Comment: Election-phobic politicians cowering behind judiciary

“So you are proposing to incarcerate Mr Nasheed, are you?” a reporter recently asked a leader in the so-called Maldives Unity Coalition.

“Yes, we are. We will keep him in prison for a long time,” he replied.

The reporter winces.

“I see,” he says, just managing to look respectful. “So, you won’t have him to compete with your candidate to win elections?”

Ingenious, these people must think themselves.

“It’s one way to force you to the top, of course. But I shouldn’t call it civilised, or democratic,” he blurts out. “Justice has to be enforced, so, we don’t look at it like that,” the politician says. “Posterity will.”

The defeat of 2008 common amongst them, political losers of that election have tripped up and toppled the elected government in just three years.

Getting the peculiar lexicon right – the so called “harmonious diplomatic narrative” about the police mutiny amidst-coup and the actions of politicians leading up to the regime-change – took the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) a while, and eventually they had to ‘selvam’ the whole thing.

The so-called Unity Coalition that toppled the elected government comprises leaders of parties that have ostensibly not conducted organisational or internal elections in a transparent or an all-inclusive manner since inception. Despite having to resort to stark and obvious giveaways of election-phobia, they are looking to hunker down and stay on in power, obviously for as long as possible.

Getting on about it through the judiciary

Almost all senior MDP members are political victims of the previous regime, many having undergone torture and time in their prisons. However the new democratic regime, seeming to steer clear of paving the way and facilitating transitional justice, probably led opponents to cut up rough and go on talking openly about putting Mr Nasheed away in prison again.

Maldivians know that sitting presently in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the oversight body for the judiciary, are political opponents of President Nasheed – opponents in whose personal and political interest it is to incarcerate and disqualify their main challenger prior to elections. They have been publicly talking about it for months.

While members of the DRP, PPM and others in that bandwagon actively work to regularise discrepancies in the house, political leaders involved in regime-change such as MP Gasim Ibrahim and Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid continue to be influential members of the Judicial Service Commission.

Meanwhile, breaches of the Constitution by the Judicial Service Commission, such as the nullification of Article 285 – which stipulates qualification criteria for judges – by declaring it as a “symbolic article”; the subsequent reappointment of the pre-2008 Constitution judges without required checks; the prevention of meaningful changes and the establishment up of an independent judiciary are all pending in parliament without further inquiry.

The legitimacy of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed’s re-appointment as a judge can only be determined by an inquiry into the Judicial Service Commission and its actions over Article 285. All attempts to address issues of the Judicial Service Commission – especially with regard to its contravening Article 285 and pending complaints against Abdullah Mohamed – have been blocked by the opposition MPs of the DRP, PPM, and the DQP, by systematically disrupting every sitting in which these matters are raised. These MPs have gone so far as to publicly state that they will stonewall and prevaricate all pending issues concerning Article 285.

Ethical misconduct

While Article 285 embodies qualifications for judges, the case ofAbdulla Mohamed, glorified by the opposition as ‘Abdulla Gazi’, the hero of regime-change and victim of Nasheed’s government, have been widely published.  In 2005, then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed first forwarded to the President’s Office concerns about the conduct of Abdulla Mohamed after he allegedly requested an underage victim of sexual abuse to reenact her abuse in open Court.

In 2009, the new democratic government forwarded those documents to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which was requested to launch an investigation into the outstanding complaints as well as the alleged obstruction of “high-profile corruption investigations”.

The JSC decided not to proceed with the investigation on July 30, 2009. However in November that year, the JSC completed an investigation into a complaint of ethical misconduct against the judge.

The case was presented to the JSC in January 2010 by former President’s member of the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, after Abdulla Mohamed appeared on private network DhiTV and expressed “biased political views”.

Velezinee observed at the time that it was the first time the JSC had ever completed an investigation into a judge’s misconduct.

“There are many allegations against Abdulla Mohamed, but one is enough,” she said at the time. “If the JSC decides, all investigation reports, documents and oral statements will be submitted to parliament, which can then decide to remove him with a simple two-thirds majority”, she said.

Weeks later, Ibrahim Shahum Adam of Galolhu Cozy, listed by police as one of the nine most dangerous criminals in Maldives, and in prison for his alleged involvement in a stabbing near Maafannu “Maziya Grounds” during July, 2010 that killed 17-year-old Mohamed Hussein of Maafannu Beauty Flower,  was abruptly released by ‘Abdulla Gazi’ saying he wanted to hold the Health Minister accountable, as police had claimed a difficulty in obtaining a health certificate.

