BBC Hardtalk grills Nasheed on economy, climate, human rights

President Mohamed Nasheed has been grilled on his adherence to human rights, the Maldives’ financial condition and its commitment to combating climate change on the BBC’s Hardtalk programme, broadcast this week in the UK.

Journalist Stephen Sackur observed that given the President’s history as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, “it is strange that you are now a president at loggerheads with parliament, and who has deployed the army to the streets to quell disturbances.”

Noting that the country had improved markedly in terms of freedom of expression, commitment to human rights and allowing political activities, Nasheed also acknowledged that “there are issues in our country.”

“We are a very young democracy and we are settling down, and we are consolidating democracy and we are going to face challenges. We are presently the only 100 percent Muslim multi-party democracy in the world,” he claimed.

Nasheed was also questioned by Sackur over the government’s arrest and detention of MPs.

In response, Nasheed denied the government had any say over who was charged, claiming that “the Prosecutor General’s office is an independent institution and I’m extremely glad they have dropped the charges.”

“Basically, we have the last dictatorship as the opposition,” he told Sackur. “[But] we do not want to destroy opposition through legal action, because then we will not have an opposition. I believe it will be best to bring about justice through the democratic process, and not necessarily by charging these people.”

How the government should deal with the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was “a major issue for us”, Nasheed said.

“In the past, our culture has been very ruthless [towards] former presidents. There has always been a circle and it’s hard to pull out of [it]. But the manner in which we deal with Gayoom’s shows us a path of how [we] move forward. I believe democracy will dispense justice better than a courtroom drama.”

Sackur also challenged Nasheed on the country’s financial position, noting that the IMF had delayed the third tranche of its assistance to the Maldives.

“[The IMF] wants the civil service reduced instantly, but we would snap if we did that,” Nasheed said. “We have to be politically mindful of what would happen after that. We inherited 30 years of dictatorship and a huge government – in the absence of political parties all a dictator can do is build up a huge civil service.”

Nasheed denied that the Maldives had negotiated a payment from the US in exchange for taking a prisoner from Guantanamo Bay, as suggested by recent leaked cables of US diplomatic exchanges.

“I don’t think there is substance [to those claims],” Nasheed responded. “We wanted to take a detainee before we came to government. We came to government on a human rights platform.”

On the subject of climate change, Nasheed said he was disappointed in both the Americans and the Chinese “for so irrelevantly talking about this issue as though it were arms control or trade negotiations. You cannot cut a deal with mother nature, or negotiate with planetary boundaries.”

But he noted improvement in so-called sustainable commitments being made by countries such as Brazil, South Africa and China in particular.  “I think the Chinese have gone a long way towards [investing] in renewables,” Nasheed added.

Asked by Sackur as to why the rest of the world should care about the fate of the Maldives, Nasheed responded that “what happens to the Maldives today happens to England tomorrow.”

Listen to the full programme on Radio 4 (English)