For years now two personalities have had a stranglehold on politics in the Maldives — that ended today.
By Ahmed Zuhoor
Few would argue that Mohamed Nasheed was the “first democratically elected President” of the Maldives. He defeated “ex-strongman” Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in what is widely quoted as the first, multi-party, democratic elections in the history of the nation. Rightly so.
But Nasheed was never a democrat. A democrat has respect for the rule of law. Nasheed preaches equality for all but will count himself as an exception whenever it’s convenient to him, or his ‘cause’. His philosophy remains unapologetically, as with the abduction of the ‘bad’ judge, that respect for the laws and constitutional systems be damned when doing what he believes is the ‘right’ thing.
And Maumoon is but a mere shadow of the influential leader he was in the 80s and 90s, and even in the early 2000s. Especially since his work on bringing global attention to climate change was co-opted so successfully by a showman who has made next to zero practical contributions to the cause while soaking up the lion’s share of the carbon credits — and actual credit and adoration of the wider ‘climate community’.
Yet within this past decade, these personalities have had a stranglehold on Maldivian politics. A tale of triumph of good over evil. One the hero. The other the villain. Who’s who? Depends on who you ask.
Party philosophies remained insignificant. It has been a battle of personalities. Until the Maldives’ second democratically elected leader Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was sworn in as President on 17 November 2013 — not without controversy, as there were leading up to Nasheed’s election as well, but widely accepted and endorsed as free, fair and democratic, again not unlike Nasheed’s election to office.
With this development Nasheed’s path to power, as well as Maumoon’s, had to diverge from the previous narrative. Splinters formed within parties and new heroes and villains needed anointing. At first it was easier. President Yameen was Maumoon’s proxy; his “half-brother” after all. And in the beginning talk centered around the unwavering belief that President Yameen would dismantle positive efforts by the Nasheed Administration, like weaken healthcare and take away other benefits. When President Yameen quietly defied Muamoon’s expectations and wishes, further going on to strengthen the healthcare commitment of previous administrations and tending to gaps that left industries and communities vulnerable with added subsidies and increased projects the narrative became slightly more complicated.
A need to create a narrative that would bring back a path to power for the legends of Maldivian politics, Nasheed and Maumoon, was needed. And President Yameen rushing to bring development and projects, as had never been seen in recent history, became the obvious framing point for the first shots fired. “He isn’t a democratic leader” and yet he has followed the rule of law; both in spirit and in the letter as reflected by the constitution. “He is not transparent” but still he continues to publish and make public record rules and procedures for any significant transaction by the state.
This need to create a new narrative has now had the effect of bringing about the fortunate circumstance of Nasheed and Maumoon standing together. ‘United’.
In bringing forth a no-confidence vote on the Speaker of the Majlis they had effectively agreed, along with other symbolic functionaries including Qasim Ibrahim, to test their collective popularity versus that of those currently voted into office by legal, free and fair elections.
When has a political coalition, or a group, that Qasim has been a part of not ended in controversy? His time with the Maumoon Administration was fraught with detabilising effects brought on by his unique style of securing his business first in all matters. His falling out with Nasheed after being part of the “coalition” that brought him to power is another vivid example. Qasim is a businessman first; and as far as being a politician is concerned he shouldn’t even register on any scale of measurable success. He wants a seat at the Nasheed/Maumoon table which is crowded enough as it is.
And now all their hopes, of gaming the system, have come to nought.
With today’s vote seeing the Speaker retain his position, overwhelmingly, by a vote of 48 for and just no vote against we are presented with a unique opportunity we cannot squander. We must move on from the traditional narrative.
We need to stop playing the Nasheed/Maumoon game – with special appearances by Qasim and co.
We need to embrace a newer path; one that values achievement and aspiration of nation over individual glory of personalities.
We need to move away from politics as usual and set our sights on tangible, and sustainable, gains. Something this Administration has shown unwavering commitment towards by developing airports, housing, as well as other infrastructure and public projects, as never before.
Editor's note: Ahmed Zuhoor is the Chair of the National Economic and Youth Council, comprising of related ministries