Tagged: Maldives authoritarianism

An attempted assassination, a Jinni, and the Maldives army

by Azra Naseem

A Jinni led the army’s investigations into the alleged explosion on the presidential yacht, Finifenmaa, in September 2015, says a police statement leaked sometime in the morning of 2 March 2016, an extraordinary day in the life of Maldives.

The ‘Finifenmaa Blast’, as the curious incident on the president’s yacht came to be known, is portrayed in official discourse as an assassination attempt on President Yameen—allegedly masterminded by now jailed Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.

The leaked statement is made by a 20-year-old Jinni Whisperer (for want of a better term) called Ahmed Mamdhooh. The story astounds at many levels, for a variety of reasons:

At around 15 years of age, Mamdhooh meets a visiting Malaysian by the name of Abubakuru (last name and current abode unknown) who teaches the boy to summon Jinnis. Using skills learned from Abubakuru, and the Qur’an, Mamdhooh now helps people shake off wicked spells cast against them by enemies.

A few days after the Finifenmaa Blast, Chief of Defence Major General Ahmed Shiyam recruits Mamdhooh as a member of what seems to be a Top Secret Investigative Team personally led by the Major General. The first meeting between The Chief and the Jinni Whisperer takes place outside Senahiya, a military hospital in Male’.

The Chief picks Mamdhooh up in his car.

“I want you to find the truth in the Finifenmaa Case”, says The Chief.

“How much?”

Mamdhooh does not charge for his services.

They arrange to meet again.

When The Chief meets Mamdhooh the following day he has a list of things he wants: the dirt on persons in military detention; the dirt on Vice President Adeeb; and, he wants to know: is it true there are weapons hidden somewhere in Male’?

The two men meet every day for the next three days. Each time The Chief asks Mamdhooh to summon a Jinni to get the information he wants.

“I don’t do that,” Mamdhooh wants to avoid summoning a Jinni. But The Chief insists until, on the third day, Mamdhooh relents.

“I will need someone trustworthy from the MNDF”, he says.

“That’s impossible”, replies The Chief.

Mamdhooh needs a Medium, a body into which the Jinni can be summoned. With no one the Chief of Defence can trust at the MNDF, he has to ask his own circle. He finds a friend of a friend, a young man named Zihan Ahmed.

Mamdhooh met Zihan when he helped the mother of his friend, Mohamed Ubaidh Ibrahim, get rid of the evil eye four years ago.

To summon the Jinni, Zihan will need to  be laid down somewhere private.

The Chief, along with another top army official, a Shad Sir as he is referred to, provide Mamdhooh with a suitable location. A building under construction near the post office.  One night soon after, on a date and time unknown, the three meet to get the hurly burly done.

Zihan Ahmed is worried about allowing the Jinni to  enter and reside within him. Mamdhooh comes to a compromise with him—the Jinni will only speak through Zihan, he will not be allowed inside Zihan’s body.

The ritual begins: Zihan is on the floor, Mamdhooh is holding his index finger and places a hand on his forehead.  “You must give me the first answer that comes into your head”, he tells Zihan, and recites several Sura from the Qur’an.

Chief of Defence Major General Shiyam begins interrogating the Jinni.

“The soldiers under arrest for the Finifenmaa Blast, do they have anything to do with it?”

“Does Papa (a senior army officer in custody) have anything to do with it?”

“Yes” to both, says Jinni.

“Does the Vice President have anything to do with it?”

“Yes.”

“Does he [the Vice President] have anything to do with weapons?”

“No.”

The session ends here, whether due to lack of cooperation from the Jinni, or other pressing military matters The Chief has to look after, it is not said.

The next session is held about three nights later, same location.

“Is there any involvement of a former President in this?” The Chief resumes the official interrogation into the alleged assassination attempt.

“I don’t have any names”, says the Jinni, via Zihan.

The Chief begins naming former presidents.

“President Nasheed?”

“No,” says Jinni.

“Someone who was president for a very long time. Was he involved?”

