Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 29, 2016
Nasheed & Co. in Colombo now: What next?

Maldivian web journals, some with photographs, have confirmed reports that former President and joint Opposition’s patron Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed and others have arrived in the neighbouring Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, and are ‘plotting’ to overthrow incumbent Abdulla Yameen. Quoting BBC, they have also said that Yameen is aware of their ‘plot’, thus raising interesting questions about their game plans as they get played out in the open.

The current move comes in the wake of a rift in Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), centred on party chief and half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the nation’s longest serving President. Independent of the considerations and complex negotiations that may be involved, it may have soared fresh hopes in the MDP-led Maldives United Opposition (MUO), headquartered in London, as with Gayoom’s support, they may now have the numbers to move an impeachment motion against Yameen in Parliament.

Yet, the past does not really justify such hopes, at least until they reach the ‘goal-post’ and together. Starting with the Nasheed-led Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) overnight December 2014 demand for Yameen to hand over the presidency to Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, every such Opposition move has only boomeranged on them. Though seemingly not a part of the unilateral MDP move, Gasim began facing heightened governmental pressure on his Villa Group of companies, before giving in, after hobnobbing with the Opposition for a time.

It’s another matter that the MDP that wanted Gasim to become President, even if for a time — though with no constitutional provision to facilitate the same — voted with Yameen’s group to disqualify the likes of him falling in the over-65 age group from contesting future presidential polls. Gayoom tops the list of political veterans in this list. Negotiations for a post-Yameen power-sharing formula is necessary, beforehand, if any ‘transition’ of the kind were to ensure stability with democracy.

This will be so even if the MUO in general and Nasheed personally that in direct elections to the presidency, they would not require the Gayoom faction of the PPM, or even MDP’s present-day partners. How advanced elections could be ‘facilitated’ ahead of the due-date in November 2018 is for Parliament and/or Judiciary in Maldives, and not the ‘international community’ to grabble with.

Given the constitutional provisions, such a course would involve in stages, the impeachment of President Yameen, Vice President Abdulla Jihad and People’s Majlis Speaker, Abdulla Maseeh. After Nasheed’s arrival in Colombo, Speaker Maseeh has reiterated that Yameen is here to stay. The MUO may even hope that if and when Yameen and Jihad are out of the presidency under the hierarchy through impeachment, Maseeh would hold the nation’s highest office only for 60 days, to be able to conduct fresh elections. That could still be assuming a lot.

At the end of the day, the higher judiciary gets to arbitrate on issues of presidential elections, and decide the future course. In the 2013 presidential polls, the Nasheed campaign said that the Supreme Court was pro-Yameen. The latter’s charge that the Election Commission (EC) was pro-Nasheed fell on deaf ears. Today, when rumours and reports are doing more rounds, the Election Commission (EC), reconstituted by President Yameen, has celebrated its (seventh) anniversary, for the first time, possibly for the ‘international community’ too to take note.

< style="color: #163449;">Recipe for disaster

The best case scenario for the MUO could be a ‘political overthrow’ of Yameen of an yet-to-be defined nature, but without involvement the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Such a course could be the worst-case scenario for Maldives, especially in the cost of increasing radicalisation and anticipation of direct IS intervention, on its own behalf.

A proud army of a proud nation, who celebrate that Maldives is the only South Asian nation not to have been a ‘colony’ of the West, there could be fresh trouble on the streets if new methods are found to stall the ‘duly-elected’ government. In what’s essentially a non-communist society, increased signs of independence and frustration at democratic transition could turn the youth towards religious radicalisation.

This apart, global studies of the 20th century have shown that any society with 20-plus percent of youthful population is a recipe for radicalisation, street protests and militancy of whatever kind. The pattern seems to remain even in the era of social media, if anything, more so. Maldives has had the figure upwards of 35 percent over the past decade and more. Hence the success of the pro-democracy movement in the past decade.

In Maldives, the population ratio in this age-group is only increasing, and democracy, too, is seen as failing the nation and the youth alike. Given the socio-economic realities facilitated by Gayoom presidency’s increased attention on tourism driven economic priorities on education and healthcare, without adequate job opportunities, the youth have been taking to ‘gangs’ as a business and ‘culture’, especially in urban Male, housing a third of the nation’s 350,000 population.

The increased incidence of divorces and remarriage with no responsibility towards children from the earlier marriage, lack of housing space in Male have all contributed to the youth taking to drugs and to gangs. For the ‘born-again’ youth, influenced by the social media to which their earlier generation did not have access, fundamentalism, radicalisation and IS brand of militancy are the ‘divine’ way out of their troubled past. To the likes of them, ‘martyrdom’ in the name of religion is a way out of their past sins in their present birth.

