The name’s Bond: Mohamed Haleem, Sergeant at Arms of the Majlis

Retired First Lt Mohamed Haleem Former Lieutenant Mohamed Haleem who resigned in protest over what he saw as MNDF’s failure to uphold the Constitution

Once DRP declared its support for Mohamed Nasheed in the election and gave MDP a majority say in the People’s Majlis, it has been under constant attack from the remaining two branches of state power. In the last two months, Members have been arrested & stripped of seats through political exploitation of the judiciary, and government aligned MPs have not just obstructed proceedings but caused physical harm to fellow MPs and vandalised expensive property inside the chambers.

With no protection on offer from existing State security services, the Majlis has opted to have its own security, and for the first time, created the post of Sergeant at Arms tasked with securing the Majlis and its Members. The man they chose, with 56 votes out of 57, is former First Lieutenant of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Mohamed Haleem—Bond Haleem to friends.

Haleem turned forty on 29 September. That night he watched MP Ali Azim being brutally arrested. ‘Eye witnesses say that police kicked him and hit him with batons prior to dragging him to their vehicle,’ Minivan News reported. On 30 September he resigned from the MNDF. ‘I realised I just could not go on. There was just too much going wrong.’ Haleem is polite, a humble man. Talking about his resignation seems a difficult thing for him to do. ‘My whole life is the military. Sifainge is my home.’ He joined in 1989. The strong nationalist rhetoric which followed the 1988, 3 November coup got to him. He was sixteen. ‘It was difficult to leave.’ But he felt compelled to.

‘Things were happening that I cannot agree with,’ Haleem said. He found it frustrating to watch security forces being used to stop peaceful demonstrations and felt it was unacceptable that MNDF just stood by and watched as the Constitution was being ripped apart. On 23 September, he registered his dissatisfaction with the Chief of Defence Major General Ahmed Shiyam. It is important, he said in an SMS to the Chief, that everybody is told of what articles 88, 111, 155 and 268 of the Constitution says. They are related to the election, transfer of power, and the superiority of the Constitution over all institutions and laws. Major General Shiyam never replied.

When Haleem submitted his resignation, Colonel Ali Zuhair, his immediate superior, reacted with anger. ‘Stop whatever it is that you are doing right now and get put immediately.’ Colonel Zuhair, who would less than a month later forcibly evict MP Ali Azim from the Majlis chambers, yelled down the phone. ‘It is one thing to resign. Why did you have to go to the media with it?’ Haleem’s letter was widely shared on social media and was reported on Raajje TV. A fellow serviceman told him his access to Bandeyri Koshi and Kalhuthukkalaa Koshi had been blocked. He did not stop to collect his belongings and went straight home. Major General Shiyam rang him around 10:00 the next morning. ‘Whatever it is that you do next, just make sure I don’t see you at one of those podiums!’

After 23 years and 10 months of service, Haleem set about joining civilian life. He registered a company, Bond Investment Maldives. His plan was to take an MVR200,000 contract to do the engineering work on a floating restaurant project. Haleem is an electrical engineer with a Master’s degree in the subject and plenty of experience. He was at his desk working on the project when he heard the Sergeant at Arms job being announced on the radio. The Majlis announcement on 25 October, gave very little time for action. Applications had to be in by 12:00 on 27 October. The beleaguered Majlis was taking no chances.

Even though Haleem was unfamiliar with what the position of Sergeant at Arms entailed, the salary (MVR32,000) caught his attention. He Googled the term—‘it was exactly what I was looking for.’ He had been concerned about lack of security and protection the State security services were providing the Majlis with, and now he had the opportunity to lead the effort to protect MPs. Most importantly for Haleem, he would be working to uphold the Constitution. He went to the Majlis premises immediately. It was a Friday, but he located a staff member who gave him a copy of the application form. Everything happened so fortuitously, Haleem thinks there was a higher force at work.

