Waheed: Master or Puppet?

As some people [say], the Maldives does not have a leader now. Lots of leaders are here, and all are of the same level. And so then everybody runs the state as they please…And the senior leader should not say anything. ~ Dr Waheed

The Maldives does not have a leader and is currently under the control of an unidentified shadowy ‘group of leaders’, according to…the President. It is an astonishing statement for any leader to make.

There is much to suggest Waheed is as helpless as implied by his public whingeing. He does not, for instance, seem to have any authority to keep his own house in order. There are several examples.

Very early on in his presidency Waheed’s Special Advisor Hassan Saeed was secretly recorded describing Waheed as “politically the weakest person in the Maldives.”

In the United States, decorated Army General Stanely McChrystal had to resign after his aides were reported mocking Vice President Joe Biden. In the Maldives, Saeed, with his Jekyll and Hyde personality, remains in position.

Same with Abbas Adil Riza, the President’s Spokesperson. Riza’s ‘emotional outburst’ against the Indian High Commissioner left Waheed with diplomatic egg on his face. Yet, Riza remains authorised to speak for the President.

Would Waheed get rid of them if he had a choice? Judging from how quickly he fired his Transport Minister and Human Rights Minister, the answer is ‘yes.’ Abbas and Saeed made Waheed look an even bigger fool than did Shamheed and Dhiyana.

Waheed is a man particularly fond of his reputation. He recently wrote:

If he had a choice, it is unlikely Abbas and Saeed would ever be gainfully employed again, let alone be his closest aides.

When Waheed fired Shamheed and Jamsheed, supporters cheered the President’s ‘decisiveness’. But firing them exhausted the extent of Waheed’s authority. This is why: after 7 February, like generals divvying up the spoils of a war, each party in the so-called Unity Government claimed for itself ‘slots’ in the Cabinet.

This dodgy power-sharing agreement is what has come to be known as the Coalition Government and appears to be the cabal of equal leaders Waheed was referring to.

Under the new system, cabinet portfolios can only be given to individuals nominated by a particular party. If a close aide or a cabinet minister offends the President beyond his tolerance, he is free to fire them (depending on which party’s nominee it is). But he cannot hire the replacement. Only Party Greats have the authority to do so.

Party Greats, the elected leaders and leading personalities of various parties in Waheed’s Unity Government, are also beyond Waheed’s influence. This applies regardless of how often they mock, patronise or harm Waheed’s presidency.

Among these petty generals, Sheikh Imran Abdulla stands out. Imran is currently heading one of the stupidest political campaigns in history—a ‘Jihad’ to take back the ‘Maldivian Airport for Maldivians’. For God’s sake.

Imran is the President of the Islamist Adhaalath Party and runs a lucrative Rent-a-Sheikh business. That is, in exchange for the right sort of political or financial returns, he agrees to bring his religious ideology to bear on whatever issue is causing headaches for his paymasters.

In the last two weeks, Imran has given the President not one but two ultimatums. Currently, the President has until the end of the month to fulfil Imran’s demands, or else.

Even under such circumstances, Waheed poses for pictures with leaders and nationalistic paraphernalia of Imran’s ‘Airport Jihadists’.

Hard to believe any President would willingly look such a fool.

Maldives Police Service also seems well beyond the reach of Waheed’s leadership. In the early hours of last Friday the 16th, it ran what has been named an  ‘Intel-led Drug Bust Operation’ resulting in the arrest of two MPs and several senior members of MDP. It involved scores of officers swimming onto a desert island in the dark to ambush the targets at a weekend getaway.

Police found a hefty stash of alcohol on the island, and kept the arrested in handcuffs for hours. Family members are alleging they were badly beaten up in custody.

Waheed appeared as ambushed by police behaviour as were the targets of their Operation. Commissioner of Police Riyaz Abdulla said:

Such operations are not carried out by Police after informing the President or the Home Minister. This institution does not have any political influence.

For a president with any real authority, there would have been at least a courtesy call from the police, not a flippant explanation like Riyaz’s.

Is the President a puppet? Not according to…the President. In the same letter cited above, he wrote:

Nasheed accuses me of being a puppet of the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. This is an accusation I reject.

There is currently a no confidence motion pending against Waheed in the Parliament. Last monday, MPs were due to decide whether or not the impeachment vote could be kept secret. The general opinion seems to be that if MPs are allowed to vote secretly, they will choose to get rid of Waheed.

MPs were ambushed in Operation Alcohol just two days before the vote. With the desert island debacle still fresh in everybody’s minds, the motion to put the impeachment to a secret vote failed narrowly.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has said it is difficult not to see the arrests as politically motivated. It really does not take a conspiracy theorist to link the arrests with the no confidence motion.

If Waheed is pulling the strings, then he ordered the arrests. And, if the arrested MPs’ families are telling the truth, he also ordered them humiliated, intimidated and beaten up. No puppet can pull strings like that.

There are more ways to see Waheed than suggested by Waheed. He is neither puppet no master but the curtain behind which the show was planned. He was the fig-leaf that gave the appearance of legitimacy to a coup. In return for ‘ascendency to the Presidency’, Waheed promised he will not resign until 2013, not matter what. Even if it means looking like a right puppet.

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