“Democracy must be restored in the Maldives,” Nasheed tells US media

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s promotional tour of the US media for the Island President continued over the weekend, including interviews with the Washington Post, Salon, and the Huffington Post, among others.

The interviews follow Nasheed’s appearance last week on the Late Show with David Letterman, and address to Colombia University. The recent political instability in the Maldives has been as much a topic in many of the interviews as the wider environmental threat highlighted in the Island President, and the media has been quick to draw parallels.

The first half of the film gives a political backdrop to Nasheed’s own political rise – and imprisonment.

“It is very important that democracy be restored in the Maldives, and we hope that friendly governments understand the necessity and the need for it,” Nasheed said, in a Q&A with Salon. “As we see it now, I’m afraid the government there is going to all sorts of places. Certainly it’s not going democratically, and we need to bring it back.”

Asked by Salon if he believed Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government would pursue tackling climate change to the same degree, Nasheed said “They can’t. You must have a high moral authority to address climate change. Every time you start speaking, you know, you can’t be answering back to the skeletons in your own closet. So it’s not going to be possible for them to articulate in the same manner as a democratic government. I don’t see it happening.”

There was, Nasheed told the magazine, no policies or political ideology behind Gayoom and the former opposition coalition.

“[The] ideology is xenophobia and racism. All the rhetoric against Israel and the West, calling everyone a heathen. It’s really narrow-minded and intolerant and nationalistic. This is an island mentality as well, but it’s possible to change that. It’s not the people who have that mentality but the ruling elite, who want to suppress the people through that narrative, that rhetoric,” Nasheed explained.

Nasheed also met with the US State Department. Recounting the meeting to the Washington Post, Nasheed said: “the whole issue centred around the restoration of democracy in the Maldives, and how it was very important to get the country back on track, and how the US government may assist in doing that.”

“We were encouraged that the US government willing to listen and see how they may be of assistance to democratic progress in the Maldives,” Nasheed said, adding that the State Department had shown a willingness to reassess the situation as new information emerged.

“The US government was of the view that elections were necessary – they had reservations in the past, but main focus of conversation was that whatever their viewpoint in the past, they were willing to assess situation on the ground as it is now.”

Gayoom denies allegations

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom has meanwhile brushed off the allegations made by his successor regarding his involvement in the coup.

Gayyoom in a press statement released yesterday after Nasheed had made remarks to the US media, stated that he had not attempted nor took part in any type of attempts to unlawfully topple the government of Nasheed.

However he acknowledged that his party, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), had participated with thousands of people who raised concerns over Nasheed’s unlawful and unconstitutional actions and his efforts to distance the Maldivian people from their Islamic faith.

“For that purpose, PPM had participated in the protests that were organised by several political parties and NGOs. That [protesting] is a legal and a democratic right for the people to ensure accountability of the president and senior officials of his government. It is also an obligation on the citizens as well,” Gayoom claimed..

Gayoom also expressed his confidence that the events that unfolded on February 7 was not a coup d’état: “Therefore I can confidently say that the allegations that Nasheed is making, regarding the transfer of power that took place on February 7 was a coup d’état or a revolution, and that I was involved in it, are completely absurd.”

Gayoom issued the press statement in particular response to Nasheed’s appearance on Letterman.

During the show, Nasheed said Dr Waheed’s regime, is the “old dictatorship that we voted out of office”.

“Gayyoom is back in the country, his children are in cabinet, he is in power. Dr Waheed is just a facade.” Nasheed said.


Maldives will disappear from climate stage without democracy: Nasheed

As news of the Maldives’ so-called coup d’état grows stale on the international palate, the release of documentary film ‘The Island President’ in New York last week has refreshed the Maldives’ image as a key victim of rising seas. It has also renewed former president Mohamed Nasheed’s image as a climate change activist, who is now pushing democracy as a core ingredient to the climate change movement.

‘The Island President’, produced by Richard Berg and directed by Jon Shenk, chronicles Nasheed’s tumultuous rise to power under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and his fight against global warming. Nasheed was ousted from the presidency last month in a “seriously staged coup” engineered by Gayoom, who he claims has effectively returned to power.

“What I would like to do initially is have democracy back in the Maldives,” Nasheed informed an audience of approximately 200 climate change academics, activists and journalists at Columbia University’s Low Library in New York City on Thursday evening. He stressed that all change is people-based.

