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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High Court upholds injunction preventing Haveeru sale

The High Court has upheld a Civil Court injunction preventing the sale of Haveeru, the Maldives’ largest print and online newspaper.

In a ruling issued Thursday (July 25), Sun Online reported that the High Court upheld an injunction on selling the paper until hearings were concluded into a dispute over an alleged failure by Haveeru Chairman Mohamed Zahir Hussain to pay an agreed share of the publication’s profit to two other individuals dating back to 1983.

Local media reported that the High Court ruled no sale of Haveeru could be permitted until questions over the publication’s ownership were resolved by the Civil Court.

Minivan News understands that Haveeru has been placed for sale by its chairman and was soliciting bidders in May this year.

The Maldives’ second oldest newspaper, Miadhu News, and its assets were meanwhile bought in April by presidential candidate and Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader, MP Gasim Ibrahim.


The darker side of the Maldives: The Independent

Recent weeks have put a spotlight on Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives after a 15-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather was sentenced to 100 lashes for ‘fornication’,” writes Eric Randolph for UK-based newspaper, The Independent.

“A petition by the global advocacy group Avaaz has been signed by more than two million people demanding a tourist boycott until the flogging sentence is annulled.

In a rare interview at his home this week, President Mohammed Waheed told The Independent that he strongly opposes the court ruling.

“This case should not have come to the courts at all. We see this girl as a victim,” he said, adding that he has set up a committee to “understand what went wrong”.

But that sits awkwardly with his recent decision to enter into a coalition with the religious Adhaalath party with elections to be held in September.

In a recent statement, Adhaalath backed the flogging, saying: “The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic shariah is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties.”

Few of the million visitors to the Maldives each year see this side of the country. Most are whisked off to uninhabited resort islands before even setting foot on the crowded, alcohol-free capital of Male’.  But the flogging case was not an isolated incident – Islamic hardliners, many trained in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, have become a shadowy but powerful presence here.

They are blamed for a raid on the national museum last year in which a priceless collection of ancient Buddhist artefacts was destroyed. They are also thought to be behind the killing in October of a member of parliament who had spoken out against extremism. The police have made little progress in either case.

Religious conservatives were also the driving force behind weeks-long protests that toppled the country’s first Democratic President, Mohamed Nasheed, in February last year.
Mr Nasheed’s election in 2008 had ended 30 years of dictatorship, but his liberal, Western style was used by opponents to paint him as un-Islamic – even a secret Christian. Although Mr Nasheed resigned on live television, he later claimed it was done “with a gun to my head” and that he was the victim of a coup.

The new President says the changeover was perfectly legal. But eyebrows were raised when he gave ministerial posts to the son and daughter of the former dictator Maumoon Gayoom, and chose three religious leaders from the Adhaalath party for his cabinet, even though the party holds no seats in parliament.

Dr Waheed defended his choice this week, saying: “They want to ensure Islamic values are protected. We are all working with that in mind.”

Out on one of the Maldives’ 200 inhabited islands, Mr Nasheed and members of his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were back on the campaign trail last week, hoping they can regain through the ballot box what was lost to the mob.

On most islands he receives a hero’s welcome, still the man who endured torture and years behind bars to bring democracy to the country. But this day’s campaigning brought him to the island of Huraa: as stunning as the rest, with its turquoise waters, palm trees and white sands, but a stronghold of conservative forces.

Women greeted Mr Nasheed with a table of whisky bottles to imply his alleged love of alcohol.

As he tried to address a small crowd in the town hall, they stood outside shrieking maniacally in an attempt to drown him out. Attempts to approach them for their views almost triggered a riot.”

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“I just couldn’t let [Abdulla Mohamed] sit on the bench”, Nasheed tells Guardian

This is definitely not how Mohamed Nasheed imagined he would be promoting a new film about his campaign against climate change, writes Decca Aitkenhead for the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The documentary follows the charismatic young leader of the Maldives, an island nation slowly sinking into the ocean, as he lobbies world leaders, addresses the UN, and makes international headlines by conducting the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. But now that The Island President beginning to appear in cinemas, Nasheed is no longer the island’s president. Ousted from power in February, and now a quasi-fugitive in his own country, he arrives for our interview via Skype dishevelled and breathless, following another dramatic day.

“Well it’s been fairly challenging today,” he admits, lighting a cigarette and composing himself with a rueful grin. “First there was this scuffle inside parliament, but mostly there were a number of people who were demonstrating outside. The military charged at the crowd and therefore there were disturbances throughout the day. And after sunset the police and the military moved down to where we have been having our rallies and gatherings, and they ransacked and dismantled that place, and cordoned off almost a good half of Malé town.”

But after 30 years in office, in 2008 Gayoom yielded to pressure and held the country’s first democratic elections, which swept “the Mandela of the Maldives” to power. Quickly claimed by David Cameron as “my new best friend”, the young president became an international folk hero, and the face of a nation that, as he warned the UN, will be underwater “before the end of this century” unless the world acts now on climate change.

The Maldives’ transition to democracy was, however, ominously incomplete. According to Nasheed, elements still loyal to Gayoom were undermining reforms, and in response to repeated constitutional crises many opposition MPs and officials were arrested and detained during Nasheed’s administration. In January, frustrated by the judiciary’s attempts to thwart his reforms, Nasheed ordered the arrest of chief justice Abdulla Mohamed. Protesters loyal to the old regime took to the streets, supported by factions within the police, and on 7 February, after weeks of unrest, Nasheed was confronted by armed military officers. “There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn’t hesitate to use them if I didn’t resign,” he told reporters that evening. It wasn’t a resignation, he says simply, but a coup d’état.

The picture since then has been, to say the least, highly confused. A warrant was issued for Nasheed’s arrest, and he has been threatened with life imprisonment, but for now he remains at liberty – just about – in his family home in the capital, orchestrating protests and demanding fresh elections. “Well basically the arrest warrant is there,” he explains, “but they haven’t moved on with it simply because there’s always so many people around me, so I suppose they don’t want to risk it yet. But they tried to do it today, and they will continue to try, tonight and tomorrow as well. I wouldn’t put anything beyond them.”

How did he feel about Amnesty International calling for the release of the chief justice? “I didn’t like arresting a judge, and as a long and dedicated Amnesty member I must say yes, Amnesty’s point was that I must try and find a procedure within the system to deal with this another way. And I was asking everyone, can you spot that procedure? But I just couldn’t let him sit on the bench. There is a huge lack of confidence in the judiciary, and I had to do something and the constitution calls upon me to do that. It’s not a nice thing to do. And it’s not a thing that I would want to do. And it’s not a thing that I liked doing. But it had to be done.”

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