Revisiting the process of democratisation and sustaining democracy in Maldives

Pic: TransparencyMaldives

by Ahmed Hamdhan

The first multiparty Presidential election of 2008 in Maldives saw an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the adoption of a modern democracy for the first time in the Maldives. Nevertheless, as in many other nascent democracies, there is real doubt whether Maldives can sustain its democracy in its fullest sense, especially after the recent coup that ousted the first democratically elected president in February 2012.

Some scholars argue that the mode of democratic transition a country experiences proves to be a critical factor in determining the country’s democratic future [1]. Hence, an analysis of the mode of democratic transition that occurred in Maldives may help in predicting whether democracy could be sustained in future. Political scientist Samuel Huntington argues that the process of democratisation could be determined based on ‘the relative importance of governing and the opposition groups as the sources of democratisation’ [2]. He identifies three broader modes of democratisation; (1) ‘transformation’ (from above) occurs when the regime itself takes initiative in bringing democracy; (2) ‘replacement’ (from below) occurs when opposition groups take the initiative and replace the regime by bringing democracy; and (3) ‘transplacement’ (through bargain) occurs when both government and opposition work together to bring about democracy.

My aim here is to analyse the process of democratisation in Maldives in terms of the theories offered by Huntington, and identify the modes of democratic transition that occurred in Maldives. This in turn may help predict the future sustenance of democracy in Maldives. This essay argues that no one particular mode of democratisation occurred in Maldives as none of them materialised fully. However, various efforts from the current opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) together with the leadership of Mohamed Nasheed have contributed significantly to the process and facilitated negotiations with the regime leading to democratisation. To achieve the stated-aim, I will discuss the major events that contributed to the democratisation process in Maldives by relating them to the modes of transition outlined above.

The initial period of democratic struggle – a period of near ‘replacement’

The initial period of the struggle for democracy in Maldives depicts characteristics of ‘replacement’ where citizens started to challenge the regime through various means and made attempts to overthrow the autocratic government. The first serious challenge to dictator Gayoom was in 1988, with a failed coup attempt carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries financed by wealthy Maldivians. A year after the attempted coup, the election of western-educated young politicians to the parliament in 1989 resulted in increased pressure for democratic reforms. However, many of them and their family members faced significant threats from the regime and some of them were imprisoned for various politically motivated charges [3]. The regime continued to suppress major opposition figures through arbitrary arrests. In 2001, Mohamed Nasheed – both a Member of Parliament and a major opposition figure – was arrested and imprisoned for two and half years. The same year, the opposition MDP made their first attempt to formally register themselves as a political party. The Home Ministry, mandated to register civic organisations, sent the petition to parliament where it was overwhelmingly rejected.

On September 20, 2003, civil unrest broke out in the capital Male’ sparked by the death of prison inmate Hassan Evan Naseem. Evan was tortured to death by security forces during an interrogation. News of his death led to riots in the prison and a subsequent shootout by the police that killed three more inmates and injured many others. The news spread throughout Maldives, becoming the major trigger for many to publicly demand democratic reforms.

Since the September unrests, Gayoom came under tremendous pressure from both domestic and international actors that compelled him to announce democratic reforms. On June 2004, during an informal meeting, Gayoom announced his proposed changes to the Constitution including two term limits for President, direct election of President, measures to increase separation of powers and removing the gender bar for political participation. Moreover, he urged citizens to debate publicly his proposals. The opposition were still very sceptical about Gayoom’s real intentions and raised doubts whether he could bring about concrete reforms.

However, the reform announcement itself facilitated the opposition to organise more activities publicly. Matt Mulberry from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, argues that the reforms announced by Gayoom ‘technically gave citizens freedom of speech and freedom of assembly’. As a result, some citizens organised a series of “minivan debates” (‘minivan’ means ‘independent’ in Dhivehi) where they discussed the political issues facing the country. Unsurprisingly, the government sent police to disrupt these debates, eventually declaring them illegal.

