Tagged: authoritarian reversal

CoNI and the Coup III: The Legacy

by Azra Naseem

rayyithunge vote

If there is a particular event which can be pointed to as the beginning of the end of Maldives’ peaceful transition to democracy, the acceptance of the 2012 CONI report as a way forward can be described as such. This document, supported and endorsed by the international community, declared the transition of power on 7 February 2012 as legitimate and devoid of wrongdoing. In so doing, it created the conditions for the emergence of the present Maldives: a place of injustice, endemic corruption and, as described by Maldivian writer, Latheefa Ahmed Verall, tragically lacking a moral radar. The CoNI report  made it necessary for tens of thousands of outraged democracy supporters to at least be seen to be accepting its findings – in the name of democratic leadership, statesmanship, and stability.

The task ahead for all Maldivians must be to strengthen democracy in the Maldives. An atmosphere of peace and public order is essential for that to happen.

The Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, said, admiring the CoNI findings.

Those who rushed to endorse CoNI refused to let proof of the Commission’s failures and backroom deals get in the way of the ‘stability’ it promised by getting ‘all sides to remain peaceful’. When Ahmed Saeed (Gahaa) spoke of the many problems with CoNI, his words were made to have no consequence. The call for dialogue—with those who resorted to a coup to overthrow an elected government—drowned out the angry cry for the right to a democratically elected government. It gave authoritarian forces room on international platforms to reiterate its legitimacy repeatedly, borrowing from the CoNI findings: “there was no illegal coercion or intimidation nor any coup d’état.”

It is time to stop questioning the legitimacy of the government. It is time to stop illegal activities and activities that go against generally acceptable social norms,

Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the president bearing the Commonwealth seal of approval said when the report came out.

The Commission’s findings are clearly stated. I do not believe there is any room to raise any questions about the transfer of power.

To be able to say that, with the approval of the international community, was the sole purpose of the CoNI exercise. This is very clear from the fact that now, well into the fourth year since the report was published, no one remembers what else CoNI said. The Commission has long since been dissolved, its website taken off the Internet, along with its report. To recall the report’s ignored contents, it called for urgent investigations into allegations of police brutality, reform of Maldives’ democratic institutions including the Maldives Police Service and the Police Integrity Commission, the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission, the Majlis and the Human Rights Commission. It recommended national reconciliation.

None of this has happened.

There have been changes, yes. The Human Rights Commission and the Police Integrity Commission mentioned in the report were dismantled and new government-friendly/-bought members installed in them. The Judicial Services Commission remains an unequal den of greedy authoritarian loyalists kow-towing to the government and the Majlis. The People’s Majlis itself is now the engine that fuels government power using a heavy majority to draft and pass legislation to serve the very purpose.

Consolidating power in one party, one candidate, one fist.

In legitimising the coup, the CoNI and its report created the space for all that has followed: the continuation of Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s presidency beyond even constitutional limits; the reigning in of civil and political rights; the Supreme Court interventions to steal the 2013 election; the browbeating (and the brutal beating) of people into acceptance of the election results as fair; the corruption that bought the Majlis 2014 election; the stifling of the civil society and the pushing out from public space all civil actors and activists; the hijacking of all powers of government by the executive; the authoritarian pivot in foreign policy away from democratic states and organisations; the unsustainable development at the cost of environment, culture and identity; and the blanket lawlessness of everyday life.

A more in-depth look at the current functioning and character of the key institutions CoNI recommended extensive changes to confirms reform has not yet reached even the germination stage as an idea in Yameen’s head.

The Judiciary, Majlis & oversight bodies

MaldivesPoliceElections2013The CoNI report said if Maldivians chose stability over rights, it could get the following: a reformed judiciary which ‘enjoys public confidence’. Confidence in the Maldivian justice system has never been as low as it is now. As former JSC member Aishath Velezinee has provided ample evidence for, judicial reform requires nothing short of a return to Article 285 of the Constitution, and a reversal of the Article to its rightful place as a constitutional stipulation that must be abided by, instead of being allowed to remain cast aside as ‘symbolic’.

With this evidence in hand, the government must be challenged in its frequent rhetoric that punishment is meted out by ‘courts of justice’ – there are no courts of justice in the Maldives, only ones of political games and vengeance, underpinned by increasingly dogmatic ideologies.

