Comment: Breaking the rules of democracy

Given the events of the past three years it is fair to say that we are still a democracy in principle rather than in practice. The existing authoritarian and undemocratic enclaves prevalent within our socio-political system support this argument. By authoritarian enclaves I refer to the prevalent corruption, the lack of respect for the constitution and the rule of law, and the continuous stifling of our civil and political rights by the so-called political fanatics, ‘vanguards’ of democracy and religious scholars in the Maldives.

It is true, old habits die hard. After 30 years of repression and authoritarian rule we still continue to focus on personalities; our institutions are not independent of specific personalities and as a society we continue to limit each other’s political freedoms. We need to liberate ourselves from our traditional, personalised patronage politics. We need to liberate ourselves from the old habits.

To be democratic we need to understand that the rule of law precedes everything; civil liberties such as freedom of expression should be exercised with responsibility and as a society we need to make informed and responsible decisions in selecting and electing those who represent our voice.

President Waheed was right when he said on Hardtalk that “we have come to this point because we have not respected our constitution. We have not respected the rule of law. The last thing I want to do is to circumvent our constitution”. So when and where have we circumvented our constitution? Without going into the details of Gayyoom’s 30 year authoritarian regime, if we begin with the dawn of our democracy following the election of Mohamed Nasheed, when and where have the laws of the land been flouted? Where have we failed at democracy?

The rule of law was flouted when the Supreme Court was locked down under the order of Nasheed. The rule of law was flouted when a senior judge was ‘judgenapped’ and arrested. We failed at democracy when projects or investment opportunities were given to political party aides and cronies without declaration of ‘conflict of interest’ or without a fair bidding process. We failed at democracy as the number of family ties increased within the top brass of the state institutions. We failed at democracy when we failed to listen to public protests for 22 consecutive days, regardless of whether they were 200 people, a minority, or 100,000 people.

During Nasheed’s regime, the opposition too failed at democracy because they refused to accept the rules of the game of democracy. Over the past couple of years the opposition have been hell bent on creating parliamentary deadlocks which delayed the enactment of key legislations; used religious fervor to rile up anti-MDP sentiments and backed questionable characters to achieve their political goals. Democracy is not the only game in town if the losers of an election do not accept their defeat. If we see democracy under the axiom of a game, it will only continue to work if the losers in the game want to play/try again within the same institutional framework under which they lost.

Our constitutional sins reached a new level on February 7, 2012. The constitution of our country was punched in the face when our democratically elected leader was ousted in a coup. If Nasheed was such a failure, his removal should have been by the rule of law, by the people and by the ballot. Whether by the fate of circumstances, by Nasheed’s own making or by advanced planning the removal of an elected President by force, has set a very dangerous precedent here and in my opinion this constitutional sin is worse than anything Nasheed ever did.

I am willing to accept that politicians from all sides have failed to uphold the rule of law in the past, move forward and draw lessons from it. So I ask President Waheed, since he holds the reigns now, what is his plan to uphold and maintain the rule of law? The current government’s commitment to democracy will continue to be tested and judged by the disgruntled opposition until the next election. Until then I hope our fragile democracy will continue to withstand the pressures and shocks without abandoning the electoral process ever again. The lesson for all of us is, never again should the constitution and rule of law be abandoned under the guise of upholding democracy.

I am not really concerned about ‘who’ is in power as long as the person in power is there through legitimate means and is concerned about implementing positive change. We have intellectuals on both sides of the political spectrum. Our infant democracy was born by the work of several people. For every protester there was an intelligent and energetic policymaker creating the rules of the game. For instance, Nasheed is a great orator and a true torch bearer for democracy. While Nasheed carried the torch, there were policy makers behind the table such as Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Dr Hassan Saeed, and Dr Waheed who rigorously used other channels to bring democracy to our country. All of them should be credited for their contributions regardless of which side of the table they are on.

Some of our MP’s display appalling behavior, ignorance and a lack of professionalism. Some are borderline criminals. When the next election confronts us, we as the electorate have a moral responsibility to select and elect leaders who are competent, crime-free and open-minded.

One of the fundamental components of democracy is freedom of expression, because without it, free elections mean nothing. We do enjoy ‘freedom of expression’ in the Maldives but without any responsibility. Freedom of expression is an abused freedom in the Maldives because religious extremists use it to spread their religious fatwa’s, war-mongerers use it to spread their hate, politicians use it to create division and the media uses it to spread half-truths. Where is our sense of social responsibility when we exercise freedom of expression?

