Rohan Gunaratna evaluates Political Situation in the Maldives

Courtesy of Future Directions International, where the article appeared under a different title

Key Points:

  • High profile acts of terrorism, both in the Maldives and overseas, are likely, unless the government can arrest the rapid spread of extremist ideology and initiate a community engagement programme.
  • Increasing drug consumption is as challenging a problem as the spread of extremism.
  • The requirement for good governance and bi-partisan consensus-building and is imperative if lasting political stability is to be achieved.

 Summary: Mohammed Waheed Hassan, the new President of the Maldives since 7 February 2012, faces two grave challenges – the twin threats of extremism and drug trafficking.  Nonetheless, like his predecessor, the ousted Mohamed Nasheed, President Waheed also faces constraits in trying to resolve these national problems. For instance, Nasheed resigned when the Maldivian Police refused an order that was deemed illegal, and the Military did not carry out an order to disarm and ‘cut down’ the police, which paved the way for the then Vice President Waheed to assume office.

Loved by supporters and respected by opponents, President Waheed is the first Maldivian to receive a doctorate. After receiving his doctorate in International Development Education from Stanford, Waheed served UNICEF, UNDP and UNESCOin the Balkans, Asia, Middle East and Africa, before being elected as Vice President on 11 November 2008. Both Nasheed and Waheed fought hard for democracy in the Maldives, which continues to be a leading tourist destination. However, the country faces a set of problems that require the attention of both government and opposition and the understanding of the international community.


The Context: Since democracy was established in the Maldives on 11 November 2008, the stability of the country is been challenged by the spread of Islamist extremism and drug trafficking. Of the Maldivians who have gone to study in Pakistan, over 100 youths have reportedly acquired training from al Qaeda, the Taliban and other associated groups and a small number have also allegedly participated in subversive activities in Afghanistan India and Pakistan.

One such Maldivian suicide bomber, Ali Jaleel, operating with the Taliban, attacked the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Lahore on 27 May 2009, killing 35 and injuring over 250. Similar high profile acts of terrorism, both in the Maldives and overseas, are likely, unless the government can arrest the spread of extremist ideology. Many who returned to the Maldives from Pakistan spread an extremist politico-religious ideology, which has raised tensions in Maldivian society, which has been traditionally moderate and tolerant.

On 29 September 2007, the Maldives suffered an act of terrorism in Sultan Park in Male, which injured 12 tourists. More recently, on 7 February 2012, Islamist extremists destroyed 35 images of Buddha and Hindu gods made in sandstone, coral and limestone at the country’s national museum, was destroyed in an attack, by six Muslim extremists. The act was reminiscent of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban,; who consider this pre-Islamic heritage to be illegal under Islamic and national laws.  

Furthermore, increasing drug consumption is as challenging a problem as the spread of extremism in the Maldives. The by-product of these developments has been linked to the rise of crime and terrorism. However, the political stability that is essential to counter the growing level of crime and extremism is lacking. Imposing the death penalty and longer sentences may deter criminality, especially the rising number of homicides in the capital and drug trafficking into the Maldives, but pro-and anti-government demonstrations, staged by politicians both in and out of power, continue to distract the Government from addressing the country’s pressing social issues.

Background Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, a coalition of parties demonstrated against Nasheed from 23 December 2011 until he resigned on 7 February 2012. The issues that led to Nasheed’s downfall were his decisions to: arrest the chief of the Criminal Court, Judge Abdulla Mohamed; withdraw the police when his armed party supporters were poised to attack anti-government protesters; and, ultimately, his order to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to arrest police personnel who refused to follow government orders.

The supreme court of the Maldives did well to against the arrest of the judge. The police also performed commendably to protect the public and call for professionalism from their seniors. By not attacking the police, the MNDF’s professanlism prevented what could have been damaging repercussions that would have seriously divided the nation’s security services. While not a coup d’état, Nasheed was compelled to voluntarily resign. . According to the constitution of the Maldives, Nasheed’s former Vice President Waheed assumed the mantle of leadership.

