The Maldives is heading towards peace, stability and consolidation of democracy after ten tumultuous years, former President Mohamed Nasheed said at a youth forum organised by the Junior Chambers International (JSI) chapter of Maldives and Dhiyouth at City Hall on Monday night (September 16).
“I don’t really see much room for going wayward now. People might try to rig two or three elections. [They] might try to arrest some people. And there might even be three or four coup d’etats. But, overall, I don’t see this curve slumping too much,” the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate said in his keynote speech at the event, which was held to mark the International Day of Democracy.
“The Maldives will become stable and democratic principles will continue to be instilled. Neither the youth of this country nor everyone else are willing to let go of the rights we have now. In my view, tonight we are celebrating the victory of the youth. Through your efforts, the elderly have received social security, and through your efforts, a prosperous future has been secured for your children.”
The impact of the momentous events of the past ten years would be far greater and more significant than any other ten years in the history of the country, Nasheed observed, advising youth to “build a better Maldives in light of that experience.”
Nasheed was elected president in the Maldives’ first multi-party democratic election in 2008 following the adoption of a democratic constitution. The 2008 election and liberal constitution was preceded by a pro-democracy movement led by the MDP in the wake of unprecedented civil unrest in September 2003, which was precipitated by a brutal custodial death exposed to the public and subsequent fatal shootings in prison.
Free expression and dissent
In his speech, Nasheed argued that the most important prerequisite for youth development was an atmosphere conducive to exercising the rights of free expression, assembly and participation in peaceful political activities.
As 60 percent of the Maldives’ population is youth, Nasheed said political parties have to explain their policies to the youth demographic.
It is also the duty or responsibility of youth to have their say in the formation of a government that would pursue the best policies for young people, their families, and their communities, he said.
Freedom of speech and expression of dissent are “essential bases for nation-building,” he added.
Democratic practices were introduced in the Maldives between 2005 to 2008, Nasheed continued, noting the role and “sacrifices” of youth in pro-democracy activism.
“It was quite recently that people were arrested for a gesture or an expression,” he said. “Even in 2004, 2005, a lot of people were arrested and given serious punishments because of what they said. As long as that practice persisted, most Maldivian citizens were unable to participate in the affairs of the country. When that practice or principle changed, the participation of youth broadly increased.”
In formulating the MDP’s manifesto for the 2013 presidential election, Nasheed said the party believed that the bulk of the policies should target youth.
In contrast, he said, the 2008 manifesto was focused on establishing a social security system.
The 2013 manifesto reflects “the extent to which youth have raised their voices concerning their needs during the past five years,” Nasheed said.
The MDP manifesto – the “result of conducting a democratic exercise of consultation” – includes creating 51,000 job opportunities, conducting a skills training programme, setting a minimum wage, providing higher education opportunities, offering grants and scholarships, growing the entertainment sector, and establishing sports facilities, Nasheed noted.
Nasheed also stressed the importance of rehabilitating youth incarcerated for drug abuse through a “Second Chance” programme and implementing policies for reintegrating drug addicts into society as gainfully employed youth.
Following his remarks, Nasheed participated in an hour-long question and answer session on topics ranging from civic education, family planning, minimum wage, job creation, policies for persons with special needs and feasibility of infrastructure projects.
On the issue of negative campaigning, Nasheed predicted that political parties would learn ahead of future elections that defaming rivals was ineffective and focus instead of presenting comprehensive policies.
“I predict that political parties will present policies much more in the next election rather than do what they’re doing now, which includes attempting to buy votes – people are learning each election that [vote buying] is unsuccessful,” he said.
As a “crude survey” has estimated that seven percent of the Maldivian population are persons with special needs, Nasheed said the MDP will pursue policies to amend building codes to ease access and establish at least one school in each atoll to provide specialised education for students with special needs.
A minimum wage of MVR4,500 (US$292) a month would meanwhile incentivise local businesses to hire Maldivians in lieu of foreign workers who were often paid only US$150 a month, Nasheed explained, adding that small businesses would be exempt from the legally mandated wage.
Asked by “a youth leader currently representing the Maldivian youth to the Commonwealth” whether an MDP government would consider “a democratically-elected youth council and youth parliament” as a forum for youth leaders, Nasheed invited youth interested in politics to forgo “ceremonial” and “superficial” activities in favour of direct participation.
“The real thing is better than superficial activities. Step up to a podium no matter how young you are and participate in real activities – 17, 18 or 19 years is not really that young. At the time I turned 20, I had been in the pillory for 30 days,” he said.