“Yes,” says Jinni.

*******

The Chief and the Jinni Whisperer meet at the MNDF headquarters. The national security risk is high — military intelligence reports say there could be weapons stashed away in different parts of the country. The Jinni’s services are desperately required to protect The Sovereignty.

The Chief says weapons could be hidden on any of the 1200 islands in the archipelago. It is too big a territory for Mamdhooh’s Jinni, which needs a list of suspect locations to choose from. The Chief points to the island of Hibalhidhoo, Bodu Kaashihuraa and another with a name now forgotten. Jinni says Hibalhidhoo is the most likely. Next day, the army finds weapons at Hibalhidhoo.

“There could be more”, The Chief wants Mamdhooh to summon the Jinni for verification.

“I can’t do that from Male’.” Mamdhooh’s Jinni does not have as wide a jurisdiction as the MNDF would like.

Mamdhooh is at home one night soon after when The Chief provides him with an MNDF Special Forces uniform which he puts on before departing for Hibalhidhoo. Dressed in the army uniform, the Jinni Whisperer is taken on board a vessel which stops at the prison island of Dhoonidhoo en route.

“We have to pick up someone (name and abode unknown)”, says Shad Sir, who is joining in the trip. “He is suspected of colluding to hide weapons on Hibalhidhoo. Make him tell us how, in his own words.”

When they arrive on Hibalhidhoo the prisoner is blindfolded and brought to the beach, which Mamdhooh says is the best place for his Supernatural Interrogation Techniques.

“Tell me what you know,” Mamdhooh says to the prisoner who has been sat on a chair.

“I know nothing.”

Mamdhooh places his hand on the prisoner’s knee and starts reciting a Sura from the Qur’an he says is known to make people spill secrets. He recites the Sura 98 times before handing the prisoner over to the police and joining an MNDF team on a tour of the island.

They check many locations but find nothing and return empty handed to Male’ around sunrise.

*********

The Jinni Whisperer, who has a brother in the army, finds out a day or two later The Chief wants his services again. The prisoner subjected to Supernatural Interrogation on Hibalhidhoo is now talking, and is giving reason for The Chief to suspect there may be explosives and weapons hidden in various parts of Male’.

The Chief needs the Jinni to zero in on exact locations. He says the President of the Maldives himself would like Mamdhooh to look into it. While Mamdhooh is engaged in this new mission, he receives word from The Chief that explosives may have been planted somewhere along the President’s usual travel route in Male’.

“Look deeply into this,” says The Chief.

“I cannot, until you give me the President’s route.” Mamdhooh’s Jinni, characteristically, needs to get precise information to give precise information.

Around 22:00 hours the same night, the Maldives National Defence Forces’ Supernatural Investigation Squad—Mamdhooh The Jinni Whisperer, Chief of Defence Major General Shiyam, Shad Sir, a soldier going by the name of Dunk, and Mamdhooh’s army brother—travel around Male’ together. The Chief identifies the President’s usual route.

Obviously such information is shared only with top military intelligence, like Mamdhooh, the Jinni Whisperer. The National Security is very important.

“If there is anything, it will be on top of street electric boards; between such boards and walls; in vehicles parked in the area; in dustbins of garages in the vicinity; and it is likely they will planted at eye-level”, Shad Sir tells Mamdhooh as they drive around near Mulee Aage.

The former presidential palace, Mulee Aage, would have been the official residence of the President had he not chosen to live in his own home at great expense to the taxpayer and much inconvenience to neighbours. As it is, he frequently uses it for party functions and other unknown business.

Mamdhooh has a lot to do. He goes home, performs a prayer, says several prayers, and recites many Sura including one that he repeats 4444 times. He knows the location that comes into his heart following the ritual would be where a suspect device is likely to be hidden.

“Around the burial ground near the Friday Mosque, to the east of the military headquarters,” the Jinni Whisperer tells The Chief. This is the location he sees from his third eye.

“Give me the precise location”, says The Chief.

