“President Waheed says no elections until 2013”: Malaysian consultant Dr Ananda Kumarasiri

Former President Mohamed Nasheed stepped down voluntarily and there was no truth in reports that he was ousted in a military coup, Buddhist author and former Malaysian diplomat, Dr Ananda Kumarasiri, has told Sri Lankan media.

Addressing media at a press conference in Colombo last week, accompanied by Maldives High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Hussain Shihab, Dr Ananda Kumarasiri “expressed confidence that a full-fledged democracy will be restored in the country under the rule of President Waheed and the roadmap towards that end has already been laid,” the Sunday Observer reported, describing him as Dr Waheed’s “consultant”.

“Former President Nasheed and the pressure groups want snap elections to be held soon,” Dr Kumarasiri told the paper. “Some want it held immediately, others within six months and so on. But categorically citing constitutional provisions, President Waheed has stated that elections can be held only in November 2013 and there is no possible way of circumventing it.”

President Waheed had, Dr Kumarasiri said, “appointed a government of technocrats who are capable in their own lines.”

“They are not supposed to function as politicians but instead, they have to do everything in the national interest and deliver the goods through their proposals, projects or whatever. Political parties can go ahead with their kind of politics. In a truly democratic sense he has not appointed anyone to the Cabinet portfolios from his party. He is very transparent, very accountable and is a man of integrity.”

In the Observer interview, Dr Kumarasiri raised the prospect of constitutional amendments under consensus “to overcome the problems in holding elections before the date as specified in the constitution. Constitutional amendments may also become necessary in other areas, including the endemic problem of power separation between the executive, judiciary and the legislative.”

Nasheed’s resignation, Dr Kumarasiri insisted, was “voluntary”, something he said was very clear from video recordings that are now available.”

“His own doings led to his voluntary resignation, including the arrest of a Judge of the Criminal Court and other atrocious acts which turned the public wrath against him. Later, heeding requests of his party men who had lost their positions and economic footing, he took recourse to violent protests demanding snap polls.”

“There was no duress whatsoever on him , he wrote the resignation letter in his own handwriting and handed it over in front of the TV and the public. It was initially found that he had spent monies to the tune of some Rs. 17 billion for projects of his own design and appointing people to them. The amount is believed to be Rs.23 billion now. Under such financial straits, the Maldives cannot even think about snap polls,” Dr Kumarasiri alleged.

Meanwhile, impact on the Maldives’ tourism industry had been limited to “minor hiccups” and “one or two chartered flights were cancelled because the tourists wanted to be on the cautious side.”

“President Waheed has de-escalated the situation,” he claimed.

Dr Kumarasiri launching his Buddhist book, Siddhartha Prince of Peace.

“Close friend of the President”

Dr Kumarasiri first appeared to the media during a Q&A session with foreign media held in Dr Waheed’s residence on February 16, introducing himself as “a friend passing through”.

Australian SBS reporter Mark Davis challenged Dr Waheed that “you are an educated man who has been deeply involved in the United Nations, you know that that when a General puts a gun to your head, even metaphorically, that is not a resignation. Do you not accept that?”

Dr Kumarasir injected, stating: “If I may inject, from the video tapes, I do not see how my colleague has got this impression that there was a coup. If there was a coup then [it would show] from the tapes… from the evidence.”

President Waheed’s Press Secretary, Masood Imad, told Minivan News that Dr Kumarasiri was not employed by the government, but was “a very close friend of Dr Waheed” who had stopped by.

Imad expressed surprise that Dr Kumarasiri had spoken to Sri Lankan media: “I thought he had gone back to Malaysia”.

According to biographical notes online, Dr Kumarasiri is a retired career ambassador of thirty years standing, who joined the Malaysian Foreign Service in 1966.

Born in Malaysia to Sri Lankan parents, his early diplomatic postings included Assistant High Commissioner in Madras (1966-1972), Counsellor in New Delhi (1972 -1975) and Counsellor in Tokyo (1975-1978), Minister in Washington DC (1981-1984) and High Commissioner to Nigeria and Ghana in 1984.

He later became Director General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and authored the book, “Professional Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Management: The Malaysian Experience”.

