MonitorsPublished on Oct 23, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 43


Maldives: Democracy comes of age, but issues remain

N Sathiya Moorthy Now that the Supreme Court has declined to annul the 23 September presidential poll, as challenged by incumbent-loser, President Abdulla Yameen, the nation can breathe easy and pat itself on the back that Democracy in the nation is coming of age. As former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) boss Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed told The Hindu on the very eve of the Supreme Court verdict, there is now the need to stabilise the nation’s democratic institutions, with the short, medium and long-terms in mind. According to the Maldives Election Commission (EC), whose members were hand-picked by President Yameen, they have had no hesitation in declaring his challenger, Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih, the victor. The result spoke for itself. Ibu had polled 58.4 percent votes against Yameen’s 41.6 percent. Under the ‘Democracy’ Constitution of 2008, the victor should get more than 50 percent of the votes polled, and Ibu qualified. The ‘welcome irony’ of the election is that the incumbent, as unlike in most democracies, has challenged the election results, as against the challenger, as invariably is the case. Notwithstanding Team Yameen’s allegations that the EC had colluded with opponents to fudge the elections, the fact that all five election commissioners had stood up to the ‘autocratic’ Head of State too has proved to be a pleasant surprise.

Ingenious, indigenous

This is the first in three presidential polls after Maldives became a multi-party democracy in 2008 where the opponents to the incumbent, or otherwise, saw through the futility of a multi-corner contest and ended up in a one-to-one poll-battle. The Constitution mandates that if in a multi-cornered contest, no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the votes, then the election goes into a second, run-off round, involving the top two from the first. True, both in Elections-2008 and 2013, the multi-cornered contest produced a bizarre situation, from where the top two travelled to the run-off, but not before cutting deals with those with fewer votes. That worked for the victors, not for the nation or democracy. In both cases, the victors forgot the context and content of their pre-run-off deals and tried to side-step and side-line them, with severe consequences for the nation as a whole. Both Nasheed (2008) and Yameen (2013) are guilty of doing so. It is unclear if elections-2018 now would produce a situation in which ‘coalition politics’ of the victorious kind institutionalises itself, or not, over the short and medium terms. The long term can produce its own methods and methodologies but in the interim, Maldivians and their political leaderships should evolve an ingenious and indigenous form of functional democracy suited to Maldivian conditions, yet meeting with all demands and requirements of institutionalised democracy.

Guided democracy

Maldives was a sultanate of one kind or the other over the past thousand years, with a central authority caring for the periphery, which comprised a conglomerate of isolated islands and atolls with small populations. Attempts at turning the nation into a Republic through the 20th century, and even a ‘rebellion’ in the South in the sixties did not succeed. The closest that the Indian Ocean archipelago came to becoming a democracy was when Prime Minister turned President Ibrahim Nasir (1968-78) was followed by a 30-year ‘elected presidency’ under Maummoon Abdul Gayoom. It all lasted until Elections-2008 that incumbent Gayoom lost. It was a ‘guided democracy’ at best, but for an ‘island-nation’ with an ‘island-mindset’ to be turned into a modern-day democracy on the lines of western democracies, was just not on. It remains so and changing the course is going to take intention, knowledge and effort. The problem was that much of the pro-democracy work of the last decade and much of the work on the new Constitution were done in London and ‘Whitehall’, the British High Commission in Colombo, the capital of neighbouring ‘Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka’. The founders of the 2008 ‘Democracy Constitution’, all of them alive and active today, were unwilling to acknowledge that they too had to change if the nation’s conceptual regime-change had to yield the desired results.