“For that you have to take me there.”

The next day, 2 November 2015, Mamdhooh is busy most morning looking after a sick mother, and with other family chores. Around 15:30 he goes to the Beauty Shop to buy some Kalhu Bokaru, black frankincense. He needs to hold some in his hand when walking along the President’s travel route, making his recitations, looking for an IED.

Unfortunately, the shop is out of its Kalhu Bokaru stock and Mamdhooh continues without.

He bumps into Zihan Ahmed (The Medium) and another friend, Tholhath Mohamed, twice.

“Where to?” they ask, the usual Maldivian greeting for someone you meet on the street.

“I am on a Mission”, Mamdhooh tells them.

Not long after, he meets another friend. The Mission is on hold for the next twenty minutes as the friends catch up. Just as he resumes his walk he bumps into The Medium and his friend. They laugh.

Mamdhooh continues on The Mission, reciting and walking beside parked vehicles on Nooraanee Goalhi. There, on the battery of a Pick-Up (or a mini-truck) parked around the corner from Mulee Aage, he notices a black bag. He lifts a corner and peeps in, sees a number of wires inside.

“I see something.” Mamdhooh phones his brother in the army, “Come.”

When his brother comes, Mamdhooh points him to the bag. A short distance away, he can see Shad Sir and Dunk, watching. [You may remember them from the Supernatural Interrogation Team on Hibalhidhoo.] Mamdhooh points them to the suspect device, too, and hangs about the area.

The ‘network jammer vehicle’ the MNDF uses in the president’s security arrangements arrives, and army personnel are soon active in the area. The army’s bomb disposal team say the suspected explosive is connected to the battery.

Mamdhooh watches them attempt, and fail, to ‘take X-Rays of the device in situ’. They decide to transport the device to the football stadium in Maafannu, put it inside a container and place it in the MNDF vehicle. Mamdhooh watches as the vehicle pulls away, to travel halfway across the crowded, always busy streets of Male’–with what they are said to believe is a ticking time-bomb.

Mamdhooh is told, and he believes, the container is designed to cause minimum damage in case the bomb explodes en route. He accompanies the army team, and the live bomb, to the stadium.

“It is not an explosive”, he learns shortly after.

“It is an explosive”, it is decided soon after, and handed over to Police Forensics to check.

Mamdhooh watches as the forensic team works.

Suddenly, storm clouds gather, and weather takes a turn for the bad. Mamdhooh decides to go home but lingers to hear a conversation Shad Sir is having on the phone. He remembers the tail end of it.

“Now we have to play that same scene again. How are we supposed to do that in this rain?” Shad Sir continues, “The order comes from up high, so it has to be done.”

Mamdhooh and his army brother, Dhonbe, are home when Dhonbe gets a phone call.

“It is a stick dynamite”, Dhonbe is told. He is to go to the stadium area to help defuse it.

Mamdhooh joins Dhonbe. They are en route when they learn of a mind-change: the device is to be taken to Girifushi, an island about 17 kilometres from Male’ the army uses for training. They return home then, and Mamdhooh knows nothing of whatever takes place later that night.

The following day Dhonbe shows him some video footage from the stadium area but the picture quality is so bad, Mamdhooh does not notice anything significant.

Later, Shad Sir shows him some footage on his phone. In this one, Mamdhooh sees himself walking and Ahmed Zinan (The Medium) and Tholhath Mohamed [the same two people he encountered twice when he was looking for an explosive the previous day] coming behind him on a motorcycle.

“Did you have anything to do with planting an IED anywhere on the President’s route?” Mamdhooh says he asked the pair when he met them near the park.

“No.”

The army now wants its Jinni Whisperer to identify who planted the explosive. They give him a list of suspects with photos. He points to one. Later, he finds out the person he identified is ‘Superman’ (of no other known name or abode).

Soon after, for reasons unknown, Mamdhooh becomes a suspect in planting the alleged bomb. As do his friends Zihan, The Medium; Tholhath Mohamed; and Mohamed Ubaidh Ibrahim.

