Voteless in Maldives: resistance is not futile

The impulse by which a single individual, a group, a minority, or an entire people says, “I will no longer obey”, and throws the risk of their life in the face of an authority they consider unjust seems to me to be something irreducible – Foucault

Where is my vote? An angry protester confronts security forces at a protest in Male' yesterday demanding early elections Where is my vote? An angry protester confronts security forces at a protest in Male’ yesterday demanding early elections

Saturday dawned as crisp, sunny and beautiful as any other day in the Maldives. The clear blue skies belied the dark cloud that descended over a majority of the country’s population after the beleaguered Elections Commission announced shortly before midnight on Friday that the Supreme Court, and other allied state institutions, had left it with no choice but to call off the second round.

What the Elections Commission has been forced to call off is hope—the expectation that democracy will be restored in the Maldives on 11 November 2013.

For nineteen long months, a majority of Maldivians have dedicated most of their lives to winning back democracy from the authoritarian gang that came to power on 7 February 2012. The fight has been all-consuming and has affected every single Maldivian one way or another.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup came the violent confrontations with the security forces. Hundreds were beaten up, arbitrarily arrested, detained without charge, and ordered to obey, or else. Basic human rights—freedom of assembly and expression—were rolled back. Foreign ties were broken coldly, with little care for international norms or the inevitable consequences. The economy suffered blow after blow, leading to bankruptcy with little hope for recovery in the foreseeable future.

Working with unscrupulous ‘religious scholars’, intense nationalism was promoted in parallel with virulent xenophobia against any foreign actor that promoted democracy. Ties with autocratic regimes were fostered, along with relations with international gangsters known for drug trafficking and money laundering. National assets were sold off, deals made with unscrupulous foreign governments that spoke democracy but acted with nothing but their own national interest in mind. Unexplained murders, gang-related crimes, drug abuse and sexual offences increased exponentially.

The international community’s decision to condone the coup and endorse it as ‘a legitimate transfer of power’ was a major blow, but not enough to kill the Maldivian people’s desire for democratic governance. In the face of intense pressure from the international community to obey, to put stability before rights, to follow ‘the democratic process’, combined with brutal force by domestic authorities, the street protests could not be sustained. But supporters of democracy did not give up. Led by Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party, Maldivians channeled their frustrated hopes into campaigning for a democratic election instead of protesting on the streets.

MDP’s presidential campaign has been an exemplary democratic exercise—the ‘costed and budgeted’ manifesto it brought out in August this year is the embodiment of a majority of Maldivian hopes and dreams for the future. It is based on views and opinions gathered from people on every inhabited island and it envisions a future in which the Maldivian people will, at long last, be empowered to work for their own socio-economic progress under a government that a majority of them have elected of their own free choice. Of course, it is naive to think that every desire would be fulfilled, but at least everyone was asked what they want, everyone had a say, and everyone could take ownership of their own future. No such bottom-up exercise has ever been conducted in the long authoritarian history of the Maldives.

On 7 September, 88% of the electorate turned out to vote. 45% of them voted for Mohamed Nasheed, 25% for Abdulla Yameen, 24% for Gasim Ibrahim, and 5% for Mohamed Waheed. Nasheed did not get the 50% plus one needed for an outright win, but the Maldivian map, from north to south, was all yellow at the end of voting that day. Most people in all atolls bar two want a democratic government led by Nasheed.

The authoritarians know this, always did. Plan B was there from the start—let them have their vote if they must, but the results will always be ours, as we want it. Over a thousand observers, local and foreign, verified the election as free and fair. Except for minor errors, expected in any election anywhere in the world, it went without a hitch. Only 25% of the Maldivian people want Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s autocratic rule to continue. That’s when the stubborn septuagenarian called in all the stops and brought into full play the dregs of dictatorship that continued to infect the Maldivian democracy throughout the three years or so that it lasted.

