Originally Published 2012-02-07 00:00:00 Published on Feb 07, 2012
Under the 2008 Constitution, President Nasheed is to be succeeded by Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who would complete the remaining two-and-half years of the presidency, until elections in October 2013.
Change-of-guard in Maldives: Implications for India
The sudden, though not surprise, decision of Maldivian President Mohammed ’Anni’ Nasheed to step down from office may have led to a flux on the domestic front, but it need not have to mean much in terms of bilateral relations with India but for a few and independent hitches that does not necessarily have to do with the Government in New Delhi. Instead, it would be relations as usual, as in the past, with the possibility of greater Indian contribution towards stabilising the polity and economy in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

According to reports, President Nasheed’s decision followed a group of officers of the Maldivian Police Force revolting against the Government, and taking over the national television and gathering outside the headquarters of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). The reports also said that the police was unhappy at the MNDF being entrusted with law and order powers. However, it is argued that President Nasheed may have saved the day hours earlier if he had proclaimed a state of emergency. A democrat by conviction, it is likely that he did not consider that option seriously, but instead chose to step down.

It is not impossible that the protests from within the political Opposition, whose numbers were growing over the past weeks, might have become uncontrollable after a time, particularly considering the Maldivian geography, where inhabited islands are spread out across a 950 km spread -- and the MNDF and the police together have less than 10,000 men in uniform. Seeking external military aid would have then become inevitable, but it is not sure if any nation would have wanted to get involved in what is essentially a domestic political problem -- or, if President Nasheed himself would have been convinced about his cause, after a point.

The problems for President Nasheed were brewing almost from day one -- with attitudinal changes of his youthful years and overseas education and political exposure not getting reflected down the line in the well-entrenched administration, inherited from President Gayoom’s 30 long years in office. Nor was the new President capable of meeting the old guard half-way through, with the result, impatience got the better of him -- and he ended up quitting when the nation might not have been ready for the same.

All in all, President Nasheed’s resignation came almost around the same time he was supposed to have stepped down, purportedly based on a promise that he had given his erstwhile allies, none of whom is with him now. Accordingly, it was said that candidate Nasheed had promised his partners in the second round run-off poll for the presidency in October 2008 that he would quit office after two-and-half years. The allies, after parting company with him one after the other, had said that he had already reneged on the promise. But unknown to any of them, and unanticipated as he himself might have been, President Nasheed has now stepped down.

Under the 2008 Constitution, President Nasheed is to be succeeded by Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who would complete the remaining two-and-half years of the presidency, until elections in October 2013. The Constitution does not empower the Vice-President to order fresh elections for the presidency, as is being conceived in some quarters. Indications are that Vice-President Waheed will continue in office, and possibly aim at forming a ’national government’, considering that no single party or grouping now commands a majority in the People’s Majlis, or Parliament.

Early problems for President Nasheed began with his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) not being able to capture an absolute majority in Parliament, attributed as it was to their not taking along their DQP and JP allies in particular, from the run-off polls for the presidency only months earlier. Even in the case of Vice-President Waheed, there were repeated reports of the MDP leadership wanting him to merge his Gaumi Iththihaad Party (GIP) with the MDP before he could be considered to be President Nasheed’s running-mate the next time round.

Most Maldivian leaders are friends of India, and Vice-President Waheed is no exception. There is also an institutional memory in the Maldivian hierarchy, as to how New Delhi had helped the nation, both in times of economic crisis, which is almost always as the nature of the nation’s economy goes -- and militarily, through the failed coup bid of 1988. The depth and width of bilateral relations were stressed when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Male in November 2011, and the two sides signed a host of agreements, aimed at adding further meaning and strength to their relations. The latest in the series is expanding the scope of bilateral maritime security proposals to make it a part of the SAARC agenda at Addu, and near-simultaneously following it up with Sri Lanka, to give it a three-nation edge, for which discussions have since commenced.

India would have been alive to the recent developments in Maldives. As is known, New Delhi had played a very constructive role in resolving earlier political and constitutional deadlocks in the infant democracy, through the sheer force of its larger and longer democratic experience and consequent expertise, which also suited the larger South Asian conditions. On these and also on bilateral relations, none seemed to have understood Maldives and Maldivian needs as India did. Independent of the vagaries of Maldivian politics in recent times, the quiet and efficient Indian diplomatic presence was welcomed and sought-after by most, if not all important political and economic players in that country, by way of seeking to share the Indian experience and learning from it, too.

The greatest achievement of the Nahseed establishment, namely, the conduct of the SAARC Summit in the southern atoll-city of Addu, across the Equator, had full Indian cooperation and help in all forms. Otherwise too, President Nasheed’s regime will be remembered in his country and elsewhere too, for ushering in multi-party elections through democratic means, and ensuring democratic transition twice in three-plus years, first from President Gayoom to President Nasheed, and now from President Nasheed to President-designate, Waheed. It is this that may remain unchallenged and unaltered in the months and years to come, with the mainline political parties taking a second look at having to accommodate religious fundamentalists in their emerging fight against President Nasheed, which has now proved to be a non-starter, though for entirely opposite reasons.

However, there could be problems for some of the Indian enterprises in Maldives, particularly the massively-funded renovation of the international airport in Male, involving infrastructure major GMR Group. It was at the centre of the first major constitutional crisis facing the nation, after the Opposition tabled a Bill in Parliament, where they had a majority, telling the Government to seek prior legislative approval in such matters. It led to the Cabinet resigning en masse, in a bid to give President Nasheed a free hand -- but Vice-President Waheed remained non-committal, however.

Otherwise, the 30,000 Indians working in Maldives have nothing to fear from the locals, they having a lot of respect for Indian doctors and nurses, teachers and private sector officials, hotel staff and office assistants, all of whom acquit themselves well, both in terms of work and work culture, conduct and overall behaviour. In a country of 350,000 people, where the workforce comprises close to 100,000 expatriates, that is saying a lot, as well. As ’ambassadors of India’ in Maldives, these expatriates may not have brought home much money -- they having been cheated on employment conditions by their hirers back home, in most cases -- but they definitely have brought in a lot of goodwill, instead, for their nation and their fellow workers from the country.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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