MonitorsPublished on Oct 29, 2010
Politics is no more news in Maldives. Even media commentaries these days focus on culture and other aspects even as the news columns take time off to report more on crimes like abuse of foreigners by resort employees and the like.
President Nasheed wrests the initiative
< class="heading1">Analysis

Politics is no more news in Maldives. Even media commentaries these days focus on culture and other aspects even as the news columns take time off to report more on crimes like abuse of foreigners by resort employees and the like. On the one hand, it’s an indication that ordinary Maldivians are getting tired of the shenanigans of various political parties and their leaders in the ’democracy era’. On the other hand, it signaled intermediate victory for President Mohammed Nasheed and his ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over the claims and challenges thrown at him by the Opposition combine led by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) -- if only by default.

There is as much, if not more, trouble for the DRP from within than from the MDP, which has been targetting party MPs for poaching. Weeks ago, party vice-president Ummer Nazeer threw an indirect challenge at the leadership of Thasmeen Ali, by declaring unilateral protests and rallies against the Nasheed Government. An aspirant still for the party nomination for national presidency in 2013, Nazeer was seeking to imply that the Thasmeen leadership was in cohorts with the ruling combine. The party would none of such tantrums from someone who was an ’outsider’ at the pro-democracy presidential polls of 2008 and contested for the high office as such. Nazeer’s case was promptly referred to the DRP disciplinary committee, sending out a clear signal as to who was the boss. That in a way quelled possible rebellions of the kind, since.

Worse still for the DRP, there were reports of a Maumoon family member staking the party ticket for the 2013 polls. Reports claimed that Abdullah Yammen, half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former President and also the founder of the party, was considering re-entry into the DRP with the latter’s blessings, in time for Election-2013. A close associate of the former President when in power, Yammen had walked out of the party in time for the presidential polls of 2008 amidst speculation that it was a tactical move to help divide the anti-Gayoom votes. More recently, he was in the news after the Government had the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) to detain him in a luxury island-resort for days without investigations.

Along side the twin developments, there were reports of Gayoom re-entering the political, if not electoral, fray, in the light of unending reports and continuing Government claims of abuse of power during his presidency. He had steadfast remained aloof, at least in the public eye, from the deadlocked constitutional crisis that refused to go for long. Even a personal visit and intervention by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to help resolve the Maldivian crisis did not encourage him to come out in the open, even to emerge above the rest and call for a climate of mutual understanding and respect among all political parties in the larger national interest. Having missed an opportunity to repackage the self as a non-partisan national leader who could be trusted with brokering internal peace, Gayoom soon allowed his name to be bandied about as wanting to lead political protests against the Government.

If it implied that Gayoom throwing the hat into the ring was not clear but there were/are those in the DRP who feel that he would still be their best bet for the presidential polls of 2013. There are however others who feel that a ’non-family’ leader like Thasmeen Ali would suit the DRP’s futuristic image better but would still require the ’Gayoom magic’ to retain the traditional party votes. Thasmeen Ali’s political penetration levels still seem to be in the periphery compared to the hold that Gayoom had through 30 long years of one-party, one-man rule. However, a party opinion has it that a Thasmeen candidacy with a Maumoon family member as the running-mate for vice-presidency would be the best bet, considering in particular the confusion in the camp of President Nasheed over the choice of a running-mate. For now, however, the President seems to have patched up with his deputy, Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Accompanied by Presidential Special Envoy, Ibrahim Zaki, the Vice-President represented Maldives at the UN General Assembly session this year.

All this does not mean that it’s all clear for President Nasheed and the MDP. While it is true that the DRP is too busy with itself to have the time for consolidating the emerging Opposition combine, the MDP is yet to muster a parliamentary majority, for one. Trickles do not make for floods, if one were to consider the need for a two-thirds majority if the Nasheed camp is serious about effecting political and social reforms through amendments to the Constitution, as with the case a possible change over to the Westminster system of parliamentary government. Granting the high demand and consequent premium attached to individual members of the Parliament, the MDP leadership would have to tread carefully if it were not to upset the public mood on issues of political morals and democratic principles in terms of encouraging defection.