In the almost four years since the CoNI report, courts have been blatantly political, not just stealing elections but also colluding with the government and its majority-led parliament to define, apply, convict and sentence political dissent as ‘terrorism’. It has put people with followers and ambitions for leadership behind bars one after another—Mohamed Nazim the former defence minister and key figure in CoNI’s ’legal transition of power’; former president Mohamed Nasheed; Sheikh Imran Abdulla, leader of Adhaalath Party and one-time supposedly divinely ordained Kingmaker among them. The former Prosecutor General, Muhuthaz Muhsin, too, is behind bars as is the former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb along with other middling Enemies of the President. The government claims these are punishments ordered by courts of law unrelated to the executive. The spin thinly masks these are punishments handed out by groups of men in robes, working alone or in groups, paid for by the government, to punish whom they deem enemies whichever way they wish.

The courts fail in justice not only in political cases but also in assuring the general public a fair society in which to live. The sentencing patterns of the courts are so erratic observers can be forgiven for thinking the various judgements are coming from jurisdictions with different laws and constitutions. Men who murder can walk free of charge while petty shoplifters get dozens of years behind bars; wife-beaters get lighter sentences than pickpockets; and protesting can get indefinite detention at the discretion of a judge. Last year, a magistrate court judge sentenced a woman to death by stoning. The sentence was quickly overturned by the High Court, but not before it exposed the lack of uniformity and ideological unity within the judiciary.

Colluding with the government and the judiciary in denying justice to the people are the constitutional bodies set up to step up when any branches of power fail or misbehave. At present, leaders of this government stand accused—with evidence—of record levels of corruption. US$ 79 million went missing from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) when Vice President Adeeb was leading it (along with the Ministry of Tourism and the Enviornmental Protection Agency, too).

for saleThe only natural resources the Maldives has—born of its fragile environment of immense beauty—are being sold rapidly. Reefs, coral gardens, surf spots, diving sites, lagoons, islands gone, bartered away, shut off to the people. The money gained from the sales have been siphoned off in millions, distributed in bundles of dollars, handed out by Adeeb and accepted with grabbing arms by greedy politicians who entered the Majlis on the people’s vote to rob them blind. The government accepts this money is gone from the MMPRC coffers, but has chosen to deal with the matter by saying “the buck stops at Adeeb”.

The young 32-year-old Adeeb, hoisted onto the peak of political power by Yameen, liked to flash his cash; lived the highlife; loved the limelight; had a weakness for the adoration his money won from women; agreed to everything Yameen wanted and carried out his bidding to the letter. He is now being tried for those same instructions he loyally followed.

No one is independent. Not the judiciary, not the Majlis, not constitutionally mandated independent bodies.

The Maldives Police Service

RilwanDyingRegimeThe Maldives Police Service is another institution the CoNI report highlighted. The MPS has been constantly deteriorating in service and function for the last four years. Their mutiny on 7 February, and the role it played in the change of power is well documented. As is their brutality on 8 February 2012, and on many occasions since.

During Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s caretaker presidency, all that was wrong within MPS was lauded as patriotic national duties. Given the immunity and the impunity with which they were allowed to operate, their abject failure to serve and to protect people today should come as no surprise. Three young men are missing, taken without trace. The high profile case of Ahmed Rilwan remains unsolved, as does the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali, incidents that disturbed the collective Maldivian psyche. Policelife, an online police magazine, shows numerous activities with puzzling names “Ready Camps” (type and content of courses uknown) targeting adolescent chidlren, awareness classes, futsal lessons, respect camps and other numerous activities that–at least at first glance–don’t have much to do with general policing as such. Trusting there is no hidden agenda is asking for too much given the last four years. When it comes to crime, today it is often hard to separate perpetrator and policeman. Yameen himself accused the police of widespread corruption. His ‘solution’ was to remove then Police Commissioner Hussein Waheed, the fall-guy on this occasion. The allegations remain un-investigated. The buck stopped, as it is designed to do, one step behind Yameen. Since Friday night last week, police are allegedly engaged in gang-warfare — as a warring faction, not as a police force stopping their activities.

There have already been three murders in 2016. The police–if no the entire force than the most powerful parts of it–remain inept, corrupt and, often, brutal.

Governing for stability

Recall what the Commonwealth Secretary General said. In accepting the CoNI report in place of the chaotic fight for democratic rights, what was being created was, “An atmosphere of peace and public order [ ] essential” for strengthening democracy.