Despite these repressive actions, the opposition organised a huge protest on August 12-13, 2004 to mark the death of Evan Naseem and demanded reforms, including the release of political prisoners. A record number of citizens took part in the protest which became the largest political gathering ever in the history of Maldives at that time [4]. The crackdown that followed the protest led to the arrest of hundreds of activists and injured many protesters. As a result, violence erupted in capital Male’ and other parts of the country. Despite the oppressed media, news of the regime’s repressive actions attracted the attention of many international actors. By then, President Gayoom faced immense pressure from the UK, US, India and Sri Lanka to bring about political reforms.

From ‘replacement’ to ‘transplacement’ – a period of joint action

The mounting international pressure and political instability in Maldives led to a new phase in the democratisation process as the regime agreed to have serious negotiations with the opposition. The willingness of joint action from both the regime and the opposition led to a period of ‘transplacement’ in the democratisation process. The regime agreed to sit with the opposition for the first time in the UK. During the negotiations, the regime agreed to more reforms including formation of independent oversight bodies such as the Police Integrity Commission and the Judicial Services Commission. Moreover, informal talks between reformers within the regime and the opposition were held in Sri Lanka facilitated by the British High Commissioner. However, the lack of true commitments from the regime led the opposition to realise that international pressure alone would not help bring down the autocratic leadership. Hence, they increased their efforts in organising more protests, speeches and sit-ins. As a result of the mounting support for the opposition’s cause, reformers within the government increased their efforts in pressuring Gayoom to implement urgent reforms.

The pressure from few reformers within the government and the opposition MDP led to a period of ‘transformation’ where the regime was compelled to take reform actions. In April 2005, the then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed overturned his predecessor’s decision by issuing a formal legal opinion to allow the registration of political parties. In June 2005, the parliament unanimously voted in favour of a resolution to allow multi-party democracy for the first time in Maldives. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – the main opposition party – led by Mohamed Nasheed was formally registered, along with several other political parties representing different views. In March 2006, the regime published a Roadmap that ‘included 31 proposals for revision of the Constitution, a series of time-bound commitments on human rights, and proposals to build institutions and mobilise civil society’ [5]. However, many still doubted whether the regime was committed to real reforms. Ahmed Shaheed (then Foreign Minister) later argued that, through the reform agenda, Gayoom was seeking to get rehabilitated and thereby stabilise his presidency [6]. He argued that by 2007, Gayoom had achieved his aim by gaining widespread domestic support and getting rehabilitated.

However, new cracks that significantly weakened the regime emerged as those most closely associated with the reform agenda left the government. On 5th August 2007, both Dr Hassan Saeed and Mohamed Jameel (Justice Minister) resigned from their posts. They claimed that working outside Gayoom’s regime was the only option to advance their reform agenda. Later on the same month, Ahmed Shaheed resigned from the post of Foreign Minister accusing the government of stalling democratic reforms. These developments saw more public support for the opposition reform movement. After several disagreements with the Special Majlis (Special Parliament), Gayoom ratified the new Constitution in August 2008, allowing key democratic reforms and paving way for the first multi-party presidential election in October that year.

As evident from the discussion above, three modes of democratisation have contributed to the democratisation process in Maldives, though characteristics of ‘transformation’ are very little. Interestingly, there appears to be a correlation between each mode as the occurrence of one type led to the other. This observation therefore contradicts Huntington’s view that the three modes of democratisation are alternatives to one another.

However, it is important to note the significant role played by the opposition MDP, especially Mohamed Nasheed as the leader who never took a step back in his quest to bring democracy to Maldives. It is clear that MDP played the most critical role in the process of democratisation. I have previously argued that Gayoom is the major obstacle to sustaining democracy and the threat is heightened more than ever with his current political activeness. Reflecting on the process of democratisation and the strong influence of Gayoom on many institutions till today, I still doubt sustenance of democracy in the Maldives. Similar to the 2008 election, this year’s election is very much a choice between democracy and autocracy.