Gayoom has played his old house-boy Gasim well. Taking full advantage of Gasim’s indignation about not having got the votes he paid for, Gayoom has dictated most of the Supreme Court bench—the most corrupt of the many corrupt state institutions—to rule in Gasim’s favour, bringing Maldives to where it is today: a constitutional vacuum into which Gayoom can step in effortlessly to ‘rescue’ us from ourselves. If Gasim thinks that Gayoom will let him take the president’s oath on 11 November, he is an even bigger fool than he has repeatedly shown himself to be.

The Supreme Court did not just issue an injunction against the second round, it also ordered the security forces to act against anyone who tries to go ahead with the polls. One can only imagine the elation of the baton-happy coup-Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who immediately deployed his forces to the Elections Commission, sealing the Commissioner and staff off from interaction with anyone local or foreign.

Efforts for mediation by the international community were not just prevented by the police, but strongly criticised by Gayoom’s minions. With his daughter at the helm of foreign relations as the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, it summoned India’s High Commissioner for a good telling-off for attempting to help disenfranchised Maldivians. The government has not stopped spurning the international community since, and will not stop until it becomes clear to everybody—at long last—that Gayoom and his followers will not allow democracy in the Maldives, whatever it takes.

The truth of the matter is, and has been since 7 February 2012: there will be no election in the Maldives as long as Nasheed, the champion of the Maldivian democratic movement, is in the running. So the focus has now returned to the farcical prosecution of Nasheed, through the very courts that have proved again and again that they are neither independent nor respectful of the ‘judicial process’. The machinations are fully underway to annul the first round and put Nasheed behind bars before calling fresh elections, if there are to be any. Reports say Gayoom himself is planning to run if and when new elections are held, his ‘economist’ brother having failed to live up to family expectations by not being able to garner much support.

Having lived under Gayoom for most of their lives, a majority of Maldivians remain oblivious to the fact that indefinitely delaying the elections is a robbery of their fundamental right to vote, too, and not just of members of the MDP or supporters of Nasheed. Their gloating about the cancellation of the election is both sad and sickening. They will do everything in their power to help bring Gayoom, and their own enslavement, back to life.

For the rest of Maldivians, the only choice left is to refuse to obey. Power, contrary to popular belief, is not something that can be taken away by force. It can only be given away, by the people, if we so decide.

Resisting a full-fledged authoritarian reversal has been a long hard slog that has taken a heavy emotional, financial and social toll on all of us. Sustaining the resistance will be difficult, and all out civil disobedience would be even harder; but do it we must, if we are to be in control of our own destiny. What we must continue to remember is—nobody can govern us without our consent. It is within our power not to give it.

Plan B

Photo: Aznym Photo: Aznym

On 19 September 2003, Evan Naseem, an inmate in Maafushi jail was brutally beaten and murdered by police, sparking off the pro-democracy protests which ultimately led to the end of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s authoritarian regime.

Today, exactly ten years on, the Supreme Court is expected to reach a verdict on whether or not to annul the votes cast on the presidential elections held on 7th of this month, the second democratic election ever to be held in the Maldives. A Supreme Court ruling that orders a revote would amount to a court order for an authoritarian reversal—there would be no second round on the 28th, or on any other day in the near future.

Tragic as it is, this seems to be the most likely outcome of today’s hearing, for this road to the Supreme Court is where this election was always going to lead—it was planned this way. No matter what the election results were—if it put Mohamed Nasheed in the lead—the ultimate decision of who wins would be made by the judiciary, the most corrupt and dysfunctional of the three separated powers.

The judiciary is the biggest blunder of the Maldivian democracy—nowhere near enough effort was made to free it from authoritarian clutches during the two and a half years of democratic governance. First came the dismissal of Article 285 as ‘symbolic’, leaving all corrupt and unqualified judges on the bench in direct violation of the new Constitution; then the silent coup in the Supreme Court, followed by continuous violations of the Constitution and rule of law by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), none of which were dealt with adequately.

It was the corruption in the judiciary that contributed most to the events of 7 February. The decision taken by the executive and the security forces to arrest the most subversive of judges—Abdulla Mohamed—was the weapon which authoritarians used most effectively to incite agitation and anger against Nasheed’s government, sustaining nightly protests until the police joined the street protesters and, together with those pulling their strings, presented Nasheed with the choice: resign or die.