‘It really is a miracle. I wanted to remain steadfast in serving the country, and now, I have the chance to do so again.’ There is a catch in his voice when he talks of the MNDF. ‘I have known no other life.’ Despite the emotion, Haleem seems far from soft. ‘I will ensure that MPs get the protection they need as they perform the important function of upholding the Constitution,’ he says with determination.

As Sergeant at Arms, he will be stationed inside Majlis chambers whenever it is in session. If the Speaker calls an unruly member to order three times without being obeyed, the Speaker may gesture to the Sergeant to have the Member removed from the chamber. Haleem will signal members of his staff and, together with them, will proceed in formation to the member’s seat and have him removed from the chamber. It would be done with minimum of fuss, with least possible disturbance to the session.

Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim, was not pleased with Majlis’ plans to have its own security. Citing Article 105 of the Constitution, he asserted that only State security services has the authority to protect the Majlis. The post is common in former colonies of Great Britain, from where it originated. The United States Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, are all countries where State legislatures have their own Sergeant at Arms.

Haleem says he wanted 216 members of staff. Despite the lavish spending on the Maldives Police Service, and by the Maldives Police Service on buying weapons, the country is bankrupt. With each member of the security staff to be paid roughly MVR10,000, Majlis cannot afford over 200 security staff. ‘We will have 100 members instead,’ says Haleem. There will be SPOs [Special Protection Officers] for each Member who requests the service. They will carry non-lethal weapons, and Haleem will give preference to ex-servicemen during the recruitment process. All staff would be people with combat training. They will guard the member round the clock. Asked if it does not amount to too much securitisation of the People’s Majlis, he said, ‘it is necessary at a time like this, when the Constitution is in peril.’

On 27 October Majlis decided by a majority vote to install Speaker Abdulla Shahid as the interim President, with full presidential powers, on 11 November if there is no elected leader by then. ‘If there is no election, the Speaker will have to assume the power and responsibilities of the President. This is the only way to ensure that we do not fall into a Constitutional void.’ Haleem will do all he can to make sure this happens. ‘That is the oath by which I have lived most of my life. I will do all I can to uphold the Constitution of the Maldives.’

Chief Justice responds to UN criticisms of the Supreme Court

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement on Thursday, 30 October, accusing the Maldives Supreme Court of ‘subverting the democratic process‘. A few hours later, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz responded in Dhivehi. The following is an unofficial translation of his response:


“Chief Justice of the Maldives

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay’s statement today that the Maldives Supreme Court is repeatedly intervening in the presidential election and damaging the democratic process were made with no efforts to establish the truth of the matter, is irresponsible, and, instead of encouraging efforts to establish democracy and rule of law in the Maldives, creates a negative image of the country’s apex court among the Maldivian people and international actors. I am, therefore, deeply concerned, and state that these remarks are unacceptable.

The Maldives Supreme Court bears no enmity towards anyone. Regardless of who submits a case to the Supreme Court, the Court will deliberate on the matter according to the Constitution, laws and regulations of the country, in a manner that would protect everyone’s rights. Supreme Court carries out this responsibility to uphold the Constitution and rule of law, and to establish justice.

The Maldives is a free and independent State. It is a sovereign country with self-rule. The UN is an organisation established with the purpose of protecting the rights of small nations as well as big ones and, as under the principle of sovereign equality, every member nation has the same status and rights as the other, and, as the UN Charter assures protection of a State’s sovereign authority over its own jurisdiction, it cannot be accepted or believed, even under the UN Charter, that a person under a UN mandate should speak in a way that deprives Maldives of the said rights.

Statements made with no efforts to verify the reality of how the Maldives Supreme Court is carrying out its duties do not assist or help efforts to develop democracy in the Maldives or to establish justice in the country. Nor do they encourage efforts to promote and protect democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Therefore, I strongly condemn UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s remarks about the Supreme Court’s efforts to carry out its constitutional duties and responsibilities. I would also like to say that I do not believe she has any status whatsoever to make such remarks in such a manner.

30 October 2013”

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.