By S. Chandraekharan
Gayoom’s re-entry into Active Politics:
Many analysts particularly from India think that Gayoom’s full fledged entry into active politics may create instability in a country that is trying to manage a smooth change over from three decades of authoritative rule to one of multi party democracy.
In my view his entry may cause some ripples, but this will not change the steady consolidation of democracy that is already taking place. The MDP under the present President Nasheed is seen to be gaining strength though confrontational politics may continue for long until the party gains sufficient strength in the Majlis.
A case in point is the observation made by Gayoom in a meeting to mark the seventh anniversary of the introduction of the Reform Agenda during his regime. He said that Maldivians never had a true democracy ( his regime included ) and made a famous statement- “ A system under which a country’s citizens live in fear of political oppression and persecution is not a democratic system at all.”
If he was referring to the period during his regime of thirty years, one cannot but agree but it is not so now. Did he not jail the present president under terror laws when the latter was protesting peacefully during his regime? Did he not hound out his predecessor Ibrahim Nasir and his whole family and relatives and banished them from the country? After making a deal with the ruling party, and accepting generous retirement benefits, is he not trying to come back to politics by trying to demolish a leader chosen by him as his successor in the party created by him?
To cap it all, he said that true democracy could only be delivered to the Maldivian people by winning the 2013 presidential election. Perhaps he is referring to himself!
This can be seen from the fact that Gayoom formally took over the leadership of the rival DRP faction known as Z-DRP ( Zaeen DRP) on 1st of June this month. A formal meeting between representatives of Thasmeen Ali’s DRP (original DRP!) and that of Gayoom took place some days ago but the differences appear to be irreconcilable. Thasmeen Ali is no “push over” either and he has many supporters still.
Gayoom is thus not helping democracy when he weakens the present opposition which is formidable and does keep the government in check. Worse still, unverified allegations inspired by Gayoom and his supporters questioning Thasmeen’s integrity are being made just to discredit the latter.
Gayoom as I had said many times before could have remained in the history of Maldives as the one who had brought in true democracy to country and instead he is likely to be remembered as the one who tried to undermine a fledgling democracy!
Top Chinese Leader Visits Maldives:
In the last week of May, Chairman of the NPC, Wu Banggao made a two day visit to Maldives. He is perhaps the highest ranking Leader from China to visit Maldives in the recent times. His visit is being projected as a contest between India and China and as part of the effort to control the Indian Ocean region by China by some analysts from India and surprisingly by a few from Sri Lanka too.
During the visit Banggao praised the progress and development of Maldives under Nasheed’s leadership. He said that he was impressed how under the President’s leadership, Maldives had successfully countered the impact of the international financial crisis and had encouraged foreign investment and strengthened infrastructure development. Perhaps China is eying for some major investments.
In 2010, Maldives received over 120,000 tourists, the largest ever and more than other countries. A Chinese company is constructing 1000 housing units under a preferential loan from Chinese government. It is said that over 117 Maldivian students are studying in Maldives. A number of cooperation agreements have been signed between the two countries in the field of culture, education and sports. Two way trade between the two countries reached 64 million US $ in 2010.
With the tourism industry being the main stay of the economy and the inflow of tourists from western countries getting reduced, it is but natural that Maldives would look for more interaction and investment from China. One could argue that India need not be unduly worried as there is enough economic space for both countries to deal with Maldives. But if the Chinese intentions are not so benign and meant to undermine the Indian interests in Maldives then one should take note of the developments with concern. .
Earlier media reports of China is developing a naval base in one of the islands of Maldives does not appear to be true. I am certain that Maldives without making a fanfare of it will take care of Indian security interests in the region.
Security of Maldives and Indian Security Interests:
The National Security Council of Maldives appears to be fully seized in formulating a comprehensive national security policy. The National Security Adviser recently gave the President and his cabinet a full briefing on the progress made and the need to develop a solid “national security framework’ and the guidance needed at the strategic level.
