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Maldives must strengthen democratic pillars

Maldives has been gripped by political instability ever since it experienced a shift from a thirty year autocratic rule to democracy. After much political drama, the country escaped a constitutional crisis and finally elected a President. However, the mismanagement of transfer of power highlighted the teething problems faced by the Indian Ocean Archipelago to transform from an autocracy to a democracy. After such a bitter experience, the Maldivian government should strengthen its democratic institutions so that such unfortunate situations can be averted in the future.


Maldives may have overcome the toughest crisis in its history at least for the time being but the possibility of reoccurrence such an episode cannot be ruled out in future given the turmoil ridden politics of this country.

Amid uncertainty, last two months in Maldivian politics were marred by an annulled election, a subsequent poll-date put off, elections were given a go-ahead hours before the booths had opened only to be cancelled and then a further run-off election.

In 2008, Nasheed won the first free elections and ousted President Abdul Gayoom and ended a thirty year long autocratic rule.

However, three years later, Nasheed was himself removed from power, in what he alleged was a coup.

He resigned after a mutiny with the police, allegedly orchestrated by Gayoom and the then vice President, Mohammad Waheed became President. Since then, Maldives has been a political influx.

In the first round of elections, the Supreme Court of Maldives delayed the final round of presidential elections following a legal challenge, which brought with it months of political instability. What was considered a test for the infant democracy and the first democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed, who saw a stable electorate from minority Sunnis and a comfortable lead with 45.45 per cent of the vote, ended up facing a run-off contest from Abdullah Yameen, the half-brother of the island’s former autocratic ruler Abdul Gayoom.

Then, in the second round of elections, just before the balloting was to start, the Election Commission issued a statement saying the police had blocked its officials from conducting the re-vote.

The Police reasoned that because the EC did not comply with the court order to have all voters’ rolls endorsed by the presidential candidates. The police apparently acted after consulting President Waheed and the Security Council.

Although Nasheed pushed for the revote by signing the voters' rolls, Gasim Ibrahim, a hotelier and Abdullah Yameen, who trailed him in the earlier elections did not want the polling to go ahead.

In accordance with the Maldivian Constitution, the election process needed to be completed in such a manner that a new President would take over on November 11th. Thus the country plunged into a deeper political turmoil.

The dates were further announced for 9th November following which; President Waheed declared another political obstacle by announcing that he would not give up power. Finally, the elections did go underway and with heavy voter turnout, Abdullah Yameen was made President on November 16.

Certainly, Maldives election process came under intense international scrutiny and criticism. The US, EU, UN, Commonwealth and India had for long been stressing for timely and fair poles in Maldives.

With the main battle being fought primarily between pro and anti-Nasheed forces, other pillars of democracy like the Election Commission, the Supreme Court and Majlis (Parliament) seemed to have been divided.

With Maldives having delivered a democratic result eventually, it remains to be seen whether it will really transform into a true democracy wherein civilian supremacy reigns and where the armed forces and the Manjlis are responsible directly to the people or not.

What indeed became apparent was the unfortunate politics played by people in power to remain in power.

Whilst it is unfair to expect a country that has stepped out of thirty years of autocratic rule to immediately turn democratic and fair is asking for too much too so.

Thus, the country must be given some time, but the international community must continue to mount the pressure on Maldives to democratize. Most importantly, democracy is incredibly important to ensure peace and stability for its million dollar tourist industry to flourish.

One essential way to achieve meaningful democracy is by strengthening the democratic pillars like the judiciary, armed forces, the media and the constitution.

At times of constitutional crisis, it is the judiciary and the police that will come to the forefront to manage the issue and if they are not strengthened then it will be difficult for democracy to make any headway.

In this sense, Maldives should learn from India than imitating autocratic systems of Pakistan or China because India can teach them how to function as a sovereign democratic country in a multilateral global environment instead of being a buffer state to major powers.

India also maintains natural ties based on similar cultures and civilization with Maldives, than states like China or Pakistan do.

If it fails to lead a constructive transformation to democracy, it will be troubled like Nepal. In fact, Nepal’s future was hopeful, but today, its economy has nearly collapsed as a result of lack of commitment to democracy.