Shahum had also earlier attacked a fellow student attending an Imam course inside a teashop, and the victim, Ahmed Naeem of Carnationmaage, Alif Alif atoll Thoddu, had testified in court .

Days after Shahum was released by Abdullah “Gazi”, he was arrested again by police for the alleged  stabbing murder of 21-year-old Ahusan Basheer of Varudheege, Hithadhoo, Addu City, while the young man was walking along a street in Male’.

In October 2011, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) appealed for assistance from the international community over the “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary – most of whom were appointed by Gayoom during his 30 years of power.”

On October 26, Judge Abdulla ruled that the arrest of Gassan Maumoon – son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – on suspicion of hurling a wooden block at protesters leading to a participant being disabled for life, was unlawful. This established a precedent that police could not arrest suspects without an arrest warrant “unless the arresting officer observes the offence being committed”.

The contentious ruling led police to release 11 suspects while the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) sought legal clarification on criminal justice procedures.

JSC a stakeholder in trial

It is laughable that the Judicial Service Commission is itself a stakeholder in the ongoing case against President Nasheed, as it is the very failure of that Commission to uphold the rule of law and fulfill its Constitutional mandate that underlies the creation of “Judge” Abdulla Mohamed, the subject of the trial.

Thus it is difficult to ‘selvam’ the fact that it is contradictory to the principle of natural justice for the Judicial Service Commission to decide the bench or in any way interfere and/or influence the trial.

The Judicial Service Commission intervened in Nasheed’s trial with blatant impunity, by abusing its powers to appoint judges to courts and deciding the bench for the trial itself. The Judicial Service Commission temporarily transferred three magistrates from other magistrate courts specifically to create the three member panel that is presiding over President Nasheed’s trial.

Some months earlier, the Anti Corruption Commission was widely quoted in the press on the appointment of the wife of a JSC member, Magistrate Shiyama, to the so-called Hulhumale’ Court, and the allegations continue that the Hulhumale’ Court is kept by the Judicial Service Commission in violation of the Judicature Act as a reward to Shiyama who, with a diploma in legal studies, does not qualify for appointment as a magistrate to a superior court.

Meanwhile, many people who attended the enforced first hearing of this so called trial believe that the Prosecutor General filed the case against President Nasheed invoking Article 81 of the Penal Code in open contravention of Article 17 of the Maldives Constitution under which every citizen is entitled to rights and freedoms without any discrimination, regardless of their political beliefs.

There has been no previous instance of a magistrates’ panel being convened to prosecute any case or individual charged under Article 81 of the Penal Code. Thus, it is common belief that appointing a magistrates’ panel to prosecute this case, by appointing magistrates from different jurisdictions including one who is currently under investigation by the Judicial Services Commission, is a direct violation of Article 17 of the Maldives Constitution.

Calls for Judicial reform get louder

Calls for judicial reform in Maldives are getting broader acceptance with talk rife these days in tea shops, coffee houses and Usfasgandu, of widespread corruption and corruptibility among judges.

Meanwhile some lawyers are publicly detailing tactics used by various judges to deny litigants due process.  Alleged such tactics include intimidation, muzzling, ignoring court rules, creating new rules, fabrication of facts, testifying for a party, issuance of absurd legal opinions, torturing the law as well as other creative means that have boggled the minds of numerous laypeople, lawyers and even judges.

These discussions are removing the halo of honorability that surrounds many “respected” judges and demonstrating how, for many judges, the canons of judicial conduct and Article 285 were enacted only for public consumption. It also demonstrates how certain judges, when challenged to explain their decision or stance, act no different than the same common criminals they were appointed to judge.

Judges accused of being corrupt are acting with the knowledge that their decisions will most likely be affirmed by fellow judges on appeal, pursuant to a tacit “fraternity” code. In other words, trial court judges openly utter absurdities in their opinions with the knowledge that fellow judges at the appellate court are not too keen on reversals.

They are also accused of acting with the knowledge that any commission charged with investigating judicial misconduct at the state level can at present ‘selvam’ such reports and dismiss any complaints against fellow judges.