“Even UN legislation happens because the people want it, and have the ability to voice their concerns,” he said.

Jointly addressing the topic of climate legislation and the US’ rapid recognition of the Maldives’ new government, Nasheed also encouraged the public to “ask bigger countries not to be so hasty in always defending the status quo.”

Adding that the Maldives’ current government has not addressed climate change – “they only just came to power” – Nasheed expressed concern that without a strong platform on the issue the Maldives would disappear from international awareness.

Climate change has become a pressing item on many diplomatic agendas. Yet few have clearly stated that the matter can only be addressed in a democratic environment.

“I think there is widespread understanding of the close linkage between climate change and politics,” wrote the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and Director of Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law, Michael B Gerrard, in an email to Minivan News. “However, in few places other than the Maldives is there such a close linkage between climate change and democracy itself.”

Gerrard organised and moderated Thursday’s event.

During his tour in the US, Nasheed has claimed that talking about climate change is a matter of human rights – “the minute you start talking about it people start pulling skeletons out of your closet.”

The People’s Politics

“Politicians only do things they are told by the people. I am afraid American’s don’t tell enough.”

Nasheed challenged his audience to make the environment a key platform in the US’s current presidential campaign. “Now, you cannot win an election in Germany without having proper environmental legislation and preparation. I can’t see why it can’t be like that here. It’s really up to the people in the US.”

Gerrard separately stated that American public opinion on climate change has fluctuated amidst economic instability and contentious scientific reports. “There is little prospect for aggressive US action on climate change until the pendulum of public opinion swings back. With an improving economy and growing evidence of the perils of climate change, the political situation may be improving, but things are still in flux,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, several audience members rose to Nasheed’s challenge and asked for further specifics on “the average person’s” role.

“I think we are all average, so all of us should be advocating,” he told one individual, expressing firm belief in street demonstrations and community action.

While channeling the spirits of revolution and humanity sat well with many, other audience members retorted with America’s more prevalent campaign season sentiment – cynicism.

Citing her own allegedly futile efforts to reach state politicians through demonstrations and correspondence, one frustrated activist asked for new approaches. “I don’t know. I have no new advice,” Nasheed admitted. “So, it’s bodies in the streets, basically?” the woman asked, deflated. “I don’t think there is any other, easier way,” he explained, reiterating his support of public demonstrations and community action.

Extreme measures and new economics

If world powers do not reach a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions in the next seven years then the next Maldivian generation will have little country to claim, Nasheed believes.

Reminding the audience that approximately 40 percent of the world population currently lives within 100 kilometres of a coastline, he added, “It’s an issue for all countries, rich or poor, big or small.” He further urged developing countries such as India and China to move away from the “not my fault” discourse that surrounded the Durban talks in December 2011.

While island states such as Kiribisi are reportedly weighing options for relocation, such as the construction of floating islands, Nasheed observed, “You can always relocate a person, but to relocate a culture and a civilisation, is impossible.” Quoting a Maldivian grandmother for whom her place was synonymous with her self, he believed “a vast majority of people [in the Maldives] will stay.”

Shifting the dialogue from sentimental to proactive, Nasheed admitted that constructing islands and relocating communities struck him as “extreme…but we must be thinking about extreme ideas.”

His position on economics was similarly revolutionary.

“The existing economics in which air is a free good is false,” he explained in answer to a question about market-based mechanisms and the Kyoto Protocol. “We need a new economics that will address the issue.”

Focusing on adaptation, Nasheed recommended reversing the language of climate change diplomacy. Stating his feeling that “the UN process exists simply for the sake of process,” he suggested asking countries to take new actions on renewable energy rather than to cut back on existing energy use. “I believe we may be able to arrive at the same destination with renewable energy,” he said.

“So, do it!”

The current political situation in the Maldives was a central talking point with the audience. Questions addressed the arrest of Judge Abdullah Mohamed, the international community’s response to the new government, and even Nasheed’s coping techniques.

One audience member said she had seen the Island President film and was dubious about Nasheed’s genuine nature – suggesting that he was enjoying the celebrity –  but said his manner during the discussion and response to questions at Colobmia was reassuring of his uniquely genuine interest and manner.

Overriding the Gerrard’s cut-off of queued audience members at five minutes before the scheduled end of the discussion, Nasheed found himself face to face with a young woman who had “a question or suggestion”—that he and his team make their views more accessible to the climate change-curious public by expanding their use of social media. Taking in her observation, Nasheed tipped his head and affirmed that it was possible.

