By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
There is no doubt that former President Nasheed was forced to quit by the machinations of a few disgruntled- serving and retired security personnel and Islamists with a strong backing of those political leaders opposed to Nasheed and his party. As someone had said, it was the result of a nexus amongst the money bags, Islamists and those in opposition. And there was Gayoom all over directing from behind. Yet the odds for having early elections appear to be not so bright and he needs to reexamine his own strategy now.
The daily processions growing in numbers in the last days of Nasheed’s regime before February 7th gave an indication that Nasheed could not have withstood the “onslaught.” However right Nasheed may be in continuing with the protests calling for early elections, he should in my view consider the following points in working out a strategy that would, not necessarily bring him back to power but to “restore democracy” as he himself had pointed out.
- So far the MDP has been able to organise impressive protests in Male and other places. The April 20 rally of MDP calling for Speaker’s resignation saw a gathering of about 10,000. The May day rally on 1st May turned out to be another big protest rally. There have been minor rallies in the evenings between 5.30 and 7.30. The students who are taking the final examination in Male have protested about the disturbances and the rallies are being conducted in a very low key. Differences within the party have arisen over the efficacy of continued street protests. The question is whether Nasheed could sustain the street protests for long when the Government is in no mood to relent? It is going to be difficult and the MDP may in due course lose sympathy of the people and may also see attrition from the party itself. ( The latter has already happened)
- Nasheed’s visit to India has not been much of a success. He met the Prime minister on the 23rd along with his trusted colleagues of the party. On the eve of his meeting the external affairs ministry indicated India’s position “that engagement of all stake holders . . . will facilitate a constructive dialogue among all the political parties and help in bringing stability . . .” The PM in his meeting with Nasheed stressed on the road map of Feb 16 given by the Indian foreign secretary which calls for early elections. The road map is now dead and gone and India is neither in a position nor will it even try to resurrect the road map.
- President Waheed is consolidating his position. He had made sure that the army and police are with him. He has promoted 1000 Police Officers, almost a third of the force and has plans to recruit another 200 officers. He has four senior officers as Asst. Commissioners. The Army personnel have been given a lump sum payment amounting to two years of allowances. He has reimbursed the cut enforced by Nasheed to all the civil servants and the amount involved is huge- US $ 28.80 million. Thus, the loyalty of the civil servants, armed and police forces have been bought. A New York based Public Relations firm has been appointed for three months for “improving the image of the country.”
- President Waheed is also dismantling all the projects like the decentralization that were close to Nasheed’s heart. All the seven national offices in the regions and the seven national units have been abolished and the functions re transferred to local councils. The samandha scheme that gave easy medical aid to the poor people will be restricted only to government hospitals and not the private ones.
- The present government under President Waheed has enough strength in the Majlis to carry on with its programmes. The MDP with its membership of 32 out of a total of 77 is in no position to challenge the decisions. The entire cabinet suggested by th President has been approved and so was the case of the Bondos resorts chief as Vice President. One serious development is the closure of the case against DQP MP Riyad Rasheed’s Meridien group.
- The CMAG on 16th April gave a dead line of one month for early elections and for a credible independent presence in the commission of national enquiry to look into the incidents surrounding the February 7 incidents. It has threatened “further strong measures” against the Maldivian government otherwise. On 20th itself President Waheed ruled out early elections. His office said that the “Maldivian Constitution is very clear that the presidential elections can be held at the earliest by July 2013 and that the CMAG is fully aware of it.” As for the stronger measures- Gayoom’s party along with DQP has introduced a motion in the Majlis to withdraw the membership from the commonwealth. Also, Gayoom has spoken. He said so on 27th April, questioning the very basis of Maldives continuing in the commonwealth when his country was never under the colonial rule! Already the situation in Fiji is being examined after it was suspended in 2009. There the Chinese have replaced both Australia and New Zealand in a big way and the country is not doing badly either. Commodore Bainimarama is in no mood to conduct the elections earlier than 2014 and in fact may continue longer. This despite sanctions and other coercive measures!
- Another difficulty will be in keeping the party (MDP) intact. The latest episode where both the serving president and the vice president of the party Dr. Ibrahim Didi and Alhan Fahmy were sacked by the National Council of the party for failure to endorse and issue contradictory statements on the resolution adopted by the party on February does not augur well for the party. Differences are cropping in and one MP of the party defied the party directive and attended the proceedings of the assembly. Nasheed has a challenging task of keeping the flock together.
Former President Nasheed is and would continue to be an enduring symbol of democracy in Maldives. He is an activist at heart and the people are with him. He needs patience and has to work steadily. It is said that he had been arrested 27 times, spent 18 months in solitary confinement and did not have the chance to see his family when his two daughters were born! He has to arrest the attrition from his party and prepare for the presidential elections.
His major challenge will be that almost all the parties except his own are likely to use Islam as a tool to further their political ends. He needs to be careful in his pronouncements. Even an innocent figure of speech that he would even go to “hell” and come back has been termed as “unislamic”.
How is he going to prove that Islam and Democracy can coexist? That will be his main challenge.