It has been almost four months since the first democratically elected government of the Maldives fell on 7 February 2012. Since then, the new regime has lowered the national discourse to a level that befits the fourth Century rather than the 21st.
What has been accorded top priority in the national agenda despite the social, political and economic turmoil in the country are not policies for economic survival, decreasing the rising criminality and gang violence, social welfare schemes and educational development but sorcery, anachronistic and cruel practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, length of men’s beards and coverage of women’s ‘modesty’. And alleged irreligiousness of Nasheed and his supporters.
The agenda for the All-Party talks, for all intents and purposes a ‘Roadmap’ for returning the country to some sort of normalcy is a case in point. It clearly demonstrates that the new regime has no intention of putting democracy on the agenda; it prefers to make a mockery of reformists’ demand to do so.
According to the agenda for All Party talks, obtained by Minivan News, here’s what’s critically important for the Maldives right now, entitled ‘Things that can be done to address the current political turmoil in the Maldives.’
- Stopping attacks on security forces, media and members of other parties while assembled on the roads or elsewhere after a political demonstration
- Not obstructing meetings by political parties and political trips to islands by politicians.
- Not obstructing religious scholars visiting other islands
- Not damaging public property.
- Not being abusive to political figures
- Not attacking the media
- Not trading without permission
- Not indulge in immoral activities in public spaces under party flags
- Not raising voices and committing robbery in ways that disturb pedestrians and drivers
- Not keeping crows and animals in public places
- Not possessing paraphernalia for sorcery
- Not constructing accommodation quarters for boatmen in public places
- Not hanging swings in ways that obstruct the pavement
- Not hijacking islands by blocking other people from arriving on the island by shouting and screaming
- Not protesting while intoxicated
- Not conducting political activities on the streets and pavements
- Not defame the Maldives at home or abroad
- Not obstructing Majlis meetings
- Not spreading misinformation on radio and television
- Not allowing children or symbols of a foreign association during demonstrations
- Not shouting loudly or running fast to and from peaceful assemblies and not walking in groups of more than 10
- Not using loudspeakers or any sound amplifiers at even peaceful demonstrations
- Not seeking justice without applying to the High Court
- Not confusing court actions
- Not interpreting the law on the streets
- Not holding meetings on the streets
- All parties stopping acts of sorcery
- Stopping arson
- Not speaking filth in public places and in neighbourhoods
- Not spreading unsubstantiated rumours about party leaders
In other words, ‘All Party Talks’ allegedly forging the direction in which the Maldives is to travel ahead after the 7 February coup, is focused on the petty, the trivial and the downright ridiculous. It makes a mockery of not just MDP supporters but of the whole democracy movement, and the international community which has continuously stressed the need for negotiation and peaceful talks to resolve the crisis. Such obstructions to reform are not new.
One of the defining characteristics of the short-lived Maldivian democracy was that instead of focusing its energies on state building and consolidation of the new system of governance, it was forced to spend most of it on surviving the threats of an authoritarian reversal. Majlis debate, led by authoritarian loyalists, ensured that instead of constructive criticism of the Nasheed administration’s efforts to rule the country, legislative debate remained focused on Nasheed personally, and on depicting MDP as ‘a cult’ rather than a legitimate political party and the country’s biggest one at that.
This meant areas much in need of debate such as Islamist’s increasing influence over Maldivian life, the endemic corruption among politicians, the rampant materialism of political, social and economic leaders as well as at all levels of society itself, remained unchallenged and unaddressed.
Today, the autocrats are back in power, and all hopes of any constructive engagement with socio-economic policies or voicing dissent against the ongoing authoritarian reversal have been completely pushed off the agenda by issues that should matter little for a country in such a critical situation.
It is only by keeping the issues that matter alive in public discussion and debate that Maldivian democrats have a hope in hell of halting the ongoing authoritarian reversal.