Of course, the post-coup government took absolutely no action to reform the judiciary. To even expect them to do so would be the height of delusion. In the turbulent aftermath of the coup, former JSC member Aishath Velezinee who had attempted to thwart every one of JSC’s violations of the law, put it all together in book form; and several international experts brought out report after report with recommendations on how to reform the judiciary—to no avail. Most disappointingly, MDP, despite the bitter lessons of the past, took no concrete action either.

Cartoon by Qaumuge Mehi Cartoon by Qaumuge Mehi

By July this year, judicial corruption had got to the stage where a judge could continue to sit on the Supreme Court bench despite being caught on camera having sex with three prostitutes in a Colombo hotel room. This man, Ali Hameed, will be one of seven men who will today decide whether or not our votes count.

That this is where it will all come to was becoming clear in the lead up to the election when Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives [PPM] began making noises about going to the courts if there were discrepancies in the vote count.

While MDP and Mohamed Nasheed never stopped campaigning since the CoNI report in August 2012, which—with the blessing of the international communitylegitimised the coup, PPM candidate [No.3] Yameen hardly ever left the comfort of his own house to meet with the people whose votes he supposedly needed to be elected as president.

Ever since the election in which the Maldivian people resoundingly endorsed Mohamed Nasheed and said an equally loud No to Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik—the large façade that helped block from view the dirtiness of the coup—the entire country has been plunged into manufactured ‘uncertainty’ over the results.

First Qasim Ibrahim, Candidate No.1 of Jumhooree Party went into hysterics, maintaining that he was the winner ‘if you minus the 90,000 votes’ that Nasheed received. Backing him are the same dark forces working in the name of religion that so cleverly contributed to the coup. Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Islamic Minister Shaheem Ali Saeed, Sheikh Ilyas Abdulla, and lately Salaf Jamiyya’s star preacher Sheikh Adam Shamym, have all come out to call for an uprising against ‘the Godless Nasheed’ in the name of Islam.

The idea is to provoke, provoke, and provoke MDP supporters and other democracy activists to come out on the streets in protest so that the security forces could crackdown on them, creating an environment in which holding elections become ‘unsafe’. So far, MDP has been able to keep calm and continue with their campaigning for the second round, deliberately ignoring the relentless smear campaign against Nasheed and the daily negative campaigning, even the ridiculous black magic and sorcery antics. But for how long?

In parallel with all this has been the forward march towards the courts. Qasim Ibrahim led it, but who is pushing him? In the beginning, it seemed to me almost certain that Qasim and Yameen were in on this together. They cooked up a plan to run for presidency so they can split the votes and then later form an ‘everyone but Nasheed’ coalition that would defeat him in the second round. But, information from a reliable source negated this theory. One individual who left Qasim’s JP shortly after the election to join MDP relayed this story:

Former military man Mohamed Fayaz [or F.A, as he is commonly known] one of the main coup-enablers who put his support behind Qasim, advised him to join Yameen following the election results. What else was there for Qasim to do?

Qasim responded with unbridled anger, swore at FA, and told him: ‘I would rather walk into the sea with my wives and children than join Yameen.’

Qasim is absolutely convinced he should have won. It is clear from the speech he made on 9 September in which he kept talking of his belief that he should have got 70,000 votes, not 50,000. Many have pointed out that Qasim is looking at the election as a business transaction. He poured in enough money to buy 70,000 votes, so he expects to get them. Qasim is, after all, the biggest tycoon in town.

Helping Qasim remain committed to the delusion is running mate Dr Hassan Saeed, once Nasheed’s advisor, then Waheed’s. He respected neither. Shortly after the coup, he was secretly recorded describing Waheed as the weakest politician in the Maldives. Now he’s behind Qasim, advocating in court on his behalf to annul the first round of 7 September, not because he believes in Qasim’s ability to be President, but because it will prevent Nasheed from returning to power—Hassan Saeed’s [and a fair few coup leaders’] reason for being.