The police and military clearly need to repair their relationship.  Democracy has instilled the message that the police and the judiciary must be independent of the executive and should be in the service of the people.  Malkanthi Hettiarachchi, Clinical Psychologist, who meticulously studied the situation, remarked to an official of the Government of the Maldives: “I think your citizens have done well to speak out against the inconsistencies and your security forces have remained steadfast in the service of the people.”

Protests for the Sake of Protests: It would appear that protest for the sake of protest has emerged as a trend in the Maldives. During a week-long visit to the Maldives, in April 2012, it was persistently indicated to me that there is a urgent need to restore political stability and instil social discipline, to address the country’s manifold challenges. With little time for the new President to settle in, Nasheed mobilised his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters to organise protests to preven the opening of the parliament. The serial political protests are clearly a distraction to the nation’s pressing matters.

A democratic framework needs space for this, so that the mainstream can win over those on the margins. Nothing should be done to antagonise, but everything to win over those on the fence, and to provide an explanation to those trying to understand why this is allowed. During the Nasheed Presidency, an attempt was made to dismantle anything and everything that went against the government. Today, there is a level of understanding and tolerance providing the space to hear other voices. However, all demonstrations should be at an approved place and time. A Parlimentary Act should regulate such activity: the need to apply for a permit before staging a public protest, restrictions on noise pollution and prosecution of anyone inciting violence.

A Return to Good Governance: The sustained protests that replaced Nasheed and brought Waheed to power can also be interpreted as a call for better governance.  The public want to see decision making and progress on the five election points of Nasheed’s original agenda – housing, transport, cost of living, drug control, and the judiciary. The practice of clamping down, transferring people, or changing what the leadership did not like and triggered the protests.

As the Maldives witnessed during the Nasheed presidency, there should be no harassment of those opposing Dr Waheed. There is nothing to indicate a coup but instead a gradual build-up of public resentment, anger and the need to have stability. It was a natural reaction to social injustice; a call for social responsibility. So much so, that Nasheed panicked and ordered the military against the police when the police allegedly failed to comply with his orders. What is crucial today is for the political parties to come together and work hard to build stability and consensus, which is the need of the hour.  

The Future: There is a need for the political parties of the Maldives to reconcile their differences and work together. In this hour of transition from chaos to stability, the country needs support from the international community. To clear any misunderstanding that there was a coup, it is essential for the Maldivian government to issue a declaration explaning the events that led to the resignation of Nasheed and the appointment of Waheed. The Maldives has taken the first step in the right direction by appointing a commission of inquiry, led by Ismail Shafeeu, to investigate the circumstances leading to transfer of power. A factual and balanced account of events is needed for both the public and for the international community

President Waheed has reshuffled his cabinet and appointed new leaders to his cabinet. Two Maldivian leaders have assumed the portfolios of Home and Defence. A PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 2008, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, is a former judge of the criminal court. A Sandhurst and Fort Benning trained officer, the Defence and National Security Minister, Colonel Mohamed Nazim, was a former commandant of the Training Centre and the commanding officer of the Quick Reaction Force.

They need to work together to strengthen the partnership with the ministries of Education and Islamic Affairs and the Department of Information, to create a norm and an ethic against the wave of extremism and narcotics-related issues. Together, they need to continue improving the quality of the national intelligence services, to detect and neutralise threats both from within and outside the state.

The Maldives Police Force has arrested four persons believed responsible for the Museum attack. The authorities should investigate that attack, identify and punish those responsible, and recommend a system to promote moderate interpretation of Islam. As the Maldives has become high-end tourism destination, the West may not want to see extremism spreading.

Stating that: ‘Not knowing creates doubt and the incident is open to rumour!’, Clinical Pyschologist Hettiarachchi added: “Maldivian civilians are moderate with some extremists and some ultra-liberals. This is normal. If you take a bell curve you will have the two extremes at the end.” She added: “When alcohol, drugs, and other vices increase, religious conservatism grows to balance one extreme against the other…”

Conclusion The Maldivian community is largely a moderate one. There is widespread respect for religion, culture, tourism, tolerance of non-Muslims and other faiths. However, there are elements that are attempting to capitalise on the exit of Nasheed and raising communal tensions, by using the fundamentalist interpretations of religion. To restore stability, the government should aim to win over the undecided Maldivians and to retain its existing support base..If the menaces of extremism and drug trafficking continue to erode its society, the reputation of the Maldives as an ideal destination for international tourism is likely to be seriously affected since  about 80 per cent of the Maldives’ income is from tourism.

