Former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed is signing 1400 letters an hour in an attempt to mail a personalised letter to every single one of the Maldives’ 239,593 voters before Saturday’s election.
“He insisted on signing each one personally,” sighed a party official.
Nasheed continued this feat during a series of ‘one on one’ interviews with local and international media on Wednesday afternoon.
JJ Robinson: What’s with the letters?
Mohamed Nasheed: Our whole campaign has been very personal. I’m trying to reach out to the normal Maldives person. I’ve met them, I’ve touched them, I’ve visited their homes, and finally I want to write them a letter. When I’m signing them, I’m looking at the homes. I know who I am signing it to. I like that. I don’t think a printed version is appropriate.
I think the whole democratic idea is built on very Roman principles: individuals getting together and talking about things. When you go into mass media and mass organisation you lose the sense of doing something for a person. I think in good politics you do things for individuals.
JJR: The last time you came to power you were magnanimous in victory. You’ve since said this was a romantic idea that did not work in practice. How will you approach it this time if elected?
MN: I don’t think I can change overnight. I’ll still be the same person. I think it’s not viciousness that will bring justice. It is a process. We must strengthen the institutions, especially the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the judiciary, especially the institutions associated with rule of law. We must increase their capacity to do things and reform them.
I would not come between any investigation of suspected wrongdoing. I think the main perpetrators must be brought to justice. Then again, it is very difficult to do these things to your political opponents. You are always mindful that if you stultify your position, that is not a good recipe for a vibrant democratic society.
Now it is getting very obvious that these opposing parties will come out with new leadership after these elections. I hope that the wrong-doers are brought to justice.
JJR: Given the immediate state of the police and judiciary, how do you propose such an investigation would be conducted?
MN: Well I’ve written to all the policemen and MNDF personally. The vast majority of them seem to believe that the coup was very, very wrong, and that their institutions got a very bad name out of it and they need to salvage their [institutions].
I feel there are enough people within these institutions who are of this view and want to investigate the wrongdoing. Previously when we were in government there was nobody [in the police or military] who wanted to reform this vigorously. But if you look at the top brass of the police, they may be out now, but I don’t think they should be outside. We will bring them in. I think they are very clear in their minds about what needs to be done.
JJR: Observers are asking how, even if you do return to power and given how swiftly your government fell on February 7, you propose preventing that from happening again?
MN: One thing is – the international community should not so be so naive or short-sighted. Please don’t fund coups. Please don’t encourage forceful change of government.
What we saw was a lot of evidence that the UN was busy at it. Instability comes because outsiders side with one faction or another. Just don’t do that.
JJR: What do you mean when you say the UN was ‘busy at it’?
MN: The [now reassigned] UN Resident Coordinator’s safety address in case of an issue on February 7 was the Vice President’s residence. I was shocked to learn that.
I felt the UN specifically wanted to recognise the new regime instead of conducting a proper investigation. They dragged the investigation out until they could cover it up. From the evidence we saw afterwards, especially from the government accountability committee in parliament, it is obvious it was a coup, and it is obvious that anyone should have seen it as a coup.
We should have gone for an early election instantly. We should not legitimise any forceful transfer of power. Right now the situation is that everyone believes ‘winner takes all’. [The impression is that] if you are the ruler, the UN and international community won’t give two thoughts about that and simply recognise whoever is holding power. That kind of attitude doesn’t help.
JJR: If you had the whole February 7 period again, on reflection is there anything you would have done differently?
MN: On the 7th? No. If you’re specifically talking about that day, no. In the lead up to it, yes. We have learned a lot of lessons from what led to this, the political nature of the police and military, and elements of the international community taking sides.
JJR: Many MDP supporters privately profess a sense of doom should you not win. Are the stakes really that high, and what sort of challenges do you think you would have in opposition?
MN: There is no doubt [we will not not win]. Not even entertaining that thought.
JJR: Given the high stakes then, what kind of concerns then do you have for the transition period of nearly two months?
MN: About a month back I had some concerns. But now I think there is enough inertia among the people so that this can be brought into proper alignment. There’s not a lot [the government] could do. I don’t see the military being able to do anything. There is enough support for us within the military, there is enough support for us within the police, it’s just the top brass [of concern], and they won’t have support among the rank and file. So we are fairly confident.
JJR: A lot of young Maldivians, particularly those aged between 18-25, those perhaps without direct experience of Gayoom’s rule in the 80s and 90s, give the impression of being politically apathetic. What kind of message would you give to these politically disengaged?
MN: Get involved. If you are not involved, you better not complain.
This is a multi-party participatory democracy, and there is room for everyone to make their views heard and get involved. I’m very encouraged that during these elections the bulk of the MDP’s campaign machinery has been run by young people. There’s a lot of people who are very involved.
Very often when your own personal viewpoint does not have resonance, you tend to become apathetic. It is not that you are politically apathetic, just that you sense that your viewpoint is not represented, so you go home.
We suggest – don’t do that. Come to us. We have room, and your voice is very, very necessary. And we need it.
JJR: Given that your government’s detention of the Criminal Court judge and efforts toward judicial reform were used to justify the protests in the lead up to February 7, how can you reform the judiciary from the position of the executive without risking this happening again, or without compromising the integrity of the three arms of state?
MN: We must reform the JSC. The police must have enough leverage to investigate wrongdoing. The police were aware of the brewing coup but were not able to investigate it. The Criminal Court was always obstructing that investigation. Primarily that was why the police felt that Abdulla Mohamed was a threat to national security.
In hindsight it was easy to understand why police were saying that, because left alone they felt there would be a coup. If the investigation was not done, and if these people were not apprehended, then police felt there would be a military coup. That is why they wanted to restrain certain elements.