LONDON, England (eTN) – In February, 2012, Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically-elected President of the Maldives, was ousted from power and replaced by his Vice President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Since then, Mr. Nasheed has been struggling to convince the international community that his removal from office was in fact a coup. He wants the Commonwealth and Britain to push for fresh elections and combat growing Islamist extremism in the Maldives, which is a popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean.
This week, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is due to take a decision on whether to remove the Maldives from its agenda after an inquiry found there was no conspiracy to oust Mr. Nasheed from power. CMAG had decided to place the Maldives on its agenda after Mr. Nasheed alleged that he had been removed in a coup. The Maldives government instituted an inquiry backed by the Commonwealth into the circumstances of the transfer of power. The Commission of Inquiry then ruled that the transfer of power had been constitutional and that Mr. Nasheed had not been forcibly removed.
Speaking in London after meetings with British and Commonwealth officials, Mr. Nasheed said that despite his reservations regarding the decision of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), he no longer expected the international community to say it was a coup or to attempt his reinstatement. He was, however, worried that a standard had been set by the President of the Maldives who is accused of being the perpetrator of the coup.
“I can understand that in a diabolical sense in some rationale, because if the Commonwealth says that it was a coup, they must correct it, and that in their mind can be very untidy, so they would rather say yes it was constitutional – but this means that we have not been able to break from our traditions of the mob taking over and forcing governments or power to be transferred.”
Nasheed argued passionately for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group not to drop the Maldives from its agenda when it meets in New York this week. He feared that the Commonwealth would send out the wrong signal if the transfer of power in the Maldives was deemed to be legitimate and it no longer monitored the observance of democratic and civil rights in the country.
“If we are off the CMAG agenda, I can’t see how focus can be brought upon the situation and issues in the Maldives. We must remain on the CMAG agenda. I would be with the view that if the CMAG cannot be engaged in the Maldives and if they remove the Maldives from their agenda I don’t think that any dialogue would continue, and I feel that we would all end up in jail. So it’s really up to the international community and more specifically the Commonwealth countries to decide if they would want to support democracy in the Maldives.”
Mr. Nasheed says that his removal from power has resulted in the rise of religious extremism and a move away from the moderate form of Islam, which he had espoused. He described the current president as a “nice fellow” and not an extremist but not strong enough to resist the pressure from extremists. He gave as an example the recent anti-US protests in the Maldives over an anti-Islamic film.
“If you are a nice fellow without a political backing or platform or grassroots, you are always having to get whatever support you can, from anyone that you can, so you don’t have to be [a] hardliner to be that. For the first time, there was this issue of the film. For the first time, they have burnt an American flag in the Maldives in front of the UN building. I was the only political leader to condemn that, and everyone else is condemning the film. I can’t condone the violence, the behavior of the Muslims in reaction to the film. For instance, here is just one small example. What we saw in that demonstration was what can happen to the Maldives. I think we will get more and more radicalized. They banned dancing, they’ve banned singing competitions. This is rapid Talibanization.”
Mr. Nasheed said there were likely to be repercussions for the lucrative tourism industry if the Maldives became radicalized. He outlined his thoughts on the way forward for tourism.
“It must develop into new markets, into East Asia, Southeast Asia. It must tap markets in India. The ordinary person must also be able to have a holiday in the Maldives. We are looking at a mid-market to be developed. But, of course, the exclusive resorts must be there, that hospitality must be provided. But there is another market for budget tourism for mid-market, mid-income; your average school teacher, bus driver, train driver should be able to go to the Maldives.”
While President, Mr. Nasheed had put enormous effort into putting the issue of climate change and the threat to the Maldives in the spotlight. He fears all his hard work is being undermined.
“The saddest thing is the issue of the environment. Vulnerable countries with strong democratic credentials must be able to advocate on climate change issues. The Maldives has lost that edge… I’m afraid in terms of Maldives’ leadership or small nations’ leadership on climate issues, this is the first climate change coup. I think it would be very difficult for moral authority to be formulated from an underdog on this issue for a very long time.”
Mohammed Nasheed was elected President in 2008 in the country’s first multi-party elections after thirty years of autocratic rule under his predecessor, Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. But many in the country were disappointed when the reforms he promised were not delivered fast enough. Mr. Nasheed blames this on Mr. Gayoom and his supporters who he says maintained their grip on crucial institutions, including the judiciary.
“We were elected on a popular platform of justice and human rights, and when we were not able to conduct fair trials, we were not able to get a proper process of accountability of the past 30 years of atrocities where so many people have died, so many families have been done wrong to, when we were not able to do anything on that, because the dictatorship was hiding behind the judiciary. This was not acceptable to the people. So even in hindsight other than making a number of reforms or amendments to the constitution there’s no way we could deal with reforming the judiciary.”
Mr. Nasheed urged the international community not to underestimate the strategic importance of the Maldives.
“You can’t let the Indian Ocean slip away, it’s a huge place. The Maldives is not a small place, it’s 800 miles of Indian Ocean running all the way from Kanyakumari all the way down to Diego Garcia. And then you have other islands. The Maldives is the only viable island nation. Look at its economy, look at its forms and its functions, you can’t let go of the Maldives.”
“The government is going to stop us from taking part in elections, they can’t win an election with me around, so they would do that. But we’ll come back, we’ll go into jail, but we’ll come back. If they don’t murder me, there is a slim chance, but if I’m alive, I’m still 45. I understand that the odds are stacked against us; the odds have always been stacked against us. But we must come up. We don’t measure success or failure by how long you are in power.”