Three pillars

It was thus that President Nasheed, despite his credibility and better standing among the Maldivian people of his time, went the same way as his predecessor in matters democracy. Even while talking consistently and continually about strengthening democratic institutions, starting with the three pillars, namely, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, as President, he did precisely what his party charged predecessor Gayoom and successor Yameen, with. Thus, President Nasheed set an unwelcome precedent by having the Supreme Court locked for a day, using the unquestioned loyalty of the armed forces to the ‘sovereign’, because he could not change the incumbent Chief Justice, whom the MDP presumed was a personal loyalist of predecessor Gayoom. As President, Nasheed short-circuited the Legislature on the controversial, India-centric ‘GMR airport deal’, by ‘returning’ an equally controversial Bill passed by the Opposition-controlled Parliament, for review, and got the deal signed during the interregnum. Just as Gayoom and Yameen were believed to be ‘controlling’ the higher Judiciary, President Nasheed too was considered to be ‘managing’ the Election Commission, even after quitting office in a cloud in February 2012. That was also a charge that his contestants, Yameen and Jumhooree Party founder Gasim Ibrahim, laid out before the Supreme Court in 2013, leading to fresh polling even for the first round. Even while being a pro-democracy journalist and magazine Editor in his earlier avatar, President Nasheed did strangulate the economically unviable Maldivian media by withdrawing Government advertisement support for smaller publications. As for the political Opposition, he had begun with the arbitrary arrest of Yameen and Gasim, and keeping them in solitary confinement in separate islands. His ordering the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed is part of the contemporary Maldivian political folklore, leading to all the subsequent democracy troubles that the nation has had to face. So when Nasheed now seeks the help of India for strengthening democratic institutions, much of the work has to begin at home, starting with the internal functioning of the MDP that he heads. The coming weeks and months, especially after his kind and childhood friend Ibu Solih is sworn in President, is crucial in this regard as Nasheed would have to deliberately and willingly transfer the real power to the incumbent, playing a crucial and crucial role still, as the backroom advisor, with his  vast and varied expertise and experience. Thus, for Saudi Arabia, a ‘friendly Muslim nation like Maldives’, as candidate Ibu said in his inaugural poll campaign, inviting party boss Nasheed to Riyadh for consultations post-polls, and his accepting the same may have set an unhealthy precedent, already. Considering that Ibu is entering the presidency at the head of a coalition, which needs to survive at least until after the parliamentary polls due by March next year, this can only be a starting-point, but still the real starting-point.

Geo-strategic disaster

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, which became a democracy, and voluntarily so as Maldives did in the same year 2008, too has gone through its third parliamentary polls just now. There are no issues or concerns, whether on the democracy front or even on the influencing geo-strategic front, despite the fact that Bhutanese have elected a new government and a new leader with each of these three elections. In the case of Maldives, international players, who have concerns on the geo-strategic front, too, should consider playing it out not in the nation. Maldivian democracy should be left for Maldivians to debate and vote upon, geo-strategy may be for the rest to discourse with the Governments and leaderships that Maldivians elect. In the absence of such a stratified and staggered approach, the whole of South Asia may before long be engulfed by global geo-political and geo-strategic concerns, independent of their own ‘internal affairs’, with democracy playing only a minor part. Maldives may not be the only one on this score, and it is for Maldivians and their political and constitutional leaderships to draw the line. Lest they should do so, it may then become too late for the Indian Ocean archipelago, which many Maldivians, beginning with MDP’s Nasheed, and President Gayoom long before him, were only too fond of declaring was anyway going under the water. That one owed/owes to ecological disasters from the previous decades, for which again, Maldivians were nowhere to blame! That would not be the case with ‘geo-strategic disasters’, where again Maldives and Maldivians may be at the receiving-end, after all!
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai

Country Reports


Kandahar poll put off

The parliamentary election in Afghanistan’s southern province, Kandahar, has been postponed after the deadly incident of the murder of provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq by the Taliban. This decision was taken after a special meeting of the National Security Council was organised based on the recommendations of the Independent Election Commission to discuss the elections.  Based on the opinions of the Kandahar tribes it was decided to delay the elections in view of the tragedy.