It was wrong. Maldives today cannot be any less conducive to democracy. The entire criminal justice system, most of Maldives National Defence Force, and all key independent institutions are under the control of the government, as just discussed. The focus is not on a government of the people, but a government of and by the dollar for the dollar.

GodBridgeAt a time when the government should be reeling from not just the millions lost in the MMPRC loot, but also the possible US$900 million price tag on the GMR fiasco, the it remains eager to flash the cash. The government has signed a deal for a US$150 million 25 storey high hospital in Male’ with a swimming pool. It will be built by a Singapore company. A new 25 floor government building is to be constructed in Male’ by a Malaysian company. Together the twin towers are worth US$260 million. Additionally there is the US$210 million China Male’ Friendship Bridge, which has already claimed Male’s beloved surf-spot, Raalhu Gan’du, and a diving site as victims. Numerous other projects continue for a few million here and a billion there. Development without consciousness – measured only by the dollar and the mortar alone – is taking place at breakneck speed.

NihanCorruptionMembers of the higher-ranking officials put materialism at the forefront, buying people with cheap diversions and superfluous amusements while they open up the entire country, including its biosphere reserves, for sale. Keep your eyes on the fireworks and LED lights, there is nothing to see here. The government, its so-called ‘elite’ and its faithful followers are bound by a common goal: instant gratification. PPM MPs upload images of their Rolexes, Montblanc pens and BMWs on Instagram and Twitter – brash consumerism as status symbol. They ask why accepting bribes are a problem – what is wrong with paying an MP to be loyal? The President himself is nonchalant, admitting money was distributed. “Who in there right mind, when handed a bag of cash, would ask where it came from?”, he asked.

The former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim who, like Gahaa Saeed, told it like it is, has evidence the rot starts at the top. But, Niayz’s words, like those of others who speak out (Velezinee, Gahaa Saeed, and Fuwad Thaufeek to name some) are being actively unheard, made to be of no consequence.

Meanwhile, science is taking a backseat to the supernatural with Jinnis leading major national security issues; sorcery and black-magic is made government policy; national monuments are moved to ward off evil; and many text books in use work to narrow, not expand, intellectual inquiry. People are paying to have demons exorcised, subscribing to blood letting rituals advertised on Facebook by ‘religious folk’, and going off to war in Syria to escape from the ‘land of sin’. The Supreme Court is taking on international rights bodies, ruling out human rights in the name of Islam and Muslims, openly subscribing to the ideology that Islam and democracy are mutually exclusive.

While strengthening authoritarianism at home, the government has also actively sought to cut ties with western democracy advocates such as the Commonwealth, the UN, Amnesty International, the EU, the UK, the US and several European countries. The President’s Office has been adamant in shouting down the influence of ‘The West’, questioning its right to ‘interfere’ in the ‘internal affairs’ of a democratic Muslim country, meddling in their ‘uniquely small-island’ sovereignty.

The Foreign Ministry’s message is often in discord with Yameen’s, perhaps not without design. Led by niece Dunya Maumoon, the Ministry likes to be a player in western-led international fora, taking the podium to laud Maldivian achievements for women, equality and justice. Standing on the platform of elected legitimacy endorsed by CoNI, government representatives talk democracy, their images photoshopped clean of authoritarianism by highly-paid and mercenary international public relations firms. These representatives whose spoken words have little relation to the reality of their actions at home, take the international stage to lead the world on human rights. They talk about ‘an infant democracy’ with teething problems that needs to be measured by a different yardstick than that applied to established democracies. The source of this hubris is the claim, endorsed by CoNI and the international community, that theirs is a legitimate government in power based on rule of law.

CoNI, Commonwealth, and CMAG

P1020635The Maldives is going to be called up to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) on 6 April. CMAG is set up to deal with serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s values. The last time they met, on 24 February–despite all the flagrant violations of democratic principles outlined above which all took place in full view of the world–CMAG wasn’t ready to put the Maldives on its agenda. Instead it gave the government around 40 days in which to bring about changes that have already been asked for and wilfully ignored for almost four years. Dunya Maumoon said it was ‘an endorsement of President Abdulla Yameen’s policy on democracy consolidation‘, and she has a point.

Yameen boasted shortly after the CMAG decision that his influence on India and Pakistan before the February meeting had secured their cooperation in stopping CMAG from taking action against the Maldives. This shows India as committed to continuing its support for stability over democratic rights in the Maldives. It’s a continuation of the same policy which allowed the instalment and subsequent legitimisation of Waheed as President via CoNI.

