Maldives – Not in Splendid Isolation

As a country of just over 350,000 people, the Maldives may not be considered more than a speck of dust on the realist’s international relations’ billiard table, but I believe three years of a MDP government led by Nasheed challenged that. Still small, still relatively minor, but oh so loud. The Maldives punched above its weight on all global platforms, and despite its size, its message was taken seriously.

The Maldives was never known for its political troubles. In fact, one of the reasons Maumoon’s regime survived for so long was because of his ability to present a façade of domestic harmony through a successful tourist industry and questionable UN development goal statistics. Nationally, any one who tried to shake things up was conveniently put away, internationally; his annual static speech to the UNGA was considered adequate enough for diplomats to ask no further questions and nod politely. The world didn’t expect anything from the Maldives apart from colourful cocktails and coral and the Maldives accepted nothing but money in exchange – tourist dollars & developmental aid. A somewhat ‘this is my dance space, this is your dance space’ situation if you like, reiterated by the fact that the majority of foreign citizens visiting Maldives often had no clue what was going on beyond their resort.

Come 2003, the international community were forced to pay attention to wider issues in the Maldives. Missions based in Colombo accredited to Maldives began adding further detail to what used to be quite stagnant telegrams back to base. Custodial deaths, riots in the capitol, dissidents who just wouldn’t stay down, the problems of decades of dictatorship, finally coming to head. With nowhere to go for assistance in Maldives, where else were pro democracy supporters to go but out? MDP in exile and its friends lobbied the international community fiercely, and it is precisely because of this lobbying that international partners began to take notice and exert pressure on Maumoon’s regime. A period of protests, mass arrests, police brutality, a tsunami, international mediation, and constitutional reform finally produced the first multi party presidential election in the country, and the Maldives was the star of South Asia. As the first ‘100%’ Muslim state to have achieved a peaceful transition to democracy, the Maldives was globally hailed as a success story.

The talk of diplomatic missions then turned to supporting the consolidation of democracy. The difficulty of consolidating democracy in a global recession, in a politically polarised society with high expectations and an infantile judiciary is represented by the fact that most diplomatic missions found it almost impossible to know where to start – budgetary support withstanding -, in efforts to help the Maldives.

Less than three years later and the democratic ‘light’ surrounding the Maldives has been dimmed by an attempt at a clever cover up of a coup. Members of the international community who did not bother to take the time to figure out what was happening on 7th February chose only to see a President resigning and his Vice President taking over. They chose not to see the gleeful faces of a brutal yesteryear engineering their way back to power through the instigation of a police/military mutiny combined with politicised brutality. They, global democratic giants, chose to see a façade of stability in a strategic point of the Indian Ocean rather than a forced reversal of democracy.

That’s how the game is played? Yes. Maybe. India will lookout for India, and for that its relationship with the military and the coast guard maybe more important than with the civilian government in Male’ who have so obviously been forced out by these armed forces. The US, although technically wary to recognise a somewhat questionable transfer of power finds it ok to jump on the bandwagon since India has already done so. Helped of course by the many links to the US that Dr. Waheed holds – but a Stanford diploma and a US green card does not a democrat make. If only the US would care to admit it. Lets not even get into the UN. Wait, that was a UN employee photographed at Jumhooree Maidhan on the afternoon of 7th February waving the national flag was it not? Was that also the very same individual who was in charge of the UNDP’s Access to Justice program, and therefore knew the nitty gritty of judicial incompetence and injustice in the Maldives? Also, was that the very same employee who used to reside in Bandos? I digress.

So, we are left with an I imagine somewhat bewildered international community, dealing with a reversal of democracy, mutiny, and a coup d’état without the blood and gore of Mali, Syria, or Bahrain. Maldives’ thunder is so easily stolen though. We are dealing with the new administration claiming that the international community have no right to interfere in the matters of Maldives’ internal affairs and with the MDP and those against the coup pleading for the international community to increase the pressure on Waheed. However, it is obvious that the coup coalition care a great deal about the perception of the international community. If not they wouldn’t have ‘charmed’ Waheed into accepting his role as Commander in Chief of Coup, and they wouldn’t be hiring Ruder Finn to ‘leverage outcomes from relationships with governments, academics and NGOs’. We now have international actors situated on a range of outcomes with regards to the Maldives. The UN unapologetically behind Waheed and the solution through a ‘national mechanism’, India and the US who appear somewhat mollified that they recognised the new regime so quickly and are now raising the issue of early elections and independent inquiries more stringently behind closed doors, the UK/EU saying all the right things safely in the middle, and CMAG in the far corner warning of disciplinary motions if early elections and an independent inquiry are not established.

Like democratic reform in 2004 – 2008 could not have been done without the assistance of the international community; neither can the restoration of democracy in 2012. Firstly, India must step up its game. It has become embroiled in this situation more than it would like, it has been embarrassed, but it can still choose to play the role of the world’s largest democracy and support democrats rather than dictators in its neighbourhood. India, use your leverage. With 9 days to go, I would urge members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to remain steadfast in their recommendations to the Maldives. An independent inquiry is a necessity and the farce of a commission that Waheed has established is a slap in the face of those against the coup when the police and military have already brought them to their knees. Early elections in 2012 – another must, to reiterate that it is votes and not batons, which must determine governance in the Maldives, and in fact everywhere. Help make the Maldives an example again, of the hardships of infant democracy and the importance of its restoration and consolidation.

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