Comment: When you’re voteless in the Maldives, resistance is not futile

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Saturday dawned as crisp, sunny and beautiful as any other day in the Maldives. The clear blue skies belied the dark cloud that descended over a majority of the country’s population after the beleaguered Elections Commission announced shortly before midnight on Friday that the Supreme Court, and other allied state institutions, had left it with no choice but to call off the second round.

What the Elections Commission has been forced to call off is hope — the expectation that democracy will be restored in the Maldives on 11 November 2013.

For 19 long months, a majority of Maldivians have dedicated most of their lives to winning back democracy from the authoritarian gang that came to power on 7 February 2012. The fight has been all-consuming and has affected every single Maldivian one way or another.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup came the violent confrontations with the security forces. Hundreds were beaten up, arbitrarily arrested, detained without charge, and ordered to obey, or else. Basic human rights—freedom of assembly and expression—were rolled back. Foreign ties were broken coldly, with little care for international norms or the inevitable consequences. The economy suffered blow after blow, leading to bankruptcy with little hope for recovery in the foreseeable future.

Working with unscrupulous ‘religious scholars’, intense nationalism was promoted in parallel with virulent xenophobia against any foreign actor that promoted democracy. Ties with autocratic regimes were fostered, along with relations with international gangsters known for drug trafficking and money laundering. National assets were sold off and deals made with unscrupulous foreign governments that spoke democracy but acted with nothing but their own national interest in mind. Unexplained murders, gang-related crimes, drug abuse and sexual offences increased exponentially.

The international community’s decision to condone the coup and endorse it as ‘a legitimate transfer of power’ was a major blow, but not enough to kill the Maldivian people’s desire for democratic governance. In the face of intense pressure from the international community to obey, to put stability before rights, to follow ‘the democratic process’, combined with brutal force by domestic authorities, the street protests could not be sustained. But supporters of democracy did not give up. Led by Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party, Maldivians channeled their frustrated hopes into campaigning for a democratic election instead of protesting on the streets.

MDP’s presidential campaign has been an exemplary democratic exercise – the ‘costed and budgeted’ manifesto it brought out in August this year is the embodiment of a majority of Maldivians’ hopes and dreams for the future. It is based on views and opinions gathered from people on every inhabited island and it envisions a future in which the Maldivian people will, at long last, be empowered to work for their own socio-economic progress under a government that a majority of them have elected of their own free choice. Of course, it is naive to think that every desire would be fulfilled, but at least everyone was asked what they wanted, everyone had a say, and everyone could take ownership of their own future. No such bottom-up exercise has ever been conducted in the long authoritarian history of the Maldives.

On 7 September, 88 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. 45.45 percent of them voted for Mohamed Nasheed, 25.35 percent for Abdulla Yameen, 24.07 percent for Gasim Ibrahim, and 5.13 percent for Mohamed Waheed. Nasheed did not get the 50 percent plus one needed for an outright win, but the Maldivian map, from north to south, was all yellow at the end of voting that day. Most people in all atolls bar two want a democratic government led by Nasheed.

The authoritarians know this, always did. Plan B was there from the start – let them have their vote if they must, but the results will always be ours, as we want it. Over a thousand observers, local and foreign, verified the election as free and fair. Except for minor errors, expected in any election anywhere in the world, it went without a hitch. Only 25 percent of the Maldivian people want Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s autocratic rule to continue. That’s when the stubborn septuagenarian called in all the stops and brought into full play the dregs of dictatorship that continued to infect Maldivian democracy throughout the three years or so it lasted.

Gayoom has played his old house-boy Gasim well. Taking full advantage of Gasim’s indignation about not having received the votes he paid for, Gayoom has dictated most of the Supreme Court bench – the most corrupt of the many corrupt state institutions – to rule in Gasim’s favour, bringing the Maldives to where it is today: a constitutional vacuum into which Gayoom can effortlessly step in and ‘rescue’ us from ourselves. If Gasim thinks that Gayoom will let him take the president’s oath on November 11, he is an even bigger fool than he has repeatedly shown himself to be.

