By S. Chandrasekharan
As Guardian has pointed out- a leader who was elected through the ballot box has been deposed by street violence and intimidation in Maldives. This is the Arab spring in the reverse and the leader was toppled not by the people but by the machinations of the opposition with a few disgruntled Police and Army Officers.
It is not clear as to who used whom- the Islamists and the disgruntled Police Army Officers or the opposition parties led by former President Gayoom but what is certain is that the evil forces now released and rehabilitated are bound to raise their heads and this should be a cause for worry for the region and particularly for India.
It is a pity that countries that have a stake in the well being of Maldives were quick to legitimise the government now led by the former Vice President and now President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan, when the circumstances under which the lawfully elected leader was overthrown are still murky. There are demands from some western countries for an impartial enquiry and this demand will get louder in the days to come.
No one doubts the credentials of the present President Dr. Waheed but his actions now leading to his appointment as President do not seem to be above board. His action in appointing two well-known individuals who were involved in the toppling of Nasheed in the Key ministries of Home and Defence does not inspire confidence either.
As expected, the Police and the MNDF have gone about with a vengeance in beating up of MDP leaders and the cadres. Poor Reeko Manik was assaulted by the Police and is in a critical condition in Sri Lanka. Nasheed himself was roughed up and Mariya Didi, former chair person in the MDP has been injured. Over 350 supporters of the MDP are said to be in jail. Addu City the stronghold of the MDP has received “special attention.”
Coming back to the President, he is still a leader of a political party with no representation in the parliament. His party had left the coalition of the government led by Nasheed, but continued to stay on as Vice President. He was not in “sync” with the policies of the government and yet he did not resign. He openly differed with the government and went on with his blog in criticising the government action particularly after the rally of 23rd January and yet chose to continue in the government!
When the opposition elements joined with Islamic NGOs in the massive rally of last month and in the daily agitation that continued from then on, there were calls for President Nasheed to step down- but what surprised me was that the same agitators wanted Waheed to take over as President. One would have expected Dr. Waheed to respond either way and he did not.
What was worse, instead Dr. Waheed had a mid night meeting with the leaders of the agitation at his residence that included the chief instigator Umar Naseer of the opposition PPM of former President Gayoom. He did not choose to resign when he openly differed with the President over the arrest of the Chief Criminal judge as one could expect from a person with such excellent credentials!
As said earlier, the events that led to the resignation of President Nasheed are not clear yet. But what is clear is that firstly a group of disgruntled 70 to 80 Policemen entered President Nahseed’s office and asked him to step down. At that point of time, there were over 500 agitators outside the gate of the President’s office and they all belonged to the opposition PPM. Two MPs of PPM were also seen negotiating with the MNDF officers. Soon, over 60 MNDF officers also joined the agitation. There was intimidation and there was violence.
It is not clear either why Nasheed meekly surrendered. After all, he had been imprisoned for six years of which 18 months were spent in solitary confinement. His statement as given out by the media (J.J.Robinson) said -“ I resign because I am not a person who wishes to rule by the use of power . . . I believe that if the government were to remain in power it will require the use of force which would harm many citizens.”
Nasheed would have discovered subsequently that he has been tricked to resign by a conspiracy of a few disgruntled officers of the Police, the Army, the opposition leaders like Gasim Ibrahim, Umar Naseer and Gayoom’s half brother Yameen and in his perception his own Vice President Dr. Waheed!
Dr. Waheed soon after taking over, said that the most important responsibility would be to deliver a peaceful and harmonious environment to the people by safeguarding the constitution and the rule of law in the country. He said that he was working towards a “national unity government.”
He cannot run the government on his own or work for a consensus or a national unity government when he has started undoing the work of the MDP. He has also to take into account two elements that have come into being – one the Salafists and Wahabis who have gained political space in the current agitation. And second the more serious one- the political space gained by the Army and the Police Force who were able to get their way in removing the lawfully elected President and getting one of their “choice” to rule!
Enough has been said already on India’s role in the current crisis in this site. What surprised me was the calculated leak in the press about the report sent by the Indian High Commission from Maldives to the Government which should have been confidential as well as the view of a senior external affairs official.
As a regional power, India has to be seen to be doing something and thus a Special Secretary of the MEA was sent to discuss with the leaders in Maldives. The troops were alerted ( another leak!). The Indian view was that it was an “internal matter” to be resolved in a “peaceful and democratic manner.” Senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs of India are said to have met the envoys of USA. , United Kingdom, Russia, France. , Sri Lanka and of course China. It is said that Indian action resulted in ensuring the safety of Nasheed, the deposed President!
The United Nations has sent its special envoy Oscar Fernandez to talk to the political leaders. This was on an earlier invitation by Nasheed himself when he was in power. A Commonwealth delegation led by Akbar Khan, the Director of legal and constitutional affairs division and US had sent Robert Blake for the same purpose.
There is no doubt that former President Nasheed mad many mistakes. He under estimated the power of ex President Gayoom who sitting in Malaysia was directing the “operation Topple.”
He was a President in a hurry and antagonised almost every one other than his own party leaders around him.
First to leave was Gasim Ibrahim, the powerful businessman and politician and the next was his adviser Dr. Saeed. He took on the judiciary when the opposition was already planning to topple him with the help of the Islamic NGOs. The combined opposition rally of 23d January should have opened his eyes to go slow on other issues and deal with only the five issues raised in the rally. After all, if he had closed down the spas and sale of alcohol as demanded it would have been the opposition leaders who would have been financially ruined!
Nasheed after his resignation said “ We want to establish a democratic Maldives where strong, competitive political parties are formed and her people make an informed decision in the election through party manifesto and where the elected party could complete a five-year term.”
Perhaps he has dreamt about it too soon. Former President Gayoom who had said earlier said that the Maldivians are not yet ready for democracy has openly indicated his willingness to take over the presidentship once again!
What of the future? The current developments are certainly a setback to democracy. The current President Dr. Waheed owes his position to the opposition and other radical elements and he will have to listen to them. He is unlikely to get the cooperation of the MDP which is still the party with the largest numbers in the islands. An early election as demanded by Nasheed will not be allowed and even elections in 2013 cannot be held if the law and order continues to be troublesome, thus giving an excuse for an indefinite postponement of Presidential elections. And Nasheed and followers cannot be subdued by force or incarceration either.
Is reconciliation possible? Not immediately nor in the near future.
It is hoped that the message given by a group of University professors from Europe-“We all fear that Maldives is back to dictatorship and back into the gray dark political cloud of the last thirty years” are proved wrong.