“You cannot eat democracy – but taxes can buy food”: President Nasheed

Extracts from President Mohamed Nasheed’s speech at the book launching ceremony of “The Maldives’ Journey to Democracy” by Mohamed Abdulla Shafeeq.

“I would say the Maldives changed to democracy with high hopes of citizens. And we began down that path with high hopes of the people. The question we ask today is whether those hopes have become a reality. Are we satisfied that we’ve got what we wanted?

I definitely was very much certain that the government will change. I became certain of this in 1990. I remember I wrote in a letter to someone at the time that this is something that I will do; that we can do this. We can change the government of the Maldives through peaceful political activity. There would be no need of a revolution or a coup. [We believed that] we could take courage and strength from each other, overcome our fears, and change the country through peaceful political activity.

Even back then, we thought and worried about how that change could be consolidated. The country has changed many times before. [Going] from one ruler to another is a change. However I cannot find a single ruler who was left alone after the change and not banished, his wealth and property confiscated, his wife and children, his whole family, hounded to the point where they were erased from the country. Not a single ruler.

All the rulers of Maldives were quite good. They did many services to the people. They facilitated a number of things to the people. However, it is very difficult to find a former ruler who was treated with proper kindness, with generosity and compassion, and in fairness.

Escaping that stamp became our main goal and purpose. [We wanted to see] how we could govern without torturing the former ruler, punishing him, confiscating his property, without arresting his wife and children, without destroying the lives of his in-laws and other relatives and family members.

Now, a lot of people tell me, ‘your mind is too young.’ That is something I’ve always heard. About how young my mind is; how I do not understand and how I want to do things too quickly. […] A lot of people were saying when we approached the parliamentary elections that if we did not round up and arrest everyone in the former regime, MDP would not get a single vote.

That is true. If we arrested half of the people contesting for parliament, they would not have won their seats. [They say that] we generously forfeited the parliament majority. That is an accusation levelled against me quite a lot these days. [That is] because we did not fight for justice and quickly conducted trials, many people walked free. A lot of people who committed injustices and violated the rights of the public were able to go free.

And not only did they go free. They came back again into the legislature. They won the Majlis majority. At the time, there were just 25 members of parliament to support our infant democracy, the Maldivian Democracy Party (MDP) or the newly-formed government. Opposition parties needed just one additional vote to overthrow the government.

Our government came into being within this halted state, facing these obstacles. Nevertheless, we were always striving towards our goal, with our purpose; to stay as we had resolved. That is to not violate rights; and not arrest and harm people.

Even as I say this, there passes many, many times, many moments, when there is pressure to arrest or [circumstances] that forces arrests [to be made]. There were other times when certain people were arrested for short periods. That is regrettable. I believe that we are able to bring the changes we want, the changes that we are seeing now, because we strive with tactfulness and patience.

If we had tried be the most superior, the most powerful, on the first day, if we still try to be, I would say Mohamed [Shafeeq] would not have been able to write this book even today. He would have to write flowery and golden praises of the newly-formed government. A government does not become dictatorial because of a person; but because of many, many things that develop around it, when it becomes entwined in it.

We wanted the democratic principles or democratic system we have attained for a very important purpose: that is for freedom of expression. However, freedom of expression is not something you can eat. Human nature might not suggest that a lot of people would come out and fight very hard for freedom of expression. In sum human beings strive for food, shelter, clothing. And to produce another human being.

We did not try to act, in any case, thinking in this narrow sense. Our purpose was always for democracy, to use democracy as a means. In itself, nothing happens when you only attain ‘democracy.’ We can only do something when we use democracy as the means.

This country’s government has always been protected by a small number of people. At times it might be two or three families, six tycoons and three or four prominent people in the island – such architects. Such groups have been able to keep hold of the country’s rule for thirty, forty, fifty years.

