Dialogue  July-September  2009, Volume 11 No.1


MALDIVES: One Year of the New Constitution


S. Chandrasekharan


On 7th of August 2009, the then President, Gayoom ratified the Constitution. With the Special Majlis packed with his men, Gayoom was able to run through many of the controversial provisions and thanks to the spirited fight of the unofficial MDP members and a no nonsense Speaker of the Special Majlis- Gasim Ibrahim, the new constitution was ratified just in time to enable the country to go through the Presidential elections before the completion of the term of the then President. 

     It will be interesting to see how two countries of South Asian Region who had come out of the authoritarian or semi authoritarian rule Maldives and Bhutan would be handling the new gift to their people of a multiparty democratic constitution. It looks that both are doing well and democracy in both the countries appear to be getting well entrenched.                                                                                   
     Both Bhutan and Maldives have a different history and a different background. While the former is a multi-cultural, multi- racial, multi- linguistic and multi-religious country, the latter is a more homogenous country. While democracy had to be thrust on the former by a benevolent King when the people were not ready, in the case of the latter though much smaller, people had to fight and sacrifice for a multi party democracy. Also Maldives has a more active and spirited media and civic bodies.                                                                                      
    While Bhutan finds it difficult to follow strictly the provisions of the constitution which is natural for an infant democracy with all the rules and regulations, Maldives appears to be quite comfortable with the new dispensation although it is just one year old.            

      President Nasheed of Maldives said “ We do not find it difficult to rule the nation in accordance with the constitution.” If this is so, he should give credit to former President Gayoom too, who despite having all the powers, did not stand in the way of having a brand new constitution and one totally different from earlier ones. What goes against Gayoom was the way he tried to clear the decks on the controversy whether it is a new constitution or an amended one, to ensure that he could stand for elections again. He lost out in the second round but still has the ambitions to become President again after three decades of absolute rule. This is unfortunate.

      It is certainly the hope of the well wishers of Maldives, that a hundred percent Muslim country with stricter supervision of Islam, could yet become a model democratic country in this region.


The Case of Maldives                                                                            
The present Constitution is the fourth one. On two earlier occasions reforms were tried, as was pointed out by the Foreign Minister Dr. Ahmed Shaheed in his talk at the Indian Council of World Affairs early this month and on both the occasions the country reverted back to autocracy and that too, for long periods.                                            
The first constitution came into existence in December 1932 under the patronage of Sultan Mohamed Shamsudeen III. A second one came into being in the 1960s, followed by another in late 70s.

     President Nasheed while speaking on the anniversary said that it was a momentous occasion. Since then, the first multiparty Presidential election was held twice as the one did not have the required majority for the winner, followed by the parliamentary elections. In the parliamentary elections the ruling party did not get the majority and it will be interesting to see how President Nasheed manages and sooner or later he will have to make compromises to keep the government going. Two more elections are soon to be held - for local government for atoll and island council elections.                                         
     Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra), former MP and chairman of the drafting committee said that his committee’s aim was to enable the practice of a pluralistic democratic society, which protects fundamental rights, liberties and freedom of people. He felt that there is still a lot to be done. He expects independent institutions should not be tainted by any party alliance or support of certain people, for the state to function. The judiciary, legislative and executive branches each will have to know the boundaries for the state to function fully. He is perhaps talking from his past experience where these lines were blurred when the party members could function as civil servants too.                                          
     Former President Gayoom did take credit for introducing the new constitution with multi party democracy. He said that three powers of the State have been fully separated and the role of the citizens in the decision making process will increase. He added that he believed that the role of the parliament has to be widened and their rights strengthened.


Other Issues                                                                                 
Celebration for the first anniversary of the constitution was preceded by 44th independence celebration of the country on July 23. It was a low key affair. Another historic occasion followed the anniversary- and that was 12th and 13th August when people for the first time went out on the streets demanding immediate reforms. In that year- 2004 the then president Gayoom had to relent and a road map for introduction for democracy was announced. It may be recalled that current President Mohamed Nasheed triggered and led the protests. He had to undergo severe privations along with many others in that period.                        
The economic crisis is seen to be more severe than what was assessed earlier. The country does not have a fiscal reserve as called for under Article 250 (B) of the Constitution. One economist has given the reasons for the current crisis. First was the increase of salaries of government employees. Second was the construction begun by the previous regime without adequate resources. The government has to make huge payments that have been agreed to earlier. Third was the appointment of many incapable people in senior positions with fat salaries.                                   
Added to these- the country had to spend on three elections coming close to each other. More details of former President’s profligate habits have come to light through the Presidential Commission. These include huge expenses incurred on expensive hotels, medical treatment for family members and loans to staff of President’s office personnel and relatives. Instead of denying or justifying the expenditure, Gayoom has threatened to sue the Presidential Commission for leaking the information!             
      The special envoy of Prime Minister of India visited Maldives to personally hand over an invitation for President Nasheed to inaugurate and deliver the key note address on technology development in Climate Change Summit to be held at Delhi between 22nd and 23rd October this year.                                      
The special envoy Mr. Shyam Saran is said to have remarked that the developed countries will have to compensate for accumulating green house gases they had accumulated for the last 200 years. This is fine- but whether big or small, industrialised or not, it is incumbent on every county to cut down the emission of gases to the minimum level and accept international standards. It is like a criminal who has just joined the trade to say that since others have been indulging in criminal acts for many years, I am not bound by any law on crime for now! Both India and China will have to relent for the sake of small countries like Maldives whose very existence is in peril.                                             
      It was pathetic to see a senior dignitary from Maldives saying that he is not sure whether his country will survive beyond two decades if no steps are taken on global warming. Being a small country and beholden to richer and industrialised countries, Maldives has a problem in asserting itself on the issue of global warming.                                 
We hope President Nasheed will not spare anyone on the question of emission of gases, be it big or small in his keynote address. 


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