Mamdhooh, who knows how to use the Supernatural to get what he wants, and his three friends remain in prison.

It is not known why Mamdhooh has not summoned the Jinni to help them escape or prove their innocence. It is possible the Maldives National Defence Forces have other, more powerful, Jinnis working for them.


Photo 1: Security for President Yameen when he visited Vashafaru, 1 March 2016 by @ali_shamin

Photo 2: The MNDF Bomb Squad during State of Emergency, 2015 by Unknown

Author’s Note: All the information in the above article is taken from a statement made to the Maldives Police Service by Ahmed Mamdhooh during their investigation into his alleged involvement in the incident. A copy of the statement was leaked to the media on 2 March 2016.

The status of women in Maldivian society

by H Abdulghafoor

He took a mouthful of water and sprayed her face with his spit – at close range.

That is the action of the male Parliamentary Group (PG) Leader of the governing Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) against the female Deputy Leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), in the People’s Majlis of the Maldives on 24 February 2016.

The incident took place during a formal meeting of the Majlis that was broadcast live to the public.

This image exemplifies the condition of men and their attitude towards women in the current social context of the Maldives.

She reacted instinctively by taking a nearby glass of water and throwing it in his face. In that split second, the expression on his face showed his realisation that he had been brought down to the ground by a woman, in front of his male colleagues in the male dominated Majlis, where only 5 of the 85 members are women. That momentary come-down can be interpreted as a small victory for any woman degraded and attacked by a man in such a way.

Personal beliefs play a critical role in what people choose to do, or not do. Such beliefs shape their behaviour towards others. As a commentator in a news article about the incident responded – “How would Nihan react to a woman who argued with him if there were no cameras around? …. I feel sorry for his wife”. This is a valid point because the behaviour of men towards women in the public arena is very likely a reflection of attitudes and actions that may be practised in their private lives.

A strong perception of the inherently unequal status of men and women in Maldivian society is well established through the age-old system of patriarchy. It is also solidified through a questionable, perceived religious position that requires the elevation of men to a higher place from where they may rule over the lives of women. Religious sermons have provided a variety of explanations to uphold such a position. It will not do justice to the multiplicity of messages the Friday Sermon provides if one or two points are randomly taken. Nevertheless, it is useful for the purpose of this discussion, to try and provide a relevant and notable example. On 22 January 2016, the Friday Sermon said :

Muslim brothers! The husband is the person who has the highest level of responsibility to look after the family. He has the highest responsibility on all matters of the family. The husband has the highest responsibility to look after his wife. On matters relating to children too, the highest responsibility falls on the husband. [unofficial translation]

Notable also is the generally overlooked fact that the Friday sermon consistently addresses a male audience of “brothers”. In the Maldives where the State religion is Islam, the contents of the Friday sermon is produced and disseminated nationally by the government.

The extent to which men uphold the above State endorsed, perceived religious ideal is questionable. The lived reality of Maldives is that the country has the highest rate of female headed households in the world at 47% and has held the dubious record of the highest divorce rate in the world. The common practice of triple talaq (or verbal triple divorce) by the husband was only outlawed by the introduction of the Family Act in 2000, alongside the incomplete arrangement to partially establish the age of marriage at 18 years. Granted, these are developments towards a greater degree of social responsibility and accountability within the family. However, the degree to which they help to achieve stability and peace in the family and beyond, is open to debate in the prevailing context.

Two days prior to the spitting incident, on 22 February 2016, the Peoples’ Majlis held its first discussion on the newly submitted, first ever draft legislation on gender equality in the Maldives. The gender equality law (GEL) was submitted to the Majlis by Asma Rasheed, the only female MP in the Majlis representing the majority party PPM. As the PG group leader, MP Nihan endorsed the GEL with supportive fervour on the Majlis floor. That endorsement and his retrograde public behaviour towards his female colleague just two days later, was a moment which showed the public that a mask of deep hypocrisy had slipped and exposed what lay behind.

