Comment: From the perils of presidentialism to deliberative politics

The argument, which was most famously advanced by the political scientist Juan Linz, that presidentialism is more prone to executive-legislative deadlocks is by now well established. Deadlocks are bad because they can break down democracy as they did in Latin America.

In fact, when we contemplate on the political events unfolding over the past months, and more dramatically in the past few days, what we see is a textbook diagnosis and explanation of the ‘perils of presidentialism’.

With the parliament delaying crucial legislation such as tax bills which are necessary to ensure distributive social justice (and, of course, urged by the International Monetary Fund); consistently encroaching on the democratic mandate of the president such as messing up the decentralisation policies in president’s manifesto; blocking government administration through unwarranted no-confidence attempts; hampering government’s key policy programme of privatisation and public-private partnerships; and attempting to block a number of state welfare provisions, the country now is in a fierce executive-legislative conflict.

Again, the context for this gridlock is explained in political literature: a minority government, multipartism and poorly disciplined parliamentarians, and dual democratic legitimacy given to the president and the parliament.

Vain actions and reactions

The main recommendations from such comparative politics literature in the face of political impasse – such as shifting to a parliamentary or semi-presidential system and/or changing electoral rules to encourage a two-party system – seem to be difficult if not impossible in the short run.

No person in this country will be more frustrated than President Nasheed when his policy programmes get blocked or hampered. This frustration will be compounded in our competitive political environment, where public expectations are so high, when the country is in an austerity period, and while the imperative for delivery overshoots as the dates when voters can sanction politicians draw close.

As there is no easy mechanism (such as dissolving the parliament) to resolve such conflicts in presidentialism unlike parliamentarianism, the government has resorted to one of the few means left to a president in a deadlock situation.

The president had been resisting calls for arresting culprits responsible for past injustices citing good arguments such as an incompetent judiciary which itself is implicated in sustaining an autocracy. Tuesday’s arrests, however, I believe will only escalate the political rifts.

Gridlocks have often plagued crucial legislation in the US and continue to frustrate even President Obama, who has over 100 job nominations and crucial legislation yet to be even voted in the Congress. What Ted Kennedy called the ‘great unfinished business’ of health care reform – a basic ingredient of social justice – was repeatedly blocked in the US, which had led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in the most opulent nation on earth. In what has been one of the most serious deadlocks, the budget crisis of 1995 forced government agencies to shutdown when Clinton administration was a minority.

The Majlis has no doubt gone against the spirit of the constitution (for instance, delaying or passing legislation with implications for basic social and economic rights while wasting time and public money over petty business), but it is unconvincing to claim they have clearly contravened the letter of it.

It may be true that arresting two opposition MPs is not necessarily unwelcome based on ‘substance’ but was so based on ‘process’. While ‘substance’ does matter, ‘processes’ also matter because they contribute to the hard-won, delicate democratic and liberal legitimacy of the government.

The ‘great game of politics’, therefore, must be by the rules of the game.

Why and way forward?

While well-intended and solid policy programmes of the government are delayed and hampered, the idea I want to float is that a minority government too can mobilise the public sphere, and play the great game of politics within rule of law through deliberative politics.

That is, while deliberative democracy is usually justified on its potential for more just and legitimate policy-making, I want to conjecture that deliberative democracy can also have instrumental benefits for a minority government.

If one looks through all controversial policy changes of the government, one thing is unchanged: there is no effective pre-crisis public communication and deliberations programme.

From decentralisation to the alcohol regulation to Islam/Divehi teaching, and to airport privatisation – which otherwise are all solid and beneficial policies – the government did a miserable public communication and deliberations job, if any. Again, it is a ‘process’ failure that have led to ‘substance’ failures.

The meeting with the business sector stakeholders on airport privatisation, the press conferences, news releases, television programmes, and the photographs of the new airport all came too late and too inadequately. And even when all this came, the government appeared messy and contradictory. There was simply no pre-crisis public communication and deliberation programme in this.

Sceptics would say that this suggestion is utopian and politics is too power-ridden and unalterable to public opinion. I concede to an extent, but, as the most prominent proponent of deliberative democracy, Jürgen Habermas, argues in Popular Sovereignty as Procedure:

“[R]epresentatives normally do not want to expose themselves to the criticism of their voters. After all, voters can sanction their representatives at the next opportunity, but representatives do not have any comparable way of sanctioning voters.”

The wealthy politicians in the parliament can indeed publicly buy parliamentarians, but they too cannot publicly buy public opinion.

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: Resort life – it’s all about pretence… lots of it.

In resort life everyone tries to be what he or she is not, according to circumstances. Sometimes this behaviour is required as part of the profession and sometimes it happens out of inclination. For example:


They come in all shapes and sizes. Some come with a perpetual frown on their faces whilst others hide their true expressions behind an engaging smile. But they all share in the pretence.

The guests

Most guests are also notorious at deception. It is an ingrained cultural habit to smile and make light of everything, however annoying.

However there are those who are exactly the opposite – the realists and the con-guests who will complain at the smallest inconvenience to get a free bottle of champagne or a discount on their stay.