The Government also tasted electoral reversal in a way when a referendum for the merger of different islands to make them manageable and meaningful administrative units ahead of the local government elections failed to carry through. It was an ambitious plan identified with President Nasheed, and the Opposition cannot be blamed if they see in the referendum results hopes for their future. This apart, the Government is also saddled with the commitment to restore the pay-cuts, introduced in Budget-2009, charging the erstwhile Gayoom presidency with profligacy. With about a tenth of the nation’s population dependent on Government jobs for supporting their families, the pay-cuts and promised job-cuts in future could upset the voters as no other issue could. The promise to restore the salaries in the election year too would be looked at with suspicions about re-introduction of the cuts on a future date, identifying the Nasheed leadership with West-driven IMF-induced template reforms on the economic front, with no relation to ground realities.

Interestingly, for a nation of 350,000 people living in islands that are spread out 950-km across, north-south, Maldivians are already talking about Elections-2013 even before the second year of President Nasheed’s first term concludes in the second week of November. While it may be aimed at unnerving the ruling combine in more ways than one, considering that most of their leaders continue to remain in their street-fighter past and thus exhaust them after a time, it is also doubtful if the Opposition would be able to sustain the momentum it has created now. Better or worse still, it could also create new fissures in the artificial combine that the Opposition now is, between now and election-time. The current confusion within the DRP, for once, could well give a taste of the same.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">State debt up in seven months

Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) has shown that the State debt from January to July 2010 reached to Rf 1.6 b. In a letter to the parliamentary financial committee about the budget, the MMA said that Rf 3.5 b in the debt went to support the budget while Rf5.2 billion, including Rf 4.3 b as recurrent expenditure, was spent.

The Authority warns that the high recurrent expenditure against revenue would increase domestic demand in Maldives economy, affect exchange rate and instigate a dollar shortage.

The Authority noted that the Maldives current account debt observed a 38 per cent decrease in 2009 due to price drop for imported items. Although US $259 m was present in foreign currency reserve by December 2009, $ 1 m decreased without any increment to the reserve.

The MMA further identified that the current dollar shortage is being observed since 2008 and suggested that the State increased the revenue and cut down on expenditure.

Highlighting the importance of passing the Bill on income-tax within this year, the Authority told Parliament that revenue in foreign currency should be maintained within the local banking system.
Source: Haveeru Online

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Banks to close for 10 days

Banks and the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) will close for 10 days during Republic Day and the Eid-al Adha holidays, November 11-20.

The MMA said the decision was made in conjunction with banks. However it has raised the ire of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI).

"When nine holidays were observed last year, we opened on one day in the middle," the MMA said. "The procedure does not allow employees to fully utilise the holidays. Banks also said that few customers get the service during the holidays."
Source: Minivan News, October 26, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two held for ’foul wedding’

The Maldives Police Service has arrested the ’celebrant’ Hussein Didi and another man who led a foul ’wedding’ ceremony of two foreign tourists in an island resort. Didi, a hotel staff who was earlier sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a drug-related case, and the other suspect were charged for insulting Islam, disesteeming a tourist couple by using foul language and violating the religious unity by publicising the scene on the internet.

Ordering their custody for five days, a local court said that their activity violated the Family Act, Islam, fundamental constitutional rights. The judge also said that it would harm the tourism industry, jeopardise the Maldivian economy and could obstruct the peace and security of the nation. As the visuals showed, the two Maldivians abused the foreign couple, wanting to renew their wedding vows in the island-resort as permitted under local laws for tourists, abused them infidels and worse in the local, Dhivehi language.