The Supreme Court did not just issue an injunction against the second round, it also ordered the security forces to act against anyone who tries to go ahead with the polls. One can only imagine the elation of the baton-happy coup-Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who immediately deployed his forces to the Elections Commission, sealing the Commissioner and staff off from interaction with anyone local or foreign.

Efforts for mediation by the international community were not just prevented by the police, but strongly criticised by Gayoom’s minions. With his daughter at the helm of foreign relations as the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, it summoned India’s High Commissioner for a good telling-off for attempting to help disenfranchised Maldivians. The government has not stopped spurning the international community since, and will not stop until it becomes clear to everybody – at long last – that Gayoom and his followers will not allow democracy in the Maldives, whatever it takes.

The truth of the matter is, and has been since 7 February 2012, is that there will be no election in the Maldives as long as Nasheed, the champion of the Maldivian democratic movement, is in the running. So the focus has now returned to the farcical prosecution of Nasheed, through the very courts that have proved again and again that they are neither independent nor respectful of the ‘judicial process’. The machinations are fully underway to annul the first round and put Nasheed behind bars before calling fresh elections, if there are to be any. Reports say Gayoom himself is planning to run if and when new elections are held, his ‘economist’ brother having failed to live up to family expectations by not being able to garner much support.

Having lived under Gayoom for most of their lives, a majority of Maldivians remain oblivious to the fact that indefinitely delaying the elections is a robbery of their fundamental right to vote, and not just that of MDP members or supporters of Nasheed. Their gloating about the cancellation of the election is both sad and sickening. They will do everything in their power to help bring Gayoom, and their own enslavement, back to life.

For the rest of Maldivians, the only choice left is to refuse to obey. Power, contrary to popular belief, is not something that can be taken away by force. It can only be given away, by the people, if we so decide.

Resisting a full-fledged authoritarian reversal has been a long hard slog that has taken a heavy emotional, financial and social toll on all of us. Sustaining the resistance will be difficult, and all out civil disobedience would be even harder; but do it we must, if we are to be in control of our own destiny. What we must keep in mind is: nobody can govern us without our consent. It is within our power not to give it.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

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]


Comment: Justice has little to do with the impending prosecution

This article was first published on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

With former President Mohamed Nasheed taking refuge at the Indian high Commission in Male’, the international community’s strange apathy towards the ongoing fight for democracy in the Maldives has been stirred, if not entirely shaken. As Male’ waits to find out how India will respond to the Maldivian government’s request to hand Nasheed over to the police today, it is worth looking at the intricacies of small island politics where personalities loom large. What is at stake, and equally importantly, who are the players?

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, is holed up in the Indian High Commission in Male’. Seeking refuge in Indian diplomatic premises was a smart move by the former president, a veteran democracy activist. It not only provided him sanctuary and forced India’s involvement, it also provided India – smarting from Male’s recent insults and shabby treatment of GMR — with the opportunity to do a policy U-turn without embarrassment.

Nasheed has now been at the Indian High Commission for a week. If he leaves, his next long-term residence is most likely to be the prison island of Dhoonidhoo. The current government is prosecuting Nasheed for arresting Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, in January 2012, a month before the coup. The pursuit of Nasheed through the courts began in July last year. Several summons and arrest warrants have been issued, cancelled and enforced since. In October last year, the police made a deliberately high profile arrest of Nasheed while campaigning on an island far from Male’. The last arrest warrant, issued on Monday, five days after Nasheed took refuge at the High Commission, expires at 4:00pm today.

Nasheed, an Amnesty prisoner of conscience who spent several years in jail for dissent, has said the prosecution is politically motivated. The purpose, he says, is to ensure he cannot run in the presidential elections scheduled for 7 September. Any sentence will disqualify him from the race. If Nasheed is prevented from running, there will be unrest like the country has never before seen. He is loved by many, more than he is loathed by coup-makers and their supporters. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has over 47,000 members, and they are all ardent supporters.

Since Nasheed sought refuge, several ‘delegations’ from various constituencies have presented him with bouquets, some wrapped in silk, almost on a daily basis. Yesterday they brought him bouquets, or at least tried to, until the police blocked their way with barricades.

