Don’t follow our example, Pakistani civil society warns Maldives

Civil society organisations in Pakistan have expressed alarm over the political crisis in the Maldives, urging the country not to make the same mistakes as Pakistan and calling for the Maldives’ suspension from SAARC until democracy is restored.

Civil society activists from organisations including the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Sindh Development Forum, former Supreme Court judge Nasir Aslam Zahid and human rights activist Iqbal Haider addressed the Maldives’ situation at a joint press conference on Saturday.

“At least two countries in South Asia – Pakistan and Bangladesh – that have faced martial laws and coups in the past know very well how people suffer when democracy is brought down,” the civil society representatives said, according to newspaper Pakistan Today.

“We believe that democracy and governance are two different matters and the failure of governance should not be equated with the failure of democracy. An elected regime is brought in by the efforts and votes of the people through the institution of elections and the exit of an elected government should also follow the same procedure.

“There is no way use of force or coercion should be allowed to overthrow a democratically elected government. We also believe that if South Asia is to progress as a region, it will have to adopt democracy as a system of governance,” the representatives said.

“We also stress the need for the Pakistani government to take a strong stand with regards to the events in the Maldives. There are a lot of similarities between the Maldives and Pakistan. Like the Maldives, the elected government of Pakistan too came to power after a very long struggle against military rulers that had held power unconstitutionally for a long time,” they said.

The Pakistani civil society representatives warned that the Maldives was now following the same path of decline that had mired Pakistan in political, religious and economic turmoil.

“The growing strength of religious forces in the Maldives seeking to assert their political prowess and their role in the overthrow of the government is also a point where Pakistan could relate to its South Asian neighbour. The elected governments in Pakistan have battled and are still struggling with the same phenomenon.

“South Asia, as a region, has lost resources and valuable time over the quest by powerful military institutions to assert dominance over the state. This has to be discouraged and a culture of promotion of democracy needs to be cultivated,” the representatives stated.

“We also urge the government to call for the activation of the SAARC mechanisms to prevent the undemocratic move in the Maldives. A joint stand from the platform of SAARC needs to be taken to condemn the events in the Maldives. We also urge all South Asian publics to take this matter seriously and support their respective governments in condemning the action.”

Civil society organisations in the Maldives have been noticeably quiet since the controversial events of February 7-8.

Off the record, several civil society figures have said they have avoided making a stand for fear of politicisation.

“I don’t think taking the right stand means we are politicised,” said another, on condition of anonymity.

“To be frank, we’ve really tried to work on these issues but we’ve hit a wall with the media, [particularly broadcast]. We’re just not getting the time and attention we used to [under Nasheed’s government].”

Several NGOs, including Transparency Maldives, the Maldivian Democracy Network, the Maldives NGO Federation and Democracy House sent a letter to new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan on February 29 – three weeks later – requesting observer status on Dr Waheed’s Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) into the circumstances surrounding the change of government.

The NGOs subsequently met with Dr Waheed and the CNI in an attempt to ensure the composition was acceptable to all political parties, as Nasheed’s MDP has currently boycotted the inquiry claiming it consists of key Gayoom loyalists.

The NGOs sent a second letter on March 15. Minivan News understands that they are still awaiting a reply.

“The onus is on the President to change [the composition], as the CNI has said it cannot,” said an NGO representative.