Two days of chaos: Soul searching in the Maldives
The political unrest in the Maldives this week is likely to be imprinted on our memories for years to come. A democratically elected President forced to resign, a mutiny, a new government, violence, bloodshed and burning buildings – a lot to take in within two days, with only the downpour of 9th February providing some time to reflect on the events witnessed.
We can argue all day long, but President Mohamed Nasheed was removed by a coup d’état. That is a fact, plain and simple. What is not certain is the extent to which Nasheed’s removal was orchestrated in advance, or who was involved. Perhaps more importantly, the question of whether the overthrow of Nasheed is representative of the views of the general population or not, remains to be answered. Other countries such as Pakistan and Turkey have had bloodless coups a number of times, where democratically elected leaders were overthrown in order to maintain public order and to avoid a potential civil war. More recently, the overthrow of Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali in the Arab Spring have taken place through popular revolts in the Middle East. Coups can be justified and a necessity in some circumstances. I got a sense that there was an atmosphere of widespread relief, when Nasheed resigned but maybe I am wrong. It must also be remembered that the demonstrations leading up to 7th February had been building for weeks, so this was not just a spur of the moment movement.
There is no right or wrong answer here; what has happened has happened and now is the time for reconciliation and national solidarity.
Instead however, we see our politicians throwing clauses from our Constitution at each other, trying to legitimize and justify their actions. The Constitution was flouted by President Nasheed and the MDP when they kept a senior judge arrested, despite nation-wide criticism, but is now held up as a sacred document by MDP, Nasheed and everyone else to argue that the overthrow was unconstitutional! The truth of the matter is MDP or the opposition parties have no respect for the Constitution and have used the law as a tool to delegitimize each other time and time again.
As my last article suggested, I have great respect for Nasheed and I would welcome his return to politics. However, I, along with many others, was disappointed in the way he turned defeat into a cause for nationwide violence in our country. Violence was incited, invoked and aggravated by MDP supporters and all MDP factions should ask themselves, with honesty and without any political bias, whether they could have done more to stop the violence that occurred across the country on 8th February? It is a democratic and a positive thing to go out and protest in support of your party and beliefs, but NOT at the expense of public order, public buildings and the safety of people. In islands where infrastructure is still limited, what is there to gain by burning public buildings? I strongly condemn people who damage the country’s infrastructure in their political zeal.
I do not believe the security forces (MNDF and state police) are our enemies. Every single one of us probably has a relative or friend working in the Maldives National Defence Force or the Police. They are victims of this political unrest as much as any one of us and have been used as pawns by our politicians. Holding them solely responsible for reacting to the hoards of angry protesters - MDP or the opposition – as per their job role, and for the failures of the law-making bodies, is excessive. I am not saying that they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, but I do think the indiscriminate attacks on members of the security forces, their offices and the ongoing hate campaign against them is unnecessary.
Having said that, the security forces in the country have a responsibility to answer to the people for the use of excessive force, violent language and brutal attacks on MDP members (and their head office), wherever and whenever it occurred this week, as seen in the various videos and photographs circulating on the internet. I do appreciate that a country’s security force plays a crucial role in maintaining law and order, but they themselves are not above the law. Anyone who has seen the violent incidents of the last few days would question the motives and compassion of the security forces. On the day of the most gruesome violence it was hard to distinguish who was more of a thug! Security forces now have a responsibility to regain the public’s trust and have some real soul-searching to do.
In fact, maybe we all have some soul-searching to do.
For too long we have been manipulated by politicians for their political agendas. We need to remove our political party hats and think of what is best for the country and not for a particular political party or ideology. The only thing standing between the current situation and our country’s stability is YOU. You have the power to decide the fate of our country, not a few politicians who are squabbling over power. What makes Nasheed’s supporters think that even if Nasheed and MDP are reinstated (through demonstrations or any other means) our problem of disunity will be sorted? Do they think the opposition will just walk away? Similarly, what makes supporters of the opposition think they will achieve anything by sidelining MDP and their supporters from Maldivian politics? Our politicians need to stop squabbling over trivial matters and accept that there are Maldivians who admire Gayyoom and Nasheed. Clearly Nasheed’s regime sold themselves short, because even after 30 years of corruption and repression by Gayyoom’s regime, Nasheed and the MDP failed to gain an outright majority in parliament or within the country’s population. Nasheed was right when he recently stated that “it can take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of past regimes”, and so we need to work with such ‘remnants’. We need to judge, praise and back our politicians based on what they can offer to develop our economy, deliver political stability and solve social problems; not on whether they are remnants of Gayyoom’s regime or Nasheed’s regime. We need to accept that there is no majority in the country at present and learn to live and progress with divided opinions. This, my fellow countrymen, is the essence of democracy.
We will never be in peace if we keep suggesting short term solutions to a long term problem. By having a snap election and by halting all government operations we will achieve nothing. Both parties need to sit down and negotiate a re-election in due course (in 6 months, perhaps), when we have achieved some stability. I fully support Nasheed’s suggestion to have a re-election, but not in two months, as he demands. Elections have a propensity to cause violence and should be undertaken with the proper state apparatus in place and not hastily. The current President needs to ensure that an election takes place in due course to avoid further conflict. Dr. Waheed should remember that what we have at the moment is only a crisis government and not a government of the people. If civil resistance is the opted means of protest by the majority of people, please let it be non-violent. All factions within the political system have gravely disappointed us and have a lot to prove of themselves now. In due time, WE, the citizens of the country, will decide who will govern us by a free and fair election. The power of the ballot will speak for itself.