“So, do it!” she said.


Maldives signs global shark protection plan

The Maldives has joined seven countries in launching the latest initiative in the global shark conservation effort. The initiative protects 2.7 million square kilometers of ocean waters worldwide from commercial fishing.

Over 73 million sharks are killed each year in the global fin trade. Reports say more are killed as bycatch in fishing operations involving larger species, such as tuna and swordfish.

Efforts to create sanctuaries are spearheaded by the Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environmental Group based in Washington, D. C.

“Our ocean’s health depends on sharks,” said Palauan President Johnson Toribiong. “I am delighted that more countries are pledging to play an active role in ensuring these creatures’ survival, not just in our lifetime but for future generations as well.”

If successful, the declaration would protect 6 million additional square kilometers of ocean area from commercial fishing.
Other signatories were Bahamas, Colombia, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, and Palau.


Maldives and Timor-Leste start Asian initiative on climate change

Maldives and Timor-Leste will be launching the “Asian Initiative on Climate Change,” reports Miadhu.

The world’s largest growing economies and most populous countries are in Asia, and both the governments of the Maldives and Timor-Leste believe if Asia takes immediate action against climate change, other regions in the world will follow.

The Maldives was part of the recent Progressive Group meeting, held in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia last week.

The Progressive Group is formed by countries wanting to reach a legally binding agreement at the next UNFCCC climate change summit in Mexico later this year.

The group will hold a second meeting before COP16 in Malé this July.


Donor Conference pledges now US$487 million, says Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Aid commitments following the recent Maldives Donor Conference have reached US$487 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and State Minister Ahmed Naseem took to the stage this morning to dismiss claims made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that the donor conference had raised less US$20 million in pledges.

“That is their own number,” Dr Shaheed said.

“If you add up the money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) it’s almost US$200 million. That is 80 per cent of pledges coming from these big donors.”

Shaheed spoke about monitoring and implementation mechanisms, which would ensure the funds are used according to the donor’s wishes and the government’s pledges.

Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives Mansoor Ali said the donor conference had been very successful and it was “not the time to be negative” about the results.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of the recent climate change meeting held this week by the Progressive Group in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where delegates from 23 countries met to advance negotiations before the next international climate change summit scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

The Progressive Group brings together the countries with a “forward-looking and constructive attitude to international climate change negotiations,” and played a key role in last year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Delegates from over twenty countries came together in Colombia to “exchange opinions and promote active participation towards the next climate change summit.”

The meeting focused mostly on creating ministerial-level communication between countries, in hopes to ease dialogue between nations and to advance on key issues such as fast-start financing, adaptation, low-carbon development and verification of emission cuts.

Maldives proposed a second ministerial-level meeting to take place in Malé in July this year.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of President Mohamed Nasheed’s recent visit to Europe, and confirmed that German Police officers will be arriving in Malé “very soon” to begin training Maldives Police Service (MPS) officers to work in a democracy.

“They are the ones who retrained the Stasi in East Germany after German reunification, as well as the police force in Kosovo,” Shaheed said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.”

He said the German team will stay in the Maldives from one year to eighteen months, depending on when they believe the MPS is ready, “all at the German government’s expense.”

Dr Shaheed added that Icelandic President, Ólafur Grímsson, will be visiting the Maldives soon to promote sustainable green energy alongside President Nasheed.

Dr Shaheed spoke of the recently signed agreement with the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has agreed to help the Maldives in the bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.

“There needs to be a study on where we have most carbon emissions,” Dr Shaheed said, adding that “they will also try to carbon-proof our current systems.”

The Rothschild group will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives. Dr Shaheed said the surveying will take approximately nine months.

Dr Shaheed ended the press conference with news of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was proposed by the Maldives.

Maldives was chosen to chair the core group discussing the CRC in Geneva, joined by Slovenia, Slovakia, Egypt, Kenya, France, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay and Chile.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, was lacking in allowing cases regarding abuse of the rights of children to be submitted to international UN mechanisms.

The new treaty proposes to allow cases to be sent to international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story Dr Shaheed was quoted as saying the visiting German police trainers were  responsible for retraining the Gestapo after the Second World War. This has been clarified as the Stasi, the East German secret police, who were retrained after the reunification of Germany post-1990.