How to recognise a damn good democracy

by Azra Naseem

Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the caretaker President of the Maldives says the system of governance he presides over in the Maldives is ‘a damn good democracy.’

How well do you know your democracies? Can you tell the difference between a ‘normal democracy’ and a ‘damn good’ one?

Here’s a look at some of the defining characteristics of the separate powers and institutions of ‘a damn good democracy’ to help you on your way to becoming a damned well-informed citizen.

The Executive 

It’s a damn good democracy when:

  • The President takes to Twitter like Adrian Mole to his diary:

The Parliament

It’s a damn good democracy when:

  • Members are bought and sold between parties ahead of an election like footballers at the beginning of a premier league football season
  • Most Members are also businessmen
  • Business tycoons steer legislation to their whims
  • Self-appointed Legislators Extraordinaire continue to propose amendments to existing legislation curbing fundamental rights
  • Members and Police Commissioners publicly fawn over each other:

The Judiciary

It’s a damn good democracy when:

Civil Society

It’s a damn good democracy when:

  • Intolerance of the Other becomes the dominant socio-political discourse
  • Police condemns and refuses protection for selected media outlets
  • Reformists and anti-government protesters are arrested and imprisoned
  • Police brutalise protesters with impunity
  • Democracy activists are targeted and arrested for heinous crimes to which they are known to have no connections whatsoever
  • NGOs form unhealthy alliances that silence the voice of the people instead of giving it room for expression
  • NGOs refuse to condemn violence against the people
  • NGOs relays government line to international actors that Maldives is ‘not ready for elections’
  • Most media outlets, including the State broadcaster, is owned – or heavily influenced – by politicians and politically active business tycoons
  • Harmless Tweets are used to connect activists to murders and other heinous crimes with no other evidence
  • The only voice allowed free expression in civil society is that of extremists/militants who try to rile up the masses with nationalistic/religious fervor
  • The Human Rights Commission hides findings of investigations into human rights violations
  • Voices against religious extremism are silenced by murder or attempted murder
  • Anti-Muslim/heretic labels and death threats are used to try and silence voices against religious extremism:


Security Forces

It’s a damn good democracy when:

  • Mutiny against the State by security forces are deemed impossible by law, even if it happens in broad daylight, witnessed by the whole country
  • Leaders of the mutiny by the security forces that facilitates the end of democratic governance are given leadership positions
  • Mutinying police and military officers are rewarded with promotions, bonuses and cushy housing schemes
  • Police Commissioner and certain legislators collude publicly to roll-back fundamental rights (see Parliament section above)
  • The police fails to investigate serious crimes such as murders and attempted murders
  • Security forces are willing to use the murder of one of their own for political purposes
  • Police act as a tool for curbing fundamental civil and political rights of citizens (see above)
  • Police arrest activists in connection with murders with no evidence whatsoever, keeps them in detention for weeks, and releases some with a gag order rather than an apology

Well, I’ll be damned. It doesn’t look like a democracy at all. Does it?


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