To protect the community and the country, President Waheed has plans to counter the twin threats affecting the population of the Maldives, which will also require the understanding and support of the international community. Having reviewed the recent developments, it is clear that the Maldives is committed and capable of moving forward with democratic reforms. For example, Maldives held its first multi-party election in 2008, parliamentary elections in 2009 and local council elections in 2011.On 14 April 2012, the government won two parliamentary seats in a bi-election, a vote of confidence for the Waheed presidency that came amidst anti-election agitation by MDP supporters.

As there was no coup, and the transfer of power was voluntary and constitutional; the call for early elections by the EU and the Commonwealth is unlikely to contribute to stability.  As a consensus maker, the investment President Waheed is making to heal the divisions within Maldivian society have a stronger chance of succeeding over the long-term. He has already announced his decision to hold elections in July 2013. Rather than having international actors imposing conditions, it is in the long-term national and regional interests that the Maldivians be given space, time and support, to develop their own solution to resolve its key national challenges.


Filed under Indian Ocean politics, politIcal discourse, power politics, world events & processes

8 responses to “Rohan Gunaratna evaluates Political Situation in the Maldives

  1. Aminath Rasheedh

    it was a coup let by ex dictator gayyoom. u dont hve a clue abt wht u are talking. so plz just do smthng u know better to do.

  2. ahmed

    you are very wrong about Dr Waheed and pls don’t try to promote dictatorship… if you read the translation of article 112 of Maldivian constitution Dr whaheed had sworn not in accordance with the constitution and most of the Maldivians don’t like his personalty and every where he visit he had been protected by army and police who had over thrown the legitimate government of the Maldives…. pls don’t write crap which you cannot back by facts…..

  3. Mohamed

    a well written article, MDP supporters as usual showing their incapability to digest the reality..

  4. Isam

    this is a great article, hats off to you dear sir, the first expert to really make an unbiased analysis of the maldivian situation

  5. Isam

    regarding my fellow country mate ahmed’s comment, u r speaking about yourself, because most of the time MDP activists rather forget the fact that they are not the only citizens of the nation… mohamed nasheed’s systematic division of the society lead to his party members only considering themselves as the rayyithun ( citizens) and otheres as baaghi ( rebels). its a fact which most of the open minded maldivians believe that – mohamed nasheed lost control and he failed as a president when he was called to be a real president on that day ( feb 7th) and dr.waheed is more capable and is proving to be a better leader than mohamed nasheed ever was

  6. Isam

    call me a terrorist, an extremist or an out right fool, but my love for my nation stands above individual conflicts and personal blind love for specific people.

    p.s i voted for nasheed last election, i lost faith in him, like alot of others like me

  7. ahmed

    Isam read article 112 of maldivian qanoon asaasi… its not about nasheed its about our country… and we all know spending government money on PR companies to promote dictatorship is also betraying the country….

  8. You have done an amazing work congratulation Rohan, this is exactly what had been happened in the Maldives.
    Ousted president Nasheed has failed many reasons behind, it was not a coup. But it was his decision to resigned.
    Dr. Didi elected president of MDP and ministry of fisheries and agriculture Of former president has explained everything happened on the day at president office. Just before resignation Nasheed met his cabinet member in the president office, in that meeting Dr. Didi advised not to resign instead negotiating with people at sultan park.
    Nasheed responsible for all damaged happened on 8/02 across to country. Several platform Nasheed talks that he will not uphold constitution and whatsoever he will do anything to protect his party people.
    During the last visit to Addu atoll Nasheed confirmed to people that he is going to select one of Addu citizen as his running mate on 2013! This is insane discrimating. Therby Nasheed didn’t realize he still needed vote from other citizens of country. Same speech Nasheed warned Dr. Waheed not to come Addu. Dictator talks anything like this,

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