On 11 March 2015, allegations emerged from MDP MP Rozaina Adam that PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed had threatened to rape her and this threat was reported by MDP as being directed at both MP Rozaina and MP Mariya Didi, inside the parliament’s chambers. According to MP Rozaina, formal complaints were submitted to the Speaker of the People’s Majlis about these threats in March 2015, and also the recent attack against her by MP Nihan in February 2016. To date, she informs that she has received no responses to either of these serious complaints. There are no reports of any investigation or disciplinary measures being taken against these parliamentarians for such harassment of female colleagues in the workplace, in a public institution like the parliament.

During the parliamentary discussion of the GEL on 22 February, MP Mariya Didi provided some telling insights into the general attitude of male MPs towards female colleagues. She said -

We see how female members are treated in this Majlis. Many a day, we see inside this Majlis, the only female MP in PPM’s parliamentary group coming to us after their PG meeting, with tears pouring from her eyes because of the way she is spoken to, and because she is not allowed the opportunity by her party to say what she wants. These are things that are happening before our eyes. [unofficial translation]

Harassment of women in the workplace is a particularly neglected area of continuing gender-based oppression in the Maldives. It is a clear sign of human under-development, and a serious absence of a civilising force within the education, human resource development and employment sectors.

The absence of accountability is one of the fundamental gaps that maintain this damaging status quo. An important high profile case in point is that of workplace harassment allegations made against the former President of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Mr Mohamed Fahmy Hassan. The following summary of events from May 2012 to November 2015 tells a story of patriarchal impunity.

In the above case, a female junior employee made the unusually bold move to report a case of sexual harassment against her by a senior male employee of the State, in a position of great responsibility and authority. The performance of the State machinery to deliver justice can be seen in the unfolding events related to the case. One woman’s plight to seek redress for an injustice suffered had arguably resulted in another injustice to the public purse and the public psyche. Where can a woman go in the Maldives, to seek redress to an injustice done against her? The answer is clear. Nowhere.

Fahmy resign

Women’s protest calling to remove Fahmy from office – 2012. Placard says: “A sexual harasser in charge of 27,000 employees – oh my God!”

Today is International Women’s Day.

Women’s rights advocates around the globe are working in solidarity to push humanity towards the one common goal for equality of the sexes. They continue the long and slow uphill struggle to fight patriarchy, the insidious yet visible elephant in the room of human progress, which fights back to deny women their rightful place as equals alongside men.

In the Maldives, advocates work to find and establish spaces for women in the above described situation where the odds are stacked firmly against women. They work in a situation where a man considers it permissible to spit in the face of his female colleague in his workplace which happens to be the country’s parliament. They work in a situation where a male MP can threaten to rape his female colleague, without scrutiny or consequence. They work in a situation where the efforts of the brave woman who makes a stand against sexual harassment in her workplace are washed away by the power of patriarchal “brotherhood”.

Yet, what is assured on this International Women’s Day is that their work will not be stalled or interrupted. The GEL will be fought for and won through the efforts of the rights-minded women and men who work towards this cause, with the same determination that achieved the country’s first Domestic Violence Prevention Act back in 2012. The spirit and commitment which brought the random act of male triple talaq to an end, through the Family Act 2000 is evidently alive and well. These efforts will be supported by the rights-minded citizens who seek the establishment of a more just society. A society in which such legislation will one day bring relief and redress against the excesses, injustices and impunity of the patriarchal “brotherhood”.

Gender equality is a fundamental issue of justice.

It is an issue of social stability, meaningful human coexistence, unity and peace.

To perpetuate inequality and injustice on the basis of one’s sex, which is in fact an accident of birth, is an affront and indignity to human intellect in the 21st century.

Gender equality is the rights way ahead.

It may be the road less travelled, but the one that must be taken.

Reflections on the Maldivian democracy

Maldives Sunset

by Daniel Bosley

Maldivian democracy. Democracy in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It’s unique. 360,000 people. 90,000 sq km. 187 inhabited islands. Coconuts. Coral reefs. Transmitting the desires and needs of the people to their elected officials in this environment? It’s difficult.