Can they ‘selvam’ the vote?

Out in Singapore and Bangalore, schemes are going on at full blast to ‘selvam’ a submission in procuring Dr Duhbuhlyoo a good international job, after his much lauded and ruthless puppet role here. After all, the deputy, Duhbuhlyoo D, other friends among glorified foreign touts, and merchants of blood-oranges, all parodying here in the guise of diplomats and others flaunting professional respectability, are thinking of questionable money transactions in the PR, hospitality, border control and other deals pegged to Maldives.

Here in the Maldives, those who have faith in human ingenuity and meaningful change for the good, those who consider it necessary every once in a while for the right-thinking element of the community to slip it across certain of the baser sort – are at it regular like these days. They exude the confidence that all this will begin to come right again soon, through ballots proving the best weapon, against both a shady judiciary and those cowering behind it.

Mohamed Zuhair was former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary from November 2008 to February 2012.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


“My romantic ideas of how to deal with a dictator were wrong”: Nasheed

Allowing former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to live in peace following the 2008 election was a bad decision, former President Mohamed Nasheed has told Time Magazine.

The Maldives’ experience with the remnants of autocracy should serve as a lesson for other countries in the Arab Spring said Nasheed.

“The lesson is we didn’t deal with Gayoom. That’s the obvious lesson. And my romantic ideas of how to deal with a dictator were wrong. I will agree with that,” Nasheed told Time, in a striking reversal of his magnanimity in 2008.

Nasheed observed that “you can get rid of a dictator, but you can’t get rid of a dictatorship. You can get rid of a person very easily, but the networks, the intricacies, the establishments — you have to flush them. And to do that is not an easy thing. We have to be mindful with other countries going down the same line — for instance, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. They’ll have good elections, they’ll probably come up with a better leader. But then the dictatorship will always try to come back. And it’s going to be impossible to hold them from coming back from within the system.”

Gayoom stepped down peacefully in 2008 after losing the country’s first multi-party elections election to Nasheed, a former political prisoner who was quickly dubbed ‘South Asia’s Nelson Mandela’ by international media outlets. The peaceful transition from autocracy to democracy was held up as a model for other countries by human rights and democracy organisations, including the Commonwealth and UN.

Nasheed, despite heavy resistance from key supporters, pledged to leave Gayoom in peace, acknowledging his contribution to the development of the tourism industry and encouraging him to assume a role as a respected elder statesman.

“Be magnanimous in times of victory, and courageous in times of defeat. The test of Maldivian democracy will be how we treat our former President,” said Nasheed at the time.

His sentiments were echoed during a state visit from the President of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta.

“I prefer to be criticised for being soft on people who committed violence in the past than be criticised for being too harsh or insensitive in putting people in jail,” said Ramos-Horta, during a visit to the Maldives in February 2010.

“Our approach fits our reality, an approach the president of the Maldives and I share – the need for magnanimity. Immediately after our independence in 1999, I said: ‘in victory be magnanimous. Don’t rub the wounds of those who feel they lost. Make them feel they won, also.’”

Exactly two years later Ramos-Horta would become the only world leader to condemn “the obvious coup d’état”, and the “unsettling silence of big powers”.

After the 2008 election Gayoom continued to lead his Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), but in January 2010 announced his intention to bow out of politics ahead of the DRP congress, anointing Ahmed Thasmeen Ali as his successor and become the party’s ‘Supreme Leader’.

“The Maldives is a young country, and only will progress if youth become involved in politics and leadership,” the 72 year-old said during a live press conference on January 25, 2010.

“I am not young any more. I have spent many years in office, and I want to spend time with my family. I need to give the younger generation the opportunity [to lead the party] – they are capable,” Gayoom said.

A senior government source at the time observed that Gayoom’s announcement was not met with celebration by the country’s leadership.

“There is no jubilation here. It was very hard on some people when Gayoom publicly denied he ever harmed anyone,” the source said.

With Gayoom absent from the DRP, a power struggle quickly erupted between the vigorously uncompromising faction of Umar Naseer, a former policeman, and Thasmeen’s mellower, more conciliatory approach to opposition politics. The struggle came to a head with the expulsion of Naseer from the party in late 2010, a decision that sparked Gayoom’s return to active politics with a dramatic attack on Thasmeen’s leadership in a 12 page open letter.