He is also a acclaimed speaker and proponent of Buddhism, and has written numerous titles on the religion including, in 2009, Siddhartha: Prince of Peace, as well as Matu-Posaka: Paragon of Filial Piety, Angulimala, My First Word Book: Buddhist Pedagogical Approach, The Terrifying Drug Menace: Relevance and Role of Buddhism, Welcoming the Birth of a Child, Living Buddhism: The Way Forward, Living Buddhism: Advancing from Knowing to Being, My Alphabet Book: Buddhist Pedagogical Approach and A Compendium of Buddhist Personal Names: Heritage and Significance of Adoption.


Young Maldivians ensure Hay is made in the sunshine

Hay Festival organisers were last night pondering how to get festival-goers dancing to French DJ Ravin, who was blending electronic fusion with distinctly local bodu-beru rhythms for an appreciative crowd shuffling around the outskirts of the dance floor.

“Ask MNBC to stop broadcasting live,” suggested a nearby young Maldivian.

It was like flicking a switch. Almost immediately a horde of youngsters formed a mosh pit and raved for three solid hours in what was no doubt one of the most energetic parties ever seen on the presidential retreat of Aarah.

As they hooted and cheered his name, Ravin could be seen on stage shaking his head with amazement at what was probably one of the DJ’s most enthusiastic audiences.

Ravin’s set was the finale of two days of literary and cultural events – the Maldives’ first major literature festival – with authors and artists international and local discussing their work and craft. The attendance and involvement of young people was particularly noticeable, as were the many families relaxing and playing in the sunshine.

Reassuringly for the authors, the on-site bookshop did a roaring trade with queues for book signings. Jung Chang’s Wild Swans and Ian McEwan’s Solar were particularly popular, and young Maldivians were observed tottering around Aarah underneath huge stacks of tomes freshly-purchased and those brought from home to be signed. Judging the look of exhaustion on McEwan’s face in the green room after his signing session, every McEwan novel in the country now has a signature.

Despite a slow beginning – less than 10 tickets were sold on the first day they went on sale – huge last minute demand forced organisers to issue 200 more tickets for both days. Such was the last minute demand that a brisk black market trade sprang up, with tickets purchased for Rf100 being sold at the Aarah ferry queue for up to Rf300.

Climate change was a distinctive theme of the event. Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam announced that the Maldives has applied to UNESCO to declare the entirety of Baa Atoll a protected biosphere reserve, while the President’s advisor on climate change Mark Lynas spoke on the challenges facing the government’s 10 year road to carbon neutrality.

A Hay-goer in a modern interpretation of traditional Maldivian dress

Monty Don, President of the UK-based Soil Association and an early proponent of organic food, spoke of the need for populations to source their food locally, while award-winning foreign correspondent Peter Godwin spoke of the political and social decline of his homeland Zimbabwe at the hands of Robert Mugabe.

Jung Chang, author of the internationally acclaimed novel Wild Swans and autobiography Mao: The Untold Story, spoke about her experiences growing up amid the cultural revolution, joining Mao’s Red Guard, and her growing understanding of his brutality.

Ian McEwan finished the lineup, introducing his climate change satire Solar about a Nobel prize-winning and climate scientist and womaniser who discovers how to cheaply extract hydrogen from water using photosynthesis.

Hay Festival Project Director Andy Fryers said he was delighted at the reception to the sell-out festival, “particularly the exuberance of the crowd once they realised what Hay was about.”

“One of the speakers said it was fantastic that there was such a youthful and questioning audience. People were really engaged,” Fryers said.

A key challenge of the festival was introducing the concept of a lecture – sitting and listening to a speaker and then opening the session up a debate – which was a new idea for the Maldives, Fryers said, if one that was eagerly embraced.

Other challenges included ensuring that a wide-range of people were brought on board, and that the event was “inclusive, not exclusive.”

“It was amazing to see 60-70 young volunteers appear virtually out of the ground and put in hours of their own time to make it happen,” he added.

Ian McEwan and Peter Godwin speaking at Hay

The Hay organisers have begun talking about ideas for a possible repeat of the festival next year.

“We always say we try to give a new destination three years, unless something catastrophic happens, to capitalise on all the hard work of the first year,” Fryers said. “We’ve already started talking about how to take the idea forward in the Maldives.”