Comment: In power by default

Throughout Maldivian history, the system of government has been clearly structured on those who had property and connections. The leading positions of the government institutions as of late 2000 were unquestioningly a privilege to those born into aristocratic and landowning families and not based on merit. While they did not contribute to a productive Maldivian society, it was clear that, that system of government was the result of the society’s class structure and the institutional positions they maintained were by default and non debatable.

The system continues to exist even with the change of government and has been replaced by a group of hardcore political activists backed by the affluent and financially successful businessmen that the last regime fostered, holding more than 90 percent of the national wealth. The underclass, which covers at least 75 percent of the Maldivian population, continues to exist as one entity deprived of social standing while selected individuals both in the political and economic environment enjoy individualism and rights to become contributors and producers.

As the underclass continues as a permanent feature of both the regimes, both governments seemingly relied heavily on the pledges of the international community to bring about change. The promised change has been frustratingly slow and political representatives partly blame the lack of timely response and unfilled pledges by the international community being cause for non or slowed down government delivery. Although the country graduating from a least developing country this year onwards based on its per capita GDP of US$4600 (graduation criteria is US$900) the country’s social infrastructure has been heavily financed by development funding and donations. It is further characterised by low income families (16 percent of the population lives in poverty and unemployment rate is over 14 percent), weak human resources and a low level of economic diversification.

As before, most of the government ministries remain dysfunctional, lacking capacity and capability to perform, staffed by the people who are unable to produce results, lead by ineffective but loyal political activists of ruling political party.

Guarding the domain

A large underclass must exist for this model of society to function so that power hungry politicians can continue to dominate the country’s leadership. Within this exist the power hungry businessmen who are unwilling to let members of underclass enter into the realm of the “the privileged rich”. Within this exist the power hungry religious leaders, who try to formalise their control using religious mechanism. The three groups co-exist together relying heavily on each other to protect their existence. At the same time Maldives has a growing underclass indicating political, economic and religious control as three groups struggle to keep their supremacy over each other.

The privileged and the underclass need each other to function. Both the governments maintained the underclass by creating a large and dependent workforce making government the biggest employer in the country, a strategy to safeguard and retain loyalty. People’s values are formed by the structure in the society according to Karl Marx. To maintain functionality, the three groups work to create beliefs and conformity through various social, political and religious tools.

Functionalism at the cost of democratic principles

All the three groups work to create a consensus of belief and behavior (as functionalism has been described by Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903) and upholding the norms is a function of society. The norms are further defined by rules and regulations that the society needs to adhere to function as a body. Within this type of societal model, anyone who upsets or threatens the norms has to be removed to recreate balance, taken away to prison and removed from mainstream society.

There is no individualism in the Maldivian society except for those in control. Individual’s needs are not validated and only the overall function of society is important. The Maldivian society is thus a singular being – something that can be manipulated and changed as a whole and poverty and inequality are just valid parts of society, so are juvenile delinquency, crime and domestic violence.

The functionalist approach is extremely convenient for politicians and others, who assume to be the sole representatives of the Maldivian citizens and speak out loud for the people while the underclass are not consulted nor are allowed to have any access to the political sphere. The MPs increasingly act in their personal interest as they try to add to their financial remuneration and privileges, political status and social standing.

Behavior has to be acceptable or punished in the functionalist society. As the gaps between the leadership and underclass widen and the income disparity grows, uprisings such as those in the tourism industry will occur. The outbreak of unhappy employees in tourism industry has drawn calls for measures to curb their activities and expression, regulating behavior and introducing new punishments. Attempts to unify religious behavior are an ongoing effort of religious leaders who condone religious freedom of individuals in the Maldivian society.

Don’t rock the boat

Democracy promoting change contradicts functionalism as change in society is seen as disturbance. It is the “don’t rock the boat” model. The groups within the society such as family must promote the norms and children are to do what their parents do and to be what their parents are. Employees are supposed to work without negotiating and be grateful for the hand that feeds them. Religious practices must be observed without questioning. Traditions that do not work for the three leading groups mentioned earlier may be discarded and new practices may be invented through their own consensus as long as they can maintain status quo and their power. Needless to say but people are comfortable when there is stability, status quo and life continues without disruptions.

Conflicting functionalism is people’s economic and spiritual needs that must be satisfied being human nature and cannot be controlled by regulated mechanism. Neither fear as a control tool is effective over a long period nor may rightful behavior as translated into rules serve to control people in the short run. For the society to develop, the change has to happen although it is irritating, but eventually leading to a new adjusted society where balance is restored.

Alliance for power

Would it not be great if the underclass could defeat the “ruling” class? Maldivians were elated in 2003 when the reform movement started. The Maldivians (along with the international community) thought this was the underclass and the suppressed breaking out of a rigid fascist regime. Those hungering for leadership were made up of three power hungry groups tapping on the ignorance of the underclass Maldivians to think they can expect and own a better share of the wealth that the country was earning. Maldivians were willing prey to promises of the leadership following the parties they thought would serve the purpose.

