Adventurism will not help Maldives
Suhas Chakma on why ousted President Mohamed Nasheed is playing a dangerous game
THE ELECTION of Mohamed Nasheed on 17 June as the next presidential candidate of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is a faux pas. The current President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan, has however repeatedly stated that that the earliest date elections can be held is July 2013. President Hassan currently enjoys support of the international community and does not appear to be in a hurry to hold elections. If that is the case, why did Nasheed declare himself the party’s presidential candidate?
The Commission of National Inquiry, established to make an independent and impartial investigation into developments in the Maldives from 14 January to 8 February 2012, is yet to complete the investigation. The Commission has representatives of the Commonwealth and the United Nations and the dismissive attitude of the MDP is not justified at this stage.
It could be that Nasheed’s candidature was declared to address inner party squabbles rather than to force President Hassan to hold the elections. In April, MDP president Ibrahim Didi and vice-president Alhan Fahmy were ousted from the party. They blamed Nasheed personally for instigating their ejection. The election of Nasheed as the unopposed presidential candidate of the MDP only buttresses the allegations about lack of inner-party democracy under Nasheed. Is Nasheed a classic case of a pro-democracy activist turning dictator?
When the current constitution of Maldives was being negotiated, Nasheed was allegedly not sure whether to opt for the presidential or parliamentary system as he was not sure about defeating the then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. Ultimately, he went on to support an executive presidential system with parliamentary democracy in the hope that if Gayyoom could not be defeated, the MDP would control the parliament. He did defeat Gayyoom, but the parliament became his nemesis, as the opposition won a substantial number of seats in the parliament and blocked his reform initiatives.
As president, Nasheed’s term was not extraordinary, except for the holding of an underwater cabinet meeting in October 2009 to highlight the threat of global warming to the Maldives. Nasheed also allowed China to open its embassy in Male on 8 November 2011, breaking the unwritten agreement that missions should not be opened in Male because of the space crunch and the threat to the environment. Just imagine the impact if 194 countries were to open their embassies in Male, whose landscape is approximately 2x1 sq km and population 70,000.
The decision is intriguing, as even the United States has been looking after the affairs in Maldives from Colombo, and got Maldives entangled in Indo-China rivalry. The timing too was extremely poor: India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived a day later to participate in the SAARC summit. India has been providing security support to Maldives since LTTE-led mercenaries tried to take over the country in 1988. Was he trying to change the existing balance of maritime security in the Indian Ocean? New Delhi and Washington have since then decided to bolster their presence in the Asia-Pacific. Not surprisingly, once Nasheed resigned in February 2012, which he later described as a decision taken at gunpoint, the US took the same line as that of India to welcome President Hassan. (The UK initially supported Nasheed’s reinstatement, but it soon fell in line with India and the US.)
Nasheed has since been crying hoarse to claim that nothing much should be read into the establishment of the Chinese embassy in Male. He visited India in April 2012 to clarify and pressed for early elections. India gave a patient hearing but made no commitment. The US policy too is unlikely to change.
FOLLOWING HIS ouster, Nasheed also raised the spectre of hardline Islamists ruling Maldives in the near future to garner Western and Indian support. But Nasheed failed to note that even Col Gaddafi, in his last days, raised the existence of the al Qaeda amongst the rebels, but there were few takers.
President Nasheed failed to realise that the future of Maldives does not lie in brinkmanship but gradually strengthening democratic institutions. Security concerns of the neighbours cannot also be ignored. Nasheed’s failure to foresee the consequences of changing the existing order in maritime security in the Indian Ocean already cost him the President’s job and left the MDP further fractured.
Yet, there is little change as the declaration of his candidature as the MDP candidate for the Presidential election shows: Nasheed remains an amateur, adventurist, impatient, and at times naive and unconvincing. His democratic credentials are now under scrutiny.
Suhas Chakma is the director of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights.