By Daniel Bosley
“I call upon Dr Waheed to immediately step down from the seat he is sitting in and call for immediate elections… I will never back down until a lawful legitimate government is sworn in.”
“I am ready to face any traitor police or army officer that confronts me. And I urge all of you to do the same, confront them and change this country’s government tonight.”
Both of these quotes are from former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed. One came the day after his resignation in February – a resignation which he maintains was forced. The second came on Wednesday evening.
The similarity of the two makes abundantly clear the fact that six months of failed negotiations and furious demonstrations have achieved very little.
Speaking at a press conference to mark the release of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI), President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, appeared to recognise the atrophying effects of political deadlock.
“We should now ask ourselves how we have spent the last six months. What have we spent our energy on?” he told the press gathered at the Presidential Office.
As the best hope of unravelling the tangled events surrounding Nasheed’s resignation on February 7th, the failure of the CoNI ought to put to rest attempts to determine what happened on that fateful day.
CoNI represented the light at the end of the tunnel that has been the country’s attempts at political reconciliation since February. Assembled by Presidential decree and reconstituted by international request, the inquiry has become increasingly important as parallel all-party talks failed to get off the ground.
The revelation that Nasheed’s representative on the commission, Ahmed Gahaa Saeed, was unhappy with the report on Monday suggested that its public release on Thursday would be a disappointing anti-climax. His resignation on Wednesday confirmed it.
It also confirmed the reality that no legal document, governmental report, or political opinion will ever change the differing versions of events that are indelibly scored into the hearts and minds of Maldivians.
After six months of going round in circles, it is time to face reality and find the best way to heal the nation – starting from where it is today – on the edge of a precipice.
Former Foreign Minister of the Maldives and current United Nations Special Rapporteur to Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed said Friay that “turbulent times” lay ahead.
“This report was the best opportunity to get out of the current situation in a peaceful manner. It is a huge disappointment that will come at great cost to the Maldives,” Shaheed told local newspaper Minivan News.
The government will use this report to further enhance its legitimacy and to claim that it is not obliged to cede power, nor call for early elections. However, whilst this argument may be convincing on paper, to use a popular analogy from the Maldives’ favourite sport, football, the game isn’t played on paper.
To try and understand the government’s mind-set. Why should they allow a man who clearly resigned before to hold the nation to ransom? What of the silent masses who supposedly support the current government? We are the government of a sovereign nation and the international community can’t make us do anything.
Whilst these are plausible points in theory, democracy does not function in laboratory conditions. The opposition are not asking for Nasheed’s reinstatement, they are just asking for elections. If thousands of Maldivians quietly support the government, let them quietly make their way to the voting booths.
What is democracy if not the showing of hands when two sides cannot agree?
As for the suggestions that the country does not need international approval, with the economy reliant on foreign tourists for more than seventy percent of GDP, this stubbornness appears decidedly ill-advised.
As it is, peremptory backing from the international community appears to have been granted to the government, but it is hard to see this lasting long without significant reform of vital institutions.
Stubbornness will not make the country’s legislature function, nor make its security services respected by their fellow countrymen.
As the government feathers its nest with a bevy of reports that appear to support its legitimacy – the country’s legislature hasn’t met in over a month, the security forces have lost all credibility, and the economy continues its steady spiral towards the plughole.
Forget morality, legality, or international relations – the country is struggling to function in these circumstances. Now is time for common sense – now is the time for early elections.
Whether the CoNI report rules the transfer of power a coup or not; whether it determines the actions of current government leaders were right, wrong, or somewhere in that uncomfortable grey area in between – the reality remains the same.
This reality was best described yesterday by Michael Mann, the Spokesman for Catherine Aston, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Chief:
“It is now more than ever essential that genuine efforts be made by all political actors to work together in the interests of the country to ensure that the democratic system is upheld; to allow the normal business of government to continue; and to prepare for free and fair elections, which should be held as soon as possible.”
The CoNI report has revealed some institutional weaknesses that may offer avenues via which the country can move forward but, without early elections, the country could spend another six months looking in the rear-view mirror rather than at the road ahead.
Daniel Bosley is a journalist currently writing for Minivan News in the Maldives. He can be contacted at [email protected] or via Twitter @dbosley80.
The views expressed are the author’s own.