Candidates disqualified

Seven more candidates have been removed from the list of candidates for parliamentary elections by the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission of Afghanistan. The Independent Electoral Complaints Commission’s spokesperson, Ali Reza Rouhani confirmed that this has been done for various reasons including criminal allegations. He further stated that the Commission will have no qualms in removing more names if the need for doing so arises. This comes as the parliamentary elections are scheduled to be organised on 20 October.

Indian aid continues

The Indian government delivered 1998.1 tonnes of lentils to Afghanistan as a continuation of its contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and humanitarian aid to its people. This action was completed by the Indian Deputy Chief of Mission, Abhishek Singh in the presence of the Afghan Deputy Minister for Agriculture Mohammad Daher Ayub. India has played a major role in assisting Afghanistan ever since the fall of the Taliban regime and has invested $2 billion for such projects.


Talks on Saudi defence deal

Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have backed out from signing a defence cooperation deal this week. The two countries have said that more detailed discussion is required necessary before the deal is inked. The deal was expected to be signed during the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Saudi Arabia in the week. On 15 October Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, at a press briefing informed about the plan of two countries signing the defence deal during Prime Minister visit to the Gulf country. Its noting worthy that Bangladesh is a member of Saudi Arabia led 41-nation Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) formed in December 2015. There has been a steady rise in the defence cooperation between the two countries in past few years.

Poll climate okay

Commenting on the upcoming parliamentary election Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda this week informed that the overall atmosphere ahead is satisfactory for holding elections. CEC’s comment followed just a day after one of the election commissioners, Mahbub Talukdar, walked out of an election preparatory meeting accusing of not given appropriate opportunity to express his views about how to hold the polls in a free, fair, and inclusive manner. Parliamentary elections are likely to be held in December this year, however, apprehensions are being expressed about its impartiality. Opposition BNP has been accusing the ruling party of intimidation of its leaders and alliance partners to dissuade them from participating in the election.


DNT elected to form government

People voted for the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) to form the next government in the general elections held on 18 October. This is the first time in Bhutan’s decade-old parliamentary democracy that a new party has been chosen to form the government. DNT secured more than 166,000 votes against DPT’s over 137,000 votes or nearly 55 per cent of the total votes, according to official results.

Record voter turnout

Elections to the third Parliamentary National Assembly on 18 October saw a record total voter turnout of 71.46 per cent, an increase of over 5 per cent from 66 per from 2013 polls. Chief Election Commissioner Chogyal Dago Rigdzin said of the total 438,663 eligible registered voters, 313,473 voters have cast their votes in the general election. A total of 199,553 voters voted through EVMs, while 113,920 were postal voters. Rigdzin said that the 865 electronic voting machines used for the elections encountered no problems. However, 797 postal ballots were rejected, he added.

DPT vows to be a stronger opposition

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) will form an even stronger Opposition in the third Parliament, party president Pema Gyamtsho said. DPT is all set to form the Opposition for the second consecutive time.

Akbar quits over ‘MeToo’

Veteran Journalist M J Akbar, accused by several women of sexual harassment, has resigned from his post of Minister of State for External Affairs. Over the past week, more than a dozen women accused Akbar of inviting them to his hotel room, molesting and harassing them when he was their editor.

Doval heads SPG

The Strategic Policy Group (SPG), formed to assist the National Security Council (NSC), has been reconstituted with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval as its chief to strategise on matters dealing with internal and economic security. A notification to this effect was issued by the NSC Secretariat last month. Doval will now replace the Cabinet Secretary, who was earlier the chairperson of the SPG, a mechanism first notified in 1999. The SPG will assist the NSC and undertake among other tasks a long term strategic defence review.

Military drills with China

The armies of India and China will resume their annual bilateral military exercise 'Hand in Hand' which will be held in China in December. The drill did not take place in 2017 due to tensions between the two armies over the Doklam issue. In August, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe visited New Delhi during which the two sides decided to work towards firming up a new bilateral pact on defence cooperation and agreed to increase interactions between their militaries at multiple levels to avoid Doklam-like standoffs along the disputed border.


Yameen bids bye?

