The Maldivian conundrum
The Maldivian crisis is headed for a quagmire. Restricting Maldives election commission officials from holding the scheduled re-vote on 19 October despite India’s last minute shoving indicates island nation’s present regime’s antagonism towards New Delhi. Clearly, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh’s rushed visit a day before the polls didn’t yield much.
Though, according to insiders, New Delhi is extremely ‘unhappy’ about the development, they are still pinning their hopes on conduction of elections before stipulated date of 11 November. Male, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to show any signs of benevolence.
Ever since 7 February 2012, when President Mohammed Waheed was sworn in under controversial circumstances, Maldives has been on a standstill. Former president Mohammed Nasheed, who was ousted in an unconfirmed ‘coup,’ has been demanding free and fair polls. Targeted by the Waheed regime, ostensibly backed by former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Nasheed has sought shelter in Indian embassy on scores of occasions and has reiterated need for international intervention into the affairs of the country. The Maldives became a democracy in 2008 after 30 years of autocratic rule and has had a difficult transition.
On 7 September this year, Maldives went to poll, however, the results were annulled by the Supreme Court following a complaint by a trailing candidate Qasim Ibrahim, who is a member of the powerful Judicial Services Commission. That he approached court only after poll results, which were swinging in favour of Mohammed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), raises several questions on intentions for nullifying the polls by the present regime.
The blocking of election commission personnel from moving out poll-related material on the morning of 19 October is indefensible. Mohammed Waheed’s claims that the polls were violating a Supreme Court order and thus not allowed are hollow. He has failed to justify the postponement of poll rerun constitutionally.
As an editorial in The Hindu said, ‘Mohammed Waheed cannot abdicate responsibility for the Maldivian police service forcibly blocking election commission personnel when the elections were scheduled. Surely, Dr. Waheed, a career diplomat who retired from the United Nations, should be aware of the dangerous consequences of one arm of the state acting unilaterally and unconstitutionally.’
Election commission president Fuwad Thowfeek announced on 22 October that poll rerun would take place on 9 November. The appropriateness of the date is dubious as Waheed’s presidential term ends on 11 November. Even if the voting does complete on 9 November the new president before the incumbent term ends wouldn’t be sworn-in which would create a constitutional vacuum in the young fledgling democracy.
Vice-election commissioner Ahmad Fayaz later told the press that if no candidate wins 50 per cent of the 9 November vote, a run-off would be held on 16 November. If this happens the island nation would descend into a constitutional crises. The serving regime could have preponed the date for better management of the unfolding crises for beyond 11 November it would be far more difficult to handle already polarised population of the young democracy.
‘Deeply disappointed,’ India is now mulling their options to ensure fair polling in Maldives. The present Maldives regime certainly overlooked New Delhi’s concerns for early polls in the country. Soon after reports of re-vote been blocked, ministry of external affairs (MEA) in a statement called upon the Government of Maldives and all parties concerned to fulfil their responsibility towards the people of Maldives by playing a constructive role in the election process and by fully assisting the (Maldivian) election commission in holding the presidential polls without further delay. The statement further stated, ‘It is important that the electoral process is put back on track immediately with a definite timeline so that a new president is elected and sworn in on 11 November as mandated by the constitution.’
With new poll dates out, India is keeping its fingers crossed. India’s stance has been reiterated by diplomats of countries like United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France and Germany besides neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, in addition to Australia felt India must continue taking the lead in pushing Maldives towards holding elections in a way that there is no power vacuum.
To conclude, the political imperative of the country is to conduct elections as soon as possible to avoid any egregious situation. It was after 30 long years of autocratic Gayoom regime that Maldives seemed to be getting on a democratic track. But polarisation along party lines may derail the evolution of that very process.
What is of utmost concern is a possibility that events unfolding in Maldives may be orchestrated by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Gayoom had made a come back to Maldivian politics after the dubious transfer of power in 2012. It is known now that Gayoom’s daughter is in the government while most of his loyalists got appointed at key posts, including as the Attorney General after the Nasheed’s ouster. The post ‘coup’ government formation was also carried out by Gayoom’s loyalists. Surely, New Delhi would calibrate any incoming government on a democratic scale and Mohammed Nasheed may be their best option. Perhaps, that is the reason why Indian mandarins are leaving no stone unturned to carry out early polls.
The author is principal correspondent at Millennium Post