Originally Published 2015-11-12 10:23:15 Published on Nov 12, 2015
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen is not inexperienced to take half-way measures, only to go back on them. Yet, there is no denying that he would have a lot to explain as to how he has ended up making all wrong choices and decisions in his efforts to consolidate his political power.
Maldives: End of emergency, what next?

Though not entirely unexpected, just as the proclamation less than a week ago was, by rescinding the emergency, President Abdulla Yameen may have taken the first feeble, and rather unrelated step, for a dialogue-based national reconciliation that Maldives very badly needs. A lot would depend on what subsequent steps that the President initiates, and how far does the main Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) walks to meet him half-way, if at all that is his intention, would determine the future course of politics, society and political stability in the island-nation.

It would be naive to conclude that the withdrawal of emergency was done under international pressure. Yameen is neither impetuous, nor inexperienced, to take half-way measures, only to go back on them. Yet, there is no denying that he would have a lot to explain - to self first and the rest of the nation and possibly the world - as to how he has ended up making all wrong choices and decisions in his efforts to consolidate his political power in a party, headed and 'owned' still by half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In pure political terms, the MDP cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for keeping the PPM (Progressive Party of Maldives) intact after the monolith, though not as big as the former, had begun developing early signs of an inevitable crack, based on personality-driven generational differences. The MDP's unjustified demand, made in undue haste, in December 2014, for Yameen to hand over power to a non-constitutional entity like Jumhooree Party's (JP) Gasim Ibrahim was the forerunner to all the problems that the nation has since been facing.

Today, when Yameen is seen as having climbed down on the emergency-proclamation, the MDP has revived its early demand for the President to step down. In the absence of a Vice-President after the jailed incumbent, Ahmed Adheeb, had been impeached, the exit of President Yameen from office would imply that the Speaker of the People's Majlis would run the administration for 60 months, and preside over fresh presidential polls during the period.

The MDP seems hopeful of winning such an election, with the jailed former President, Mohammed 'Anni' Nasheed, becoming the main and possibly the only campaign-point. The general political situation also seems to be more favourable to the party than in December last, but that does not mean that Yameen is going to yield, this time, either.

Boat-blast and after

There is nothing to suggest that the law and order situation (read: 'terror' threat of whatever kind) has improved after the 28 September boat-blast, which President Yameen escaped miraculously. The subsequent recovery of weapons, including those that were supposed to have been housed in the nation's armoury, the discovery of a truck-laden bomb not far away from the presidential palace close to a month later, and the arrest of a Sri Lankan 'sniper', supposed to have been hired by a rebel group, to target Yameen, all have added to the mystery of the previous weeks.

If the emergency proclamation was aimed at conferring unparalleled, constitutional powers on the security forces to protect the nation and the people, the withdrawal a week later has come without much of it being known to have accomplished. Yet, there is no denying that the emergency-proclamation did shock the nation into sitting up and taking notice. The same cannot however be said about the MDP, the nation's single largest party with the most charismatic leader - nor its international backers, particularly in the West.

The West did not take the emergency-proclamation seriously, and seemed to have concluded that it was yet another ploy for President Yameen to keep Nasheed in prison - and also deflect the national/ global attention away. The MDP condemned the emergency as a ploy to fast-track Adheeb's impeachment and also avert the party's pro-Nasheed protest rally.

Going by an earlier edition, the MDP seemed to have lost its steam, but this time, but the party still circumvented the emergency this time and 'celebrated' (?) the occasion with tea and lunch parties on the streets of capital Male, after the strong contingent of their women cadres had offered flowers to the cops once before. Post-emergency, the party is not unlikely to be tempted to go on in the war-path than accept any olive branch, if and when offered by Yameen, in his hour of national crisis.

Sri Lanka shocker?

The world and also the MDP need to go beyond rhetoric that unless they are able to conclusively prove otherwise, the threat to the person of the President, and thus the constitutional hierarchy, from within is for real. They should not confuse either the Nasheed imprisonment, or even the demonstrated decision-making capacity, or lack of it, with President Yameen's popularity, or as their own victory in the current round.

Maybe, the MDP and the West have Yameen where they want him - or, they may have concluded as much, and end up proceeding accordingly. They might be right, but only up to a point. It would also be one thing for the MDP to believe - and make the rest of the world believe - that Yameen is cut out of Gayoom's 'autocratic' cloth.