In a national telecast indicating a possible change-of-heart after challenging his presidential poll defeat, incumbent Abdulla Yameen sort of conceded the election a second time in a brief national telecast. He said he was serving his final days in office, and added that jailing of political opponents “might have been the biggest challenge my government faced”, adding that he also did not ‘understand’ the Maldivian people enough.

Gayoom freed 

The High Court on Thursday overturned former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s conviction in the ‘coup attempt case’ involving two Justices of the Supreme Court. Delivering the judgment, unanimous verdict of the two-Judge Bench, Justice Ali Sameer ruled that the trial court conviction and 19-month sentence did not follow due procedures of the nation’s criminal justice process.  The state was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Gayoom obstructed justice, as the refusal to hand over a mobile phone was insufficient to prove guilt, the bench observed.


‘Non-separation’ must for peace

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on 15 October said that the “non-separation” of ethnic minority states and regions had to be part of any future peace deal with the country’s ethnic armed groups as the Constitution demanded it. He made the remarks on the first of a three-day “peace summit” in Naypyitaw. State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while addressing the conference said that an open mind at the negotiations is necessary to move forward the peace process.

Six striking leaders injured

Six people were seriously injured in a beating of employees on strike at a Chinese factory in Yangon and were hospitalised, said strike leaders on 15 October evening in Dagon Seikkan Township. The protest was against the dismissal of their colleagues.

No request from Rakhine Muslims

The government said it has not received any formal request for repatriation from minority Muslims from Rakhine State living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. U Thaung Tun, minister of the Office of the Union Government, who is also a national security adviser, said in an interview that the government had not received “the very simple form (to show that the refugees have lived in their home country).”


Law-change in ‘process’

As per the recent announcement of the Ministry of Law, around 315 laws are in need of amendments, which do not comply with the nature of the new Constitution of the country. Four March 2019 has been decided upon as the stipulated date before which all actions need to be taken. There have already been delays due to several longstanding problems of the government like inconsistency and non-unanimity.

Visible in global scene

In the past few months, Nepal has been fairing well at the international level with greater participation on global platforms. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali has been prompt enough to refer to such expanding associations in a recent press address. Relations with China and India also came within the purview of questions to which positive replies could be obtained. In this regard, the goal of moving towards becoming a middle-income country by 2030 was also mentioned.

Forex unstable

Minister of Finance, Yuba Raj Khatiwada, has noted that the outflow of capital from the Asian countries to the west was due to the sensitive foreign exchange that is in turn driven by global trade war. With the rising importance of the Asia –centric world, there was an urge to move towards unified efforts that can help in better investments, thereby leading to unprecedented growth. Nepal has also sought technical assistance from the World Trade Organization (WTO) for further improvisations on such monetary lines.


No money for terror

Pakistan Finance Minister Asad Umar recently met with a delegation of the Asia-Pacific Group (APG), headed by Executive Secretary Gordon Hook. During the interaction, the minister reiterated the new government’s commitment to control and eventually eliminate money laundering and terror financing in the country in accordance with international guidelines. This response to APG’s former request to resolve terror financing comes as the APG organised 3rd Mutual Evaluation Process is due to be completed by October 19th.

Hope on Saudi aid

As Pakistan faces a total financial gap of $12 billion for the rest of the current fiscal year, the country is exploring all options to overcome this deficit. In that regard, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia for the second time in less than five weeks to seek financial assistance from the Saudi royal family. The country is looking for an assistance of at least $5 billion in cash from Saudi and China.

Pressure for policy-shift

Acting US Deputy Secretary of State Henry Esher, reflecting on the recent meetings between US officials and Pakistani government, commented that the US would continue to apply pressure until Islamabad changed its policy towards regional peace and stability in Afghanistan. He further opined that a shift in the Pakistani policy in line with America’s own South Asia Strategy was in Pakistan’s own interest, as an unstable Afghanistan serves as a launching pad for further terror attacks on Pakistan.