Gayoom and Yameen, ever the political vultures, have swooped in on the carcass of Qasim’s dreams, seeing it as the opportunity they have been waiting for, if not working behind the scenes to create. They have brought out to advocate on their behalf one of their big guns—Attorney General Azima Shakoor, the woman of void ab initio fame who annulled the largest foreign investment agreement in the history of the Maldives with the stroke of a pen and with absolutely zero respect for national or international law.

Without so much as asking the Elections Commission about the alleged discrepancies in the vote registry, she was busy all day yesterday arguing against the institution. As is habitual for PPM and other coup-makers, she cited the Constitution to justify her presence—Article 133 allows the Attorney General to enter into any case if it involves the interests of the people and/or State.

Problem is, she is not advocating on behalf of the people or the state but for Gayoom, her master since childhood. PPM and JP are taking strength from each other. The courts [including the High Court] have asked for evidence of discrepancies to back their claims, which neither party have been able to provide so far. Yesterday Dr Saeed argued that such evidence is unnecessary; given that the Attorney General—the Attorney General!—has stated that there are discrepancies.

What evidence does the court need when it has the AG’s word? It matters not that she has been lying through her teeth, saying that the National Registration, too, has filed several complaints against the voter registry at the Elections Commission when the Registry has done no such thing.

7FebruaryElements of the police, most likely the very same ones that enabled the coup on 7 February, are in on it, of course. As the court asks for evidence, they are busy manufacturing it. Operation Blue Wave—the ominous strategy of providing ‘special training’ to hundreds of policemen and women and stationing them across the country to prepare for ‘inevitable discrepancies’—is now bearing fruit. Despite the confirmation from over a thousand domestic and foreign observers that it was a free and fair election with the bare minimum of errors and absolutely no room for vote stuffing, the police are finding fresh ‘rigging’ attempts on a daily basis.

Despite renewed appeals from both local and foreign actors to respect election results, circulating on the social media today is also a ‘leaked’ ‘secret’ report of eight pages that count thousands of instances of alleged vote fraud. What this forgery resembles most is the similarly constructed CoNI report of August 2012. But, of course, there will be many hundreds who believe it. Just as there are thousands who still believe the CoNI report.

To spur on the radical elements within the security forces, leaders of the ‘Godless Nasheed’ anti-campaign, the rent-a-sheikhs, have been targeting the police and military in their hate-mongering. Not satisfied with mentioning them in every public lecture as custodians of Maldivian nationalism and Islam, Sheikh Adam Shamym addressed them in two special lectures intended especially for them yesterday and early this morning. Shamym’s hate-filled public lecture—broadcast on state TV and repeated on the private channels owned by coup-makers—was frightening, arguing against democracy, especially multi-party democracy as a Western evil imported to destroy Maldivian faith in Islam. If this is what he said publicly, one can only imagine what he told the security forces in their barracks.

What the plan seems to be right now is this: the Supreme Court is to rule today that there must be a revote, which means that there will be no second round on 28th, nor a President by November 11, as is stipulated in the Constitution. Already, Madam Void ab Initio has voided void itself, saying not having a president would not leave a power vacuum.

If this Plan B  is implemented, it is inevitable that the electorate [88% of whom turned out to vote on 7 September] will feel dejected, disheartened, and angry. Chief among them would be the 95,000 people who voted for Nasheed and against the coup and the authoritarian reversal. They will pour out onto the streets, just like the thousands who did on the streets of Male’ on 8 February. If this happens, the final phase of Plan B will be implemented: rogue elements within the security forces led by coup-makers, will crackdown on them brutally, violently, and without conscience. And with their batons and their bullets, they will try to kill all hopes of restoring democracy in the Maldives in any foreseeable future.

But, as Mohamed Nasheed said earlier this week, it is unlikely that Maldivians will let democracy die, having fought so long  and come this far.

People might try to rig two or three elections. [They] might try to arrest some people. And there might even be three or four coup d’etats. But, overall, I don’t see this curve slumping too much.

The fight in which most of the country joined in ten years ago from today is set to continue, for as long as it takes.