The features of the Maldives’ recent democratic endeavours have also been unusual in many ways. Unusual in that they have been televised and written about across the world. Unusual in that massive increases in global tourism and the age of digital media have raised the profile. For most who have read about the problems facing ‘that place that their friend went to on holiday that one time’, it is all very new.

For half of the Maldives too, the explosion of politics in the past decade must seem unprecedented after three decades of calm dictatorship (supplemented by the occasional enhanced interrogation). Those under the age of 40 will be too young to remember any similar upheavals.

Looking at the documented history of the country, it is clear many of the modern characteristics of its politics are new. Most noticeably, political violence is now endemic, compared to just a few short years ago when any act of violence would set tongues wagging in many mouths in many islands (there are reports that any angry outbursts in the past would prompt police intervention).

The answer to why these traits have occurred is probably the same as that which solves 9 out of every 10 such puzzles. Money. These days, there’s a lot more of it in the archipelago. Tourist arrival statistics now have 7 figures and resorts have 7 stars.

The stakes are higher, but is the game all that different? Are the basic problems facing Maldivian democracy new?

Foreign media accounts of the recent political turmoil are usually fairly superficial, with few even willing to look back as far as the failure to secure judicial independence post-2008 as the key to the current chapter of ‘_____ in Paradise’. Insert the words ‘judicial independence’ in there and then try and sell it; the likelihood of a successful pitch is about the same as any foreign outlet having the time or resources to look any further into the national context.

But contrary to the necessary reductivism of international coverage, many of the current traits have been seen before. The fact that the average Sultan’s reign lasted just 8 and a half years suggests that messy power transfers are not a modern phenomena. Those observing through aftermath of the country’s first written constitutions in the 1930s noted that new institutions were quickly dominated by a tiny and nepotistic elite, while a number of leaders were soon hounded out of politics (and the country) – accused of moving forward too fast for the general population.

For the lazy analyst, the above details could be copied and pasted into a text discussing recent travails, with cries of nepotism and oligarchy following the spectacular ending of President Mohamed Nasheed’s presidency, which had been deemed too liberal by another decidedly undemocratic rent-a-mob.

Additionally, the political polarisation that has split the country down the middle in the age of multi-party politics has been seen before. ‘Unique’ anecdotal cases such as the physical division of islands along party lines in recent times, can be found frequently in more historical accounts. Feuding between wards, families, and towns are frequently cited as having inspired ‘fanditha’ attacks, arson, and even a dividing trench dug across one island. Attempts in the 60s to have elected atoll chiefs were short-lived due to the local factionalism the process exacerbated.

Despite the seemingly idyllic surrounds, people in the islands have the same need as all people to create an identity by finding an ‘other’ to push against. In a country with little or no cultural, ethnic, or religious heterogeneity (and, thankfully, with little propensity for violence), it is hardly surprising that people will (ab)use politics to satisfy these human egotistical urges.

But at heart, many (particularly older) Maldivians seem to know that they are watching a reboot rather than a sequel to the political drama, and while international headlines wail about new crises, most locals roll their eyes in apathy, or let out an exasperated chuckle. Despite taking part in the soap opera – to alleviate boredom as much as anything – they know that current cast members are interchangeable. They know that most of the root causes will not suddenly disappear by simply sacking the lead actor (although using a different talent agency occasionally might be a good thing).

That a progressive young leader is transformed into a curmudgeonly despot is not a new story anywhere, and the recent transformation of VP Adheeb from a reportedly mild-mannered young man to the country’s favourite scapegoat begs more questions about the system than the individuals in it (Dr Jameel’s recent transformation may yet be attributed to amnesia…or maybe an evil twin).

Questions and answers

As the Maldives’ political landscape looks set to continue its monotonous cycle of purge and coup, it will require new thinking to redirect the political currents that traditionally move jobs, privilege, and land from one side of the island to another with each new set of leaders. It is these predictable beyfulhun monsoons that create grasping kleptocrats and dictators.