The affluent business community saw it was time to shift over and contribute a puny percentage of their wealth to bring the change. They also saw this as an opportunity to take positions of control so that their wealth could expand further. Later extension of resort lease deals was up for debate in the Parliament where politicians-cum-businessmen sat representing the citizens’ voice. Some MPs and activists in party leadership still claim they are first and foremost businessmen.

The pact between the religious party Adalaath and the then-opposition MDP at the time of the elections in 2008 was the only way religious leaders could secure a powerful position within the new government. Alliance with the likely party to win in the second round of elections was made on mutual advantage of holding power within their domains.

The main opposition saw their advantage in an alliance with the two groups mentioned above, business men representing resources and religious leaders representing norms and practices that the average (underclass) Maldivian did not dare contradict and commanded total obedience to their leaders. Both the groups taking a stand beside the main opposition won the elections.

Democracy is a threat to Maldivian politicians, businessmen and religious leaders because it calls for sharing or wealth and privileges, position and power. Democracy dilutes society as a entity, through its principles promoting equality, fairness and tolerance where the individual and minority are validated and majority will is respected.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM school.

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18 thoughts on “Comment: In power by default”

  1. Thank you Ainthu, for a good read. Perhas it is the gangs that will ultimately champion the country out of the impasse, through the on-going street killings and a now inevitable resort hijacking or kidnapping of a tourist - not before long.

  2. Great article, only if half of Maldivian population was willing understand the dynamics explained here...This is the kind of thnking the teachers in public schools should teach...not the obedience/all follow no question crap....

  3. This article is too long. Anyway I agree with Aminath Arif. This is a government of activists. Many people in high posts are there by default. Being MDP activists will find one a good job even if that person is totally unfit.

  4. While I appreciate the authors efforts her social construct of our society is pseudo-intellectual, misinformed and wishfully thought using a western lens. a bit of research would have been helpful. Otherwise it should be an account in her personal diary.

  5. first of all, why is a music school named as "salaam" school? isnt that the school which was closed for spreading Christianity in the country?

  6. Thank you for this article. It echos most of the frustrations that the average citizen has, but cannot articulate, regarding the regime-change that took place under the pretext of a democratic revolution.

    It was only last night, that a member of the Maldivian gentry and an opportunist who took advantage of the former regime's lack of youth engagement and ignorance of youth culture opened his campaign for a leading position within the current ruling class.

    History repeats itself here in the Maldives. The current ruling class rode on the backs of popular discontent to seize the helm of our tribal society. There is no doubt that the first and foremost priority of any ruling clan is there allegiance to the tribes which placed them in power. The situation will not change much without proper education and access to information.

    We have very little useful statistics at hand, as government manipulates and interprets their own surveys for their own benefit, however, anecdotally speaking, the current economic situation has regressed our society to an extreme form of dependence on politicians and parties. The MDP has transformed almost overnight from a party of "reformers" and "agitators" to a party of brain-dead yes-men whose only interest is to keep their families fed and to scrounge for scraps from the new "elite".

    The blatant corruption and flagrant abuse of power might yet create the situation for a stronger revolution yet. The "international community" which is diplomatic-speak for the US & the EU has no interest in justice and equality. Its only wish is to secure a regime-change which favors their own foreign policy and Nasheed has done a bang-up job of keeping the Maldives in line with the climate-change mafia and Israel's international agenda. If only someone like Dr. Munavvar or Ibra could secure enough support to lead our country down a better path. Ah! Utopia (Aneh Dhivehiraajje) is such an unattainable dream.

  7. I smell plagiarism here.

    This piece of writing lacks focus and clarity. I seriously do not think Arif quite understand what she is trying to say. And that is what happens when people do cut and paste work from another person's work found on the internet.

  8. Anni was once called flat Dhonbe' (flat big brother) for his promise to build heaps of flats (perhaps on Hulumale"?). I remember a documentary, made perhaps a year or two or three years before Anni became President with Zaki in small, poor people's homes lamenting over the inequality, poor state of housing as though the MDP were a partly socialist pary, espousing the democratic ideals mentioned. MDP manifesto talks about 'returning the Maldives to the Maldivian..." as though the MDP was a Socialist party!!! Yet MDP are economically right wing. What has the MDP actually done to redistribute wealth etc... or what have they tried to do? As I see it, the emphasis of MDP practice seems to strive to privatise everything not socialise it? Could somebody please xplain to me, honestly, the discrepancy between the agalitarian rhetoric and the right wing practice?

