Tagged: Maldives coup

Revisiting the process of democratisation and sustaining democracy in Maldives

Pic: TransparencyMaldives

by Ahmed Hamdhan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Shaheed, Ahmed, and Jonathan Upton. 2008. “Maldives: Reform Deffered? Challenges and Lost Opportunities for Democratic Transition.” Center For The Study Of Islam and Democracy. Available: https://www.csidonline.org/9th_annual_conf/Shaheed_Upton_CSID_paper.pdf [Accessed: 17 April 2013]

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

[5] Shaheed, Ahmed, and Jonathan Upton. 2008. “Maldives: Reform Deffered? Challenges and Lost Opportunities for Democratic Transition.” Center For The Study Of Islam and Democracy. Available: https://www.csidonline.org/9th_annual_conf/Shaheed_Upton_CSID_paper.pdf [Accessed: 17 April 2013]

[6] ibid.



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

Insights into the Baaghee mind: CoNI interview with a policeman who mutinied

Maldives police mutiny Photo: Washington Post

The following interview with a policeman reveals some of the views that mutinying police held on 7 February, and some of the opinions and justifications they have in relation to their actions. The interview also reveals much about the tactics and techniques by CoNI, led by Ismail Shafeeu. The information shared with CoNI by hundreds of witnesses is still being withheld from the public, close to a year after its ‘findings’ were published. When Gahaa Ahmed Saeed resigned from CoNI he pointed to several problems with the process, and declared ‘it was all going wrong’.

How interviews were conducted at CoNI, and the shape that proceedings took, is of important public interest, so is published here. However, in acknowledgement of recent warnings by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on introducing a new mechanism that targets the ‘too free social media’, the policeman’s name is withheld and referred to as: P Where grammar and other mistakes were made, I have left them as is, instead of guessing at the meaning.


[Preliminaries. Statement of CoNI purpose]

Yasir: We noticed you as someone who went to the Republic Square from Artificial Beach, and didn’t return to the beach on hearing of violent fights breaking out there. So can you tell us what happened during that time — between returning to the Republic Square and going back to the Artificial Beach in response to the fighting?

P: We returned and sat down right in the middle of the Square. On the phone and on radio, we heard reports of fighting on the other side [Artificial Beach].

Yasir: You could see it on radio, TV?

P: We didn’t see any TV.

Yasir: No TV?

P: Lots of information on radio and from the guys. There were Capital Police, and several other units. From them we heard the two sides were fighting over there. We heard of heads and things being cut open, and of other major injuries.

We can’t just stay and watch, one guy said. It’s in our oath, and in the pledge we make every day we report to duty—to protect the general public and people. We can’t just stay here.

We all agreed, and ran.

As it happened, I had removed my body armour, so I put it back on. So I only managed to get on the last of the trucks; several guys had already left in others. Some were running. I got on the last truck to go, but it wouldn’t move. It just stayed right where it was. I heard later some people confiscated the key. I didn’t see this, though.

I decided to jump off the truck and run. Between the parked motorbikes on the waterfront side and the truck, I met Farhad Sir and Deputy Commissioner Anthi. Each took one of my hands and held them.

Sir, let me go, I said. Major crimes are being committed between the two sides. Release me, I must do my duty.

Wait, wait, they told me.

Then update me on what’s happening on the other side, I said.

It’s all good now, the military has attended to it, they responded.

We only left after the military came, I said. But then they were let go. Isn’t that why there’s fighting there now? Let me go.

That’s when I broke into tears; and I didn’t get a chance to continue the conversation.


Inside Nasheed’s campaign

Nasheed on the campaign trail

Only 102 days left until the presidential elections. Four candidates are in the running—Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP); Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM); incumbent Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik (of no party); and Gasim Ibrahim of Jumhooree Party.

There are a record number of eligible voters to persuade: 240,302, to be exact—over 30,000 additional voters since the first ever democratic elections in 2008. There is little time left, and much to play for. None of the parties have officially launched their campaigns yet but several candidates—incumbent Mohamed Waheed and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, most notably—have been travelling the country ahead of the official campaign. MDP, however, is the only party so far with a clear manifesto, a campaign strategy, and an open-door policy towards the media.

MDP’s initial plan was to take in all atolls in the country in what was called the Vaudhuge Dhathuru (Journey of Promise). March and April were turbulent times with the ‘Opposition Coalition’ doggedly pursuing the aim of putting Nasheed behind bars. Vaudhuge Dhathuru was suspended, and in its place emerged Dheythin Fahethi (Five From Three)—mostly weekend visits scheduled around the erratic court orders to arrest Nasheed. The move of DRP MP Speaker Abdulla Shahidh to MDP in April, despite his role in the events of 7 February, gave MDP’s travels across the country a new boost and a new name: Eh Burun (In One Round).

In fact, MDP’s elections campaign began unofficially almost as soon it became clear it was the only option left for restoring democracy after the authoritarian reversal of 7 February. In December 2011 came its nationwide Door to Door strategy. Initially conceived of as a recruitment campaign to get ‘every existing member to recruit one more member’, it has now become one of the MDP campaign’s chief strategies.

It has also been a highly rewarding exercise for the party, with 125,000 people already indicating it will vote MDP in September. The pledged 125,000 votes are ‘no folklore’, MDP has said. They are votes that members have actually pledged during its Door to Door visits to tens of thousands of households.

In a country yet to be introduced to the science of polling or ways to measure approval ratings of candidates, the Door to Door strategy has provided MDP with a wealth of information about potential voters. Currently there are almost a 1000 volunteers across the country, visiting households in every island of every atoll and every area in Male’, discussing MDP manifesto, individual policies, and gauging people’s political attitudes, affiliations and needs.

According to the official party line, this is also the information on which MDP has based the four main policy pledges it has made: 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.

Part of MDP’s strategy has been to make each policy launch a colourful event hosted at a different island each time. All atolls participate by releasing it simultaneously in their areas. Each policy is presented in attractive packaging depicting utopian visions of MDP’s ‘Other Maldives’ full of industrious shiny happy people.

Only one atoll, Meemu, remains on Nasheed’s list of atolls to tick-off as having visited since the unofficial campaign began. Nasheed keeps a gruelling schedule, out in the atolls on average fifteen days a month, three islands each day, forty-five islands each month.  I joined Nasheed’s trip to Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal from 19-21 May to launch MDP’s Agri-Business policy as part of the accompanying media. Continue reading for a behind the scenes, island-by-island (page by page) look at Nasheed’s trips to Hanimaadhoo, Kulhudhuffushi, Kelaa, Filladhoo and Baarah.