Nasheed had been ‘the people’s president’, mingling with the young, the old, the rich and the poor with equal ease. When he takes to the streets, they follow him. Now, sensing he is in danger, they march on the streets of Male’ every evening, calling for his protection. Several have stated — with all seriousness — that Nasheed can only be taken into custody over their dead bodies. At an MDP press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, yesterday, former Foreign Minister Mohamed Naseem announced the party would boycott the elections if Nasheed is prevented from running under any pretext. That is close to 50,000 people, a large chunk of voters among the 350,000 population who would not participate in the election.

Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the current president, along with a group of nameless men “all… of the same level” who now rule the country, meanwhile, are depicting Nasheed’s presence at the Indian High Commission as a ploy to avoid facing the charges against him. Waheed said he was “dismayed” Nasheed remained at the Indian High Commission, instigating “street violence”, his view of the nightly demonstrations by Nasheed’s supporters.

Waheed used to be Nasheed’s Vice President but, when offered the presidency by coup-makers in January, promptly betrayed Nasheed and hastened to take oath as President of the Maldives. A PhD graduate from Stanford University with a long career in the United Nations, he was seen by the international community as someone who would ‘stabilise’ the volatile atmosphere created by the coup.

He has since aligned himself closely with the ideologies of the Islamist Adhaalath Party, overseen curtailment of several fundamental civil and political rights, disregarded blatant human rights abuses by security forces, and partaken in the xenophobic and nationalistic campaign to oust India’s GMR. Waheed loves Twitter, has intimate personal chats in public with his family on various social media and, although seemingly composed and calm most of the time, can surprise with fist-pumping, rebel-rousing speeches when excited.

Unlike Nasheed, Waheed has very few supporters. His party has just over 3000 members with no representation in parliament. It is a common joke that his supporters consist of his wife Ilham, his children, and one loyal advisor (among two). He recently launched his presidential bid at his wife’s house, but is yet to reveal whether he will compete as an individual or form an alliance with someone else. With so few supporters, and lack of potential allies, he has very little hope of winning, especially with Nasheed in the race. Based on past and present behaviour, it is clear that he would gladly participate in any political prosecution of Nasheed.

Waheed is not the only one. All of the presidential candidates would like to see the back of Nasheed. Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who returned to the political centre-stage after the coup, has said he is “embarassed” by Nasheed’s decision to take refuge at the High Commission. He must also feel frustrated. Gayoom and his fellow authoritarians’ control over the Maldives’ judiciary is now well exposed and often discussed. If Nasheed can be brought to court, all three judges, hand-picked from among the worst on the bench, would arrive at a guilty verdict with ease. They would impose a hefty sentence.

With Nasheed inside the Indian High Commission, international law has got in the way. Gayoom’s party, PPM, has not yet decided on their presidential candidate. Would it be Gayoom the septuagenarian? His politically active daughter, currently State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon? His brother Abdulla Yamin, against whom there are corruption charges amounting to US$800,000? One of Gayoom’s two sons? With Nasheed in the race, the times ahead will be tough for any member of the family. With him gone, the field is wide open.

Gasim Ibrahim and Ahmed Thasmeen Ali are also in the running. Gasim is one of the richest men in the country. He has shares in almost everything that makes money from five star hotels to the humble onion. He owns not just several resorts but a fleet of assorted vessels, an airport, and a hefty reputation for being a womaniser. Gasim never attended school (and is one of the country’s worst public speakers), but was recently awarded an honorary doctorate in entrepreneurship from the Open University of Malaysia in recognition of his mega-tycoon status.

Gasim invests heavily in education, although his reasons for doing so are often far from altruistic. Attending one of his schools means towing his Jumhooree Party line – student and staff alike. He provides scholarships and loans for university education abroad for many, several of whom then enter into a life-long relationship of patronage with him. He recently described the power relations between him and the people as that of “master and servants.” Although without any training or experience in law or even a remotely related discipline, he now sits on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the chief overseer of the judiciary. Many of Nasheed’s supporters have asked: how can Nasheed have a fair trial when Gasim, his rival in the presidential race, sits in the JSC with its control over the judiciary?

