Maldives requires a free and fair election
Mar 01 2013
Strains of intense fractiousness are not likely to go away quickly
Bangladesh laws mandated a transitional government being constituted to hold general elections till prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government struck off the law from the statue book over a year ago. Pakistan is moving towards setting up a caretaker administration to conduct the elections later this year, while Nepal is in the throes of persuading the chief justice to head a government tasked to hold elections by June.
In the Maldives, former president Nasheed holed up in the Indian High Commission in Male, demanded the resignation of his successor along with the setting up of a neutral caretaker government to ensure free and fair elections. Nasheed’s demand has, however not found support from any other political party in Maldives. Politics in Maldives has been bitterly fractious for some time.
More so, since president Mohammed Waheed, who was vice president under Nasheed, took over on Nasheed’s controversial resignation in February 2012. Fresh elections are scheduled to be held on September 7.
Nasheed sought refuge at the Indian High Commission on February 13 to avoid being arrested on a warrant issued after he failed to appear in court in a case pertaining to his ordering the detention of a judge of the criminal court in 2012.
When politics become more fraught in India’s smaller neighbours, the India factor tends to rise. Political outfits in Nepal have often blamed India from interfering in Nepal’s affairs, but Nasheed’s exploit brought India right into the vortex of Maldivian politics with the government spokesmen accusing India of meddling in Maldives’ internal affairs.
By taking refuge in the Indian High Commission, Nasheed could draw international attention to his apprehensions about his personal safety. Several western governments including the US, Britain, Commonwealth and the UN secretary general called for the elections to be “free, fair, credible, transparent and inclusive”.
Nasheed continued stay at the High Commission embarrassed both the Indian and Maldivian governments, while he was not gaining from it either. Hectic efforts by India to engage with a wide cross section of Maldivian polity finally brought an end to Nasheed’s sojourn at the Indian mission. It was pointed out to the Maldivian leadership that his Maldivian Democratic Party remained the largest political party in the islands and his absence from the polls would call into question the credibility and fairness of the elections.
Tensions have eased in Maldives for the present, but the strains of the intense fractiousness that has existed in the islands for some time are not likely to die down. Nasheed has charged former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for being the guiding force of the moves against him.
President Waheed’s party is a small one with little chance of remaining in the government on its own; a host of small parties with high lung power and the conservative religious parties add to make a volatile mix in Maldives, that is likely to continue till the presidential and parliamentary elections are over.
India was seen as a strong supporter of the democratically elected Nasheed government and there were howls of dismay at the Indian government’s prompt recognition of the new Waheed government last year.
The termination of the GMR group’s contract for construction of Male airport led to some strain between New Delhi and Male, which was fuelled further by president Waheed’s growing closeness with China. China’s forays in India’s neighbourhood are a handy tool for its neighbours to raise the China bogey whether it is over Pakistan’s Gwadar port, or in Sri Lanka, or leasing resort islands in Maldives.
A messy situation has been resolved with Nasheed’s departure from the Indian High Commission. It is now necessary for the Maldivian government to ensure a peaceful environment so that the political parties can carry out legitimate political activity. Maldives requires a free and fair election to strengthen democracy in the islands.
(The writer is a foreign affairs commentator)