By Lord Risby - 22nd March 2012
Lord Risby comments amidst growing unrest in the Maldives.
Some years ago, the first time I heard of political problems in the Maldives, I did not take it seriously, until I found out that the image of a tropical tourist paradise was marred by a real and debilitating democratic deficit.
For thirty years, the country’s President had in fairness brought lucrative tourism to a poor economy. However, any kind of electoral consent to his presidency was absent and there were repeated human rights violations. It was not a pretty picture.
Under both international and domestic pressure, the then sitting President Maumoon Abdel Gayoom called an election in 2008 confident that he would win. His young opponent Mohamed Nasheed, despite having minimal resources and organisation, won against the odds. He had personally been imprisoned in a callous way and had lived in exile in England.
Recently, President Nasheed resigned, clearly under duress. This is a major threat to the Maldivians’ fledgling democracy, and threatens a change in the nature of Maldivian society. The new President Waheed made a speech with an Islamist flavour which ran against the islands’ moderate religious traditions. In consequence of what many regard as a coup d'état, India has tried to broker a deal between the warring political parties to secure early elections.
The Opposition is demanding this, but the new government appears most reluctant. Sir Don McKinnon, the former Commonwealth Secretary General, also favours a fresh electoral mandate.
The new government has reacted strongly against this, with veiled threats about leaving the Commonwealth.
Regrettably the political impasse in the very crowded conditions of Malé, the capital, is leading to considerable tension, demonstrations and chaotic parliamentary conditions. In practical terms, this is not as yet impacting the dozens of luxury resorts vital to the economy, but without a political resolution tourists will undoubtedly be put off, with all the negative consequences for employment and prosperity.
Whatever one thinks of the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed, it is up to the Maldivian electorate to be able to make their considered judgement. It is their democratic right.