With the international media picking up the news from where you-tube had left the Government is now on the damage-control exercise, with President Mohammed Nasheed personally calling the victims, now back in Europe, in tendering an apology and promising to keep them updated on the criminal case against the offenders.
Source: Haveeru, October 29, 2010

Nepal
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepalese leaders frequenting China

An unprecedented spurt can be seen in Nepal-China relations these days. Most of Nepalese leaders visited China within a short . It started with the Presidential visit of Ram Baran Yadav to meet important leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Maoist leader Prachanda’s visit to China grabbed the headlines when he suggested a ’strategic tripartite partnership’ involving India as well. However, there doesn’t seem to be many takers of the idea yet.

Vice-President Parmanand Jha’s sojourn to China raised eyebrows when he complained about China’s lack of interest in Nepalese politics and invited them to take an active interest in sorting out the present political deadlock. Jha also invited China to invest in Nepal’s transport and transit sector which would then effectively reduce the dependence of this land-locked nation on India.

China is already in the process of launching several such infrastructural projects which will open up multiple transit points for Nepal along its hilly and mountainous northern border.
Source: The Times of India, October 27, Telegraph Nepal, October 25

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Inter-party rivalry causing foreign interference, says CA Chair

Constituent Assembly (CA) chairperson Subash Nemwang has said that inter-party conflict was the reason behind increasing foreign intervention in the country, and not the other way round as often said. There was no alternative for the political parties but to forge consensus on vital national to take the peace process to a logical conclusion, he said further.

Caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal echoed the view when he claimed that no foreign country can have influence in the national affairs and that Nepal was not facing any kind of foreign interference on any issue. The solution to the internal problems of Nepal could not be found in Washington and Beijing, he said arguing that a way out had to be found within the nation, in order to avoid unnecessary foreign intervention, as well. Asserting that he won’t allow any foreign country to interfere in Nepal’s affairs, Nepal said political party leaders who were controlled by foreign elements won’t also last long.

The Prime Minister’s remarks appeared to be a slight on Maoists leader Prachanda’s call for a tripartite discussion involving China and India can resolve the political crisis in Nepal.
Source: www.nepalnews.com, October 27

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Six killed in bomb blast outside Sufi shrine

Six people were killed in a bomb-blast outside a famous Sufi shine in Punjab Province. The remote-control device had been planted in a motor-cycle and exploded soon after the morning prayers on Monday.

Certain orthodox Muslim groups believe that Sufis are heretics and this has in the past made them vulnerable to attacks. Earlier in the month, two suicide-bombers had targeted an important Sufi shrine in Karachi.

These attacks are part of a wave of broader targeted killings aimed at particular religious sects. Although, no one has claimed responsibility, Taliban elements had orchestrated such attacks in the past.
Source: Daily Times, October 25, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Seven killed in US drone attack

A US drone fired two missiles into a house in Ditta Khel in North Waziristan, killing 14 persons and leaving many more injured. Seven of the fourteen killed are believed to be militants. According to security forces, this is the third such attack on the region in 24 hours.

Increased US action in the area follows intelligence inputs that militants situated within the tribal belt were planning Mumbai-style attacks on European cities. The American Government has insisted that drone strikes are an integral part of their counter-insurgency strategy. The current offensive has been underway since September and has so far resulted in the death of more than 185 persons.
Source: Nation, 28th October 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">$ 2-b aid package from US

Last week’s strategic dialogue between Washington and Islamabad has led to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing a new military and economic aid package for Pakistan. The $ 2-b package spread over five years has to be cleared by the US Congress and for now, the two Heads of Sate have agreed upon it.

The explicit purpose of the funds is to assist Pakistan in its counter-terror and counter-insurgency missions, specifically in North Waziristan. The funding will help Pakistan purchase the necessary equipment to confront the insurgency in the border region.

A Congressional paper published a week earlier, directly criticised Pakistan’s effort to tackle rogue militants that operated in FATA. Washington has made it clear that this package must be used explicitly for this purpose, and not to build up conventional armaments against India. Furthermore, elements of Pakistan’s security forces that have been accused of human rights abuses will not be privy to the aid.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, emerged from the Washington talks, satisfied with what Pakistan had gained: a $ 7.5-b civilian aid package approved last year and a further $ 2-b in military assistance for the next five years.