At the Crossroads: Another Maldives is Possible

by John Foran and Summer Gray

MDP rally on 5 September Thursday night, one of the biggest political gathering ever  in Male' MDP rally on 5 September Thursday night, one of the biggest political gathering ever in Male’

Saturday’s elections in the Maldives are globally significant, because they represent a chance for global climate justice leader Mohamed Nasheed to return to power after his ouster in a coup on February 7, 2012.  On the line is the very existence of democracy in the Maldives, since until Nasheed’s election in 2008, the country had known only eight and a half centuries rule by sultan, life as a British protectorate between 1887 and 1965, or dictatorship from 1978 to 2008 under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Crusading journalist Mohamed Nasheed was imprisoned under the Gayoom dictatorship, and helped found the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) while in exile in 2003.  Following the 2004 tsunami, which wiped out 50% of the country’s GDP, Gayoom was forced by international pressure to permit free elections in return for assistance.  Nasheed returned to stand as the MDP candidate and ran with the slogan “Aneh Dhivehi Raaje” which translates into “The Other Maldives.”  In Dhivehi, the native language of the Maldives, there is no word for democracy.  It wasn’t until the 2008 electoral campaign that a Dhivehi equivalent for the term came into use. Today, the English-language term “democracy” is often used synonymously with the Maldivian phrase “Aneh Dhivehi Raaje.”

Polling just 25 percent of the vote in the first round to Gayoom’s 40 percent, Nasheed united the opposition parties in the second round to take 54 percent of the vote in the first free and fair elections in the history of the Maldives.  Though he never commanded a majority in the Majlis (Maldives’ parliament), in the next two and a half years Nasheed made good on his promise to improve life conditions, delivering free healthcare, pensions for the elderly, social housing, improved transportation among the islands, and civil liberties such as freedom of expression and security of one’s person unheard of in the Maldivian context.

With 1,192 coral islands arrayed in a double chain of 26 atolls, the highest point in the Maldives is 2.4 meters above sea level;  it is the lowest-lying country in the world, 80 percent of the land surface lying less than a meter above the ocean waves.  In October 2009, Nasheed grabbed the world’s attention by holding a cabinet meeting underwater, with ministers in scuba gear sitting at a table signing documents calling on all countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions:  “We must unite in a world war effort to halt further temperature rises. Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth.  We have to have a better deal.  We should be able to come out with an amicable understanding that everyone survives.  If Maldives can’t be saved today, we do not feel that there is much of a chance for the rest of the world”.

At the historic 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen, he declared Maldives’ goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country:  “For us swearing off fossil fuels is not only the right thing to do, it is in our economic self-interest… Pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil; they will capitalize on the new green economy of the future, and they will enhance their moral standing giving them greater political influence on the world stage”.  One of us (John) well remembers being in the audience at the alternative People’s Klimaforum when we heard that Nasheed was coming direct from his arrival at the airport to address us, rather than making his way to the Bella Center where the other presidents and prime ministers were gathering.  Young climate activists greeted him on that occasion with a banner that read “You Are Our Global President.”  At the talks, he and minister of environment Mohamed Aslam carried the banner of the many frontline island nations most threatened by climate change, and their principled stand and frank exchanges stand at the center of Jon Shenk’s masterful 2012 film, The Island President.

The world’s climate justice and global justice communities woke in shock on the morning of February 7, 2012 to the news that Nasheed had “resigned” his presidency with the statement “I don’t want to rule the country with an iron fist…. Considering the situation in the country, I believe great damage might be caused to the people and the country if I remain President.  I therefore submit my resignation as President of Maldives”.  The next day, scenes of Nasheed and MDP supporters in the streets of Malé protesting what they called a coup, and being beaten and arrested by the police and military, now firmly in the hands of his vice president, Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, gave the world notice that the coup leaders had no such compunction.

Waheed proceeded to dismiss the entire cabinet and named a who’s who of Nasheed’s political opponents to his own cabinet.  The coup government turned the page back to the Gayoom dictatorship’s repressive politics of beatings, imprisonment, and torture to brutally discourage the repeated street demonstrations in favor of Nasheed’s return after the coup.  This is meticulously documented in a September 2012 Amnesty International Report, The Other Side of Paradise:  A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives, which concludes “The overall objective of these violent acts has been to silence peaceful government critics and stifle public debate about the current political situation.