  9. Using quite a broad paint brush aren't we?

    While I agree the Maldivian proletariat have it bad, there is one big difference with the miserable masses in other poor countries; we have free and fair voting at the ballot box. When the useful idiots can't fathom whats right or willfully sell their votes, they must shoulder some blame for their situation.

  10. Most accurate account of the Maldives situation. Labour unions is the answer now. As long as MDP who came to power wearing a democtratic cloak derives support from British conservatives, there is very little hope for the peasant class in Maldives. Let's hope MDP returns to it's grassroots

  11. listen to all the insolent little pups having trouble expressing their all Envy in the face of the exquisite articulation and sense in this a very good article.

    "too long" eyy.. kaley twinkle twinkle kiyan dheybala, tat shud be short enuff for yu.

  12. @Schema: there is a difference between plagiarism and reference to educated opinion. While we must agree that it could have been more focused and precise, we need to get out of this paradigm that anyone else other than ourselves is not capable of thinking and having an opinion on what is going around us.

    Education is also knowing to respect. And to ridicule one for one's expression is a sad impasse to democracy.

    I tried to google what the author has written here and did not find it from other sources, to cut and paste.

    Let's show some respect, if we want the media to have independent contributors.

  13. I have read her other articles but the language of this article is totally different.

    Pretty certain that the author took extra language lessons & "paradigm shift" coaching prior to writing this !

  14. I remember Aminath Arif getting Vilemendhoo without any bidding by Qayoom just because she is related to him. So she will have first hand information regarding the matters raised in her article.

  15. Ainthu has failed in all her capitalistic ventures and her last endeavor to get into the majlis also ended up in total failure.

    Now all Ainthu could do is spread communist ideology which like religion can be opium for the masses.

    Allegation of a deliberately maintained "privileged class" and an "under class" to describe social inequalities and blaming the successful businessmen for a conspiracy to maintain the status quo is nothing but jealousy and self pity.

    Agreed there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor but this is a normal outcome of an open market society. It is up to the government to create the conditions for the economy to flourish and use tax revenue wisely for the betterment of society.The government can concentrate more on education and providing opportunities for the young to replicate the successes of the rich
    through entrepreneurship.

    The previous government manipulated the private sector to remain in power and the present government inherited a mes of gigantic proportions while public expectations remain sky high and unrealistic. To be fair the President also had made promises before taking office that are difficult to achieve within a short period of time.

    The only people who remain in power by default are the Maumoonists and Yameenists who have bled this country dry and still are in the Majlis and continue to block any effort to reform this society by using their Political Party and thugs to make governing impossible.

    On top of it all the long time allies of these crooks remain in judiciary and in the civil service actively making it difficult for the government execute their policies.

    The mistake President Nasheed did is failing to prosecute Maumoon and his henchmen who should now be behind bars. Had he done so this country would have been cleaned up and Anni would not need to rely on some the people that he now needs to rely on to confront the armed gangs of Maumoon.

    Ainthu - you are just trying to play in to the gallery of the disenfranchised masses in the hope of stirring their feelings against the government in stead of using your your talent to contribute to build a better society.

    Do you think that a "revolution" by the masses can make the poor rich?? Never forget that in any society that it is the few that do most of the work and provide a living for the rest.

    Have a look at the USA, UK, Europe and even India or Brazil? Is it the masses who are dominant or own the bulk of the wealth? But in the developed countries they have progressive income tax and if the government is honest and capable, they will use that revenue wisely for the betterment of the rest of society.

    Why don't you accuse the wealthy of these countries of such conspiracies?

    President Nasheed has at least introduced GST and corporate Profit Tax. Income Tax will come in the future. But at the end of the day it is not about how much tax you collect or how much revenue the government earns but how that money is spent for the benefit of society.

    If you were sensible you will be talking about how we need to restructure Public expenditure (In Government, Majlis, Judiciary and all the Independent Commissions) and allocating substantial amounts from the budget for the public programs.

    As it is more than 80% of the budget goers to maintaining the State bureaucracy and none on projects to generate economic activity.

  16. @Ilyas Ahmed
    Failing does not make one a loser but not trying does. But you would not understand that, now, would you? Did she touch a raw nerve? How much do you do to help the people of this country other than try to win points by speaking for the tycoons and the ruling party. You hope to make something with your comments on articles like this and articles of strike in the Tourism Industry and you would like to see the staff of the resorts with tape on their mouth and hands tied behind and treated like donkeys.
    Anthu has done more for the country than you. You cannot recognize the article simply as the honest view point of the writer. She does not have to write about what you think she should write. I do not read any intentions of disruption here. She also do point out how the average citizen reacts and trade their votes. Well. now with the fluctuating dollar rate, the poor will be poorer and there are hard times ahead. Keep on writing Anthu. No one has to agree to you. Don't stop expressing what you think is right. Not many have the courage to do that.


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