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Maldives: democracy, back in transition mode? May 15, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , trackback

N. Sathiya Moorthy

With the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, clearing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan’s vice-presidential nominee, Waheed Deen, after the “majority” Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) group stayed away, the Indian Ocean archipelago seems to be back in democratic transition, for the second time in three years. A new element has been added this time, with a National Inquiry Commission (NIC) probing the circumstances surrounding the resignation of then MDP President Mohammed Nasheed and his succession by Vice-President Waheed. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has given the Waheed Government four weeks in which to make the probe team credible.

The last time the Maldives went through a similar phase, the nation ushered in multi-party democracy after 30 years of one-person rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He was elected for six successive terms of five years each, under a constitutional scheme that provided for only a single candidate in national elections. That is firmly in the past, yet, the Nasheed resignation has left a situation of instability. His subsequent charges of a coup-cum-conspiracy, involving some in the uniformed services and “discredited sections” of the polity, and the fact that fresh presidential polls are still a year or so away, in November 2013, have all given rise to the question of whether democracy is really back in transition mode in the Maldives.

No-one has contested the constitutionality of President Waheed’s ascension, legally or otherwise. It has even been argued that the multi-party system, minus the MDP, may have lent the government an element of mainstream consensus, even after President Nasheed ejected two allies that had lent their second-round support to him in the 2008 polls. Their support facilitated his election with a majority vote of over 50 per cent, which he had lacked with his 25 per cent share of the first round vote. Yet, the MDP’s demand for early presidential polls as a compromise solution to a political stalemate, and the inevitability of presidential elections next year, have made for a “lame-duck” government, devoid of constitutional licence.

Adding to the insecure nature of the Waheed Government, are perceptions of a multi-cornered contest for the presidential poll, when it is held. That is likely, at least in the first round, before greater consolidation and polarisation can take place, based mostly on the numbers game, as it was in 2008. Indications are that most of the political parties forming and supporting the Waheed Government, are keen to contest the presidential poll. Any movement towards that situation could expose the internal contradictions that are inevitable in schemes of that nature. The MDP still remains the “majority group” in Parliament, with 31 members, despite two by-election defeats since President Nasheed’s resignation on 7 February and the purported cross-over by one party member. That may not help matters, however, when it comes to contesting the legitimacy of the government within the Majlis, particularly if the ruling coalition were to fall apart on some important issues.

The Waheed leadership has declared its intention to step aside and restore President Nasheed, without elections, if the NIC finds substance in his allegations. Otherwise, the President’s camp will stick to presidential polls only when due. In the case of a “hung verdict”, it hopes fresh negotiations will offer a way out. Against this background, new hope has been added by the willingness with which stake-holders have helped revive the All-Party Roadmap talks, initiated at the instance of visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.

In particular, the MDP, which had contested the numerical supremacy of the government side at the all-party talks, is now convinced that conclusions should be based on a consensus approach. How far each stakeholder, particularly the MDP, would contribute towards the consensus process through compromise, would determine the success of the Roadmap talks. Any intervening initiative by the international community, indicating support for the MDP’s known position on power transfer could encourage the MDP and discourage the rest from proceeding with the talks. Already, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has served a four-week notice on the Waheed Government to make the probe credible, but that has only led to demands for the Maldives to walk out of the organisation.

Leading the pack in reviving talk of a Maldivian pull-out from the Commonwealth is former President Gayoom, whom the MDP has repeatedly dubbed the brain behind the political conspiracy and the police/military mutiny. For now, President Waheed, an international civil servant with the UN before returning to his country and taking up politics, has denied all suggestions of such a pull-out, but further internationalisation of what essentially is a domestic issue, still could cause more problems than solutions for the Maldives, which is ill-equipped to handle situations of this kind, other than within the country.

About the Author: The writer is a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Chennai Chapter of the multi-disciplinary Indian policy think-tank, Observer Research Foundation, headquartered in New Delhi. 

This post first appeared on Future Directions International website on 2 May 2012.



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