Human resources

HR used to play God until the arrival of the dreaded labour laws. Now that the mantle of power to terminate staff indiscriminately on HR’s whims and wishes can at last be challenged in the labour tribunal, things are thankfully a little bit more even handed.


Together with ’sales and marketing’, reservations would have everyone else believe that if not for them the resort is a few days from closing down and going out of business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that most tourists just choose to come to our resorts after hearing about our beaches and small islands from the internet, mostly through tour operators.

Tour operators do not necessarily depend on reservations but sometimes they have an agreement with the resort for the allocation of rooms, which is ‘handled’ by these pompous people. In technical terms they are just clerks and data entry staff making a big fuss over their work.

Of course there are some sweet, down-to-earth reservations people who do not aggrandize their work but in resort life such humbleness is the exception rather than the norm.


The maintenance people generally include the engineers and the unseen crowd. They are happiest when something really major breaks down like an engine or a water plant, because that’s the only time they can shine and their work will be valued or respected by their superiors.

They are prone to making the smallest issue as big as possible just to get the attention of the managers, because that’s the only way up the corporate ladder from their level.

Waiters and room boys and girls

Generally honest and hard-working, these gentle people have a tendency to make a purely service task into a
technical one, which at a certain extent can be comical.

Launch section guys

Perhaps the most realistic in appearance and attitude are found in the ‘launch section’ team. They have a reason for that too – extended periods of time spent in monotonous journeys between islands and airports wear them down which makes them difficult to either please or irritate.

The IT guys

The IT guys are all smiles and kindness until a computer terminal is said to be terminally ill and the IT guy is called in. From that moment the IT guy is bossy, unfriendly, talks in jargon and generally looks down on the rest of humanity.

However a by-product of Moore’s Law is that advances in technology will soon make them redundant, as networks, computers and devices become more and more user friendly and intelligent. They had their day in the era of Windows 3.2 and dot matrix printers, when being an IT guy was not for the faint of

Nowadays the IT guy is pretty much only still alive thanks to Microsoft Windows and the uncommonness of common sense.

Chefs and the kitchen crowd

There is an unending war between the restaurant guys and the kitchen folk because all the hard work is done
in the kitchen but all the tips are received at the restaurant.

However as most resorts are mindful of this war, generally their salary is higher than the rest which is some solace to the animosity. The kitchen guys generally do not subscribe to false smiles and half-hearted greetings, because their life is hectic and hard.

Gardeners, labourers and the like

At the bottom of the ladder, these people are resigned to their fate or position and automatically have the rubbery smile and artificial greetings for all guests and superiors.

No such smiles for their peers and others, however – ambition is not lacking in this department, as gardeners are frequently fond of watering the plants around the GMs office hoping that he or she will take notice of the effort…

There is much hypocrisy to go around in resort life, but its worth it for the the fun. If all resort folk, including the guests, were to be expressionless die-hard realists, life in a resort would be tough indeed.

Republished with permission from MaldivesResortWorkers, a site for resort staff to anonymously discuss the industry, their employers, and the realities of resort work.

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: Why some people like DRP and hate the MDP

My first assignment at university, back in 1997, asked me to look into why people voted the way they do.

I remember feeling quite ill-prepared to answer this question because I had never experienced voting in its true democratic form. After all I grew up in the Maldives.

However, I came to realise that it boils down to a combination of personal characteristics, particular circumstances and the choice of leaders, as well as the image of these leaders put across to the public.

In 2008, faced with a choice between the DRP and the MDP, it is not difficult to see who someone such as I would pick.

I am (relatively) young, and as such I am prone to taking risks. I feel comfortable with a changing world. I have a tertiary education from a western institution. I am starting off in life, have no family who relies on me to provide for them, have no business that I have poured my heart and soul into, and feel confident that I have the skills to make it in life. My philosophy to change is summed up by the other iconic saying of our time: “Yes we can!”.

You don’t have to be Don Draper to realize which product I’m buying.

But what continues to fascinate me is the support that the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party still holds among the people. It also fascinates me just how much hatred some people have for the MDP.

I refuse to believe that these people are all crazy. After all, some of these people are intelligent, educated and perfectly reasonable people.

So let me try and outline some categories of people who may find it ‘logical’ to support DRP and what you may feel if you belonged to any of these categories:

  • Direct beneficiary of DRP in power:

You are someone (or are a family member of someone) who was a direct recipient of benefits under the DRP.

This does not mean that these benefits were through corruption – but just run-of-the-mill influence or power that came to you because you believed in the vision and message of the party and supported it since its inception. And let’s face it, this is the same reason why a generation of people who are in places of influence because of the MDP now may support MDP in the future.

  • Democracy ain’t so hot after all:

You simply prefer the harmony that existed when democracy was not around. You are not necessarily taken in by all this talk of democracy and human rights because it has meant the disintegration of the social harmony and fabric that existed under Gayyoom. Now, every other day, there are demonstrations, strikes, and some kind of nuisance on the street.