[1] Rustow, Dankwart A. 1970. Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model. Comparative Politics 2 (3): 337-363. See also Shin, Doh Cull. 1994. On the Third Wave of Democratization: A Synthesis and Evaluation of Recent Theory and Research. World Politics 47 (1):135-170.

[2] Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20th Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

[3] Shaheed, Ahmed, and Jonathan Upton. 2008. “Maldives: Reform Deffered? Challenges and Lost Opportunities for Democratic Transition.” Center For The Study Of Islam and Democracy. Available: [Accessed: 17 April 2013]

[4] Bonofer, Jacob Ashik. 2010. The Challenges of Democracy in Maldives. International Journal of South Asian Studies 3 (2): 433-49.

[5] Shaheed, Ahmed, and Jonathan Upton. 2008. “Maldives: Reform Deffered? Challenges and Lost Opportunities for Democratic Transition.” Center For The Study Of Islam and Democracy. Available: [Accessed: 17 April 2013]

[6] ibid.



About the author: Ahmed Hamdhan is a third-year Bachelor of Arts (Policy Studies and Political Science) student at the Australian National University. All comments represents the sole view of the author.



    by Azra Naseem

    The Adhaalath Party, Maldives’ chief ‘Islamists’, is one of the worst things to ever happen to the country and its people. Although it was three years of free expression under Mohamed Nasheed that finally gave the men of Adhaalath a voice after about a decade of violent repression, they were instrumental in bringing an abrupt end to democratic rule on 7 February.

    In the eighteen months since, party leaders have been whoring out their ‘religious learning’ to the highest bidder and have already been in, or tried to get in, bed with the secular Mohamed Waheed, former oppressor Gayoom, and is now flapping about in an orgy of hatred with multimillionaire tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim.

    Last night’s speech by Adhaalath Party leader Imran Abdulla at the Jumhooree coalition rally was a spectacular example of these men’s hate-mongering using Islam. Imran described MDP supporters as a crowd of hapless, irreligious and malicious imbeciles who have fallen under an evil spell cast by their Godless master Nasheed.

    Imran explained away his obsession with Nasheed and his inability to stop ranting about him as a religious duty.

    It’s not personal. I am devoting so much time to Nasheed because the Qur’an says the ignorant should be made aware [...] Nasheed is an enemy of Islam. He is an agent  trained, briefed and sent here by people who want to destroy Islam and our nation.

    Imran also said there is a verse in the Qur’an that applies to Nasheed. Here is a translation:


    The whole affair ended with the other limelight loving Fake Sheikh, Ilyas Hussein, who shed crocodile tears while praying to Allah that the Maldives be saved from  Godless Nasheed and his evil. It was a performance that would have put even the most accomplished of televangelists to shame.

    While Imran and Ilyas are wheeled out to entertain big crowds, the other Adhaalath high-flier, Shaheem Ali Saeed, now the Islamic Minister, provides the ‘intellectual’ backing through hate-filled speeches to less prominent crowds which are then duly covered by Adhaalath mouthpieces in the media.

    One such platform, reported yesterday, for example, that Shaheem told an audience in the island of Mahibadhoo that he regularly prays to Allah for misfortunes to befall on Nasheed. Shaheem was kind enough to share the details of what he asks of Allah when he is on his knees, praying:

    “Oh Allah! Set a dog from among your dogs on this man [Nasheed]!”

    To supplement his prayers Shaheem uses social media:


    Kenereege Nasheed is worse than Lord Budhha [sic]…wake up and think, Maldivians. Let’s defeat Lord Budhaa [sic] on 7 Sep

    All this may have been understandable even if not justifiable if these men actually believe in what they preach. They don’t. If they did, they would have called for the removal of Ali Hameed from the Supreme Court bench after half the population were subjected to a video of him having sex with three prostitutes in a Colombo hotel.

    These are the same people who were out on the streets of Male’ in November 2011 when UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay dared to call for an end to the cruel practise of flogging for fornication that Adhaalath so enthusiastically promotes. These are also the people who in February this year said a fifteen year old girl, a victim of repeated rape and sexual abuse, ‘deserved’ to be flogged for a separate incident of fornication.