And so no matter how sincerely a ruler wants to push reforms, it becomes very easier to show the ruler that the reform is unacceptable, it would not be accepted by the people, it is the wrong thing to do, and it should not be done under any circumstances. I will give an example: tax. […] We know today that [the public is not opposed to taxation] using democracy, because democracy is the means through which we are able to have discussions; because freedom of expression allows us to have debates.

We are able to talk about increasing revenue, about taxation and all such matters only because we have democracy. Even if democracy is not something you can eat, the proceeds of taxation can be used for food.”


20 thoughts on ““You cannot eat democracy – but taxes can buy food”: President Nasheed”

  1. "A government does not become dictatorial because of a person; but because of many, many things that develop around it, when it becomes entwined in it."

    A splendid statement and with it President Nasheed must accept the "many, many things" that are developing around his government! I wouldn't say that those "things" have yet reached a "dictatorial" stage, but the foundations are being laid down. This is very worrying and the fact that he doesn't realise it (or does he?) is more worrying.

    As the people of Egypt and Tunisia have found out, bringing down dictators is only half the job. Establishing a proper functioning democracy is a lot harder and will take much more effort. This is evident in Maldives too. We have only managed to change the "cover" of the book, but no the contents, sadly.

  2. A scandal here a scandal there, some money allocated, unnaceptable behaviours, as more these things are left to ride, the building blocks of dictatorship are slowly maneuvered into place like a giant pyramid.

    I believe the heart of this new democracy was new and pure, full of expectation and promise. Those people are still there and so the ideas and dreams must be also. But something less new is creeping in, undermining good work done. Old tricks are beginning to be played, positions given because of association rather than merit, blind eyes being turned to perverted acts that under law should be punished.

    Please be careful with our country those who would govern us, remember the rulers of old and what happened to them when they left office. This is a future that belongs to us all, treat it gently and respectfully, powerful leaders have in history ignored this in many nations at their peril. Make us proud and bring your house in order, appoint quality not quantity and for the purest of reasons, remember your dream and your promise, we will not forget.

  3. Is Shafeeqs book available in English?

    If not, I could get through it but extremely SLOWLY.

    HAVE to get a copy. What shop or where can I buy it at in Male'?

    Excellent talk by the way.

    President sounds like he is nursing wounds in some places.

    @Bin Suvadhheb's comment was enlightening, he said Anni only managed to change the cover of the book. I would say, he had changed the cover, and is battling to write the first sentence of the first chapter but that he is being held back from it.

    He has stood up against the massive, all consuming, all devouring monster of the culture of the institution of power in Maldives. He is a Jinni slayer, a ranamari slayer in his own right. It is a miracle that he has not yet been killed by the monster, yet at the same time, he has not really managed to have struck it mortally also. He has just hurt it, and it is screaming for VENGEANCE!

    Oh well, back in for another round with the monsster dear President, this time, you need a lot more back up in the struggle!

    Its about time all Maldivians took 'arms' against the demon that had been crushing, oppressing you since the beginning of your existance.

    Arms of voting, of having the courage to act against bribery, to stand strong against corruption, and most importantly of all..,

    To fight the demon by striving for compassion and justice for your fellow person!

  4. It is funny when he is talking about all this about previous rulers when he himself is doing the same thing. He made his council puppets to confiscate previous dictator’s house. He arrested two party leaders who are also members of parliament when an important vote was to be taken in the parliament. He harasses the courts when ever he is not happy with the verdict. He buys MPs in the name of democracy. Zaki, Recco Moosa and Adam Manik control the most notorious gangs in Male.

    So our president is not the best person to give these kind of speeches.