According to the CMAG statement, these weeks have been given to the Maldives to seek reconciliation and pursue multiparty dialogue “led by the Government with democratic will” that should be “inclusive, purposeful, time-bound and forward-looking”. Fact is, there is no democratic will in those currently governing the Maldives; nothing inclusive, purposeful, or forward looking in its policies. Government officials speak of ‘annihilation of the opposition’, ‘their destruction’ not of non-partisan political dialogue inclusive of different opinions. To give the Maldives a few weeks in which to magically bid this democratic will out of nowhere is an exercise which serves no purpose. Except perhaps give government officials time to lobby necessary countries and grease some palms before the April meeting. CMAG in this instance was described as ‘toothless’ even by the Commonwealth’s own Human Rights Initiative which recognised democratic transition in the Maldives has long since ground to a halt and is not tottering along at a suitably infant pace as many claim.

The Maldivian democracy movement, and its society in general, did not arrive at this state of affairs all by itself. It was directed to this route and guided along it by the international community which, when dealing with the Maldives in times of coup d’état, put stability before everything else, including the principles of democracy.

This is not to say CoNI is to blame for everything wrong with Maldivian governance today, but to say that its findings made possible the conditions in which the current authoritarian regime could be legitimised. In doing so, it helped bring about–in the name of democracy–an end to Maldives’ first attempt at democratic transition.

Will CMAG hinder or help Maldives democracy on 6 April?


CoNI & the Coup 1: Constructing the truth

CoNI & the Coup 2: Law as an instrument of political power


 

Photos 1, 2 and 4 from this dying regime | Photo 3 Romolini Estate Agency | 5 & 6 social media, source unknown | 7 Own

A Day in the Life of Maldives

by Azra Naseem

This is a summary of stories that made headlines one day (2 March 2016) in the Maldives, where living is often chaotic, absolutely without justice, devoid of security and increasingly lacking in civil and political freedoms. While packed with more than the usual amount of drama, this kind of day is increasingly the norm, and provides some insight into the far from ‘heavenly’ lives of ordinary Maldivians.

  Addu

Morning

Shortly after sunrise, Aminath Mohamed walks over to her brother’s corner shop near her home on the island of Hithadhoo in Addu Atoll. The shop door is open and the lights are off. Aminath senses something is not right.

She goes to the shop every morning after Fajr prayers. Her brother, Ali Abdulla – Ayya as everyone calls him – has run the shop for 15 years. His habit is to keep the shop open through the night. He usually leaves in the early hours of the morning, and Aminath comes in to switch the lights off when daylight arrives.

Ayya leaves the night’s earnings in a drawer behind the counter, to deposit at the bank when it opens at 11:00 a.m. Today, the drawer is sitting on the chair, removed from its place behind the counter. There is nothing in it. Aminath’s suspicions grow: something bad has happened to her brother.

Ayya’s family is used to him staying in the shop through the night. But he is always home to take his only daughter to school. But not today. Aminath Ali phones the police. Three hours later, around 8:00 in the morning, a woman finds Ayya’s body lying face down in a taro farm not far from the shop.

Ligature marks around his neck suggest he had been strangled. His body is bruised, indicating possible assault before death. The close-knit family is devastated. More than a robbery gone wrong, Aminath Ali tells reporters. Premeditated murder, she thinks.

The police are said to be investigating. Said to be.* 

**********

On the island of Gan, in Laamu Atoll, a 60-year-old woman with special needs is just beginning what she expects to be another normal day when a masked man enters her house, attacks her, and sticks a finger so deep into one of her eyes she may not be able to see from it again.

Two young children are in the house at the time of the attack. Details of the why and who are not yet known.

Police are said to be investigating. Said to be.

**********

In Male’, around 9:30 in the morning, 53-year-old Abdulla Faiz is at Masjid Al Thaqwa catching up on a missed prayer when a man attacks him with the intention of robbing his phone.

In the ensuing altercation, the attacker bites into Faiz’s left ear. He chews off a part of it and spits it out on the ground. The attacker, now known to be Asim Ibrahim, a 24-year-old career criminal with a long police record, is caught and detained by others in the mosque.

This time the police have the perpetrator because he is handed to them. That does not guarantee Faiz will get justice: many strange things happen on the road from police to prosecution.