Both leaders and voters should be encouraged to think beyond short-term (corruption, political prisoners) and medium-term problems (judicial independence) to long-term (democratic consolidation, rule of law, stability) issues in order to break the country out of a pattern that is becoming too harmful to continue.

Engaging democratic citizens will not make great headlines (‘Engaging voters in Paradise’, anyone?). It is a slow process that must start with providing people adequate representation, and an ability for introspective thinking about themselves, their community and their leaders; national pride without nationalist xenophobia, loyalty without patriarchy, public service without quid pro quo.

Any journalist working in the Maldives should also aspire to assist this process, building trust and making information accessible for the analysis of the individual reader – not telling them what to think by funneling facts and manipulating the narrative.

It is at the level of political engagement that Maldivian democracy faces particular systemic problems. Many people simply don’t take political science seriously for the same reason anti-intellectualism exists in working class communities around the world; they have not been convinced of the long term effect politics has on their lives. The rapid transition from small communities of fishermen to citizens of a modern democratic nation is particularly tough for these reasons.

In order to draw people into politics and create a thriving democracy, more politicians must try to get into the heads of the people they represent (without moving the furniture about while they’re in there). Short term populism (and bribes) may win a vote, but only a long term vision of people’s wants, hopes, and needs as Maldivians will bring long term stability that leaders crave and the country needs. Indeed, with the changes the society has undergone in recent decades, such an appraisal of the nation is desperately needed.

Until people are truly engaged, blatantly illegal activity by those in office and brazen kleptocracy will not result in the groundswell of outrage many expect. Apathy is the enemy of accountability. Additionally, constantly lobbying foreigners to force through changes from the outside is a poor substitute for home-grown remedies.

A disengaged electorate is made worse by the continuing dominance of a few patriarchs, who in turn have always danced to the beat of bodu beru from Male’. Disillusionment with distant leaders is not unique to the Maldives, but the physical disconnect between Malé and the atolls has always been extreme.

The current gap between politicians and those they claim to represent, however, will not foster the type of engagement upon which a democratic culture can flourish. Presidents in the elite bubble continue to buy votes and rent crowds while convincing themselves that they are very popular (a questionable method of polling); literally dragging their supporters along rather than asking them to follow. Meanwhile, MPs occupy spaces in the Majlis, nominally with the intention of representing an island constituency, and yet few spend any time with their voters beyond the time it takes to count the ballots.

An outsider can never truly know a community as its permanent members can, and a distant member of the elite will struggle to understand the wants and needs of their electorate. The fact that every atoll in the country has its own ‘representatives’ suggests they should be represented in the embodying-their-values-and-needs-in-the-Majlis sense of the word, rather than the enjoy-your-football-field-see-you-in-5-years meaning. This unnecessary aloofness misses a vital opportunity for local leaders to articulate and to translate Maldivian democracy to their voters; to find that sweet spot between dry theorising  (sorry about that) and a man on a podium calling his opponents heretics.

Lists compiled by social scientists have included over 500 different types of democracy, but every single one them has to meaningfully involve the people in decision making (rather than as a fig leaf for oligarchy). The Maldives’ current leaders are quick to point out the unique nature of the country, and to try and mould such a place to perfectly fit western models would represent the worst type of orientalism (in Edward Said’s sense of the word).

Indeed, Maldivian democracy could well end up with it’s own unique position in academia, but without the engagement of the electorate it will remain an oxymoron. Rather than patronising patrons telling people what they want (or more often what they should be afraid of), Maldivians should be asked what they want from their democracy and given the informational tools to answer by their leaders and their media.

The new character of Maldivian politics is only adding greater urgency to older and deeper problems surrounding its democracy growth. Without asking the right questions, however, it will be hard to develop long-term answers.


About the author: Daniel Bosley is a British journalist working in the Maldives’

Photo: Daniel Bosley