Two months after the coup we are still at a deadlock and many of us are still coming to terms with the events that proceeded 7th February 2012. Political rivalry continues to be fierce, with protests, party swaps, statement after statement by political groups and a few people who cannot grasp democratic politics resorting to violence. IMF, MATI and a number of economists are warning of economic collapse. Meanwhile, the current government is busy leasing resorts for 50 years, giving out mass promotions to police officers, changing working hours, visiting Laamu Gaadhoo for the first time in 30 years – all very useful functions in a politically stable environment. Unfortunately none of these actions do anything to reduce public disillusionment with the current political crisis. So where do we go from here?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of actions that we need to undertake to get us out of our political predicament.
1- First thing first – Establish the credibility of the Commission of National Inquiry assigned to find facts/truth about the legitimacy of transfer of power on 7th February 2012.
It is integral that this inquiry committee appoints an international observer, or better, an international participant. If a large portion of the general population question the integrity and credibility of this committee there is no point of having an inquiry, regardless of whether or not it is actually credible. Apart from finding facts, the onus of this inquiry should also be to remove public uncertainty and disaffection over the legitimacy of the transfer of power and of those that rule the country at the moment. Clearly the MDP supporters and many others already question the committee’s credibility and one of the primary stakeholders in the transfer of power, MDP, refuse to accept the inquiry committee at all because of a lack of international, impartial presence associated with the committee. In this situation, is it not wise to appoint an international participant in order to appease all actors involved and make their inquiry impartial in the eyes of their targeted audience? Otherwise it is a wasted effort. Furthermore, the mandate of this committee should not only be to lay out facts but also to lay out recommendations and a follow-up plan of activities to promote its findings and to advocate its recommendations.
2- Laying the groundwork for the next election. The inquiry committee will submit a full report of their findings to the President, Prosecutor General and Attorney General on 31st May 2012. Whether the transfer of power is found to be legal or illegal, the important question is ‘what happens next?’ Regardless of the conclusions of the inquiry committee, in my opinion (similar to many Maldivians and international bodies) the only way to move forward within the country would be to hold an election in the near future to settle this conflict. Azima Shukoor (Attorney General) and Dhunya Maumoon (Minister of State for Foreign Affairs) state that a free and fair election cannot be held without strengthening the state institutions such as the judiciary, election commission and the human rights commission – makes sense! But they keep saying this over and over again without stating what they plan to do to strengthen these institutions or to overcome these institutional roadblocks to make an election possible. To me it appears that they are just saying this for the sake of it without any ingenuity. Whilst some may argue that it is under these very same institutions that the local council (2011), parliamentary (2009) and the presidential elections (2008) took place, we have to admit that the circumstances have changed since these elections and the country is at a political juncture which requires rethink and reformation at all levels.
Even if we don’t have an early election, the next impending election, according to the current constitution, is not too far away (October 2013), so should we not get ready for an election now and make it a priority to make the necessary reforms to strengthen these institutions, starting from now? If these state institutions are so weak and unreliable why are they being used for any other state purpose without making the much needed reforms as soon as possible? The current government and parliament should stop making excuses and start making the necessary institutional amendments to ensure that the next election, be it an early one or as scheduled, is possible and fair.
If the constitution needs to be amended, this is only possible through the parliament and all MPs should work within the walls of the parliament to allow the legal changes needed to guarantee the rights and institutional framework required for a free and fair election. The government needs to ensure that members of the election commission are educated and trained in order to ensure their conduct is impartial, neutral and balanced at all times. The political parties and the media should accept and adopt a code of conduct to govern the election campaign and the polling period. The government should ensure that all parties have equal access to state media and the state media should provide non-partisan media coverage.
3- Reform, reform and reform the Judiciary. The judiciary of our country is a disgrace and none of us rely on the courts to provide justice for any crime. The judiciary is infamous for its corruption; many of our judges in the lower court are under-qualified and their integrity and impartiality is highly questionable; and politicians have their claws all over the judiciary. Worst of all for me is that some judges in the lower court even have previous criminal convictions! I am not a legal expert and I am sure our country has brilliant lawmakers (e.g. Kutti Nasheed) to reform our judiciary. We need a group of non-partisan lawyers to create a public document of various legal reforms that could be undertaken to strengthen our judiciary and promote this wherever possible. Every time there is a political crisis, talk of judiciary reform alights, but this always slips off the public radar soon afterwards. The public and the country’s legal experts need to keep this pressure loud and ongoing.
4- Reforms within the security forces. We all know that whichever way the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) concludes their investigations, there is a need to change police conduct. The PIC investigation should find a number of incidents of police brutality (including use of excessive force, violent attacks and intimidation) and so on, but the top tier of the security forces needs to recognise that their misconduct is also very much due to the systematic failure of the authorities of MPS and MNDF to steer off political influence, keep appropriate checks and educate and democratise police officers. PC Riyaz’s Q & A on Minivan News encourages me.
5- The current leader of our crisis government, President Waheed, is not really helping himself or his government, as he continues to make the same mistakes Nasheed did. Mr. President: listen to your critics and respond to the plight of the people you serve. Even if you can argue that technically your position is legitimate you have to admit that you are not in that position by popular vote. You cannot win the hearts of disaffected people by giving ministerial positions to Gayyoom’s children, especially given our political history, even if they are the most qualified for the job. I have not heard you forcefully condemn police brutality or show any empathy towards the disillusioned portion of the population. Remember when you campaigned to release Nasheed from prison in the ‘black ribbon campaign’ and when you stood against oppressors not so long ago! Using your many years of experience working in complex post-conflict zones, I hope your conscience allows you to make compromises and make decisions that help to diffuse this conflict, rather than aggravating it.
6- Nasheed needs to go to the table to negotiate and try to solve the political crisis with Maldivians, not his foreign ‘friends’. Nasheed’s recent interviews in the US showcased his personable character but also his political naivety. If he wishes to continue promoting The Island President, he should do sowithout defaming a country that earns its bread from its image!
7- Setting the right priorities - Before investigating the arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed, we need to take a step back and investigate why he was arrested in the first place. Investigate the allegations against him separately from the wider political investigations and problems.
8- Don’t put the cart before the horse. As a society we are more politically aware than ever before but not necessarily more responsible. We cannot make any progress by putting the cart before the horse. We shout for democracy without ridding ourselves of old patronage and alliances, and without respecting human rights. We call for snap elections whilst knowing that the current institutional framework needs changes. We demand things without looking at how we are actually going to get them.
We will only be in peace by finding long term solutions to our political problems. We can only be at peace if we develop a framework and a mentality which allows democracy to truly flourish in our country. These are my thoughts and there is more to add here. Please feel free to share your solution based thoughts.