    These same people, who want the Maldivian legal system to comprise entirely of Sharia, have not only remained silent about Ali Hameed, they have also failed to say a single word about the alarming increase in sex crimes registered in the last few months. You would think that this is a time when religious leaders, so obsessed about punishing people for consensual sex, would counsel their followers to stop using sex as a tool of violence against women and children.

    There is little doubt in my mind that a Supreme Court judge getting away with Zinah—one of the most serious of Sharia offences—is a contributing factor to the impunity with which sex offenders are now operating on our little islands.

    Another strong indication of how fake these Sheikhs are is the type of alliances they choose to make. There was the 2008 alliance with the ‘Laa Dheenee’ MDP, then the 2012 alliance with the pseudo-American Waheedh, and now the backing of Gasim Ibrahim as their presidential candidate. Not only did Gasim defend Ali Hameed’s position as a Supreme Court judge, he is also the biggest seller of alcohol the country has ever seen.

    I have no problem with Gasim running tourist resorts and selling alcohol/pork. But Adhaalath does. In 2010 they ran amok in Male’ protesting against government plans to allow the sale of alcohol at tourist abodes in inhabited islands. Witnessing it, one would have thought that even looking at alcohol would have left the Muslim faith of Maldivians as legless as a drunk stumbling out of a bar at closing time. Plans to sell alcohol is also one of the reasons Adhaalath cited when severing its alliance with MDP in September 2011. But now here they are, arm in arm with Gasim, vowing to ‘Defend Islam’ with their candidate as president.

    The double-standards are just astounding. Here, for example, is a picture that emerged in the social media yesterday of a Jumhooree Party function on one of Gasim’s resort islands.

    Have you seen the many signs that Adhaalath Party put up everywhere in Male’ and all surrounding islands banning bikinis? Is it the case that Maldivians can be as free as they like in what they wear or not wear as long as Adhaalath approves?

    Recall all the flesh on display at the re-opening ceremony of Olympus in March this year. That was all okay, too, because at the time Imran was in bed with Waheed who was going through his Mujaheddin phase, which was preceded by his Siri Siri phase, which itself probably came after his Scientology days.

    And let’s not forget Gasim’s—and therefore Adhaalath’s—running-mate. Dr Hassan Saeed co-authored the book Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam, arguing that the law of apostasy and its punishment by death in Islamic law conflicts with a variety of fundamentals of Islam. It is a position directly in contrast to Adhaalath’s which is that all apostates should be put to death. Unless the only thing Hassan Saeed contributed to the book was his name on the cover, this man has done one of the most astounding volte-faces I have encountered in the academic community. Adhaalath banned his book in the Maldives but there he is now, sharing not just a podium but the same views with Adhaalath.

    Adhaalath continuously speaks about Laa Dheenee [irreligious] Maldivians damaging the ‘social fabric’ of the country. But it is they who have ripped our tight-knit communities apart, and unravelled the thread of quiet faith that bound Maldivians together in an invisible yet strong bond for as long as anybody alive today can remember.

    Of course, criticism of Adhaalath is a sin punishable by death (by Adhaalath, in this world). Some have been killed, others have been almost killed, and several others are under constant threat from the militant wings of these gangsters operating as ‘Jihadhists’. It is thus online that most dissent against Adhaalath takes place, and it is on Twitter that #FuckAdhaalath began and continues to grow.

    As the campaign’s chief architect noted last night:

    It’s good that more people are standing up to Adhaalath on social media. But that’s not the only place for the sentiment to remain. It is one worth expressing. Not for some gratuitous love of profanity but to let Adhaalath leadership know there are many Maldivians who will not be cowed by them and see them for the hate-mongering gangsters they are.

    Fuck Adhaalath.

      This is not a dictatorship


      by Azra Naseem

      Since the 7 February 2012 coup that was not a coup, a disconcerting dissonance between what people witness with their own eyes and what they are officially told they see has become a regular part of life.