Sri Lanka

Attack on India?

In what now looks like a motivated ‘media leak’, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena was quoted telling the weekly Cabinet meeting that neighbouring India’s external intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), was plotting to assassinate him. Without much loss of time, Sirisena spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that seems to have ended the Indian angle to the said allegation though his spokesperson clarified in Colombo that that the President wanted the ‘assassination plot’ unravelled, still.

Ranil meets Modi

Without any reference to the controversy created over the allegation of assassination plot against his President Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesiinghe met Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi, while on a scheduled visit, discussing pending bilateral projects, of which there are many awaiting clearances from the host-nation. Modi has promised early execution of the Indian projects, indicating that the Sri Lankan clearances would have to come before that, but no specific deadlines seem to have been fixed, as way the case at earlier discussions of the kind, the last one held in Delhi, in mid-2017.



Opinion Pieces

Fahim Abed, “Afghan War Casualty Report: Oct. 12-18”, The New York Times, 19 October 2018 Mujib Mashal, “In Afghanistan’s Season of Crisis, Words Do Not Have the Strength”, The New York Times, 17 October 2018 Yunsong Zhou, Like Zhu & Bingfeng Fu, “China, Afghanistan and Pakistan Tripartite Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Ushered a New era”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 16 October 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Zero Hunger is Possible”, 18 October 2018 Afghanistan Times, “Crossing point tensions”, 18 October 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Khalilzad: Tasked to Bring Peace to His Birth Place”, 16 October 2018


Opinion Pieces

M Abu Eusuf, “How is Bangladesh faring?”,The Daily Star, 17 October 2018 Badiul Alam Majumdar, “Relevant laws for candidates running for Parliament”, The Daily Star, 17 October 2018



On the poll day”, Kunesel, 18 October 2018 For change it was”, Kuensel, 19 October 2018 Opinion Pieces Gopilal Acharya, “In Bhutan, India invests to further its strategic interest. It will do well to invest in some trust”,, 13 October 2018


Opinion Pieces

G Parthasarthy, “US curbs and a sense of deja vu”, The Tribune, 18 October 2018 Neerja Chowdhury, “An exit, a beginning”, The Indian Express, 18 October 2018


Opinion Pieces

Khyo Phyo Tha, “Yangon public losing patience with Mercurial Chief Minister”, The Irrawaddy, 15 October 2018.


Opinion Pieces

Diane Coyle, “Can investments be efficient?Republica, 14 October 2018 Taranath Dahal, “Squeezing the press”, The Kathmandu Post, 15 October 2018 Kantilata Thapa, “Changing things around”, The Kathmandu Post, 14 October 2018 Editorials The Kathmandu Post, “Risky travelling”, 15 October 2018


Opinion Pieces

Faisal Bari, “Human development first”, Dawn, 19 October 2018 Syed Mohammad Ali, “The poor and their compulsions”, The Express Tribune, 19 October 2018 I.A. Rehman, “Two debatable draft laws”, Dawn, 18 October 2018


The Express Tribune, “Tattered but hardly unfixable”, 19 October 2018 Pakistan Today, “PML-N’s choices”, 19 October 2018 The Express Tribune, “A plan without foresight”, 18 October 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajeewa Jayaweera, “US ACSA and Chinese presence in Hambantota Port”, The Island, 21 October 2018 D B S Jeyaraj, “President Sirisena’s Cabinet comments strike a ‘RAW nerve’ in India”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 October 2018 Kelum Bandara, “Govt in turmoil as Prez-PM clash”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 October 2018 M S M Ayub, “Trysts of the TNA”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 October 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “A ‘RAW deal’ yet again?”, Colombo Gazette, 18 October 2018 Jehan Perera, “Reparations office can bind the nation together”, The Island, 16 October 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Rajapaksas all the way?”, Ceylon Today, 16 October 2018


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ketan Mehta and T.N. Suhas  Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak Coordinator: Sreeparna Banerjee
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