Comment: A mutiny against democracy

When retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim addressed the press for the first time following his appointment as the country’s new Defence Minister, he strongly asserted that there was no pressure from the armed forces on President Nasheed to resign.

He further claimed in front of journalists that the armed personnel gave no indication either way even when the President had asked them for advice.

However, in a video broadcast afterwards on RaajjeTV, the retired colonel is seen addressing the mutinous security forces at the Republican square on the morning of seventh February. In the video, he is seen coming out of the MNDF barracks, and telling the assembled forces over a loud speaker that he has conveyed their demands, which included the President’s ‘unconditional resignation’.

Clearly, the new Defense Minister needs to rethink this statement, and be more forthcoming about the day’s events.

Furthermore, why the new Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz – who had been sacked earlier – was seen carrying the President’s resignation letter is another question worth asking.

How Nazim and the Abdulla Riyaz, both civilians at the time, were allowed to freely walk into the MNDF barracks and closely accompany the President remains a mystery.

What is clear is that when the President is forced by the armed forces to resign under the threat of violence, held in military detention, brutally beaten up on the streets along with his supporters by the police, has an arrest warrant against him within a day of his resignation, and all the appointments made by his successor are known allies and associates of the former dictatorship that have been hostile to his presidency, then it is time to acknowledge the incident for what it is – a coup d’etat.

A puppet government

To be absolutely clear, Dr Waheed is a admirable man. He is an articulate and accomplished person, with a ton of experience and is eminently worthy of handling the responsibilities of the Presidency – arguably much more so than any candidate the main opposition parties has to offer.

However, the circumstances leading to his acquisition of power are vague, and the little that is known is corrosive to the country’s democratic ambitions.

Noteworthy among them is that the main opposition parties had publicly called upon the armed forces and the police to plead allegiance to the Vice President a week before the police mutiny even happened.

In a democracy, the transfer of power has to absolutely remain the sole prerogative of the people, exercised through the ballot box. This is a sacred writ of democracy that cannot – and should not – ever change.

A few hundred policemen should not be able to forcibly execute a regime change.

There is an ongoing effort by the opposition parties to portray the coup d’etat as a ‘popular’ uprising. But thankfully, it is trivial to discredit this assertion.

While there were 20 days of sustained protests by several opposition parties in the days leading up to the coup d’etat, the sparse attendance at these rallies – considering the sheer number of political parties behind it – proves that it wasn’t representative of the general public will.

Furthermore, Dr Waheed’s appointment brings with it greater portents.

Dr Waheed has little political influence or grassroots support to implement any independent decision. His fledgling political party hasn’t a single elected member in either the Parliament or a local council.

He is, thus, in a poor position to enforce or carry out the mandate of the people. Without the backing of the MDP, it is likely that the only policies he can realistically achieve are opposition demands that, again, have no electoral mandate.

“Rule of law”

Dr Waheed has also failed to strongly condemn the excessive police brutality against civilians on February 8, the day President Nasheed was released.

Despite having repeatedly vowed to uphold the ‘rule of law’, people were beaten unconscious, the ousted President was roughed up, and at least one senior member of Parliament was beaten mercilessly by the police under his watch.

His failure to reassure the people might have very well contributed to the arson and violence in the southern atolls, as supporters of President Nasheed torched police buildings and courts in response to the heavy-handed police crackdown.

The silence of the new President was only matched by the apalling insensitivity of the newly appointed Commissioner of Police who, when asked to respond to the excessive use of force by the police, insisted that the police always used ‘minimum force’ – and that he would leave it to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Human Rights Commission HRCM) to judge if they had stepped out of line.

On the other hand, the armed forces forcibly took control the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation State media, renamed the station to ‘TVM’, as it was known during the Gayoom dictatorship.

The station is now a police propaganda outlet, and refuses to cover massive MDP rallies around the country, or the police brutality that has attracted condemnation from Amnesty International and other bodies:

A photo circulating on Facebook apparently showing defected police and MNDF celebrating in the courtyard of the state broadcaster, after taking it over on Tuesday.

Unity government

Dr Waheed has also said that he’s looking forward to forming a “unity government” and find common ground.

However, his appointment of Dr Mohamed Jameel as his new Home Minister puts a dark cloud over the sincerity of this effort.

By all measures, Jameel is a hawk. He led a strong, high rhetoric Islamist charge against the government when he was in opposition. His responses during his initial press conference were politically charged and combative, instead of the conciliatory tone Dr Waheed promised his government would have.

Jameel has vowed to raise terrorism charges against “those involved” – including President Nasheed. To his credit, Dr Waheed has called the comments “unwelcome”. However, if he is sincere about building peace, perhaps he needs to rethink his cabinet appointments.

The string of appointments of Gayoom regime loyalists and apologists to the cabinet and as heads of armed forces does nothing to quell the charges of political conspiracy.

When the legitimacy of the government is in doubt, and its willingness and capacity to deliver on the people’s electoral verdict is in doubt, and when these factors have created an atmosphere of extreme volatility, then the solution seems to be rather obvious.

An immediate election would restore the mandate of the people, and grant legitimacy and authority to an elected party, which would bring back some much needed order.

However, key foreign governments like India and the United States have failed to advocate this position, choosing instead to recognise the legitimacy of the newly installed government, backed by Gayoom regime forces, tainted business interests, and Islamists.

This decision has the potential to permanently reverse the democratic gains made by the country since the democratic uprising.

Dr Waheed himself argues that the political climate of the country is not conducive to elections – whatever that means.

Perhaps more likely is the contrary view that the conditions in the country are not suitable for the present government to continue, nor is it advisable for another – much larger – reason.

Setting a precedent

Other countries in the region, such as Pakistan, have experimented with letting the armed forces dictate the rulers of the country. And in the bargain, Pakistan has become a failed democracy mired in chaos and conflict.

It is therefore tragic that the Maldives is all set to follow in Pakistan’s footsteps, without even having experienced two election cycles.

Could future political parties in the Maldives come to power simply by winning influence in the police and armed forces? Will the demands of a few hundred uniformed personnel strip 300,000 people of their democratic verdict?

If the currently installed government is granted legitimacy, what would stop the country’s defense forces from pointing a gun at future elected governments?

The Maldivian constitution says that the ultimate power rests with the people, and the people alone. This is the central tenet of the constitution – the one line that decides that we the people are in charge of our democracy.

However, if this coup – this travesty – is allowed to take place unopposed, then we would have set the unwelcome precedent that a few men with guns can override the mandate of the people.

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]

Inside the MNDF base during Nasheed’s last moments in power:

Translation (provided by the MDP, Minivan News is currently verifying accuracy).

0:00-00:07 Moosa Jaleel: avahah, avahah, avahah {fast, fast,fast}

President Nasheed: Nikumey, nikumey, nikumey {Go out, Go out, Go out}

00:10 – 00:13 Nasheed: Anekahves…..alhe mee {Not again……..then this}

00:14-00:17 Nasheed: Nikan Kameh kobbala, Nikah kameh kohbala ,kaleymen {Please do something, please do something, you guys}

00:29-00:42 Nasheed: Nilaam, Nilaam ………gossa nikumey…. mulhi rajje halaaku kuranee kaleymen thibegen….Nukunashey. {Nilaam,Nilaam…..get out there…the whole of Maldives is being destroyed, by your inaction}

Unkown: Nukumeveytha? {Is it possible to get out?}

01:00-1:03 Unknown: Mariyamen rulhi aiss gen Male thalhaalanee. {Mariya and them has gotten angry and destroying Male.’}