Stranger things happen in the courts. With the right judge, at the right price, Asim Ibrahim can soon be a free man.

**********

Noon

Around mid-day, over at the Raalhugan’du, Male’s beloved surf spot, police are busy arresting a number of surfers: for surfing. Behind the arrests is the surfers’ audacity to protest against the ‘China-Maldives Friendship Bridge’, to be built between Male’ and the airport island, Hulhule’.

The government has failed to live up to its promises to publish and inform the public of environmental impact assessments made. It has also failed to provide evidence of its claim that rigorous scientific research has been done to prove the popular waves will not be broken by construction of the Friendship Bridge.

There is one report publicly available which speaks of wave assessments done by a Chinese company in a controlled environment, provides a long list of negative environmental impacts the bridge will have, suggests there are socio-economic benefits that should outweigh the damage, and ends with something like: the government wants a bridge so it will go ahead anyway.

Why should anyone protest? Protest is uncouth, unsuited to PPM’s ‘local democracy’, so dispersing them engages most of police effort and energy. Protesters are criminals the police take most seriously.

Police are investigating. Not just said to be.

Afternoon, Nationwide

An earthquake in Indonesia triggers a Tsunami warning.

It is called off soon after; before the religious conservatives are able to dust off and bring back out their ‘God’s Wrath’ lectures that worked so well on the frightened population after the 2004 Tsunami.

**********

After sunset

As night falls, the Supreme Court of the Maldives, which prefers to work in the darkness of the night, issues quite possibly the world’s most angry, resentful and petty statement against Amnesty International so far.

The Supreme Court bench which, like the entire Maldivian judiciary, sits extra-legally having breached Article 285 back in 2010, is angry with Amnesty for a recent report criticising its total lack of independence. And for defending former president Mohamed Nasheed convicted of ‘terrorism’ after what most of the world agrees was a ‘grossly unfair trial’.

To criticise Amnesty for ‘getting personal’, the Supreme Court gets personal, pointing fingers at ‘individuals who run Amnesty International’, suggesting Amnesty is an organisation without principle, subject to the whims of individuals. Just like the Maldives Supreme Court.

Amnesty’s criticism of the continuing practice of flogging in the Maldives is ‘Islamophobic’, ‘racist’ and ‘spiteful’. The statement refers to over ’50 sovereign nations’ that hold Islamic jurisprudence in high esteem; it does not mention few of them practise flogging as a punishment.

The Maldivian People (a proper noun, in bold) have been happy and content to be flogged for the past 800 years – why are the white people coming in and defending them? The only reason would, of course, be to ‘vilify, humiliate and harass’ the Maldivian People for choosing to believe in Islam. Why would any white Infidel person or organisation criticise another if not for being non-white and Muslim?

This is the world we have decided Maldivians should be happy to live in, says the Supreme Court. A world which must be clearly divided between Us and Them, Muslims and Infidels. Us good, Them evil.

That said, the Supreme Court is very happy to work with the international community and ‘warmly welcomes criticism’.

**********

All Day

Through the day runs one story that make people cry or laugh, or both, or frighten them out of their skins, depending on their approach to the Supernatural, national security, and policymaking. This is a story that deserves a chapter and verse all of its own.

Follow this link for it.


*On Saturday 5 March, a suspect was arrested in connection with the murder.

Photo No.1: Sunset in Hulhudhoo, Addu Atoll by Mandhy Zubair

Photo No.2: Dhuvas.mv

Happy Independence Day

by Azra Naseem

The United Kingdom, which always wanted to colonise Maldives with the co-operation of the Athireege family, finally came to Malé in the form of the HMS Britain, on 22 Feb 1887. The captain of this ship was Rodney M Lloyd. As a representative of the Governor of Ceylon came Rear Admiral Fredrick W M Richard. Accompanying them were Athireege Annabeel Ahmed Didi, and Abdul Kareem Mudhuliar.

This delegation went upstairs in the Palace and asked Sultan Mohamed Mueenudheen III, the Prime Minister Sumuvvul Amir Mohamed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan, and the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu to write an agreement between the English and Maldivian governments which would provide ‘protection’ to the Maldives. According to this agreement Maldives would become a colony of the English.

The whole of Maldives opposed this. This proposal to become the protected servant of anyone other than the Great Allah was rejected by the Sultan, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu, the military, and the people. About six days later the ship returned to Colombo.