These days people are just so angry at each other. Families, friendships, sports-clubs, marriages, relationships have all been affected quite adversely by the rise of democracy in the country.

I mean things were just so much better when people didn’t talk politics and talked about the movies or joked about their families or something equally harmless. Life was hard enough without all these politics on the street.

Worse of all, democracy has not delivered the instant benefits that it promised. You just want things back the way they were, and to go on with your life leaving the government to do what it did, even if it was doing it badly.

However, now that democracy (in all its messiness) is around, who do you blame for this? Why, the people who started doing these demonstration on the streets after all – the MDP.

After all, if it wasn’t for the MDP we wouldn’t have protests on the street. We would have a serene parliament that never debates. In fact we wouldn’t have parliament at all, especially on our TV screens. We would have songs and movies and entertainment, interrupted occasionally by a ‘riddle’ we can answer by SMS.

  • MDP are incompetent:

You do not believe the capabilities of the existing government are sufficient for leadership. You question the leadership ability of President Nasheed and his team. You regard them as those, who even with good intentions, simply do not have the intellectual firepower to pull all this off.

Your worst have suspicions come true because the MDP have rewarded positions of power to cronies and activists. For every qualified person in the administration, you see two hacks who had more talent at throwing stones than conducting policy. You secretly feel that the leader of our country and the majority of his cabinet should at least have a PhD, but may not quite say this out loud for the sake of being accused of elitism.

  • MDP are liars selling false hope for the sake of power:

You think that the MDP are peddlers of populist dreams who have promised things that they (or anyone without divine help) cannot actually deliver, simply for the sake of coming to power.

Inter-island transport network? This has never been done in the Maldives so why should it work now?

A modern real-estate market in the outer islands of the Maldives? These seem like wishful thinking to many people – even to reasonable people.

A carbon-neutral Maldives when 100% of our existing power-plants are diesel?

US$1 billion in aid in 2010? That’s seem like a little too much – especially if you fall into the category above.

  • The MDP leadership is dictatorial and undemocratic themselves:

Deep down you are a democrat at heart and feel strongly about the ideals of representative government. You feel that President Nasheed is pushing things in the wrong direction and acting in direct conflict with the constitution of the country.

This is a completely reasonable opinion to have, but you cannot also hold this and support DRP. That would be a tad bit hypocritical and downright silly. This however is completely justifiable if you are an ‘independent’ follower of democracy in its true forms espoused by the great political philosophers of time.

  • The MDP philosophy is wrong:

You oppose the center-right philosophy of the government. Rather than a free-market state that makes you responsible for your own well-being, you feel (deep-down) that the government should take care of its people – it should provide jobs in a protected public sector so that everyone has a decent guaranteed salary. You don’t care, nor do you want to care, about how the state gets its money. It should just provide us with healthcare, schooling, housing, jobs, TVs… the whole shebang if possible.

If probed a little deeper, you would say that the economic vision of the country should be that the tourism sector of the economy – just like the oil and gas sector is in Saudi Arabia – and the state should play the role in distributing the benefits of that tourism sector to the public.

Our tourism market has functioned well enough even with a few people getting very rich – and the ‘benefits’ this country has seen in the last 30 years are because of this economic model. Sure you would like change, but that change should be gradual and planned – like on a roadmap. Evolution, not revolution, is what you would have preferred.

In a sense, it is the strangely soothing tale of the state playing a truly paternalistic role in its most literal sense – acting like a benevolent father.

He/it rewards those who accept his/its wisdom and vision, while punishing those who misbehave and question its/his authority.

While this is old-fashioned, we must admit that like all fathers, there is a genuine appeal in having someone to look over us. This I believe is the reason why (in some mass pseudo-oedipal complex) the support of DRP is stronger among women of a certain generation.

My point in conducting this analysis is primarily to take the level of discussion in our political sphere to a more intelligent and hopefully beneficial level.

Firstly, I hope it gives those on the yellow-side (MDP) of the political divide something to think about on how to successfully challenge those who oppose them. No doubt, those in the first category cannot really be converted because they are the unwinnable masses, but the concerns of those in the other categories can and should be addressed.

The MDP must show these people that they are capable, that their ideology of self-help center-right compassionate economic conservatism (borrowed from their friends at the ‘New’ UK Conservative party) is a winning philosophy. They must turn their dreams into a reality.

However, for those on the blue-side (opposition and DRP side) of the divide, I hope it gives you a moment of reflection to see quite why it is that you hate the MDP so. If you fall into the first category – perhaps its time you looked into ways in which you fashion your life around having a beneficial outcome irrespective of whoever is in power.

However, for those of you who fall into the other categories – I hope it sheds light on quite why you hate the MDP so, and ask yourself how you can help your party (the DRP) to outline a better vision for our country.

The MDP claim they are center-right – so what is the philosophy of the DRP? Surely it cannot be that of a paternalistic state, which is outdated and unsustainable.

I say this because before you know it, we will once again be asked to choose our leaders. And when you do, I hope you will at least take a minute to ask yourself why it is that you are inclined to vote in a certain way. You will do this country a world of good by that small act.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]