Backed into a corner by the party’s Supreme Leader, Thasmeen did not respond, while the infighting – occasionally violent – culminated in Gayoom’s faction splitting from the party and forming the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), backed by the People’s Alliance (PA) of his half-brother, MP Abdulla Yameen.

The PPM actively led protests in the lead up to Nasheed’s downfall on February 7, opposing everything from the “idolatrous” SAARC country monuments in Addu to Nasheed’s detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed, an ill-fated last-ditch attempt to reform the judiciary.

Speaking to Time Magazine this week, Nasheed said he had pushed against a “witch hunt” after coming to office: “We didn’t want to purge the military, we didn’t want to purge the police.”

“There were mistakes,” he confessed. “One thing the international community finds it difficult to understand was the arresting of the judge. He asked a child to re-enact a child-abuse case in the court. The whole country was disgusted by it. The very next week, he gives an order for a murderer to be released because the Ministry of Health didn’t have a death certificate. And then [the released man] goes out and murders again. It was like releasing a hit man so he could go out and make another hit. The whole picture was getting very, very clear with gangs, drug dealers and with Gayoom and his cronies,” Nasheed told Time.

The government had begged the international community for assistance after detaining the judge, Nasheed said.

“Unfortunately, I kept on asking everyone – the Commonwealth, the EU, the Indian government – to assist us in reforming the judiciary. But they were very late in coming. And we didn’t get the necessary help from them,” he said.

“Also we were bringing in reforms very rapidly. We were liberalising the outlook of the country very, very rapidly. Especially with Islamic radicalism. Our ideas of moderation, the moderate Islam — there were some small, entrenched sections that reacted strongly against me. I thought they were odd people here and there. But there was a core of radical Islamists who fueled the coup through media and harping on about how un-Islamic I am. I must confess, I’m not the most pious of the people. But I am a strong believer.”

Nasheed predicted that Gayoom would make a move for the presidency “when he thinks it’s in his hand, when he feels the field is skewed enough in his favor.”

“His designs are to have a stronger hold on power. He would avoid an election. I am sure he would avoid the scheduled election in 2013 as well. He’d try to push back the elections as much as they can. He would talk in words that the international community will like. We had elections in 2008, 2009, 2011 that were all free and fair. But suddenly the US government is saying, ‘Oh Gayoom says, there might be a problem with the election commission.’

“This is very strange. At the same time, [Gayoom] will start running things through the military. My fear is that we’re not going back to pre-2008 Maldives. We’re going back to pre-2008 other countries, to Pakistan, perhaps, where the military becomes so strong that they call the shots.”

Nasheed said he was “shocked” at the speed with which the US, India and other countries recognised the new government, especially after “we did so much to encourage internationalism, encourage liberalism, to bring Indian investment — to get rid of anti-India phobia. We tried to have good relations. But when push came to shove, we ended up in the wrong. Somehow we were not the right people to talk to. If you want to be a regional leader, you must be sensible. And consistent. And you should lead. They should protect democracy, and they should be on the side of democrats and human rights.”

Nasheed said they tried to encourage him to form a national unity government, “but my point is, why should we try to unify the dictatorship? The coup is not unifying the country – it’s bringing back the old dictatorship. We didn’t want to have a part in it. We beat them in the elections. It’s wrong to talk about governing with Gayoom because he was rejected by the people.”

The international community had slowly begun realigning itself after realising that the ousted government was refusing to be supressed, and had backed early elections – “they should have been the first to say it, not me,” Nasheed noted.

India in particular “has the means” to push for early elections, Nasheed observed.

When those are held, “I am very, very confident that the people will decide upon us. And the thing is not who wins an election – it’s the fact that you have to have one. It’s the fact that a government is formed through the people.”

Read the full interview in Time Magazine


Maldives could be a foretaste of the Arab Winter: Nasheed

Even after its democratic revolution in 2008, few saw the Maldives as a political trend-setter, writes former President Mohamed Nasheed for Foreign Policy magazine.

“Yet, in retrospect, the ousting of a 30-year dictatorship in a Muslim country was a precursor to the Arab Spring revolts that swept across the Middle East two years later. As in Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, the Maldivians who took to the streets, confronting the regime’s riot police, and demanding change in 2008 were youthful, full of aspirations for a better economic future, and tired of the iron-fisted autocratic rule of a dictator – Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. I was elected president in the first-ever multi-party polls in the Maldives’ 2,500-year history, on a ticket of civil liberties, freedom of the press, and democratic change.