Thasmeen’s party, the DRP, was Gayoom’s party before Gayoom split and formed PPM. While some maintain that DRP is ‘more democratic’ than PPM, with Thasmeen at the helm, the party participated in — and condoned — events of 7 February that ended democratic governance. Unlike his competitors – Nasheed, Gasim, Gayoom (or whoever Gayoom anoints from the shortlist) all of whom generate intense emotions among people – Thasmeen is mostly regarded with indifference. He rarely makes headlines, and is often discussed among rival supporters and democracy activists in relation to unpaid debts of millions owed by a family business.

DRP itself, however, still has a significant number of supporters. Last December Gayoom’s PPM overtook DRP in numbers to become the second largest party, but two days ago, DRP once again became the second largest party with 22,687 members. But, there is only a difference of 64 members between the two parties. The truth is, there is little that differentiates members of the two parties — some support PPM because it’s Gayoom’s, and others support DRP because it was Gayoom’s. Unlike Gayoom’s embarrassment and Waheed’s dismay, Thasmeen was “saddened” by Nasheed seeking refuge. Just like them, however, he sees Nasheed’s act as “unnecessary”, and a ploy to evade justice.

Apart from the candidates, there are also several petty chiefs who would like Nasheed behind bars. Several of them, frighteningly, work in law enforcement. The Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, for example. All of them would love it if Nasheed simply disappeared.

Jameel, the Home Minister (also present during the police mutiny on 7 February), is from the island of Fuammulah, an atoll unto itself, located furthest south of Male’. Jameel has a PhD in Law from London’s SOAS University, but has a shockingly tenuous grasp of the fundamentals of democracy, even rule of law. Jameel is known to have a vicious temper, having flown off the handle in public on several occasions, earning him the nickname Angry Bird. It would not be an exaggeration to say Jameel hates Nasheed.

In a pamphlet he co-authored with Hassan Saeed (with whom heads the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), another small party of little consequence) he accuses Nasheed of attempting to undermine and destroy the Islamic faith in the Maldives. Saeed is Jameel’s long-time friend (they live in the same apartment building) and he is also one of Waheed’s special advisors (the disloyal one). Nasheed had Jameel arrested for defamation after the ‘hate-pamphlet’ was published, but Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed (the same judge for whose arrest Nasheed is currently being prosecuted for), released him.

For Jameel, it is payback time. Having Nasheed arrested and prosecuted before the elections is imperative, he has said. On Monday, Jameel told Times of India that “I would be the happiest person to see Nasheed contest and lose.” Jameel’s two fantasies are mutually exclusive, but will end with the same desired climax: Nasheed will not be President again.

Nazim the Defence Minister and Abdulla Riyaz the Police Commissioner fear that should Nasheed be re-elected they, and not Nasheed, would be heading to Dhoonidhoo. Nasheed has called them traitors and openly declared his intention to prosecute them, if he is re-elected. They, with the current state minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz, commandeered the security forces during the police mutiny on 7 February 2012. To avoid jail time, they must imprison Nasheed. All three lost their positions during Nasheed’s government, and all bear personal grudges.

Is Nasheed’s life in danger?

Yes, says all Nasheed’s supporters. Last week, pro-MDP TV channel, Raajje TV, aired a video that was all the confirmation they needed. Nasheed, less then 24-hours after he resigned, was being brutally manhandled by a squad of about twenty policemen. They are all dressed in full riot gear. One of them has the former President, their Commander in Chief only a few hours previously, by the collar, hand across throat. In a move that supporters have likened to the movements of Neo, the protagonist in Hollywood hit movie The Matrix, Nasheed is seen sliding away from their grasp and fleeing for his life.

The policemen after Nasheed are members of an ‘elite’ squad named Special Operations or SOs. These are the same men who led the police mutiny on 7 February. According to the CoNI testimony of Nasheed’s police Commissioner, Ahmed Faseeh, the SOs’ origins explained their present: They were the ‘Star Force’, put together in a rush to control the uprisings in 2004 against Gayoom’s dictatorship.