There, in Ceylon, the British and their Maldivian friends arranged for Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib to write a letter of agreement in Arabic in which Maldives would become a full colony, or at the very least, a country which came under colonial authority. It was written in such a way that the Sultan seemingly requested British protection on his own initiative, and made the annual tribute ceremony the formal recognition of this new relationship. In the document, the Sultan was given a voice of abject humility, admitting weakness and an inability to stabilise the country.

The delegation, this time with the addition of Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib, then returned to Malé in two large warships. The British delegation went upstairs again to Mathige. This time the document, which the Chief Justice had refused to write, had already been written and only the signing remained. The Sultan, the Prime Minister, the military, and the people… all refused.

The delegation returned to their warships and the guns were aimed at Malé, and the people ran to the edge of the reef. The British and their friends came ashore once again and said if the agreement went unsigned, then Malé would be smashed to pieces. The Sultan and the prominent people agreed to sign the agreement to escape from death. The Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu said that Maldivians ‘should prefer to be martyred rather than accept that thing.’ – Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik

It was 78 years later, on 26 July 1965, that Maldives finally freed itself from the agreement signed, regardless of what the people wanted, on that day in February 1887. 26 July has since been marked as ‘Independence Day’. Sunday will be the 50th anniversary of the occasion. Much has changed since. At this moment in time, it is difficult to see a scenario in which, faced with a situation where parts [or whole] of the country is to be owned by a foreign party, ‘the president, the vice president, the military and the people…all refuse’.

Newly appointed Vice President Ahmed Adeeb

On Tuesday night, PPM submitted a motion to the Majlis: add a clause to the Constitution to allow the sale of Maldivian territory to foreign parties. The proposal was accepted and passed within 24 hours, with minimal debate, with the consent of 70 MPs. President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendment the very next day. Public consultation was never part of the momentous decision, which has the potential to change the very identity and culture of the Maldives.

Broadly speaking, there is nothing wrong with non-nationals owning land – it happens in most countries in the world. Where the Maldives is concerned, the problems are many: only two percent of its territory is land, the rest is sea; roughly 99 percent of Maldivians cannot afford to buy off the public land registered in their names; there is no independent judiciary or legal expertise to handle cases of such complexity; rule of law is emphatically absent; the corruption among government officials is unprecedented; and there is little room to expect any benefit from such sales to trickle down to the ordinary person.

The natural beauty of the islands has been to Maldives what diamonds were to Sierra Leone: a disaster for the ordinary men and women; an impediment to democracy; an obstacle to human development; and a pathway to massive corruption. Most owners of tourist resorts in the Maldives are rich beyond the ordinary person’s wildest dreams; many pour their money into the dirty pit of Maldivian politics to ensure the people elected are puppets whose strings they pull in whichever direction is more lucrative for them; they help block the opening up of the tourism industry in ways that would allow more even wealth distribution; all the money they earn from tourism are squirrelled away in foreign banks, little of it allowed to go through Maldivian economic system; and, in more recent times—as a way of appeasing their ‘Muslim guilt’ for benefitting from trading in services and goods considered haram—they have been funding extremist individuals and organisations that encourage people to hate ‘the infidel’, successfully ensuring the ordinary person would not want a share of the tourism wealth.

Who cares if large numbers of people are joining radical organisations like ISIS and dying in dozens? As long as they are not a threat to the tourism magnates’ personal wealth, it’s not a problem.

And now, it’s not sufficient that islands can be leased as tourist resorts for 99 years that are developed with all imaginable modern luxuries while locals live on islands often with no drinking water, waste disposal systems, electricity or proper sewerage systems. It is no longer enough to have Special Economic Zones where rich foreign investors will not be subject to any Maldivian laws, the proceeds of whatever they do on these islands of no benefit to Maldivians. Now lagoons and reefs are to be sold off to any billionaire with a dredger. They will own ‘for perpetuity’ 70 percent of the land they reclaim and, as freeholds, Maldives will have little or no control over whatever happens on this new land—dug up from the bottom of the sea destroying for the sake of its existence the life that thrives underwater, the life that sustains Maldives and Maldivians.

Life as Maldivians have known it for centuries is coming to an end.