One must not forget however, that it is also a last-ditch attempt by the Americans to reverse the current trend of the War on Terror. Re-engagement with Pakistan will give Washington continued access to important supply routes to Afghanistan, intelligence on militant groups, and equipment and expertise to tackle the insurgency, which threatens both Pakistani and American vital interests.
Source: Nation, October 24, 2010, Dawn October 25, 2010

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TNA opposes local government reforms bill

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has moved the Supreme Court against the decision of the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to amend the laws pertaining to the conduct of local government elections. The party contested the Government’s move to place the proposed Bill before Parliament without consulting all nine Provincial Councils, as mandated by the Constitution.

In its writ application before the Supreme Court, the TNA submitted that the Northern Provincial Council had not been constituted as no election had been conducted thus far. Under the law, the new Bill could be contested in the Supreme Court within seven days of it being placed before Parliament for obtaining a judicial preview -- powers of the kind being available only to the President in many other democracies.

The main Opposition United National Party (UNP), meanwhile, has declared its intention to oppose the Bill, particularly the provision pertaining to the creation of multiple-seat system. Accompanied by delimitation of wards, the new scheme is an attempt to mollify the ethnic minorities, whose control of local government authorities in the area of their numerical dominance would be whittled down, considerably.

In a separate petition in the Supreme Court, two senior political science professors too have challenged the proposed Bill saying that it was unfair to smaller parties.
Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President calls for clemency for Sri Lankan national

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had written to the Saudi King, appealling for clemency to the Sri Lankan national Rizana Nafeek, who is facing execution, following the death of an infant entrusted to her care as house-maid.

Nafeek arrived in Saudi Arabia in April 2005. The unfortunate death of the child took place a month later in May that year. The Sri Lankan authorities, as well as several well-wishers have been involved in observing the case and facilitating her in coping with her legal issues.

The Ministry of External Affairs reiterated in a release yesterday that Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia maintained excellent bilateral relations. The sentiments of sensitivity, understanding and flexibility continued to characterize the growing ties between the two countries, the statement added.
Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, October 27, 2010

Bangladesh
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Commerce Minister’s India visit

In a bid to enhance trade and commerce with neighbouring countries, Commerce Minister Colonel Faruk Khan was in New Delhi on a three-day State, meeting with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The success of the visit could be measured from the signing of a MoU for opening two border haats, agreement on movement of trucks between the two countries, and India agreeing to export three-lakh tonnes of par-boiled rice and two-lakh tonnes of wheat to Bangladesh.

Besides, India has removed 61 items from ’negative list’ for imports from Bangladesh and has agreed to provide duty-free and quota-free market access for all Bangladeshi readymade garments (RMG). Expressing his satisfaction over the visit, the Minister was hopeful that India would implement the agreements without delay.

The business community in Bangladesh expressed their joy over India’s decision to allow duty-free access to the country’s RMG. Terming it as a landmark decision they opined that the country would be able to earn at least $ 2-3 b by exporting RMG to India.
Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, Financial Express, Dhaka, October 27, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt afraid to protest at neighbours’ injustice, says Khaleda

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief, Begum Khaleda Zia, has accused the ruling Awami League Government of being afraid of protesting against the injustice of the neighbouring country which is taking away all the country’s resources through one-sided deals and killing Bangladeshi nationals along the frontier. Khaleda Zia further claimed that the Government was silent because it was fearful of losing power as it had assumed office by giving undertaking to the ’foreign lords’.

Although Begum Zia didn’t specify the neighbour, it was clear that she was hinting at India. At present, relations between India and Bangladesh have been extremely warm and both countries have signed several deals including cooperation in the field of power. India is planning to construct two coal-based power plants in Bangladesh.

The Opposition BNP has been critical of the Government for signing these deals with India and using this to campaign against the Government of Prime Minister Hasina Sheikh. The party has also threatened to launch an anti-Government agitation and demanded mid-term poll as it believes that the Awami League’s popularity has diminished significantly.
Source: New Age, October 27, 2010

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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