To sum up his description of the squad, most SOs are men recruited into the police straight from the streets, given muscle enhancing substances (suspicions focus on steroids), made to pump iron, taken to intensive training in a foreign country, and brought back home for the sole purpose of ‘crowd control’. Then, as now, according to Fasyh, they were a tough squad to control. Back under Nazim and Riyaz, the SOs have happily reverted to form, taking up pre-democracy tactics of violence and brutality with ease and abandon. And, as seen in the video, they have no respect for Nasheed, or his life.

All things considered, is Nasheed’s prosecution politically motivated? Yes. Apart from all the reasons above, the current regime has failed to implement any steps recommended by the international community to reform the judiciary. Judge Abdulla Mohamed, whom Nasheed arrested citing national security, and against whom their are many allegations of misconduct and criminal activities, not just remains on the bench as the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, but is also a part of the regime’s inner circle, attending government functions and officiating at various events.

Questions remain over the legality of the Hulhumale’ Court where he is to be tried, and all calls to redress Article 285 of the Constitution have been willfully ignored.

Justice appears to have very little to do with the impending prosecution.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

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]


Comment: Dr Who? Know thy President

This article first appeared on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

Until Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik took oath of office as President of the Maldives on 7 February, most people did not know much about him, and even more could not care less.

The generally shared impression of Waheed was that he is an educated man who drily stuck to policy, the ex-UNICEF man with a PhD from Stanford. As Vice President he was delegated drugs and environment as focus topics, both issues of great national concern. He seemed to keep well out of the political intrigue and chaos that surrounded him; and, unlike most Members of Parliament and the increasing band of petty politicians, largely managed to stay out of newspaper gossip, and the extremely productive Maldivian grapevine.

He has friends in high places, even if of dubious credentials, like the vacillating British tycoon Sir Richard Branson who first criticised Waheed then admired him then suggested a middle-ground; and the mysterious ‘Malaysian consultant’, Dr Ananda Kumarasiri. Kumarasiri is a best-selling Buddhist author who, when he arrived in Male’ shortly after 7 February, was described as ‘a passing friend.’ But he was allowed to interrupt Waheed during an official press conference, and to speak for him in Sri Lanka.

Abroad, the general impression Waheed seems to have left is that of an affable, likeable man. Even when disagreeing with him, Waheed’s foreign acquaintances make a point of saying they like him.

Branson said, for instance:

It was a real pleasure meeting you and your delightful wife when I was last in the Maldives…

From knowing you, I would assume that you were given no choice and that it was through threats that you have ended up in this position.

And Mike Mason, Nasheed’s Energy Advisor, said this:

I don’t think Dr Waheed is a bad man – actually I like him a lot personally.

Perhaps these men see a side of Waheed that the general Maldivian public do not. Certainly, his interactions with the foreign press are rather jovial and quite the opposite of the dull occasions they are back home.

Truth is, the general Maldivian public did not quite know who Dr Waheed was, and nobody really cared. But, now that he has put himself in the Presidential limelight, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is substantial discord between the image people had constructed of Waheed and the details of his personality emerging since he assumed office on 7 February.

At an early press conference as President, for example, he was asked about allegations of a coup. Waheed replied,”Do I look like a man who would stage a coup d’état?”

Waheed’s belligerence towards those against his presidency came as a shock to most people. A popular recrimination of Waheed among Maldivians is that he is a quitter. In 1989 he ran for Parliament but quit and left the country in 1991 when the going got tough under Gayoom’s repression. He only returned in 2005. People call him ‘Fili Waheed’, ‘Waheed who fled.’

In the last 141 days Waheed has shown that this label no longer applies, if it ever did. He makes his determination to stay President until November 2013 crystal clear. He spelled it out for the BBC earlier this month. Even if CoNI [Commission of National Inquiry] finds that there was a coup on 7 February, unless his direct involvement was proven, he would not leave the post. Even if it means battling it out in court.

If they [the commission] find out that I have had a role in bringing about a coup, then I will definitely resign.

