Featured image courtesy Dhivehisitee

To the outside world, the Maldives is known as a “Paradise on earth” with its white sandy beaches and crystal clear lagoons.  However, its troubled political realm is little recognised. Political tension escalated back in the early 2000s, along with the emergence of reformist voices. As a result, the long serving president who ruled with an iron fist put forth a reform agenda to address the uprising, on top of which there was a revision of the constitution.

A new, modern constitution focused on civil and political rights was enacted years later in 2008. From governance to individual life, the new constitution altered every aspect of the nation enormously. The first election held under the new code ousted the old regime. Now almost a decade gone by, the country is still in chaos.

Transitional justice was not at all taken into account in the transformation from a long serving dictatorial rule and tyrannical past to democracy. Stressing this point, human rights advocate Ibrahim Thayyib remarked: “To my knowledge, there was no process of transitional justice nor of national reconciliation when Maldives transitioned to democracy”. Emphasising its importance, the MP for Kendhoo constituency Ali Hussain said “Transitional justice is very crucial for the reconciliation and rehabilitation of people while moving from a dictatorship to democracy. This is especially so for those individuals who have suffered during the dictatorial regime, who would be expecting it to happen as part of the healing process. If public trials are not conducted, a truth and reconciliation process is mandatory at minimum, for a smooth transition to a viable democracy.”

Understandably the old regime would never want to invite such a process, and unfortunately, the reformists never had such an idea on their agenda. Throughout the programme for reform, both the old guard and the opposition had their eye on elections. The matter was never taken care of by the reformists even after succeeding in the first democratic election in late 2008.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed at the National Square moments before his resignation/Photo Sun.mv

Neglecting transitional justice and national reconciliation turned-out to be a dreadful mistake.

“I believe that the current political turmoil is very much related to the failure of the then government to provide for transitional justice. The people who are benefiting from the current autocratic regime are the same individuals who have gotten undue economic advantages through corruption and bribery at the top level,” Ali further noted. The first democratically elected president was ousted halfway through his term, which his supporters claimed to be a coup. An offshoot of the old guard won the second presidential election with a slight margin.

Following the victory, the newly elected president dissolved the coalition to consolidate power and began arresting political rivals, starting with the former president and the leader of main opposition party Mohamed Nasheed and the leader of Justice Party Imran Abdulla who organised a massive protest against the regime’s tyranny and corruption. He then altered the Constitution and the statutes to silence political opposition. As of now many of the major political leaders who might do so are either behind bars, in exile or being prosecuted. A couple of parliamentarians were dismissed from  their seats, and a few others are being investigated.

The Military has padlocked the Parliament after forcefully removing Parliamentarians from the premises. However, a statement published on the website of president’s office regarding the events at the Parliament premises reads “The special measures taken by the security forces at the Parliament building on 24 July 2017, were to ensure the security and safety of the premises”. The worst nightmare is that the rights, freedom and values assured in the constitution are being undermined.

In response to the government’s anti-democratic moves, corruption and oppression almost all major political parties and individual actors colluded to form the Maldives United Opposition. MUO consists of elements from both ends of the political spectrum which is an excellent representation for a transitional administration and at the same time an existential challenge. The coalition itself needs intense dialogue and reconciliation within themselves for survival and to deliver a successful unity government as they promised. The union is so far successful in defeating President Yameen in the local council elections by a wide margin earlier this year and in overcoming the president’s firm grip over the Parliament following the local council elections.

Leader of the Justice Party Imran Abdulla addressing the May Day rally 2015. / Photo raajje.mv

Corruption, embezzlement of state funds and money laundering are some serious allegations raised in the international media against President Yameen. Given these allegations and the strategic location of Maldives in the Indian Ocean, a problematic and isolated Maldives is always a serious threat to regional stability and security. President Yameen has already shifted the focus of his foreign policy towards Shanghai and Riyadh in response to challenges from western and regional powers. His only ally in the region, Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was removed from office on return to home from Maldives recently. Inviting Chinese influence to the Indian Ocean to an unprecedented level is an obstacle to regional stability. Hence the chaotic political status quo in Maldives needs to be dealt with as a matter of utmost importance.

May Day Rally 2015 under the slogan “against tyranny & corruption”. / Photo Maldives Independent

Diplomatic involvement is vital not only to bar President Yameen’s wrongdoings but also to facilitate and mediate all-encompassing national reconciliation process which is an essential step towards peace and stability. Stressing to the point Mr Ibrahim added: “What is evidenced is that a process of reconciliation and transitional justice positively contributes to peace and stability contributing to the strengthening of democracy and governance”. The current Maldivian opposition has appealed several times to the international community to facilitate dialogue between the government and the opposition. However international actors have so far taken the plea timidly. The United Nations attempted to handle the situation but failed even to bring parties to the table, and the UN involvement was unworkable in the face of president Yasmeen’s stubborn behaviour. Hence diplomatic efforts are either ineffective or too weak to deliver a fruitful outcome so far.

Ibrahim believes that there is a crucial role for transnational advocacy platforms in the equation. Initially, at the reporting stage transnational networks can work with local activists and civil societies in reporting the situation to intensify moderate voices in the international platforms. He further said, “The international community can strongly contribute to the capacity-building of domestic civil society organisations to continue collective advocacy and to mobilise for a national agenda of democratisation, peace building and national reconciliation”. He also believes that the efforts of transnational NGOs worked perfectly back in the early 2000s in pushing the country towards the reform programme.