Running parallel to the plan to sell the lagoons and its life to the highest bidders is the plan for forced migration of the people. 60-70 percent of Maldivians are to be moved from the 200 odd islands they occupy to around two or three islands in what is to be called ‘The Greater Male’ Area’. They are all to be housed on high-rise flats built on these designated islands, families crammed into tiny little spaces like hens in a battery farm. This is what has happened in Male’ already – once an idyllic island, now one of the most crowded—and often the dirtiest—cities in the world. Traditional ways of life are not just going to change as everything inevitably does; they will be forced to disappear. There have been no studies or analyses done of what the social and environmental impacts of such a migration of people will be. Such considerations are for wimps, not ‘a government with guts’, as this one describes itself to be.

The consequences will be dire, but work has already begun to seduce people into thinking it is a good idea, with computer generated 3D images of a city with sky scrapers and swimming pools, vast roads and theme parks. An urban artificial ‘utopia’ a-la Singapore or Dubai. Few are asking why, when we have 1200 islands, can we not find a solution that allows the Maldivian people to live on those islands, why there are no efforts being made to provide the services they need on the islands they have existed on for centuries. No one is asking why such damage is being done to our fragile environment by dredging holes in the reef, by moving sand from the bottom of the sea from here to there, when we already have enough islands for just 400,000 people to live comfortably on. In the 21st century, where eco-friendly solutions are being invented to accommodate living life with the environment, when sustainable development is trending, where innovative scientific minds are finding ways for man to adapt to their own environments rather than the other way around — Maldives is being forced to turn around and walk doggedly in the opposite direction.

Independence Day celebrations this year ring hollow. From the plastic palm trees that line the main street of Male’ (the capital island of a country where the coconut palm is the national tree!); the fairy lights tastelessly thrown onto every available surface of the city; the Majlis’ removal of the Vice President in a political deal reeking of vengeance and personal glory disguised as a democratic ‘impeachment’; the Majlis ‘debate’ on the same night to float the idea of selling off Maldivian territory; the earlier ‘Adeeb Amendment’ to the Constitution to allow a specific person to become Vice President — it all smells of oppression, not independence.

Where once state and people together resisted until left with no choice to sign agreements that would infringe on Maldivian sovereignty and identity, today only lone voices are raised even in the face of serious national security breaches—such as foreign submarines making incursions into our territorial waters for no apparent reason. Instead of guarding borders and boundaries, the Maldives National Defence is deployed to repair broken generators and, at all times, protect the president and his government. Individual freedoms have been taken away, the Maldives Police Service dispatched 24/7 to ensure the people cannot—at any time—freely exercise their rights to freedom of assembly or expression.

The People’s Majlis has been turned into a place to fast-track documents loosely called ‘legislation’ that allow rulers to act with impunity, but under the legitimising veil of ‘democracy’. On Tuesday, the Majlis changed its procedural rules to say it is no longer necessary to discuss, analyse or debate a Bill before putting it to vote. As long as the ruling party has a majority, it can make anything law, without the people having a clue about what the legislation is for or what the rationale behind it is.

There is no judiciary to right any wrong, to provide justice where it is required. In its place is a state apparatus designed and implemented to control society the way rulers want. All substantial opposition have been robbed of their liberty, incarcerated in jail, put into solitary confinement, or held under house arrest. Their freedom is nothing but a bargaining tool of those in control.

The Maldivian Democratic Party is at its weakest since inception: it voted for the Constitutional amendment that allowed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb to become Vice President, and citing its position as a ‘centre right party’—a position which it has not relied on to justify much of anything to its members before—chose not to issue a three-line whip in the vote to amend the Constitution allowing sale of Maldivian property. Only a handful of MDP MPs voted against the amendment rushed through the parliament with such haste and absolutely no public consultation.

MDP’s weakness is the majority’s weakness. The party has led the Maldivian democracy movement for the last decade; for a majority of its supporters, the meaning of democracy itself is ‘MDP’s vision’. And when MDP’s vision is clouded—by force or not—followers are lost in the fog, directionless, unable to see the road ahead with any clarity.

As Maldives marks its 50th Independence Day, the Constitution, and the people, are both hostage to the whims and desires of the rulers. People are but mere spectators in games played among and between the rich, the elite, and the powerful. The future holds the prospects of foreign military bases on Maldivian territorial waters; becoming embroiled in Indian Ocean security issues and potential naval warfare; forced internal migration; living in slum cities; absolute loss of way of life and identity; and total subjugation to a ruthless dictatorship that will always put money before people.

We need to revive the spirit of collectively saying we’ll do anything but ‘accept that thing.’

Happy Independence Day.