At the end of August 2012, a government-appointed Commission of National Inquiry (CONI) published its Report on the transfer of power, it constitutional, and that Nasheed’s resignation was “voluntary and of his own free will.  It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation”.  The problems with the report are numerous, and we have documented them elsewhere.  The day after the Report came out, Nasheed held a press conference, observing:  “Now we have a very awkward situation and in many ways very comical, where toppling a government by brutal force is taken as a reasonable course of action … accepted as long as it comes with an ‘appropriate’ narrative.  I still believe CONI has set a precedent away from the simplicity of using ballots to change a government….  Peaceful political activity will continue, the CONI report is not the end of the line” (a composite of two accounts of the speech in The Guardian and Maldives Culture ).  The struggle for the return of democracy now turned to the demand for holding presidential elections, as scheduled, in 2013.

The new regime’s next move was to put Nasheed on trial for arresting Judge Abdulla Mohamed, a Gayoom loyalist who was obstructing the prosecution of members of the dictatorship, three weeks before the coup.  If found guilty, Nasheed would have been banned from ever participating in elections in the Maldives.  On July 18, 2013, with mounting pressure from Transparency Maldives, a local NGO monitoring the elections, and the international community, the Elections Commission reluctantly accepted Nasheed’s candidacy. In a statement to the press, Nasheed said, “Today we submitted the election forms and begin the task of restoring democracy to our country. It has been a slippery slope but we have come a long way. Despite all the barriers and hurdles that were put in our way, we never gave up”.

Maldives at the Crossroads

Maldives now stands at a crossroads where its people are being asked to choose between Nasheed, Waheed, and two other candidates with links to the Gayoom dictatorship and the Islamists.  The elections are, in effect, a popular referendum on the legality of the coup and the candidates’ competing visions for the future of the country.  Moreover, the whole process is unfolding in a “political context of crisis of legitimation, uncertainty of democratic transition, existing polarisations and other challenges that have been aggravated by the controversial transfer of power on 7 February 2012”.

Nasheed’s campaign has been a model of grassroots organizing, literally a “Door to Door” campaign with a thousand volunteers committed to visiting every family in the country.  Nasheed himself has touched all the main island groups in well-prepared meetings with the people, generating a massive amount of genuine passion and enthusiasm on the ground.  At one campaign stop, a reporter asked a group of women why they like Nasheed:  “‘He’s like one of us. He treats us like equals,’ [one woman, Mariyam Nazima] says. Other women … beside us agree. ‘He visits all the houses, rich and poor alike’”.

The opposition has been attacking the MDP manifesto promise that the state will collect MVR 72 billion [US$4.6 billion] in tax revenues over the next five years.  Over forty percent of these revenues are earmarked for some 137 development projects, to generate 51,000 jobs, build 20,000 housing units, provide aid to single parents and persons with disabilities, and make loans available to students.  Nasheed notes:

I am not contesting in the upcoming elections with a handful of empty vows. Our competitors’ pledges are made in a manner where, if coming on to an island the first person they meet asks for a fishing vessel, they promise to deliver fishing vessels for them all. And then say they meet a teacher who asks for an iPad, whereupon they’ll pledge to give iPads to all teachers. The next person in line might say he is not feeling well, whereupon the candidate may vow to deliver a nurse and doctor to each house. This is not how a political party should form its pledges.

The MDP’s campaign is organized around publicizing four main development initiatives:  “the beginning of an agri-business;  guesthouses in inhabited islands putting tourism industry wealth within reach of all locals for the first time;  mariculture business;  and the empowered worker initiative”.

The median age in the Maldives is 26 and the MDP’s campaign is by far the most media-savvy, another plus for the campaign.  MDP officials claim that the party has received pledges of votes from 125,000 of the 240,000 eligible voters in its door to door canvas, while registering thousands of new voters.  Many observers feel that the coup and its repressive aftermath have driven previously uncommitted voters into Nasheed’s camp.  “Statistics and the smiles of the people” portend victory, Nasheed says.  As MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor put it:  “This is a clash between the past and the future and we are the future”.