< style="color: #163449;">Religious motives

In context, attributing religious motives to political party or leader in office, does not help. It was Gayoom when he was in power. Today, sections of the international community accede that he was a modern and moderate leader, but the tag of ‘religious fundamentalism to help stay on in office’ has been passed on to Yameen.

It is one thing for self-styled pro-democracy camps in the country and outside to use it all as a campaign point and campaign mode. It is another for them to believe in their own campaign — and act accordingly. This has been behind the successive failures of the MDP-MUO efforts against Yameen since mid to late 2014.

In between, Nasheed too suffered the fate, as he too partnered with the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP). It has since become a silence/silenced partner in the MUO, what with party leader, Sheikh Imran Abdulla serving a long prison term, with little chance or hope of obtaining ‘political asylum’ elsewhere, a la Nasheed & Co.

The mood for democracy was set through anti-Gayoom protests through the earlier years of the new millennia. Nasheed lost out to street protests, of which he is still considered the past-master. The India-GMR row that led to his exit in February 2012 drew overall momentum only from the street-centric pro-Independence and pro-Islam protests.

This also led to dividing the MNDF and the nation’s police force, owing to governmental mishandling of the time, motivated or not. The question would also arise if an ‘autocrat’, as Yameen is being dubbed, could be replaced through any (other) ‘undemocratic’ method, or it has to be a more transparent and smooth transition, as witnessed during the Gayoom-Nasheed transition of 2008.

Waiting for democratic elections when due, and ensure that they are free and fair may be the best option available to the ‘international community’ if they want to ‘interfere’ in the internal affairs of a Third World nation. In the present-day world mood, other Third World nations may be wary of challenging such a course as openly during the Cold War era, when the non-aligned movement (NAM) too was active.

Yet, nations, big and small, would still take note of, and will be taking down notes, too. If the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight, the Cold War decades also witnessed collapse of pro-West governments in South Asia, as in Pakistan, Iran, Philippines, among other nations — and through street protests. Hence, to see fresh hopes for democracy in the ‘Orange Revolution’ and Egyptian street protests in recent times is a sword that can cut both ways.

Whether a tiny nation like Maldives can overcome the convulsions through the medium and long terms is the question. It’s a question that friends of Maldives in the immediate neighbourhood, like Sri Lanka and India, should be asking themselves and others. In the immediate term, having hosted Nasheed & Co. now, Sri Lanka may (or, may not) come under criticism from the Yameen leadership. It’s unlike during the Gayoom years, when the West did not own up Sri Lanka as a ‘frontline State’ viz Maldives, as then British Prime Minister David Cameron had claimed — without denial of any kind — had claimed.

< style="color: #163449;">Financial scams?

Possibly linked to Nasheed’s Colombo confabulations is the news that the Maldivian Government has asked him and some of his compatriots to pay up moneys owed to the Government, for alleged misuse of public funds and facilities when in office — only just seven days to respond. The details are drawn from the Auditor General’s report, which Yameen’s adversaries have thrown at him in other contexts.

As is only to be expected, the MDP-MUO leaders have linked the refund notice to expected Al Jazeera reports on Yameen corruption. Already, the Yameen team has either denied or pooh-poohed anticipated Al Jazeera ‘expose’. Finance Minister Ahmed Munnawar, who stepped into the shoes of Abdulla Jihad on latter’s elevation as Vice President recently, has indicated that more could follow, without giving out details.

It’s another matter that in its time the Nasheed presidency had talked about millions of dollar worth ‘oil scandal’ involving Yameen during the Gayoom presidency. Indian magazine, The Week, even reported extensively on the scam, more than once — but the Nasheed Government did not seem to have followed up on it, other than making tentative move and noises. More recently, the Opposition has levelled similar funds-misuse charge against the Yameen presidency, which the Government has passed on to impeached Vice President, Ahmed Adheeb. The latter is now in prison, for plot to kill the Yameen by blasting the presidential boat.

How far and deep would the Yameen Government go beyond a point against Nasheed & Co. thus remains a question. What more, allegations of the kind have begun to be made against the Gayoom presidency, too, just now. In this case, it all relates to government loans, granted to individuals but that remain to be repaid even eight years after Gayoom had demitted office — though that itself might not have been a consideration for repayment.

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