Maldives suspended from Commonwealth democracy watchdog | Asia Pacific

Maldives suspended from Commonwealth democracy watchdog

Maldives suspended from Commonwealth democracy watchdog

Updated 23 February 2012, 21:48 AEST

The Commonwealth has suspended the Maldives from its democracy watchdog, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.

However, it stopped short of declaring former President Mohamed Nasheed's resignation as unlawful.

Mr Nasheed, claims he was forced to resign on February 7th because of a military coup and mutinous police officers.

The Commonwealth has called for international participation in an enquiry set up by current President Mohamed Waheed.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: JJ Robinson, editor of the independent Minivan News, the Maldives

ROBINSON: Well, the first thing to remember, is that the Maldives and the current situation is extremely complicated, and has as its genesis, in the former President's detention of the judge, but also the state of the judiciary, which didn't change after the former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was removed in 2008 in the first democratic election. So this is something which is quite complicated and has been happening for a long time and the events of the 7th and 8th (of February) in which the government was changed extremely rapidly, under very complicated circumstances. So the Commonwealth statement sort of reflects the fact that they may not have had that much time, to actually go into the detail here, remembering of course, that the language Dhivehi, has also made alot of the problems very inaccessible here. Based on what they did do and did look at here, it's actually quite a strongly-worded statement, particularly from the Commonwealth.

LAM: In what way was it a strongly worded statement, because all the Commonwealth said, was that we need some form of international participation in this national enquiry that the current President Waheed has launched?

ROBINSON: From the Maldivian perspective and from the perspective of the former President Mohamed Nasheed and his supporters, it is a strongly-worded statement, because the current enquiry that was set up involves three members, two of whom were former ministers under Gayoom, the autocratic leader whom Nasheed replaced, including his Defence minister. So, from that point of view, Nasheed's side was very concerned about the impartiality of that enquiry. For the Commonwealth to come in and say quite strongly that this enquiry needs to have an independent outside body, is basically saying, Yes, there's a problem that we need to look into more, and understand it, work our way through the complexities.

LAM: What are the chances of President Waheed accepting the Commonwealth suggestion of having international observers?

ROBINSON: President Waheed is in quite a difficult position at the moment. He may have come in expecting that this would be a new government, and that he would have the opportunity to set up a new technocratic government. However, he has no MPs in parliament, he has very few people in his party, his party is very, very small and so he has very little backing. He's also considered out of touch with the grassroots and has no MPs as well, so he is in a position where he has alot of forces around him, probably making his life difficult at the moment.

LAM: It seems to those of us on the outside, that the new Waheed administration is stacked with veteran politicians close to former President Maumoon Gayoom, who as you say, was an autocratic leader, who ruled for over thirty years. Is it accurate to say then, that he is trying to get back into office, back into power, through current President Waheed?

ROBINSON: It certainly seems that way. I mean, you have to remember that alot of these faces, and this is a small country and all of these faces are very well known to Maldivians, even if to some extent they are new, as far as the international community is concerned. And alot of the stuff that you say in English, the way they're presented, is often quite the opposite when it's presented in Dhivehi. So it's very very hard for anyone from the outside, to really get to grips with what's going on, unless you've been here for a very long time.

LAM: The Commonwealth also registered concern over the arrest warrant on former President Nasheed. Do you think the threat of arrest might in some way, affect his ability to be part of the electoral process, as and when elections are held?

ROBINSON: Oh, I imagine that's the idea behind some of the more hardline elements in the new government, who will only agree, to elections, once they have Nasheed out of the picture. Because at the moment, based on the fact that this is the old guard coming in, from the perspective of many Maldivians, then Nasheed will probably do quite strongly if you had an election tomorrow. Nasheed was not actually voted into power, Gayoom was voted out of power. Nasheed only received 25-percent of the vote in the first round in 2008, and he came in, in the second round, on the back of his coalition partners. So alot of people who would not ordinarily have supported Nasheed, are now backing him, because they don't want Gayoom to come back?

LAM: Do you get a sense that many Maldivians are feeling that their fledgling democracy is under threat here?

ROBINSON: Ah, very much so. There's plenty of crowds outside in Male, everyday assembling. Alot of young, formerly politically unengaged Maldivians, seem to be taking up the cause somewhat. It's going to be very difficult, with the Commonwealth statement, saying that they require Nasheed to be able to involve himself in the electoral process. So in a sense, this closes some of the doors for the new government, as far as international opinion is concerned.

LAM: And what about the people of the Maldives? Has this issue totally polarised the people? Has it divided the nation into pro-Nasheed, or pro-Waheed, and by extension, pro-Gayoom camps?

ROBINSON: Well, the Maldives has always been very politically divided - there's an island which supposedly has a line running down middle of the island. You have MDP supporters on one side, DRP supporters on the other side, and anecdotally, the DRP supporters have stopped using tumeric, because it's yellow, and that's the colour of the Maldivian Democratic Party. So, the political polarity is very, very strong already. This is something that has polarised a lot of people.

However, at the same time, all these protests that led up to the ousting of Nasheed, consisted of about 200 to 400 people, including opposition leaders and relatively small number of supporters, particularly compared to the number of people who're coming out and supporting the MDP at the moment. So in terms of a pure numbers game, especially Male and the more populated atolls, such as Addu, they're very much MDP areas. The role of the security services is quite important in that respect.

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