Referendum tipped to extend Gayoom's rule | Connect Asia

Referendum tipped to extend Gayoom's rule

Referendum tipped to extend Gayoom's rule

Updated 23 March 2012, 0:10 AEDT

The president of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has claimed victory in a referendum on how the Indian Ocean atoll nation should be governed, saying it was a mandate for his reform proposals.

About 60 percent of voters chose the US-style presidential system favoured by President Gayoom over a British-style parliamentary government backed by opposition parties. The vote in the mainly Sunni Muslim country follows calls for change in the former British protectorate.

REEVES: Well I think it's significant in as much as it reinforces his position, which has been very strong of course for the last 30 years. But the point that would have to be made is that for the Maldives to get to this point of actually debating and voting on that difference between a presidential system and a parliament system, is a really enormous change, you wouldn't have expected it a decade ago for there to be enough of a movement to force the president.

FAYLE: Indeed President Gayoom has been described by some as heading one of the most oppressive regimes in Asia, but here we are holding a referendum on the future way forward?

REEVES: The point is he's the author of the so-called reforms program, and he's putting it forward I think really to reestablish his own position because he was increasingly coming under some kind of pressure from people in popular movement for democracy. Gayoom is coming close to the next presidential election, that is the election of the kind which has been held up till now, which is one of those things where the Majilis or the parliament so-called puts up a name and people say yes or no, and if the majority said no then you get another name. But you don't get a run-off between candidates. Now what I think Gayoom has seen is that he is at a position where he could well come under increasing pressure with that election in view and what he wants is to run again. He'll win that election because he's got the whole thing set-up, and he wants to stay there to introduce these reforms. Now that means that he wants to leave I would suggest his very heavy imprint on any system that comes out of the present negotiations.

FAYLE: Now I understand political parties were allowed for the first time in 2005?

REEVES: That's right.

FAYLE: Are they effective?

REEVES: Well they don't, you see the point is they exist within a situation where the only thing they can do is to try to get people together to debate questions, to put forward their view. They have no position in the Majilis, so that the political parties which have been allowed now are really only sitting on the edge of the political system, and what I would argue is that Gayoom is wanting to ensure that the system that comes out of this means that they are still marginalised and that he will have some form of group that is capable of controlling the Majilis, controlling the elections and continuing to exert very considerable power.

FAYLE: And finally despite the recent political relaxation in the Maldives the main opposition has accused the government of illegally detaining and torturing dozens of its members. What sort of credence do these claims have?

REEVES: Well I've seen film from as early as 2001 where security forces fought and arrested and imprisoned people. I think there's considerable basis for thinking that that happened. If you ask President Gayoom he says no, no nobody is in that position, everything's ok, I'm very liberal. But I think the real point is that it's far from that at the moment.

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