A National maritime security policy has already been made out and is said to be with the President for his approval. In view of its size, geographic spread in the Indian ocean and proximity to Indian waters, any maritime security policy will have to mesh with the Indian one and it is hoped that it is being done. I mention this because of what we hear these days that Maldives has been taking advice and training from western powers who may or may not see the Indian angle.
What is happening to Activist Mariya Didi, former Chairperson of MDP?
In the vacancy created by the removal of Dr. Afrasheem Ali, Mariya Ahmed Didi former chairperson of the MDP contested for membership of Judicial Service Commission and lost by a narrow margin. This is unfortunate. Though Mariya was one of the very active members of the opposition MDP in Gayoom’s days, she was not seen to be active after she became the chair person of the MDP. For those outside it looked that she had been deliberately marginalised since the advent of democracy in Maldives.
The vacant post is now occupied by the well-known business tycoon, Gasim Ibrahim, leader of the Jumhoree party. It is not clear why Gasim who was a home minister, speaker of the Special Majlis and one of the richest persons in Maldives should aspire for the lowly post of a member of Judicial commission unless he wanted to prevent Mariya from becoming one. There will also be conflict of interests too for Gasim with his business and media interests in Maldives.
Former foreign Minister Dr. Ahmed Shaheed:
Removal of Mariya Didi reminds me of another person- Dr. Ahmed Shaheed who was eased out of the post of foreign minister thanks to opposition DRP which had a majority in the Majlis. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed was one of the bright intellectuals who could take credit for bringing Maldives to the notice of international fora. He was without a job for a while until the United Human Rights Council selected him as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights- of all places in Iran on the 19th of June.
The Iran Parliament as expected decided to take measures to ban the entry of Dr. Shaeed into Iran to study the human rights situation. Dr. Shaeed bravely told the media that he would still take up the job and study the human rights situation even if there is no cooperation from Iran. It will not be that easy for Dr. Shaheed and the best way would have been for Dr. Shaeed to decline the offer and not to take sides on a controversial issue like the one he is being asked to.
The Menace of Illegal Immigration from Bangladesh:
Finally Maldives is waking up to the problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh whose are already in large numbers and enough to threaten the demographic pattern in Maldives. In a population of 400,000, Bangladeshis number over 50 thousand. There is no estimate as to many are illegals but a conservative estimate puts it at fifty percent and could be more. It should be an embarrassment to Bangladesh government also and steps are being taken with the approval of Bangladesh to identify and send back those without valid documents. Immigration and labour laws are being tightened to stop the illegal inflow of Bangladesh immigrants as otherwise it is likely to have an adverse impact not only on the economy but also on the security of this small country.
While the nation is bleeding, Parliamentarians are enriching themselves!
When the government is struggling to boost its income by proposing new tax proposals that include the Good Services, Business Profits and Income Tax, the parliamentarians have awarded themselves a hefty increase of over 20,000 Ruffias each month for themselves thus raising their total income each month to over 5350 US $ per month. This rise is too steep and it is not clear how the MDP agreed for this rise.
Misguided Activities of Jamiyaut Salaf:
It is rather strange to see that while Maldives is struggling to establish democracy, the Islamic NGO of Maldives Jamiyaut Salaf on June 12 made an appeal condemning democracy and political pluralism as un-Islamic and corrupt. Stranger still, as a commentator points out, Salaf is said to be preparing to participate in pluralism and democracy. In fact they have announced that they are grooming an ideal presidential candidate not for the next one but for the one to be held in 2018!
Another curious item in the media that came to my notice is the public lecture given by Sheikh Ilyas Jamal on 17th night of June where he said that democracy is just a “man made” philosophy and cannot be compared with “Shura” which is a fundamental aspect of Islamic governance. He explained that while Islam calls for unity and harmony, democracy calls for partisanship and discord. His view was that democracy spreads hate, envy and lies in the society!
President Nasheed has indeed a major responsibility on hand to consolidate “liberal democracy’ as is known in the face of such open attacks by the religious elements in the country. It will be interesting to watch how he will be handling the threat of religious fundamentalism.