But if I have no role – if somebody else has done it – it doesn’t mean I have to resign, according to the law of the Maldives.

People were properly introduced to this new aspect of Waheed’s personality on 24 February when he gave a rousing speech in ‘Defence of Islam’ to a thousand-strong crowd of supporters. Gone was the refined gentleman of the world, the Westernised academic. Here was an Islamic warrior, calling everyone to join his Jihad and proclaiming Allah had made him President. Again, it wasn’t just words, but his actions; the whole package jarred sharply with the public perception of Waheed.

The previously placid Dr Waheed pumped his fists in the air and addressed his supporters as Mujaheddin. Where did all the rage, the Islamist vocabulary, the sheer bull-headedness, the pelvis-pumping, and the swagger come from?

Waheed’s attempts to deliver his presidential address on 19 March also show his determination to keep his job, and suggest that he quite relishes defeating MDP’s efforts to prove the illegitimacy of his government. Three times he was interrupted mid-sentence during his ‘inaugural address’. Where a less determined man would have crumpled, Waheed battled on and, in a credible impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Terminator, told MDP MPs: ‘I’ll be back.’ He was. He delivered the speech.

Since becoming President, he has also shown himself to be remarkably thick-skinned to public humiliation. Led by Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), supporters of Nasheed and reformists have continued to oppose his rule on the streets of Male on a regular basis. When Waheed travels across the country, he has to send ahead armed police and military to line the streets and protect him from protesters.

Waheed has refused to let it get to him. Instead, he seems to have decided on a strategy of ignoring the protesters, claiming – and then sincerely believing – he has 90 percent support among the Maldivian population. He pretends not to hear the calls for early elections, and the public anger against him. When he cannot avoid angry democrats, he waves, smiles, and makes sure at least one smiling child is in the vicinity for a photograph that could be captioned as ‘my supporters love me.’

With time, it has also become clear that although Waheed has set up CoNI to look into the events of 7 February 2012 and Nasheed’s resignation, he remains absolutely convinced that Nasheed was responsible for his own demise. Details of an email exchange between Dr Waheed and Nasheed’s Energy Advisor Mike Mason published by Minivan News this month revealed that in Waheed’s opinion, Nasheed was under the influence of an illegal substance when he decided to resign.

“It would be nice if you listened to something other than Nasheed’s propaganda. He is free to go anywhere he wants and say what ever he wants,” Waheed wrote.

“Have you ever thought that Nasheed could have made a stupid mistake under the influence of what ever he was on and blown everything away? I thought you had more intelligence than to think that I am someone’s puppet and Maldives is another dictatorship,” the President said.

Is Waheed a puppet?

Since the coup, people have come to form a new impression of Waheed: that he is a puppet of political masters above him. In late February, an audio recording was leaked to the local media in which Waheed’s own political advisor was heard describing him as ‘the most incompetent politician in the Maldives.’ From Dr Hassan Saeed’s comments, emerged a Waheed who felt bored and irrelevant within Nasheed’s administration, spending his time playing games on social media networks.

Although it contradicts Waheed’s emerging Hard Man persona, it matches people’s perception of him as a coward and a quitter.

Many incidents have occurred in these 141 days of his presidency to suggest the accusations are not baseless rumours. Waheed’s speech was interrupted live by MP and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim on 24 February. A President who is in command will only be interrupted in public if there is a national emergency (remember this moment?)

or, if someone else is in command.

And then there are the ‘little things.’ Like Waheed paying a courtesy call on Gayoom at Gayoom’s residence after becoming president. Protocol dictates the visit be the other way round. When President Mahmood Abbas of Palestine paid a visit, on invitation from President Nasheed, it was impossible to say who the official host was, Gayoom or Waheed.

Waheed also seems incapable of stopping involvement of the supernatural in law enforcement practices–a hallmark of Gayoom’s thirty-year rule–that have returned to haunt Maldivian politics in the last three months. The general impression of Waheed as the well-travelled ex-UN-official cannot be easily reconciled with a Commander in Chief who lets his armed forces pursue, prosecute, and punish people for ‘practising sorcery.’