      Last week, thousands of voting Maldivians watched the X-Rated video of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed having sex with three prostitutes at a high-end hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was not just his clothes that Hameed shed in front of the people but also his dignity along with the ethical and legal right to sit on the bench. Ethical because he so carelessly flouted the values of his profession and legal because Maldives defines unmarried sex between consenting adults as the crime of fornication.

      Yet the official reaction has been like a ticker-tape running across the entire length of Hameed’s sexual marathon saying, ‘This is not sex. This is not zinah. This is not Hameed.’

      Gasim Ibrahim, the presidential candidate for Jumhooree Party, has been one of the most vocal defenders of the judge. He asks us to ponder the infinite possibilities of why it was not Hameed in the video: ‘Anyone can dye their hair red.’ No one can argue with that, not in these days of L’Oréal etc.

      Adhaalath the self-appointed ‘religious leaders’—and the last Maldivian political institution one would expect to favour an informed decision over an ignorant one—has announced it cannot say ‘Hameed is fornicating’ or ‘Hameed is not fornicating’ unless the Judicial Service Commission says ‘This is Hameed or ‘This is not Hameed.’ Until then Adhaalath — or any other government entity — will not see what it sees, nor must our own eyes see what they see.

      In November last year, 38 MPs in Majlis agreed President of the Civil Service Commission, Mohamed Fahmy, was more likely than not to have sexually harassed a female servant as she alleged. They voted to have him removed from the CSC. Fahmy, though, is still there in the CSC, accompanied by a subliminal government-issue caption designed to appear under every image of Fahmy we come across: ‘This is not a sexual harasser’ or ‘Sexual harassment is not a crime.’

      Back in April this year, pictures emerged of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb hob-nobbing with the Artur Brothers – Armenian gangsters who were chased out of Kenya in 2006 for heroin trafficking and involvement in the country’s troubled political scene.

      Initially the official line was to say it was neither Nazim nor Adeeb hanging with the gangsters. Then came a very Gasim-esque defence: ‘It is possible that the Ministers and the Brothers were in the same place at the same time. That doesn’t mean they were together as in together together.’

      Soon after, pictures emerged of the Brothers at the gala event organised by Nazim and Adheeb to re-open Olympus theatre. This was followed by evidence that one of them was staying in Farukolhufushi, a resort under direct control of Adheeb at the time. Still, the official line was: ‘This is not happening.’

      It was the same with the leaked draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. Nazim and others denied they saw the leaked version on ‘social media’, but were able to confirm ‘this is not the SOFA’. So it was not.

      A similar story with the PISCES system gifted by the United States: ‘This is a border control system,’ said both governments, and so it is; even though controlling borders is the least of PISCES’ concerns.

      Then there were reports of the forged ‘extension’ of the agreement to extend the lease of Farukolhufushi resort, a copy of which was shown on Raajje TV. Independently verifiable evidence exists that Adheeb took US$400,000 as a sweetener from the lessee of Farukolhufushi in exchange for the extension. But, the authorities have stuck the ‘This did not happen’ label on the incident, so it hasn’t.

      Latest in these series of events occurred yesterday, the day marked on the calendar as ‘The Independence Day’. Two events were held to confirm this: one at the museum and one at the Republic Square. The event at the museum was a reception hosted by Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and his wife Ilham Hussein for local and foreign dignitaries. It was held in the hall usually reserved for the most precious of national heritage artifacts. Their storage requires specific conditions, their care and handling needs highly trained hands. This is the expert opinion. The official line, however, is different. In direct contradiction of results of years of study, the President’s Office put out a statement saying: Having the party at the museum, or having untrained labourers move the priceless artifacts will not damage them. So it won’t.

      Last night Male’ watched as Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was given the highest national award of respect. For thirty years, Gayoom ruled the Maldives without respect for either human freedoms, dignity or the rule of law. It was a dictatorship that stalled economic, social, cultural and intellectual development for an entire generation. But, the national honour, the shining thing around his neck, screams ‘This is not a dictator’. So he must not be.

      This is a democracy.