Suspension of democracy an assault on the Maldives’ fragile democracy: The Diplomat

The future of democracy on the archipelago looks bleak after a constitutionally questionable court intervention, writes Sudha Ramachandran for The Diplomat.

Late last week, the Maldives Supreme Court announced that the run-off vote should be postponed indefinitely. It is a move that is both unconstitutional and an assault on the country’s fragile democracy.

The decision has been criticized by Nasheed’s MDP as a “complete defiance of the Constitution,” an act of “betrayal of democracy and the will of the Maldivian people” by a “discredited court.” Indeed, Article 111 of the Maldivian Constitution says a run-off must be held within 21 days of the first round of voting. September 28, the day the Election Commission had scheduled for the run-off, was that deadline.

Many observers believe that the postponement of the run-off is an extension of what happened eighteen months ago. The sharp polarization between pro and anti-democratic forces persists.

“Anti-democratic forces who we thought we had defeated in 2008, asserted themselves in 2012 and have regrouped now, acting through the judiciary to keep Nasheed from returning as president,” a Maldivian businessman, who participated in the pro-democracy protests a decade ago and is based now in India, tells The Diplomat. “By keeping Nasheed out, these forces are preparing the ground for the Maldives return to full-fledged authoritarian rule,” he warns.

Maldivians will be anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s verdict. Will it annul the election result and call for fresh elections, enabling Ibrahim to mount a renewed effort for the presidency? Will it dismiss Ibrahim’s appeal and announce a new date for the run-off, facilitating Yameen’s campaign? Or will it keep the election process in suspension, extending Waheed’s presidency? The verdict will depend on who the apex court is backing. Meanwhile the Maldivian military will be planning its moves.

Whatever the outcome, the future of the Maldives’ badly damaged democracy looks bleak.

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Senior US diplomat Robert Blake to meet top government, opposition figures in Male’

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake will be meeting senior government and opposition figures during a visit to the Maldives on Wednesday (September 12).

Blake’s visit, part of a wider tour of South Asia that includes visits to Nepal and Sri Lanka, will include meetings with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan and former President Mohamed Naseed, according to a state department release.

A “round-table” will also be held with a number of civil society leaders, while Blake will conclude his visit with a press conference at the American Corner in the capital’s National Library building.

“[Assistant Secretary Blake] will express US support for all Maldivian parties charting a way forward that respects Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the will of the Maldivian people,” added the state department in its release.


Fundamentalism more urgent threat to Maldives than climate change: The Diplomat

If global warming poses an existential threat to the Maldives, Islamic fundamentalism arguably presents an even greater political and economic challenge to the island nation in the short term to medium term, writes Sanjay Kumar for The Diplomat.

This danger was evident recently when the government ordered the shutdown of all spas and health centers at all resorts on the island. The decision came in the wake of a protest by an opposition conservative Islamic party, Adhaalath party or Justice Party, calling for a complete ban on such spas, which they believe are operating as brothels. Protesters were also demanding a ban on the sale of alcohol, demolition of monuments that the Islamists see as idols and a halt to direct flights to Israel.

In an apparent about-face, the government last week rescinded the ban, not least because of the damage that an extended ban would have done to the economy, which relies heavily on tourism. According to one estimate, approximately 900,000 tourists visited the islands last year.

Most of the 1,200 islands that make up the Maldives, which has a total population of more than four million, practice Sunni Islam. But the character of this island nation has still traditionally been liberal and tolerant – women there don’t typically wear the burqa, and they are active in the socio-economic arena. Indeed, President Mohamed Nasheed recently advocated for a “tolerant” form of Islam in his country.

But this hasn’t stopped a very determined minority working to radicalise society. Some blame former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for turning the country toward radical Islam by declaring Islam to be the state religion in 1997, thereby restricting the freedom of non-Islamic beliefs.

In 2002, a Maldivian named Ibrahim Fauzee was arrested in Karachi for having links with al-Qaeda and was whisked away to Guantanamo Bay by the United States. In 2003, an Edhyafushi Island poster praising Osama bin Laden appeared on the walls of a school. In 2005, Islamic fundamentalists attacked a shop in the capital Male for showcasing a picture of Santa Claus. In September 2007, foreign tourists were injured in an explosion in the capital’s Sultan’s Park.

When I last visited the Maldives I got the sense there was underlying apprehension about the expansion of Islamist extremist forces in the country. I interviewed President Nasheed recently to ask him about these concerns, and he told me that although he understood people’s fears, that there was no need to worry. He felt the radicals were a tiny minority that would be rejected by the people.

But some of the officials I spoke to were less sanguine. They explained that ideological support for the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is increasing, and they expressed concern over the rising number of Maldivian students going to Pakistan and the Arab World to seek religious education.

It’s clear that rising sea levels aren’t the only threat to the Maldives’ way of life. And while no nation in the 21st century should have to fear any religion, extremism has a tendency of eating up and spitting out even the best intentions of some countries.

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