We need to remember that before the 7th of February there were thousands of people who opposed MDP and exercised their fundamental right to criticise. The coup was not undertaken by the opposition supporters, therefore, why should they be labelled as ‘baghees’ (traitors)? The level of cyber bullying evident on social media towards anyone associated with the current government is one example where freedom of opinion is violated. The number of people that tell me that they are afraid to show their support to the parties they supported prior to 7th February due to fear of being labelled as ‘baghee’ is proof enough that freedom of opinion and expression is no longer a given. Without proper freedom of thought, opinion and association we will never be able to safeguard the integrity of our elections.

As a society that aspires to be democratic we all have a social responsibility to respect the rule of law, exercise our freedoms with responsibility and empower politicians for the right reasons. We are the drivers of change and politicians are only the mediators we select to implement the change we want.

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]


Yameen files civil court case against Thasmeen over debt collection

The civil court has confirmed that the leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) Abdulla Yameen has filed a court case against Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, the recently elected leader of PA’s coalition partner, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

The court said the case was regarding ‘debt collection’, but was unable to reveal the amount being sought. The case was filed on 31 Jan and the submission fee paid today, the court stated, adding that a judge would now be assigned to the case and a hearing scheduled.

Yesterday Yameen spoke to newspaper Miadhu claiming the elections process within the DRP was “not free and fair”, and that it was undemocratic that the party’s leader should be automatically selected without an election. Miadhu noted that Yameen’s own party had elected him as leader uncontested.

Yameen said today that the court case was “a civil case with no bearing on a political arrangement”. He said he “wished the coalition well” and did not want anyone “especially the media” to politicise the matter.

In late December Yameen denied that the relationship between the two coalition parties was strained, telling Miadhu that any problems within the coalition were the “wishful thinking” of the MDP.

DRP member Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef said while he assumed the issue of the court case between the two leaders would be discussed by the party’s council, “this issue does not concern me as a DRP member.”

“The bottom line is that Yameen has filed a case against Thasmeen, not that the leader of the PA has filed a case against the leader of the DRP. It has nothing to do with the parties.”

The coalition agreement, Mundhu noted, was “a parliamentary coalition agreement, not a fully-fledged coalition.”

He said he did not expect the court case to damage the public’s perception of the coalition, an alliance which gave the two parties a working majority in the 2009 parliamentary election.

“We just heard the headline, we’re not sure where its coming from, or why they felt the need to go ahead with a court case,” Mundhu said.

When the Congress meets later this month, “Thasmeen is going to be the leader – that’s basically a fact,” he noted.

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom endorsed Thasmeen as his successor to the DRP leadership during a speech announcing his retirement from politics last week.

DRP spokesman Ibrahim Shareef said the court case “means nothing” and was furthermore “a private matter”.

Yameen’s comments regarding the fairness of the party’s selection of leadership were “his own private opinion”, Shareef stated, and as for the health of the coalition, “there are some difficulties but they are not major concerns.”

Spokesperson for the rival MDP party Ahmed Haleem Zaki speculated that the court case was “politically motivated.”

“Yameen wants to become a leader,” Haleem said. “He has a lot of experience during the last government and is a very qualified guy. He is very educated and has a good mind, and is very determined: he has played a sometimes very dirty role in politics. Thasmeen isn’t popular in the Maldives – he has 6-7 members in parliament, but a lot of financial problems.”

In November last year Thasmeen and several members of his family were questioned by police over issues raised during an audit of the Bank of Maldives (BML).

According to the report by Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, loans totalling Rf1 billion taken out by Fonadhoo Tuna, a company owned by Thasmeen, and luxury yachting company Sultans of the Sea, connected to the party leader, had yet to see any repayments.

Together the loans accounted for 13 per cent of the total amount loaned by the bank in 2008. Naeem commented at the time that defaults on bank loans issued to “influential political players” could jeopardise the entire financial system of the country.

In early December the civil court ordered Sultans of the Seas to pay over Rf654 million (US$50 million) in unpaid loans, fines and accumulated interest to BML over the course of one year.

Thasmeen had not responded to Minivan News’ requests for comment at time of press.