bit of respect.
FI: Do you want him to be here?
DMW: If he wants to that is his right. But there are other political leaders in the country now. There are other political parties here now. They all want to be part of the political process, not to be alienated. We need to have an inclusive process in which more political parties must be involved. We simply cannot swipe all the other parties off. This is the problem.
FI: It’s certainly very honorable that you want a unity government, that you want all the parties together in order to progress the Maldivian democracy. However it’s also been said there are larger powers than you who are the machinations behind what is happening in the Maldives. You are merely a puppet. Now what do you say to that.
DMW: No, this is not true. Because I have said, I have my terms on my coalition partners who are now coming into the government. What I am saying is that you guys nominate the people and I will put them into the Cabinet. It’s my choice where I put these people. And I also don’t want them to talk to me about the vice-president’s post because that has to be somebody who I choose and somebody who I think is not involved in politics and so on. I believe that is very important this time to build confidence in the government, in the political process. The best I can do at the moment is to facilitate the process that brings people together and create some healing. There are some deep rifts in politics in the Maldives at the moment and the way to go forward is not violence, or not coming out on to the streets. The only violence that has happened here is because of former President Nasheed. There is no other violence here.
FI: Much of the current political turmoil started in September last year (2011) when the Islamist group Adhaalath left Nasheed’s coalition saying that he was not doing enough to strengthen Islam in the Maldives. Do you think Islam needs to be strengthened in this country?
DMW: This is a Muslim country. Of course there will be some political parties that will promote Islamic values. This is also true in other countries. Even in Western countries there are political parties which espouse religious values. So as a Muslim country, you shouldn’t be surprised that there are one or two parties that will talk about this. You must understand in the Islamic world there is a whole range of views on what an Islamic society should look like. And in this country and in my Cabinet, we have a range of views. Most of the people in this country are educated. We have a 96 percent literacy rate and most of our young people have gone abroad and studied in Western universities. We have emulated liberal democratic values in our country.
FI: And yet there is a rising growing Islamic fundamentalist movement in this country as well. Do you think Shariah law will work in the Maldives as some are calling for?
DMW: You see, even now our legal system is based on the Shariah and the civil law.
FI: Do you think full shariah law should be or can be implemented in the country?
DMW: Well, it is for our parliament to decide. That’s what a democracy is all about.
FI: I put it to you that perhaps democracy does not work in the Maldives. We have seen Gayoom’s dictatorship end after 30 years. Then we have seen Nasheed come in and try o implement democracy. You are alleging that he was dictatorial in some of his ways. Perhaps democracy does not work in the Maldives because this is a country that bases itself on personalities rather than policies. Is this right?
DMW: This is what we are trying to change. We started a journey of a democracy and we want this to be on the path. These are some of the challenges that we face. But we are increasingly moving towards a society where first of all we uphold our constitution, we respect the rule of law and then we don’t have people who practice dictatorial methods. We have independent institutions, we have the human rights commission, the anti-corruption commission and an independent auditor general and so on. They have to be empowered to make sure there are enough checks and balances so that people don’t go in on autocratic directions.
This is a struggle, and this struggle did not start only in 2008. It started a long time ago and we all have suffered in the process and therefore we have a stake in succeeding in democracy. And democracy will continue, there is no doubt about it. I have no doubt that democracy is for all of us. It is not only a Western concept. We have grown up with these values and we want to live with these values. We want to live ion a democratic free society and I think it can be done in Maldives. But people have to give in a little bit, you every time you don’t like something that happens you can’t go out on the streets and start pledging and burning places. This is a more advanced country; we have more educated people here. It’s a peaceful place and we cannot give this kind of shock to the people in this country. It’s not fair.
FI: Mr President, thank you for speaking with us.
DMW: Thank you.