Following a coup in February, the Maldives is in peril and the ‘flame of democracy must not be snuffed out’, says President Mohamed Nasheed.
Even after its democratic revolution in 2008, few saw the Maldives as a political bellwether. But looking back, the ousting of the 30-year dictatorship in a Muslim country was a precursor to the Arab Spring. As in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, the Maldivians who took to the streets demanding change in 2008 were young, full of hope, and fed up with the rule of a dictator: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
I was elected president in the Maldives’ first ever multi-party elections on a ticket of civil liberties and democratic reform. I faced huge challenges coming into office: the Gayoom regime had almost bankrupted the country. Institutions, such as the judiciary, were corrupt, and many Maldivians lived on the poverty line despite the country’s tourism wealth.
My new administration set to work to balance the books, embed democracy and create a more equal society. Working with the IMF, we managed to bring the budget deficit down from 22 per cent of GDP to 9 per cent. At the same time we established the country’s first social safety net, which included universal health insurance, an old age pension, and allowances for the disabled.
We also made great strides to improve civil liberties. The Maldives shot up over 50 places in Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom index and it became a poster child for democracy movements in other countries.
In the early hours of Feb 7, however, the former dictatorship reasserted itself. Sections of the police and military loyal to former president Gayoom mutinied, overran the centre of Malé and presented me with an ultimatum: resign within an hour or face bloodshed . I resigned on national television and was immediately placed under house arrest. My vice president, Waheed Hassan, who had pledged his support to the mutineers on television the night before, hurriedly took the oath of office
Three months after the coup and the Maldives’ prospects look bleak. Waheed – whom I believe knew about the coup – has stacked his government full of Gayoom’s loyalists, and he has also rushed to appease Islamic radicals describing his supporters as Maldivian “mujahideen”, encouraging them to “fight to the last drop of our blood” against “the enemies of this country”.
The police have often been brutal in putting down anti-government protests that have erupted since the coup. Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned the new government. The Maldivian media has also been muzzled and intimidated The EU, the Commonwealth and India have all pushed the regime to restore democratic rule. But those in power have chosen the path of isolation .
The Maldives looks set for further turbulence in the months ahead. The international community now has a choice: apply pressure on Waheed to call elections, or watch his regime become increasingly authoritarian and the country suffer.
The future of democracy in the Maldives hangs in the balance. The country that held so much hope that democracy and liberty could flourish alongside Islam is in peril. Democratically elected governments can only be removed by the people who elected them, not by force of arms. The world has a duty not to sit passively by as the flame of Maldivian democracy is snuffed out.
Source: The Daily Telegraph