Truth be recalled, despite ruling with an iron-hand while in power, Gayoom did negotiate multi-party democracy and a new Constitution with the emerging ranks of the political Opposition (divided as they still were), and also provided for a smooth transition after losing the presidential polls of 2008. They did not provide for a pro-democracy Constitution, but an anti-Gayoom Constitution, with all the pitfalls, which they refused to correct - but only ended up exploiting - during their short tenancy of the presidency and Government.

Together, the MDP, the rest the nation's polity and all of the international community (including friends of Maldives, and of Yameen) need to acknowledge that some of the present-day problems inherent to the pro-democracy Constitution owed to the then Opposition's tunnel-vision. They may have gained power in the process, and lost it too - but the nation seems to be losing even more. The West, and the rest of the world, even while seeking to influence the Yameen leadership even more on their version of a democratisation agenda, needs to learn first - understand and assimilate - certain Maldivian realities rooted in the distant past, and advice the MDP too, accordingly.

It is inconceivable that the Yameen leadership did not prepare for international opprobrium on the emergency-proclamation, when made. It there could be no possible denying that the nation was not prepared for the 'Sri Lanka shocker'. The relatively new twin-leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, citing the post-poll mood of the neighbourhood nation, has condemned Maldivian emergency in no uncertain terms, and called for its early withdrawal.

If there was any difference within Sri Lanka's ruling coalition over the issue, it did not show in the Foreign Ministry statement. Nor did it show when the Ministry 'summoned' the Maldivian envoy - a rare occurrence in bilateral relations - to see details about the arrest of the 'Sri Lankan sniper', possibly also owing to the absence of a full-fledged High Commissioner for the nation in the Maldivian capital.

Too 'modern'

One of the problems with the party is that it is too 'modern' and 'western' in its outlook and action-plans than a conventional society is prepared for. The party cannot also confuse its democracy priorities with the undue haste of individuals in its midst to climb on to political power by hook or crook - and stick on there, democracy or not.

While rescinding what possibly is the world's shortest period of constitutional emergency, President Yameen told the nation on the Republic Day that they needed to ask themselves if Maldives was capable of taking its decision and would be allowed to take those decisions. He also questioned the 'bi-polar politics' of the political Opposition, a possible reference this to then incumbent, President Nasheed's prediction of the kind after the 'ruling' MDP had lost the 2009 parliamentary polls.

Post-emergency, the initiative for a fresh political start-up in Maldives rests squarely on President Yameen. He cannot be seen as running with the hare and hunting with the hound. As much as the MDP Opposition, the party's western 'allies' too would not have forgotten the Yameen leadership purportedly negotiating the party's parliamentary support (when not exactly required, in numbers terms) for impeaching another Vice-President Ahmed Jameel Mohammed, amend the laws to make Adheeb VP when he was 'under-aged', and also have his nomination cleared - without supposedly keeping his part of the deal on freedom for Nasheed.

Having lived with unending suspicions about President Gayoom in his time, the MDP and the rest of the nation's polity (including sections that are since supportive of Yameen, like JP's Gasim), the party is twice bitten since, in terms of successive leaders. It would be even more if Nasheed's own chosen Vice-President Hassan Waheed's upstaging him were to be considered, too. The MDP having continually demanded Yameen's ouster, outside of the constitutional framework, too claim innocence.

Thus, the two parties to begin with, and the rest of the nation's polity and society, and also the international community, would have to begin by re-building trust that has not been a part of the Maldivian mind-set and mental disposition, particularly since the days of the pro-democracy movement. The international community can help in the process, not by getting involved but by staying away - and participate only when invited by all Maldivians on their own volition, and not otherwise.

Any other way to approach the Maldivian conundrum is bound to fail - and end up hitting the international community, too, on the face. After all, Yameen's Maldives has refused to rope in its own international business partners (read: China) to try and counter the western dominance in the nation's domestic politics, as played out in the international arena, like the UNHRC, Commonwealth (where Beijing is not present, thankfully), if not the UN and the UN Security Council.

For, neither sanctions, nor sanctimonious pro-democracy lecture could alter the ground situation. Patience, and perseverance, in understanding Maldives as it comes, and helping to create domestic conditions where the Maldivian stake-holders develop mutual trust and respect through a series of self-invented and self-induced confidence-building measures (CBMs), alone would help, instead - and, if at all.

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

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