Fast-forward to this month, when the forces of autocracy in the Maldives staged a sudden and brutal coup d’etat. Rogue elements in the police and military joined together to seize the main television station, ransack the offices of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, and force my own resignation with threats of bloodshed. In the days that followed I, and many of my fellow democrats, were beaten and imprisoned, and the young democracy we have worked so hard to nurture has been left in mortal danger.

If the Maldives was a precursor to the Arab Spring, let us hope that it is not now a foretaste of a new Arab Winter. There is still time for democracy to recover in my country, but only if the wider world insists that a forceful coup against an elected government cannot be allowed to stand.

For the past three years, despite setbacks and sustained opposition from remnants of the old regime in the judiciary and parliament, things had been getting gradually better. My government inherited what the World Bank described as “the worst economic conditions of any country undergoing democratic reform since the 1950s,” yet with the help of the International Monetary Fund we managed to slash the budget deficit from 22 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 to 9 percent last year.

Moreover, we were on track to deliver on nearly all of our election pledges: a public transport ferry system connecting all of our disparate islands was set up; a pension system for the elderly along with universal health insurance was put in place; the country’s first university was established; import duties on staple goods were removed; and drug addicts, of which the Maldives regrettably has many, were no longer treated as criminals but as victims in need of care and rehabilitation.

To help pay for the creation of a basic social safety net, a modern taxation system was also created. A “goods and services tax” was established, as was a corporation tax to provide a secure basis for government finances. And this year, we were planning to introduce a small income tax for the first time in the country’s history.

We also tried to reform the judiciary. Many judges remained under the effective control of the former regime and were blocking corruption and embezzlement cases involving members of Gayoom’s administration. This January, in a move that proved controversial, I ordered the military to arrest a notorious Criminal Court judge, who had quashed his own police arrest warrant, after he was found guilty of misconduct by the Judicial Services Commission – the body responsible for monitoring judges’ behavior.

The government requested the Commonwealth and the United Nations to intervene and help reform the judiciary root and branch. Following the arrest warrant, some of Gayoom’s supporters staged nightly protests calling for the judge’s release but the numbers protesting on the streets were small, just 200-400. Little did my government know the enormity of what they were plotting.

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The Maldives and the Arab Spring: Institute of Development Studies

A number of recent editorials have referred to the recent coup in the Maldives as the undoing of the country’s own ‘Arab Spring,’ which began with the landmark 2008 elections that brought to an end 30 years of autocratic rule, write Gabriele Koehler and Aniruddha Bonnerjee for the Institute of Development Studies.

Indeed, while the status of democratic process in the Maldives more closely resembles other South Asian nations than nations involved in the Arab uprising, economic and social strains in the Maldives are akin to those that preceded the Arab Spring.

Economically and socially, there are three Maldives:

‘Maldives I’ is that of the sparkling tourist resorts isolated from the rest of the country on coral islands. Tourism is the Maldives’ largest industry and resort leasers represent a substantial and powerful economic interest group. The other Maldives are local economies.

‘Maldives II’ is made up of 1,192 islands dispersed across 90,000 square kilometres, where 205,000 Maldivians make a living from coastal fishing and related occupations.

‘Maldives III’ is the capital island of Malé, home to 103 thousand and one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Under the autocratic Gayoom regime, the Maldives made substantial progress on education and health criteria, despite the high costs of delivering services to widely-scattered islands. By 2000, the country had achieved universal primary and lower-secondary education and had almost eliminated communicable diseases.

In 2008, the central challenge for the newly-democratic government under President Nasheed was to maintain good performance on social services despite a high fiscal budget debt. At the same time, the global financial crisis affected the tourism sector as well as domestic prices of food and energy.

In response, Nasheed’s government focused on expanding inter-island transport, universalising health insurance, protecting the social sectors (health, education, child and family welfare) while trimming the public sector bill. It sought investment through a programme of public-private partnerships.

The financial strategy revolved around monetising the deficit, seeking grants and loans from donors, and rescheduling medium and long term debt obligations. Combined with rising food and fuel prices, this strategy fuelled inflation. Political opposition and low capacity restricted other reforms.

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