All of this bodes well.

While the MDP has campaigned hard to secure the votes necessary to win in the first round, there are several factors that could mitigate this outpouring of public support. In this clash of people power versus money, religion, and violence, Nasheed may have to win outright in the first round. The anti-Nasheed vote will be split among the three opposition candidates – current President Waheed, running as an independent, whom most observers feel will take very few votes based on his assumption of power in the 2012 coup and the repression and economic decline that have followed;  Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree [Republic] Party, the wealthiest man in the country, in a loose coalition with the Islamist Adhaalath Party, who have no candidate of their own;  and Gayoom’s brother Abdulla Yameen for the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), which emerged out of Gayoom’s old party.  The candidates and their parties are engagingly profiled on this website.  The fact that the opposition is split three ways is a distinct advantage for the MDP.  But if Nasheed fails to clear the 50 percent hurdle, it is probable that all three would ask their supporters to vote for the one still in the running on the second round, scheduled for September 28, and that is the most dangerous electoral math in the equation.

Of the three, Gasim’s JP may garner the most votes.  Unlike the other two, at least it has published a platform for the elections, s six page pamphlet with 83 pledges called the People’s Manifesto: Development Certain.  Azra Naseem obtained a copy:

It begins with the promise to build an Islamic university, followed by the promise to include Nationalism as a separate subject in the national curriculum. Four regional institutes for “Arab Islamic learning” will be established across the country. Next to religion is crime and punishment. Better forensics, more surveillance, better trained police with its own “world class” Police Academy and an all powerful Anti-Drug Agency that will “completely stop” Male’s thriving drug trade (

Upon closer inspection, she determined it was not quite a party document, but authored by Gasim’s running mate, former Chief Justice of the Criminal Court and Attorney-General Hassan Saeed, “the author of Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam, which argues for religious tolerance and against the death penalty for apostasy.  Adhaalath, meanwhile, would like nothing more than to hang anyone who even thinks of abandoning their faith in Islam”.  Gasim, then, would seem to be the candidate for those motivated to vote primarily on the degree to which the candidates wish to Islamize the political system.

For its part, the PPM has criticized Nasheed in the past for taking out international loans and competing political parties rally around the claim that Nasheed ran the Maldivian economy into the ground.  There also remain the self-serving appeals to voters regarding Nasheed’s alleged lack of respect for Islam compared with the faith of his opponents.

There is also a danger that “irregularities” could crop up in the election process.  Leaving aside Gasim’s promises of an iPad and laptop for every schoolchild and other material goods for every family if he is elected, and the PPM’s unsuccessful effort to delay the election by claiming, without a hint of irony, that it is not a free and fair process, there remain the unreformed institutions staffed by loyalists of the old regime or in the current administration who will do the policing, conduct and count the vote, and investigate allegations of impropriety such as vote buying.

Due to what appears to be sufficient attention from the United Nations, United Kingdom, European Union, and other observers, and local efforts by Transparency Maldives, however, these elections seem set to be the most transparent ever held in the Maldives.  There are 200 Transparency Maldives election observers who have been trained in part with funds provided by the United States for the purpose of monitoring these elections and next year’s just as crucial parliamentary ones.

Is an “Other Maldives” Possible?

The stakes are high.  This may be Maldivians’ last chance to set out on the path of democracy again.  In Chile, the Pinochet dictatorship traumatized a whole generation after the coup that brought him to power.  In Egypt, the July coup against democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi has led to a blood-stained military regime.  This must not happen in the Maldives.  Not only is the future of its people at stake, but the possibilities for a future of global climate justice will be affected by the outcome of this election and the parliamentary elections of 2014.

If Nasheed and his former environmental minister Aslam represent the Maldives once again at COP19 UN climate summit in Warsaw this November, the balance of forces now tilted so heavily toward the 1 percent, and thus to the climate catastrophe dictated by their business as usual attitude, will shift—at least to some degree—back in the direction dictated by science and championed by us, the 99.99 percent.  All eyes should be on the Maldives on September 7.  Let no one be caught unaware of what’s happening at this epicenter of the struggle for a better world.