  5. Analyze the political situation in Maldives. First we have to agree that there is a force here, who does not wish to dismantle the old ways of autocratic system of governance. These groups are previous government officials and the business community in particular the ultra rich. Sadly these people are still in power by means of getting elected to the parliament by utilizing their wealth. Sadly this force or group of people controls indirectly the judicial system by means of their wealth. In addition to these the countries tabloids and electronic media are been controlled by this force.
    Today what we find in Maldives there is a shortage of foreign currency which the government unable to solve the problem. The Maldivian central bank “MMA” is unable or unwilling to implement the counties monetary lows. Business are conducted and concluded by using United States dollars as the currency of payment terms. The US dollars that are circulating in Maldives are black marketed.
    Our media ignores the financial situation in rest of world. After recent rescission few European economies have collapsed and bigger European economies tend towards the similar situation. We find that our media fails to report this important news.
    Regarding taxation the force is very active debating in the parliament that taxing is not good for general public. They also do the propaganda to Islanders saying that individuals have to pay is not a good thing and this government is not in capable hands and so on!

  6. President Nasheed you truly are a disappointment. You can not and will not ever win any election in this country through the popular vote.

    It is sad to see that someone who started out as a rebel and a revolutionary has become consumed by the personal element in his opposition to the former government. In his attempts to learning pragmatism he has become an anything-goes mafia don who exploits the people of the islands for votes and violence, who extorts political contributions from businessmen through economic duress, who has forgotten the plight of the average person and who refuses to see beyond the tip of his nose.

    Poor little thing became a dictator in less than three years.

  7. I don’t believe that the president will ever be a dictator. Why people are UN happy and criticize the government is because of people like Riko Moosa Maniku and Maria Ahmed Didi. It is common knowledge that they are always rotten among good eggs!
    Regarding wining of upcoming election; I can only say that Maldivians without knowing wont a welfare state like Scandinavian countries; of course without paying any form of taxes. If the president delivers things (like housing) as he had promised than he surely will get reelected if not he will be doomed!

  8. My dear president all the elements thstba dictator will have is slowly building strong around u, if u want Not to be one I recon u leave by 2013 with dignity than come to power using power ..

  9. what a pity....
    the presedent seems not to understand the dynamics of the country. too many taxes implemeted without the economical growth in the industry can me suicide.
    taxes eaten by politicians and mismanagement of government will not be enough to eat.

  10. @Cuba

    How arrogant and narrow is your assumption. You will be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has visited more islands, talked to more Maldivians than Mohamed Nasheed. He understand the Maldives very well indeed.

  11. Apologists and worshippers of Maumoon, Yameen worshippers equate anything and everything with "dictatorship"...... these are people who were nothing but kleptocrats of the first order and since their downfall, never lost an opportunity to undermine good governance, squandered all goodwill offered to them and yet accuse the President of being dictatorial........laughable if it wasn't so sad.

    The transformation of our conservative political movement from a political ideology to a psychological disorder is nearly complete.

  12. @peasent, your last sentence, "The transformation of our conservative political movement from a political ideology to a psychological disorder is nearly complete...'

    Absolutely BRILLIANT!!!!

    ANd you know, if we actually get a text book on psch. and study the symptoms of socio-pathic narcisism, we find that the opposition actually do fit this!!!

  13. @ Ben Plewright: Not only opposition, I think you would also fit well into that text book 🙂

  14. @Ziyan: Yeah man, you are right...

    I fit in to another page on the text book though...

  15. Thats alright, its alright as loong as you are both in the same textbook 🙂

  16. The intellectuals in our society no longer stand with the MDP and their cult leader.

    President Nasheed is too young, inexperienced and too much of a firebrand to rule a country.

    Try to open your eyes and see this FACT. Seriously! This was exactly the reason why Qayyoom's last few days were so problematic.

    At least he had a good long run. So whatever anybody says, he was a better administrator than Nasheed. Was he harsh with his opponents? Heck yeah! So was Nasir and so is Nasheed, who is a vindictive little baby.

  17. Taxation shall buy food for Team President only.... Others shall try to survive as usual....

    Look! price of all the basic food items are increasing daily but Team President has no worries! They don't even take interest in such issues because they are provided with a huge income, No.1 quality Health Insurance from anywhere in world and so on


Comments are closed.