Another factor that further indicates Waheed is far from being in control of the government is his relations with the Islamists. Perhaps because he worked in Afghanistan, and saw first hand the dangers of extremist religion in the twenty-first century, countering Islamism in the Maldives seemed to be of some concern to Waheed. In October 2010, for example, he told Indians that ‘rising extremism‘ posed a challenge to the Maldives.

Yet, he gave that 24 February speech about the Mujaheddin, and allowed himself to be criticised for attending a ceremonial service at St Paul’s in London marking the British Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

In May, convicted terrorist Mohamed Ameen who detonated a bomb in Male’s main tourist thoroughfare was released from prison, while this month Islamists attempted to murder the country’s only openly gay rights activist and campaigner for a secular Maldives, Hilath Rasheed. On 7 February itself, extremists vandalised the National Museum and destroyed age-old Buddhist relics.

Waheed has remained silent on such critical incidents while key members of his cabinet have told the international community that threats from Islamism in the Maldives are exaggerated.

Also, thanks to a purple-prose column published on Haveeru [in Dhivehi] recently commemorating the 25th aniversary of Dr Waheed’s PhD degree, the public has come to know that his dissertation was on the subject of political influence over national education curricula. Yet, he has not made a stand against the Islamist Adhaalath Party’s continuing efforts to meddle with the national curriculum. And he most certainly did not stand up against Adaalath, and key political figures, for their criticism of Nasheed as anti-Islamic when Washington Post reported that:

While he [Nasheed] was in power, he says, he changed the school curriculum to make it “more balanced and not so Islamic” and proposed a new penal code less dependent on Islamic sharia law.

It is surprising that a man so proud of his academic credentials that he thinks its 25th anniversary is an occasion deserving of national attention, fails to stand up for the core arguments of his own work. Such weakness of principles does suggest a corresponding weakness in character, making it very plausible that Waheed is, indeed, a puppet being controlled by an unspecified master or masters.

Despite his many weaknesses in the face of the varying demands and beliefs of the so-called Unity Government, should Waheed really be dismissed as a mere puppet?

It is just as, if not more, plausible that his ‘inability’ to take action is precisely the terms of the deal he agreed to with the so-called Opposition Coalition in the early hours of the morning of 31 January 2012.

The rewards for Waheed the President, even if a very short-term president, are rich. Apart from the usual perks of travelling the country and the world in full national honour, influence and global profile, there are also the many benefits for his nearest and dearest.

Almost all members of his family in Male’ and of working age are now in high-ranking government positions or in lucrative positions as board members of various national and international businesses and associations. His son Jeffery Salim Waheed, was promoted from an Intern at the Maldives Permanent Mission to the UN to First Secretary shortly after Waheed assumed office. Salim Waheed was previously a vocal campaigner for democracy but has now become a crusader for his father’s cause.

Judging from what other key players in the Opposition Coalition have said, Waheed’s deal with them also includes a promise that he will not run for presidency in 2013. Umar Naseer, the outspoken Vice President of Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has told the media several times that he ‘knows’ Waheed will not run in 2013. So far, Gasim Ibrahim from the Jumhooree Party (JP), Thasmeen Ali from Dhivehi Rayyithun ge Party (DRP) and Nasheed have declared their intention to run in 2013. Waheed has stayed silent.

The silence suggests Umar Naseer, as usual, is speaking from first-hand knowledge of the behind the scenes strategising by the Unity Government. Waheed’s share of the pie for helping topple Nasheed seems to be twenty-one months as President, and full immunity from prosecution at the end of his term with full benefits and privileges accorded to former presidents. A life of luxury abroad–preferably in America and desirably inclusive of frequent socialising with the Obamas, and perhaps working the lecture circuits à la Clinton and Blair, is what Waheed is looking forward to once he completes his part of the deal.

This suggests that Waheed is more pragmatist than puppet. Someone who knew exactly what he wanted–the Presidency of the Republic of Maldives–and got it. It mattered little to him how. Dismissing Waheed as a puppet would be a mistake.

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]